June 30, 1974 - It was in the early morning of this day that a nightclub fire in Port Chester, New York claimed 24 lives.
The club was called Gulliver's, and it was a popular destination at the height of the disco era. Hundreds of young people were crowded on the strobe-lit dancefloor when a startling announcement was made. George Chase, a singer in the band that was performing, calmly let everybody know that they needed to move toward the exits due to a small fire next door. At first the crowd kept its cool, but as soon as thick dark smoke started wafting into the club, a panic ensued.
Most of the people who died were caught in a tangled pile of bodies near a narrow stairwell. There were other exits available, but apparently most of the victims had tried to go out the way they came in.
It was the deadliest nightclub fire since 1942's Coconut Grove tragedy.
When the smoke cleared the cause of the fire was revealed. A 22-year-old small-time thief named Peter Leonard was arrested for setting the fire in an attempt to hide his robbery of vending machines in the business directly behind Gulliver's. Leonard actually had two of his guilty verdicts overturned because his confession had been made without a lawyer present.
12 years later he plead guilty to reckless manslaughter and he was sentenced to the time he had already served.