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Episode 551: Happy Land Social Club Arson

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On the evening of March 24, 1990, nearly one hundred patrons gathered to celebrate Carnivale at the Happy Land Social Club, a small informal night club in the Bronx that catered to a mostly Honduran clientele. The evening took a deadly turn when, around 3:30 am, an explosion of fire roared up the stairway leading to the second-floor club, blocking the only exit from the building and trapping the patrons in a room rapidly filling with toxic smoke and fire. It’s unknown how many patrons managed to escape the fire, but by the time the fire department had extinguished the blaze, eighty-seven people were dead.

Thank you to the amazing Dave White of Bring Me the Axe Podcast for research!


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—. 1990. "Tracing the club's owners." New York Times, March 27: B2.

Barron, James. 1990. "The living search the faces of the dead." New York Times, March 26.

Blumenthal, Ralph. 1990. "Fire in the Bronx; 87 die in blaze at illegal club." New York Times, March 26.

Gelman, Mitch, Alexis Jetter, and Beth Holland. 1990. "87 die in arson called act of spurned lover." Newsday, March 26: 3.

Gilbert, Allison. 2020. "A faded tragedy's long shadow." New York Times, March 29.

Golden, Tim. 1990. "In the saddest way, New York learns about Hondurans." New York Times, April 1.

Hernandez, Raymond. 1995. "Survivors call settlement 'unjust'." New York Times, July 7.

Hevesi, Dennis. 1992. "Guilty plea by landlord in fire case." New York Times, May 9.

Hirsch, James. 1988. "Most social clubs run the gamut of illegality." New York Times, August 22.

Kerr, Peter. 1986. "Social Clubs: Modern Mob still uses a few as offices." New York Times, April 15.

Lambert, Bruce. 1991. "Confession tape on Bronx blaze is heard by jury." New York Times, August 1.

Lorch, Donatella. 1991. "Ex-girlfriend recalls threat before flames." New York Times, July 31.

—. 1991. "Witness tells of visit by Happy Land fire suspect." New York Times, July 31.

Maykuth, Andrew. 1990. "N.Y. fire suspect described as 'down to his last hope'." Philadelphia Inquirer, 03 27: 1.

McFadden, Robert. 1990. "The Knights of the Padlock Sweep Forth." New York Times, March 31.

New York Times. 1990. "7 victims: their stories, struggles and dreams of better lives." New York Times, March 29.

Nieves, Evelyn. 1991. "Refugee found guilty of killing 87 in Bronx Happy Land fire." New York Times, August 20.

People of the State of New York v. Julio Gonzalez. 1995. 163 Misc. 2d 950 (New York Supreme Court, Bronx County, February 10).

Purdy, Matthew. 1995. "More than five years after the arson fire at the Happy Land Social Club..." New York Times, July 7.

Roberts, Sam. 2016. "Julio Gonzalez, arsonist who killed 87 at a nightclub in the Bronx, dies at 61." New York Times, September 15.

Schanberg, Sydney. 1990. "Please, some respect for 87 who died." Newsday, April 13: 62.

Stanley, Alessandra. 1991. "At Happy Land mass-murder trial, days of tears, humor and boredom." New York Times, July 28.

Stanley, Allessandra. 1990. "25 years to life for the arsonist at Happy Land." New York Times, September 20.

Strom, Stephanie. 1990. "Hispanic residents rally against closing of social clubs." New York Times, April 6.

Terry, Don. 1990. "Social club crackdown is the latest in a series." New York Times, March 26: A1.

Wichers, Christine. 1990. "Male violence the real cause of Bronx fire." New York Times, April 10.

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