BEVERLY, MASSACHUSSETTS – In the early morning hours on July 4, 1984, a fire swept through a three-story turn-of-the-century rooming house above a commercial structure, killing fifteen innocent souls.
A man who was dating a woman broke up with him. She begins to date another male. The ex could not contain his blazing anger or the jealous rage and told others he wanted her back. Due to that not being a reality, he confronts the new boyfriend in the alleyway of the rooming house the night before the fire. He tells him to stop dating his ex-girlfriend or he will kill him and burn down his house.
Simple Fire Investigation. Case closed.
This fire was not your run-of-the-mill normal house fire but something much larger and more sinister than anyone could have ever imagine.
And, the story begins…
The fire burned above the Davis Drug Pharmacy, located at 434 Rantoul Street in Beverly Massachussetts.
On the eve of July 3rd, the ex-boyfriend confronted the new boyfriend in the alleyway near the rooming house, threatening him to stop dating his ex or he was going to kill him and burn down his place where he lived at the rooming house. The ex- worked at a Pizza restaurant nearby the building.
On July 4th around 0300 – 0400 hours, a reporting party (RP) stated seeing a car matching the description that belonged to the ex-boyfriend. It was parked nearby the rooming house.
On the same day in the early morning hours around 0400, two additional RPs would report seeing a man standing in the doorway of the rooming house. One said that they could not ID him but there was a male looking suspicious by standing nearby. Another reported seeing a man leaning over a stack of newspapers smoking a cigarette in the doorway of the rooming house.
The raging structure fire broke out at 0418 hours. The fire took the lives of 13 residents of the 36 that lived there, when they suffered burns or smoke inhalation. A 14th victim was killed when he jumped from a third-floor room trying to escaped the fire. Two weeks later, a 15th victim was killed when they passed away in a hospital.
Beverly Firefighters were clearly distraught by the multiple deaths on-scene.
The cause was determined to be arson. A Fire Investigator arrived at the fire scene on July 9, 1984, and determined the fire started in the alcove adjacent to the front entrance of the rooming structure.
A stack of newspapers found next to the door had been set ablaze with some type of hydrocarbon accelerant, the Investigator wrote and testified at the court trial.
Electrical failure or spontaneous combustion was ruled out as the cause.
The defendant, John Doe (we have omitted his name for privacy concerns and for the victims he killed and out of respect for their families) was charged with fifteen counts of second degree murder and one count of burning a dwelling house. His first trial (May 4, 1988) ended in a mistrial because of prosecutorial misconduct.
At his second trial (June 16-October 6, 1992), he was convicted by a jury of all charges that included a life sentence on count 1 of the murder indictment and a fifteen to twenty-year sentence to State prison on the arson charge to run concurrently with the life sentence imposed on count 1.
The judge then imposed concurrent life sentences on the remaining murder convictions to be served from and after the life sentence imposed on count 1 of the murder indictment.
The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied without a hearing.
Needless to say, he will not be getting out of jail anytime soon and that is great news for his victims’ families and the community he impacted so wholeheartedly due to his jealous rage that killed so many in the end.
The Elliott Chambers Fire Memorial was dedicated before a crowd of 100 people on July 1, 2010. The Memorial received the Bench of Winter in 2011.
Remembering those who were lost:
- Alfred Cummings, 70
- John Didlake, 30
- Vincent DiFrancesco, 52
- Richard Duest, 38
- George Flynn,18
- Francis Hinchey, 63
- Eugene Maciejowki,37
- Robert Moore,70
- Ralph Nickerson, 9
- Richard Nickerson, 21
- William Peters, 72
- Raymond Smith, 30
- Hattie Whary, 73
- Nicholas Wilder, 57
- Chester Wilson, 54
This would be the most deadliest fire in all of Beverly’s arson fire history ever to be recorded.
All information was gleaned from various sources and we made sure all information is accurate to the best of our abilities. We dedicate this post to the persons whom died and to their families that are still with us. We are so sorry for your loss and this post is a dedication in their honor.
(c) 2018 NW Fire Blog – Updated @ 1230 hours PDT