Orleans Parish John Doe is a man was killed in the Upstairs Lounge arson attack on June 24, 1973. One other victim in the attack remains unidentified.
UpStairs Lounge Arson Attack
At 7:56 PM on the night of June 24, 1973, the front staircase of the bar was engulfed in flames. As the fire spread, patrons tried to escape, but many were trapped by the locked exit door and bars on the windows. Additionally, the fire department was stuck in traffic causing the fire to spread further. Eventually, the fire department arrived and put out the fire by 8:12 PM. Thirty-two people were killed and fifteen other were injured. Until the Pulse Night club shooting on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida, this attack was the deadliest known attack on a gay club in United States history.
Although the cause of the fire is still listed as "undetermined origin," it is considered an arson attack due the smell of lighter fluid being present. The prime suspect was Roger Dale Nunez, a young gay man who was diagnosed with "conversion hysteria" in 1970 and had visited psychiatric clinics in the past. Nunez was known to have been kicked out of the bar multiple times. In fact, Nunez was kicked out of the bar on the night of the attack. Police questioned him on the attack two times, the first time he could not respond due to his broken jaw from a previous fight. The second time he was questioned, Nunez was relaxed and did not appear nervous. However, a friend of Nunez's stated that he confessed to starting the fire to him by going squirting the bottom steps with Ronsonol lighter fluid that he bought at a local Walgreens and tossing a match. Nunez apparently did not realize that the fire engulf the whole building.
Nunez committed suicide on November 10, 1974. No suspects were convicted and the fire marshal closed the case in 1980.
Although there is no evidence to suggest homophobia was the motive in the attack, the attack was ignored and even mocked by members of the public, the press, the authorities, and the local government. Four of the victim's-three unknown white men and Ferris LeBlanc, were never claimed by family members, likely because the families were embarrassed that their relatives were members or sympathetic to the LGBT community.
Anonymous individuals paid for the unknown men's burial and with LeBlanc they were buried in an unmarked mass grave at Holt Cemetery. In 2015, they were reburied in separate coffins in a city-owned field behind Resthaven Memorial Park on Old Gentilly Road. In 2003, on the thirtieth anniversary of the fire, a memorial plaque was installed in the sidewalk outside the former entrance of the UpStairs Lounge. It displays the names of all the victims, with "Unidentified White Male" listed for each of the three unknown victims.
In 2018, one of the three unknown victims was identified as Larry Frost.
- In 2008, local artist Skylar Fein constructed an art installation titled Remember the Upstairs Lounge. The New Orleans Museum of Art has since acquired Fein's art exhibit, which includes a reproduction of the bar.
- In 2014, Melange Dance Company of New Orleans performed a tribute show, The UpStairs Lounge that aimed to uplift with a combination of dance and film that celebrate the Lounge, its patrons, and the strides taken towards human rights since the incident.
- In 2017, an Off-Broadway musical called The View Upstairs about The UpStairs Lounge opened at The Lynn Redgrave Theater in New York City.