Analysis Of Happy Land Murders Case

Weekends are always looked forward to, no matter what age. It signals the end of a work week, and for most, the beginning of the parties. In the 90s, there was always something happening on the weekends, especially in New York City. There were bars, clubs, and of course, illegal social clubs/speakeasys. Although illegal, that stopped no one. One social club in the Bronx, Happy Land Social Club, was said to be one of the favorites for people in the area. But on the night of March 25th, 1990, this once a favorite social club, would be no longer.


People that frequented the Happy Land Social Club deemed it a great time, despite its shortcomings. For example, more than a year and a half earlier, the city issued an order-to-close for the club. Yet the manager and owner, Alex DiLorenzo III, ignored the order. Many things were hazardous with the club, including the main fact that there was only one way in, and one way out of the two stories. This alone was a major fire hazard. The club also had no state liquor license, and did not check ID. There were patrons as young as 14 in the club on that fatal night.

The Arsonist

There is not much published about then 35-year-old Julio Gonzalez. He was a Cuban refugee who served 3 years in prison for deserting the Cuban army. It is also said that he faked a criminal record in drug dealing to get him on a boatlift that was coming to America (Sam Roberts, 2016). He was dating Lydia Feliciano briefly before they called it quits. Considering the events that happened on that night, it may be safe to conclude that she had broken up with him. Nevertheless, his neighbors and people around him described Gonzalez as a quiet man, and definitely not the type to do something this disastrous.

The Night Of

On March 25th, 1990, the Happy Land Social Club was booming with patrons all over, enjoying a great evening. Gonzalez arrived at the club around 1:00 am, and proceeded to have a conversation with his ex, Feliciano. She worked as a coat check girl. An argument ensued, and he was thrown out. He says that he stated, “I’ll be back,” right before he left. He then went to a nearby gas station and bought $1 worth of gasoline in cans and returned to the social club around 30 minutes later. He poured the gas into the entryway of the club, lit some matches, and threw them. Feliciano, Gonzalez’s ex, claims that she saw the flames, and screamed “fire, fire”. She managed to escape along with a few others. However, Feliciano did not call the cops, fearing that her ex-boyfriend Gonzalez would come back to get her.

The Aftermath & Evidence

Being that the social club only had one way in and out, many were trapped inside the building; gasping for air. A total of 87 people died in that fire, including that said 14-year-old girl that was aforementioned. By the time the fire got underway, Gonzalez was in his apartment sleeping, which is where the police found him. Police also found his gasoline-soaked sneakers, which they brought in as evidence. There were no real clues leading to him, so it is speculated that some in the club saw who he was and were able to tell police, however it is not certain how the police actually knew where to find him.

Then mayor David Dinkins reported to the social club that night after the fire, to see the scene of what was known as the largest mass murder, at that time. Dinkins then sent out a task force that he increased from ten to two-hundred to inspect social clubs for hazards, and for adhering to closing orders.

The Trial

On August of 1991, Julio Gonzalez was charged with 176 counts of murder, two counts for each person. These included felony murder and murder by depraved indifference of human life. First degree arson and first degree assault were also on the list of charges, and Gonzalez was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Julio Gonzalez died at the age of 61, in prison.

Technologies and Other Points

At this time in 1990, of course technology was not as involved and developed as it is now. However, even with this case, there was no real technology used in finding Gonzales or for any traces of evidence. The fire at the social club was not one of much thought; it was just an irrational act by what could have been perceived as a heartbroken man. What was meant to hurt only one, hurt 87 other souls that night; a tragedy that will be remembered in the hearts of this Bronx neighborhood.

13 January 2020
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