FRANKFORT — Legal experts say there's no need for a new investigation of a Northern Kentucky nightclub blaze that killed 165 people more than 30 years ago.
A small group of survivors of the 1977 fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club had asked for such a probe, saying evidence had surfaced that suggested the blaze might have been arson.
Investigators concluded years ago that faulty electrical wiring ignited the fire, one of the nation's deadliest. Acrid smoke billowed as people scrambled through a maze of corridors to escape from the club in the town of Southgate, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
Gov. Steve Beshear appointed the special prosecutor who led the original probe and two University of Kentucky law professors to review the case.
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In a report obtained Friday by The Associated Press, they concluded that the group Survivors for Justice presented "a very tiny shred of evidence of arson and a huge mountain of conjecture, unsupported speculation and personal opinion."
Group member David Brock, an 18-year-old busboy at the nightclub when it burned down, said he was disappointed in the findings and now plans to pursue the case at the federal level.
"I don't think we got a fair shake," Brock said Friday. "I can't change what I saw and what I know. The documentation backs us up. We can verify and confirm. We're not at all shocked by the fact they refused to do this. That doesn't stop us from doing what's right, and we will finish this."
Brock presented what he described as new evidence to Beshear's aides in October.
He said that on the day of the blaze, he and a waitress saw two suspicious men in the nightclub's Zebra Room, where the fire is thought to have started. They were purportedly doing maintenance, but there was no evidence anyone had been hired to do such work.
The waitress also reported overhearing a threatening conversation between two men in pinstriped suits — the same men she saw in the Zebra Room the day of the fire — and an owner of the club about five weeks earlier.
The waitress said the men wanted to be a part of the club and "if they did not get their what they wanted the owner/managers might not have the club much longer."
The Beverly Hills, an opulent, former gambling palace billed as "the nation's showplace," booked big-name cabaret acts and was reported to be doing $10 million a year in business.
But the former special prosecutor, Cecil Dunn, and the law professors, William Fortune and Robert Lawson, weren't convinced. They concluded the new information "falls many miles short of the kind of proof that would be needed to justify a very lengthy, very difficult, and predictably unproductive reinvestigation."
They said they recruited help from state investigators to help deal with issues such as why two men who wanted to burn down the nightclub would show up there in the middle of the day. The investigators also interviewed Rick Schilling Jr., one of the nightclub owners, who said the encounter witnesses described never happened.
Dunn declined to comment further on the findings Friday.
"I looked at everything they gave me," he said. "My only comment is the report speaks for itself."
Dunn and the law professors said some of the best investigators in the country were involved in the case and never uncovered a "single shred of evidence" that the fire was arson.
Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said the review concludes the matter.
"The governor felt very strongly that we owed it to the members of this organization to look at this three-decades-old investigation with a fresh set of fresh eyes," Blanton said. "We've done that, and there just simply is no compelling evidence to warrant reopening this investigation."