On March 9, 1976, the skeletal remains of a young child were found inside a blue metal storage trunk. The trunk was in the basement of an apartment complex in Greece, NY. Greece is a neighborhood just outside of Rochester.
This John Doe’s information has not been uploaded into NamUs. I checked for the state New York. All male Does were much older.
Isotope testing showed that the child may not have been local to the New York area. He probably spent the first years of his life in the Northwest, and the last years of his life in the southeast.
“He had a prominent bulge to the back left region of his skull creating a large skull abnormality. While it’s not clear what caused it, it likely meant the child couldn’t walk and had developmental deficiencies.”
If you watch the clip (click here) you will get these further details:
- The boy was between 3-5 years old. The male Does in NamUs from New York are older.
- He was put in the trunk in the early 70s.
- He was severely malnourished and neglected.
- The cause of death is unknown. The head abnormality could be the reason. I wonder if the weight of the head could have broken his neck. This of course, doesn’t excuse the malnourishment and neglect.
The Greece Police tip line can be reached at: 585-581-4016. Assigned to this case is Sergeant Dave Mancuso. His contact information taken from the Greece Police’s website: 585-581-4013 or you can email him at [email protected]
“On 11-26-1978 at approximately 2:36 am the Holiday Inn located at 1525 West Ridge Road in the Town of Greece, New York was the scene of a major fire. During this fire 10 hotel guests lost their lives and numerous guests were injured. The fire was ruled an arson, but no arrest has been made to date.
The Greece Police Department continues to actively investigate this case and currently has two Sergeants from the Criminal Investigation Division assigned exclusively to this investigation.” This information comes from the Greece Police website.
If you do a quick web search with the words “1978 Holiday Inn Fire Greece NY” you can find much more details. From Wikipedia I learned indeed that 10 people were killed. But there were also 34 injured people. Seven of the 10 people killed were from Canada. I did some more digging.
In 1978, the cause of the fire remained undetermined. However, Mr. Fantigrossi [at that time] of the Monroe County District Attorney’s office said that the Greece Township police “are approaching it from the standpoint that it may be arson.” Then-Chief of Greece Police Gerald Phelan contradicted that. No specific cause had been established and he declined to comment on the possibility of arson.
Mr. Fantigrossi added: “We’ve ruled out electric causes, ruled out the possibility of any heating equipment malfunction. The only thing we have not ruled out is chemical action, which would be like a spontaneous combustion.”
I found that John Stickevers was brought in from New York City to help with the investigation. Stickevers was a former FDNY chief fire marshal who fought to reform the way the department investigated arson. He died in Feb 2017. He was 79 years old. He discovered that an uncommon highly flammable accelerant was used to start the fire in the form of a liquid which was ignited inside a storage cupboard under the first floor stairwell.
On November 26, 2014, police announced that for the first time in this case they had a suspect. It was Harold “Bud” Phillips. He was the fire lieutenant who reported the fire. He was described as “young.” One article said that authorities immediately doubted his story. They said he could not have seen the flames from where he said he was driving. He was also in the hotel for a fire inspection just weeks before. Another article says that Greece police later stated that Phillips was just one of many people they wanted to talk to in the course of the new investigation. Phillips is still alive and serves as Greece Fire Chief.
Ten other suspicious fires occurred within a 6-mile radius during the 15 days before the Holiday Inn fire. Four of those fires were in basement storage areas of apartment buildings. I wonder whether the accelerants are similar.
If you click here you will find a very interesting timeline of this arson case. It tells us that in November 2013 ‘significant’ evidence was found. Then-Greece Police Chief Baxter did not elaborate on what was found or what was exactly listed on the search warrant but it had “significant” value to investigators.
From another article I learned that the search warrant was for two buildings of the headquarters of the Ridge Road Fire District on Long Pond Road. Speculation says that they were looking for documents about the 1978 Holiday Inn fire. Baxter said an arrest was not imminent however, he was more hopeful that the case can come to a favorable conclusion.
Two other interesting details from that article:
- Authorities seized incident reports from the fire and computer discs. Phillips said he was not sure why they would take discs since they used typewriters.
- Phillips mentions that “the part that I do not like is that they are classifying me as a young firefighter. At that time I had been on the job for 10 years and was a lieutenant, so I was a well seasoned firefighter.” This makes me wonder what else was understated or not well-reported in this case.
In this Canadian article you can read the following: “The Holiday Inn in the Rochester suburb of Greece was crowded with holiday shoppers that Nov. 26, and the fire raced through the hotel in the middle of the night, leaving many unable to escape.
The fire doors were not closed, there was no sprinkler system, the alarms were not hardwired to the fire department, and they were too quiet, so a lot of people did not wake up in time, said [then] Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter.” I have not found anything else about those incident reports or the computer disks. Maybe this fire was a combination of negligence and a lack of safety measures.
The same article also tells us that the “investigation in 1978 was disorganized and there is not enough original evidence, Baxter said. The file also languished under a corrupt police chief, who is now in jail, along with two former officers, he added.”
In this NYT article, we see that at the time of the fire, the Greece Police Chief was Gerald Phelan, the father of the current police chief, Patrick Phelan. However, he was not the mentioned corrupt chief.
From this quote it is clear that Baxter referred to Merritt Rahn. “Baxter, who joined the Greece department in 2010 to enact reforms in the aftermath of significant internal scandals including the criminal convictions and imprisonment of two former department officers and former Chief Merritt Rahn, said the police agency would be in good hands with [Patrick] Phelan.”
Former Chief “Merritt Rahn was suspended, convicted and sent to prison for what prosecutors called his role in a cover up. A year later, Rahn was sentenced to up to five years in prison after being convicted for falsifying a background check for former officer Gary Pignato and trying to cover up a DWI hit and run crash involving former Greece Sergeant Nick Joseph. Rahn served 28 months of his sentence.”
This case combines a lot of factors ranging from inadequate leadership to negligence to outdated science in forensic arson detection. I wish we still had the hotel carpets so they could be examined with modern technology. You can find more details about forensic arson detection here.
If you have any information about this case, please contact the Greece Police Department at 585-581-4026 or 585-581-4042.
Thank you for remembering all the victims with us.