Mysteries at the Museum (2010) s04e09 Episode Script

Cleveland's Tumor, Man-Eating Lions, Meteorite

1 The haunting remains of man-eating beasts.
They found only a head pierced by giant teeth.
A mysterious mask that nearly brought down a president.
Make the knife slip.
President could die.
And a man's hat pierced by political scandal.
It was methodical, and it was cold-blooded.
I'm Don Wildman.
Join me on a journey across the United States as we go deep into the vaults of the nation's most revered institutions, unearthing wondrous treasures from the past, extraordinary artifacts, and bizarre relics, each with a shocking story to tell and a secret to be revealed.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
In the heart of Philadelphia stands the Mutter Museum, a repository for all manner of odd medical specimens -- A 9-foot-long colon, a wax mold of a head with an eight-inch horn, and a cast of conjoined twins showcase some of the shocking variations of the human form.
But one artifact stands out as particularly gruesome, even by the Mutter's grisly standards.
HICKS: It looks like a piece of flesh, milky white, bit of gray, about the size of a ping pong ball.
WILDMAN: According to museum director Robert Hicks, the contents of this jar were once part of a human body.
Upon closer inspection, there's some teeth in there maybe even some pieces of bone.
WILDMAN: What is this strange-looking mass, and what role did it play in one of the biggest coverups in American political history? March 4, 1893, Washington, D.
On a cold, windy, and wet day, Grover Cleveland is inaugurated for a second non-consecutive term as President of the United States.
But as he assumes the mantle of leadership once again, Cleveland faces a daunting challenge.
As Grover Cleveland took office, he had to contend with the biggest financial crisis the nation had ever seen.
Banks were closing.
Investors were losing confidence.
The nation really looked to him for leadership at this time.
But as Cleveland's grandson, George, can attest, just two months after taking the oath of office, the President is faced with a very different kind of crisis.
He was noticing a pain in his mouth, and he was having trouble articulating.
WILDMAN: On examination, the White House doctor discovers a growth on the roof of the President's mouth, and after sending a sample for analysis, he confirms a dire and potentially fatal diagnosis -- oral cancer.
A cancer survivor in the latter half of the 19th century was almost unheard of.
WILDMAN: The tumor must be taken out as soon as possible.
HICKS: This posed a crisis.
How could Cleveland take himself away from the public eye in the middle of a financial crisis and have surgery? If the public found out what was really going on with the President, the panic would simply get worse.
WILDMAN: Cleveland concludes that he must find a way to proceed with the treatment while keeping the public and his Washington colleagues in the dark.
Along with a trusted adviser and his doctors, Cleveland devises a top-secret plan for surgery.
He will take a four-day fishing trip aboard a friend's yacht, the Oneida, from New York Harbor to his summer home on Cape Cod.
This wouldn't attract any undue attention 'cause it's something he did all the time.
WILDMAN: Cleveland would be met on board by an elite group of surgeons, all sworn to secrecy, who would perform a procedure to remove the tumor in a makeshift O.
Even under the best conditions, the surgery would carry great risk, and these conditions are far from optimal.
HICKS: Despite the competence of these very important surgeons, they're all confronted with a circumstance they've never operated on before, and that's the water.
They're on a boat.
And a big wave or a sudden movement could affect the surgery, make the knife slip.
President could die.
WILDMAN: At 11:00 P.
on June 30, Cleveland boards the Oneida.
And shortly after noon the following day, as the boat bobs in the middle of the Long Island Sound, the President is prepped for the procedure.
Then the surgery begins.
WILDMAN: The doctors proceed with great care.
CLEVELAND: I hate to think what was going through those doctors' minds while they were doing the operation.
One wrong move, and "uh-oh.
" WILDMAN: Bit by bit, they remove a gelatinous tumor along with five teeth, the material now preserved at the Mutter Museum.
After 90 tense minutes, the procedure is complete.
The President came out of the anesthesia, felt reasonable under the circumstances, and the surgeons pronounced it a success.
WILDMAN: Cleveland repairs to his Cape Cod home to recover, hoping that details of the procedure won't leak out and send the markets tumbling.
But as the President attempts to project an air of vitality, news of his surgery is about to break.
One of the mission's doctors let slip details of the operation to a colleague, and soon the tale of the secretive and risky procedure makes its way to a reporter named E.
On August 29, Edwards publishes the exposé in the respectable Philadelphia Press.
Fearing that news of his illness will cause a further collapse in the markets, the President and his staff immediately push back.
CLEVELAND: The White House maintained steadfastly that this story was not true, and no one would waver from that.
The public is inclined to believe the popular President, who has an impeachable reputation for honesty.
Major newspaper editorials came out just roundly condemning the story, and how dare this journalist publish such malicious information? WILDMAN: The drubbing works.
CLEVELAND: Everybody believed that the reporter had made up the story.
He was basically hung out to dry.
WILDMAN: President Cleveland sticks to his economic plan, and by 1897, the crisis eases.
But it will be another 20 years until the veracity of Edwards' report is acknowledged.
In 1917, 9 years after Cleveland's death from heart failure, Dr.
William Keen, one of the President's surgeons, publishes an account of the top-secret mission.
HICKS: This time there was no hue and cry from the public because the events had long since passed.
But the reporter was still living, and so he was vindicated at last.
WILDMAN: As proof of this remarkable story, Dr.
Keen arranges for Cleveland's tumor to be donated to the Mutter Museum, where it remains today as a testament to one of the most audacious political coverups in American history.
Along Chicago's scenic Lake Shore Drive sits the world-famous Field Museum, a haven for students of natural history.
Its vast collection of over 25 million specimens includes the skeleton of the largest T.
rex ever found.
But alongside this prehistoric monster sits an artifact from the more recent past.
The skull is 14 inches long, 9 inches wide, and weighs 4 pounds.
Both jaws are fitted with giant teeth.
According to Curator of Mammals Bruce Patterson, these sharp canines were deployed with lethal force during a nine-month reign of terror.
PATTERSON: They belong to an animal that stopped the British Empire in its tracks.
WILDMAN: So, what was the beast that possessed such power, and what part did it play in a chilling standoff between hunter and the hunted on the African savanna? March 1898, East Africa.
In a quest to establish a new trade route, the British government is hard at work constructing a rail line from the eastern seaboard to the continent's interior.
And to achieve this feat, a bridge must be built to span the lush Tsavo River.
The man chosen to oversee this project is British Army Colonel John Henry Patterson.
But just days after his arrival at Tsavo, Patterson receives troubling news.
Some of his workers seem to have disappeared.
Foul play is suspected, as payday had recently taken place, and it was thought that perhaps unscrupulous co-workers robbed them of their money and disposed of the remains.
WILDMAN: But it's not long before the true reason for their disappearance comes to light.
One night after work, a manager on the project, one Ungung Sing, is relaxing with his coworkers inside a tent when something horrifying happens.
[ Animal growls ] PATTERSON: A huge lion stuck his head in, seized Ungung Sing, dragged him out of the tent.
And the next morning, they found only a head, his forehead pierced by giant teeth.
WILDMAN: It seems the creature responsible for the mysterious disappearances is a man-eating lion.
And when Patterson examines the tracks that encircle the camp, he determines that the attacks are not the work of one lion, but two.
Soon large numbers of frightened laborers abandon the camp.
With the mission in serious jeopardy, Patterson realizes the only way to protect his crew and build his bridge is to hunt and kill the lions.
He tracked the cat.
He used blinds, setting up platforms in trees, and waiting over baits in hopes that the cat might be attracted to them.
WILDMAN: But the lions prove adept at avoiding his sights until early one morning in December 1898, almost 9 months after the first attack.
Shrouded in darkness on a platform high above the ground, Patterson hears the sinister growls of what he believes is a man-eating lion.
He felt threatened himself as though he were the prey, rather than the lion.
WILDMAN: Who will be victorious in this battle between man and beast? WILDMAN: It's 1898.
A British railroad camp on the banks of the Tsavo River in East Africa is under attack by a pair of man-eating lions.
Charged with hunting down these bloodthirsty beasts is Colonel John Patterson.
But can he catch these predatory felines before they come for him? Perched on a platform, Patterson hears the growls of a ravenous lion below.
Then he raises his rifle and fires into the night.
[ Gunshot ] The shot connects.
[ Animal moans ] PATTERSON: He could tell from the sound of the cat that it was a potentially mortal wound.
WILDMAN: The next morning, Patterson inspects his kill, a giant maneless male lion measuring 9 feet, 8 inches from nose to tail.
That is a perfectly enormous lion.
It took eight men to carry this lion back into camp.
WILDMAN: But with one man-eating beast still at large, the camp is still gripped with fear.
Finally, three weeks later, the colonel hunts down the second lion and shoots it dead.
[ Gunshot ] PATTERSON: The second lion proved to be even bigger than the first.
It was 9 feet, 6 inches long and 3 feet, 11 inches at the shoulder.
WILDMAN: Patterson saves the skins and skulls of both man-eaters as trophies.
And with the threat eliminated, workers return their focus to the bridge, which is completed in just two months.
In the following years, the story of Patterson's conquest of the Tsavo man-eating lions grows.
And in 1924, the Field Museum acquires his specimens for its venerable collection.
Yet for many, the tale poses a puzzling question.
The normal source of nourishment for lions are wild animals, like zebra or buffalo.
So why did the man-eaters of Tsavo target human prey? In 1999, Field Museum Curator Bruce Patterson, no relation to the colonel, embarks on a quest to solve this mystery, and he discovers that the key to the puzzle lies with the skull.
PATTERSON: On closer inspection, the lions were not in perfect condition at the time of their death.
This lion had a broken lower right canine that would have rendered excruciatingly painful any pressure on the tip of this tooth.
This lion would have been unable to take down zebra and buffalo and pursue its normal diet.
WILDMAN: Instead, Patterson reasons that this lion would have been in search of softer, less mobile prey, namely, the railroad workers.
He argues that the second lion was just following along.
Today, this skull and pair of taxidermied man-eating lions remains one of the most visited displays at the Field Museum, a vivid reminder of an extraordinary tale of terror and triumph on the arid African plains.
Eugene, Oregon, is known for its lush and verdant landscapes.
And it is also home to the University of Oregon.
Located on this sprawling campus is the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
Here, students and visitors alike can bone up on the region's rich and varied past through a collection that includes a full skeleton of a saber-toothed tiger and North America's oldest footwear.
But according to the Fossil Collections Manager, Edward Davis, one of the museum's most intriguing possessions is a bizarre replica that sits just outside its walls.
It is about 10 feet long and 4 feet by 4 feet.
One surface has great pits and voids that are carved into the surface that is not like anything that you would normally see in nature.
WILDMAN: Or even on Earth.
What is this otherworldly object, and how is it tied to one of the most daring and improbable heists in Oregon history? Fall 1902, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Former miner and pioneer Ellis Hughes is in the remote woods near his land when he happens upon an unusual sight -- a massive bolder with a strange, rusty luster.
He notices that it doesn't seem like any rock that he's ever seen before, and he picks up a small stone and taps the rock, and it makes a sound like a bell.
[ Clangs ] It rings out clearly.
WILDMAN: Hughes immediately recognizes this rock for what it really is -- a giant meteorite.
He had enough experience to understand that the only way you could expect to see that much iron in one place would be from something that came from outer space.
WILDMAN: And Hughes realizes that an iron meteorite this size is extremely rare and must be valuable.
If he can secure it for himself and display the extraordinary artifact, Hughes believes he can make a fortune.
But there is one glaring problem.
DAVIS: He didn't own the property where the meteorite was found.
It's a little bit of the irony of history that this giant iron meteorite was actually found on land owned by an iron company, the Oregon Iron and Steel Company.
WILDMAN: Desperate to possess the valuable space rock, Hughes keeps the discovery a secret and attempts the purchase the land for what he claims is the purpose of mining.
But when his offer is rebuffed, Hughes concludes that he has just one option left.
He must steal the meteorite.
But that will be no easy feat.
He doesn't even know how much it weighs at the time, but it's so heavy he knows he can't move it easily.
WILDMAN: But a determined Hughes devises a scheme to get the meteorite to his own land 3/4 mile away before anyone learns of his remarkable discovery.
August 1903.
Hughes gets to work.
First he levers the giant meteorite onto a homemade cart fashioned out of trees from the surrounding woods.
Then comes the hard part -- to actually move the crude cart towards his property.
To do this, Hughes employs a devices called a capstan, consisting of a post sunken into the ground and attached to a cable, which in turn is harnessed to his horse.
As the horse circles the post, it slowly winds up the cable, and the cart inches forward.
DAVIS: He was able to get it moved, albeit very, very slowly.
On really good days, it would move maybe 12 or 15 feet in the whole day.
WILDMAN: By doing so, he carves deep tracks in the damp earth.
Finally, after three backbreaking months, Hughes transports the giant space rock to his own property, seemingly without arousing suspicion.
It's just a tremendous thing to think about him operating in secrecy, getting it all the way basically by himself with his Oregonian ingenuity.
WILDMAN: Now he's ready to turn his find into a money-making opportunity.
Hughes spreads the word about the meteorite he claims to have found on his property.
And soon locals flock to his land and pay 25 cents, the equivalent of about $5 today, to behold the monstrous relic that plummeted to Earth.
DAVIS: This really was Hughes endgame, having it controlled where he could charge tourists to see it and then having a constant revenue stream.
WILDMAN: Among the visitors to Hughes' display is a geologist from New York, who confirms it is the largest meteor ever recovered in America.
He estimates its weight at a massive 15 tons.
But as Hughes enjoys the fruits of his labor, an unwelcome guest is about to put a kink in his plans.
WILDMAN: It's 1902 in Oregon's rural Willamette Valley.
Local miner Ellis Hughes has discovered a monstrous meteorite on the property of a steel company, and he secretly transported it back to his own land.
Now he's charging admission to behold the 15-ton space rock.
But just weeks into his money-making venture, he's about to receive an unwelcome visitor.
A lawyer from the neighboring Oregon Iron and Steel Company learns of Hughes' find and decides to see the wondrous space rock for himself.
DAVIS: And it's plainly obvious to him as he arrives that the meteorite has been carried from the neighboring property onto the Hughes land because there is a massive scar on the landscape that leads up to the display area.
WILDMAN: To avoid legal action, the attorney offers Hughes $50 to return the rock.
But an indignant Hughes refuses to make a deal.
He spent three months of his life, countless hours of manual labor building the contraption to move it.
To have this man offer him the measly sum of $50 is just an affront.
WILDMAN: Within a matter of days, the mining company files a suit against Hughes.
And they sued not for any dollar damages.
They sued just for the object itself.
They wanted the meteorite.
In the end, the jury found that Ellis Hughes had no title to it, no matter how much of his own sweat equity he had put into the object.
WILDMAN: Despite Hughes' hard work and much to the chagrin of locals, Oregon Iron and Steel sells the meteorite to a collector, who in turn donates it to the American Museum of Natural History.
But in 1908, the iron company donates a life-size plaster-of-Paris replica to the University in Eugene.
And in 1993, artist Pete Helzer uses the cast to create a fiberglass version of the meteorite, which now securely stands at the entrance to the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, a reminder of a harebrained scheme to keep a piece of space for profit.
Founded by land speculators in 1835, Lansing, Michigan, is now a bustling center of state politics.
It is also home to a unique treasure -- the Michigan Historical Museum.
Here, visitors can take in a turn-of-the-century classroom, a B-52 bomber, and a re-created 1920s street corner.
But according to Michigan judge and author William C.
Whitbeck, one item in this collection serves as a gruesome reminder of a dark time in the state's political history.
WHITBECK: It's gray felt, somewhat old and crumpled.
What is immediately apparent when you look at it are the three holes.
And very disturbingly, there is dried blood around those holes.
WILDMAN: To whom did this mysterious hat belong, and what part did it play in a grisly tale of power, corruption, and murder? January 11, 1945, Albion, Michigan.
Police are alerted to an abandoned car parked on the side of Route M-99.
When they arrive on the scene, they make a shocking discovery.
Inside the vehicle, a man is slumped over the wheel with his hat pulled down over his eyes.
And beneath the brim, there are three bullet holes.
This same hat is now on display at the Michigan Historical Museum.
But the really stunning part about that scene is that the man in the car was a state senator.
WILDMAN: His name is Warren G.
He had previously been a state representative for a number of terms.
He's married in his 40s with two children.
WILDMAN: But who would want to kill an up-and-coming state senator in such a grisly fashion? Police investigators soon learn that Hooper harbored a dark secret.
He was preparing to testify before a closed grand jury focusing on corruption in state government.
WHITBECK: Police quickly determine that he was essentially singing.
He was spilling the beans about graft and corruption in the state legislature and the state capital.
WILDMAN: Police concentrate on the target of the grand-jury investigation and the man most threatened by Hooper's testimony, the influential businessman and Michigan power broker Frank McKay.
WHITBECK: Frank McKay was decisive.
He was very powerful.
He took care of his friends.
And he took care of his enemies, as well.
WILDMAN: McKay is known to keep close ties with shady underworld characters, including members of the ruthless Purple Gang.
WHITBECK: The Purple Gang was an extraordinarily violent criminal organization.
500 murders to their credit, if you want to put it that way.
WILDMAN: As police comb through the case details, they notice the unmistakable imprint of this infamous underworld outfit.
WHITBECK: It was methodical.
It was cold-blooded.
And it was precisely the Purple Gang's style.
WILDMAN: But in spite of McKay's motive, there is little incriminating evidence against the power broker, and many of the leading members of the Purple Gang were incarcerated when the crime was committed.
WHITBECK: They have an absolutely perfect alibi.
They couldn't have done it.
They were in jail.
WILDMAN: In the end, there is not enough evidence for prosecutors to pursue the case, and Frank McKay never faces charges related to the murder.
Frank McKay died a rich man in his bed in Miami.
WILDMAN: So, who really killed Warren Hooper, and how did they get away with it? It's Michigan in 1945.
When State Senator Warren Hooper is killed execution-style, officials suspect the murder is politically motivated.
All eyes turn to notoriously corrupt power broker Frank McKay.
But with little evidence against him, the investigation stalls.
So, what's the real story behind Hooper's chilling demise? In 1985, 40 years after Hooper's assassination, the case takes a surprising turn when an old box of grand-jury transcripts and interviews resurfaces in the state's records division.
WHITBECK: Among the documents, there is some testimony from an inmate in a local jail that Frank McKay arranged to pay three Purple Gang members to kill State Senator Hooper.
WILDMAN: But the three men were serving lengthy sentences at Jackson State Penitentiary at the time of the crime.
How could inmates in a maximum-security prison have committed the roadside murder? According to the newly found records, the answer is quite stunning.
McKay solicited the help of the prison warden, and for a few hours, the warden set the prisoners free.
WHITBECK: These men walked up to the car and deliberately, coldly, methodically killed Warren Hooper by shooting him three times in the head.
You could say they were like mailmen just delivering the mail.
WILDMAN: By the time this bombshell evidence is unearthed, those involved in the case are long dead.
But even though justice was never served, the crime had far-reaching effects on the practice of politics in the state.
WHITBECK: The Hooper killing really changed Michigan.
Every governor since then has governed without the kind of corruption, the bribes, the intimidation.
That's just gone away.
WILDMAN: And today this tattered and blood-soaked hat on display at the Michigan Historical Museum stands as a signpost from another era when power and influence were for sale to the highest bidder.
Just five miles from the Tennessee border sits the small Kentucky town of Franklin.
Founded in 1820 and named after the founding father, Benjamin Franklin, the town seems to be the perfect slice of old-time Americana.
But at the Simpson County Archive and Museum, amidst antique furniture, faded scrapbooks, and family bibles is one item that, according to military historian John Trowbridge, has a history that is decidedly out of this world.
TROWBRIDGE: Measures 4 inches by 6 inches, extremely lightweight, aluminum reflective-type material, and the date 1948 is scratched on it.
WILDMAN: What is this piece of metal, and what role did it play in a mysterious incident that, to this day, is still unexplained? January 7, 1948, Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Sergeant Quinton Blackwell is on duty in the air-traffic-control tower at Godman Air Force Base when he gets a report of a strange object in the skies to the south.
TROWBRIDGE: You know, there was a number of descriptions.
Ice-cream-cone shaped object to a flying disk, very bright in the sky.
WILDMAN: Sergeant Blackwell scans the horizon with his binoculars and soon locates the object in question.
TROWBRIDGE: It was moving southwesterly and it stopped for a period of time and then once again take off.
WILDMAN: But no one has any idea what it is.
TROWBRIDGE: About this time, here comes this flight of four Kentucky Air National Guard F-51 Mustangs.
Since they were already in the sky, the decision was made to contact the flight leader and determine what this thing was.
WILDMAN: The leader of the squadron is 25-year-old Captain Thomas Mantell.
TROWBRIDGE: Mantell sees this object straight in front of him and up, and he communicates back that he wants to go in pursuit and see if he can catch this thing.
WILDMAN: Low on fuel, his two wingmen break off from the squadron and head back to base.
But Mantell keeps up the chase.
TROWBRIDGE: Apparently got fixated on this thing and was trying to figure out what the devil it was.
WILDMAN: Just before 3:15 P.
, the tower receives a final transmission from Captain Mantell's plane.
TROWBRIDGE: Mantell's last statement is the object is above and ahead of him and that he was going to move in for a better look.
WILDMAN: Then all contact with Mantell is lost.
Meanwhile, in peaceful Franklin, 11-year-old Shelby Stone is just getting out of school for the day.
I actually heard a popping noise first, and I looked up, and there was this plane corkscrewing down to the ground.
When it fell, it sounded like the world was coming apart.
WILDMAN: A short distance away, local residents find Captain Mantell dead among the wreckage of his F-51 Mustang.
The scene is seared into the memory of young Shelby Stone.
STONE: It was something I will never forget.
I can see it just as if it was yesterday.
WILDMAN: The media descends on the small town of Franklin with a host of unanswered questions.
What was the unidentified flying object that Captain Mantell was chasing, and did it cause his aircraft to suddenly break apart and crash? It's January 1948.
A military plane piloted by Captain Thomas Mantell is in hot pursuit of an unidentified flying object in the skies over southern Kentucky.
But when Mantell's plane mysteriously crashes midway through the chase, killing the pilot, people start to wonder, "Did the UFO bring him down?" The wreckage of the plane is scattered over a two-mile radius.
STONE: My brother, my cousin, and one of our neighbors were the first on the scene, and they did remove the body from the plane and covered it until the authorities got there.
WILDMAN: And when officials finally arrive on the scene, they rush to secure the site.
They were just like ducks on a June bug.
The military had a closed lid on things.
WILDMAN: But one relic of the crash, this shiny, aluminum panel, makes its way to the Simpson County Archive and Museum.
As they probe deeper into the circumstances of the crash, Air Force investigators begin to develop a series of theories as to what might have happened.
Some point to the conical descriptions of the object and suggest that Captain Mantell was chasing a military weather balloon known as a skyhook.
There is no documentation verifying that there was a skyhook balloon anywhere in the vicinity, so that pretty much negates that.
WILDMAN: The Air Force determines the cause of the crash was pilot error.
They state that Mantell flew to dangerously high altitudes and suffered from hypoxia -- lack of oxygen -- and blacked out.
But many doubt the veracity of this explanation.
He was a very cautious, very good pilot.
He was a pilot instructor.
It just doesn't make sense.
He saw something there just like everybody else, and he was intrigued by this thing.
It's still unsolved.
WILDMAN: The true cause of Captain Mantell's fatal crash and the identity of the strange flying object are questions that may never be answered.
For now, this small panel from Mantell's plane on display in Franklin, Kentucky, is all that is left from one of the most bizarre UFO mysteries on record.
The Kentucky town of Fort Thomas started life as a U.
Army post during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Honoring the history of the region and the brave men who served here is the Fort Thomas Military and Community Museum.
Pristine World War II memorabilia, vintage jewelry, and antique firearms greet visitors.
But one rusted item in this collection stands apart.
The item is a large piece of metal about 2 feet high, 2 feet deep.
It is twisted, corroded.
It is rusted.
WILDMAN: As Museum Curator Gloria Sisk can attest, this is far more than just a twisted piece of junk.
SISK: This mangled metal is an eerie reminder of a horrible tragedy that took place in Kentucky.
WILDMAN: To what devastating disaster did this object bear witness, and who -- or what -- was responsible? Southgate, Kentucky, May 28, 1977.
Thousands of revelers enjoy a night of entertainment at the state's biggest night spot, the Beverly Hills Supper Club.
SISK: Beverly Hills was the Las Vegas of the East.
It's where the common man came to mix and mingle with the famous and the infamous.
WILDMAN: Once a mob-owned gambling den, it is now a legitimate cabaret club with performances from star acts, like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
But a terrible fate lies in store for the salubrious night spot.
8:58 P.
Two waitresses enter an empty banquet hall known as the Zebra Room and make a shocking discovery.
The room is on fire and filled with smoke.
The fire had smoldered undetected inside the walls of the Zebra Room for almost an hour.
It was as if the fire had a life of its own.
It became a living, breathing beast.
It was consuming air as it went.
WILDMAN: With unimaginable speed, the fire spreads to the main cabaret room, trapping hundreds of guests.
Panic and pandemonium broke out.
The room was beginning to fill up with smoke.
People began to press against each other.
WILDMAN: By 2:00 A.
, the fire is finally under control, and survivors begin to make sense of the carnage.
Of the almost 2,300 people, 165 died that night.
WILDMAN: All that remains of the Beverly Hills Supper Club is a charred mass of rubble.
One of the few objects recovered is this cash register, on display at the Fort Thomas Military and Community Museum.
SISK: Just begin to imagine the heat and the fire that could cause such an easily recognizable instrument to be deformed and completely changed into this skeletal image.
WILDMAN: The next day, fire investigators arrive at the scene to determine the cause of the blaze.
But when they get there, they're already too late.
Authorities have started to bulldoze the site.
As author Robert Webster recalls, investigators speculate that the fire was most likely caused by faulty wiring.
WEBSTER: The fire was probably electrical in nature, as precise as they could be in their investigation.
WILDMAN: The Beverly Hills Supper Club fire is considered a closed case.
But 25 years later, new evidence comes to light that breaks the story wide open.
It's 1977.
A devastating inferno tears through the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, killing 165 people.
But the resulting investigation is cut short when authorities bulldoze the site.
So, who or what was responsible for this deadly blaze? In 2003, 36 years after the tragedy, a former Supper Club busboy approaches investigative author Robert Webster with a shocking account of that fateful night.
He had seen something very suspicious that night, and it was really irking him.
There may be something more to the story than the newspapers had reported.
WILDMAN: The busboy claims he witnessed unscheduled maintenance work in the Zebra Room the night of the fire.
The men claimed to be mending the air-conditioning units.
WEBSTER: We now know that there was no air-conditioning units in the ceiling at the Zebra Room to begin with.
WILDMAN: Intrigued, Webster investigates further and finds a waitress who also has a damning account of the night in question.
She claims she saw unfamiliar men cleaning the walls in the main hallway.
And on closer inspection, realized that they were doing something else altogether.
WEBSTER: They were actually wiping something on the walls, which she thought was extremely suspicious.
WILDMAN: Webster believes the liquid may have been flammable.
He asks fire experts to reexamine police photos from the case.
The experts identify scorch patterns indicating a chemical accelerant may have contributed to the fire's rapid expansion.
If this was arson, what could have been the motive for such a horrific attack? Webster believes the answer lies in the Beverly Hill Supper Club's sordid past.
For years, it was a mob-owned night spot that doubled as an illegal gambling hall until authorities closed it down in 1961.
When it reopened eight years later under new ownership, Webster believes the Mafia wanted its club back.
In fact, the waitress recalls witnessing two men confront and threaten the new owner in the weeks before the fire.
WEBSTER: These gentlemen that stated, "You may not realize if you don't sell us the club, you may not have a club at all.
" WILDMAN: In March 2009, Webster takes his evidence to Kentucky state officials.
But after putting together a panel of experts, authorities decide not to reopen the investigation.
And today, this scorched cash register at the Fort Thomas Military and Community Museum is all that remains of a sordid mystery and the greatest disaster in Kentucky state history.
From a priceless space rock to a political scandal, man-eating beasts to a high-flying encounter, I'm Don Wildman, and these are the mysteries at the museum.