"Anybody who thinks that Charlie was defined by the place and way he died has just missed the whole point," said the congressional receptionist, eyes red, gently weeping. "He was a fantastic person. . ."
Charlie, who was in his 30s and worked as a top aide to a congressman, was a family man, living with his wife and young daughter in a small, neat, brick house in Arlington. His friends describe him as enormously bright and personable, a man who read a lot, who liked to take his family to Harper's Ferry for weekend picnics. On Monday night he was trapped in a fire in a Southeast Washington threater for homosexuals, and died.
He was one of eight persons to die in that fire so far. As the identifications of the dead and injured gradually become known, it appears that they represent a cross-section of typical Americans: the legislative aide, an Army major, an ex-Marine, a former pastor and employee of a Protestant church . . .
Many were married, had children, and appeared to friends to lead normal lives. The anguish of friends and relatives of the dead seems in some cases to have been made worse by the circumstantial connection with a gay establishment, whether that proves anything or not about the sexual preferences of the victims.Wives and relatives don't want to talk about it for the most part.
The Cinema Follies film theater, at 87 L St. SE where the eight men died, was cramped place where, according to sources in the homosexual community, gays could be together away from the disapproving eyes of outsiders.
Many men who went there and to other homosexual meeting places here tried no identification or false identification because of their fear that [WORD ILLEGIBLE] often hidden sexual preferences become public knowledge. In [WORD ILLEGIBLE] his has led to difficulty in identifying the dead and injured of the Cinema Follies fire. Some of the injured may never be publicly identified.
The case of the dead, six of the men are now been fully identified [WORD ILLEGIBLE] tentatively identified, according to police. Police said they have a friend of the tentatively identified person and the friend is trying to locate the deceased's family. The dead person is what police call a "Doe", an unidentified corpse.
Press aide to the congressmen for [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Charlie worked sat in Charlie's [WORD ILLEGIBLE] room yesterday and gave this account of Charlie's life:
Born in South Carolina . . . graduate from University of South Carolina, here he edited the school paper . . . a UPI reporter in Arizona . . . editor of a small South Carolina weekly paper . . .
In 1974 Charlie joined the congress's first congressional campaign, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] said. After the victory, "Charlie [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Washington as a top aide, the legislative assistant . . . He was a very [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and trusted political adviser to the congressman's.
Like several other friends and relatives of those who died in the fire, the congressman's aide said she didn't believe that he was a homosexual. She and her husband were "closest friends" with Charlie and his wife, she said, and, "I didn't think that he was gay. I never considered it.It never came up."
The press aide said she didn't think Charlie's wife for six years had thought her husband was homosexual. The wife was in another room in the house and did not comment. Charlie may have been in the theater preparing to write a free-lance article, coworker said.
He was very well read and very interested in arts and theater. He was politically astute in that he had compassion for people and could put himself in their place."
The press aide said that when the two couples spent time together. "We enjoyed things like taking the family out to Harper's Ferry or cooking out in the back yard or going to polo matches."
She said that Charlie had "been in the office most of the day. Monday and it was a holiday. He talked to his wife (by phone) about 4 o'clock. He said he'd be home and go to a movie with her that night. She never heard from him again."
The press aide said that Charlie's wife was "very, very stunned."
Another dead victim of the fire was a church official who lived in Illinois, according to the Rev. Duane Ramsey, a minister of a Church of the Brethren in Washington.
Ramsey and other church officials identified the man as a former pastor of the church who most recently worked for the national office of the church here. The church is a protestant demonination of about 180,000 persons.
"I don't really want to give out any information on him," Ramsey told a reporter. "The family did not even desire to get his name in the press. I think you'd need to get in touch with the family. I don't want to get involved in that."
"I'm not able to talk," said the man's wife. Asked of another family member might speak of her husband, she replied: "There's just me and my children."
The man was an Ohio native who graduated from Kent State and an Illinois theological seminary, according to a statement issued by the national office of the Church of the Brethren.
The man served as a pastor in California and Oregon, according to church officials. He was a "gifted musician . . . known as an organist and composer, who produced several hymn tunes for Brethren worship services," said Earl Fike, assistant general secretary of the General Board of the Church of the Brethren.
Fike said the man was enroute from meetings of the General Board of the Church of the Brethren in Maryland, on staff assignments in Washington" and in Virginia at the time of the fire.
Fike would say no more about the man who served the church for 20 years, other than we're really working hard at trying to help the family, with four children and everything."
"He had recently made a trip through Europe with another staff person working on the history of our church," said the pastor of the church where the dead man worshipped "and had visited quite a number of spots where our church originated. He came back with excellent slides - he was good with a camera, too."
The pastor said he knew the man and suggested he might have been at the theatre to find out what other people see, or find out what's going on in the world. We believe in trying to aware of what life is and how other people view life. He may have been there just as an observer. He might have been passing by and went to try to help save somebody," said Snider. "Who knows?"
Was he a troubled man, a man in conflict?
"He was a well adjusted man, well respected in the church. No! There was nothing . . . No indeed, this wasn't a pattern of his."
Very little is known about another victim, who was 33 years old and lived in the Dupont Circle area. Several of his neighbours said he was a pleasant friendly person, but they told reporters they never really knew him.
A sister-in-law of this victim declined to comment about him. "No I am not ashamed of him," she said. "I just think this should ba a family matter."
Another victim was a 28-year-old Marlow Heights. Md. man. A woman who answered the telephone at his address said she did not want to discuss the Cinema Follics fire.
She wasn't trying to be "cold" or "nasty," the woman explained in a soft voice. She just wanted to make sure that nothing would be said that could "smear the name of my husband."
"He was a good man," she said.
A resident of the high-rise apartment building in Marlow Heights where this man lived, described him as a quite person who kept to himself.
Another man who died in the Clnema Fellies fire was an unemployed ex-Marine who lived in Arlington, and yet another was an Army major stationed at Ft. Meade. Md.
The 42-year-old Army major lived with his wife and children in Columbia. Md. He had just returned from an overseas tour of duty in Korea and was a legal officer working in the foreign claims division of the Army Claims Service, according to an Army spokesman.
A woman who answered the door at his house said, "I'm sorry you drove all the way out here in the rain but the less I tell you the less you can write and I don't want anything written about this or him."
"It's a hidden life said Allen Grooms of Washington's Metropolitan Community Church, which serves the homesexual community here. Grooms described himself as a homosexual who was married for five years. "It is very difficult and the thing is to find the ablility to become honest with yourself first and then with those around you."
"People remain anonymous because they are afraid of retribution, of job discrimination, of never being able to speak to their families again," said Mayo Lee, president of the Gay Activist Alliance here. "When I began to realize my sexual orientation and started going to bars. I didn't give people my right name, for example, I would seek anoymous, one-night stands. I drank a hell of a lot, and I was angry with society for making being gay a big issue in my life . . . "
Grooms said he went into a down-town Washington lunch counter for lunch yesterday and found virtually everyone in the place discussing the fire and its victims.
"They weren't saying anything deregatory, they were just asking questions," he said. "One of the ladies suddenly stopped and said, 'What if they called and told you it was your cousin?" The entire table stopped talking because they realized that it could be a father, an uncle, a mother, a sister."
(add 16 VICTIMS - L) 14.9 n.n.
Grooms said that possibly one out of 10 persons in Washington, as in any large city, is a homosexual. "Most are leading a very normal life watching TV at home, going to movies and everything else. It's a very unfair stereotype when people assume that we're all in bars constantly."
While he said he had no knowledge of any of the other fire victims personally. Grooms said that homosexuals who are married to nonhomosexuals and who have children will typically " tend to think they will handle this later after the children are grown as far as going public."
Grooms also said he thinks there is "far more acceptance" of homosexuality among the general public than is often realized. He said that homosexuals are often very stable, very responsible persons with good jobs and high positions in business and government. "If everyone turned purple that was gay in Washington I think there would be a lot of surprises."