Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler:
When Buddy Rasmussen and bar owner Phil Esteve were finally permitted inside, they could barely recognize the place. But they did notice something peculiar. Evidently, even though only police, fire, medical first responders, and news reporters were allowed inside the structure, the night’s earnings had gone missing. “Phil said the cash register, juke box, cigarette machine and some wallets had money removed,” recalled Bob McAnear, the former U.S. Customs officer. “Phil wouldn’t report it because, if he did, the police would never allow him to operate a bar in New Orleans again.” Up Stairs Lounge historian Johnny Townsend, who interviewed Phil Esteve in the 1980s, in part corroborates this account in his Let the Faggots Burn: “Phil Esteve rushed over to the bar that evening but couldn’t go in until the following day. Then, he says, he watched as investigators tore names off of checks and took money from the cash register which they never turned over to him.” Esteve is now deceased and unable to speak to those details himself.
But money was indeed unaccounted for. “Whether it was because it was a gay bar or that insurance would cover it, so it wouldn’t be missed, there are those who would take advantage of the situation,” McAnear contended. “It would be difficult to break open those machines without more than one person being aware.” The night’s monetary haul from the beer bust was gone, not in the safe. Buddy and Phil both felt the pressure to pretend that no other crime, other than the fire, had occurred that Sunday night. Besides, if anyone had filed a complaint about such missing funds, it would have been the word of two homosexuals against the officials.