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Former Conn. arson investigator, co-author of Hartford circus fire book, dies

Rick Davey spent nine years on his own time researching the saga of “Little Miss 1565"


The fire killed at least 167 people and more than 700 were injured.

Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD, Conn. — Rick Davey, a Hartford Fire Department arson investigator credited with identifying the Hartford Circus Fire’s “Little Miss 1565" and reopening the investigation into the blaze that killed 168 people and injured 700 others, has died. Davey, who was 74, died July 28 at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, following a lengthy illness.

Davey was also co-author of “A Matter of Degree: The Hartford Circus Fire & Mystery” which spurred the re-opening of the investigation into the cause of the fire that occurred in Hartford’s North End on July 6, 1944.

Don Massey, who co-authored the book with Davey, recalled Tuesday that Davey spent nine years on his own time researching the saga of “Little Miss 1565,” poring through archives at the Connecticut State Library, working with Don Cook, who had tried unsuccessfully to convince the state that she was his little sister Eleanor, who went missing after the fire, which also killed his little brother Edward.

Eventually the two were successful and Eleanor Cook was exhumed from the Northwood Cemetery plot in Windsor she shared with other unidentified victims and taken to Southhampton, Ma. and buried next to her brother in 1991.

That effort, Massey said, endeared him to Eleanor Cook’s mother, Mildred, until her death.

“She was extremely grateful. She made him a de-facto member of the family,” Massey said.

Davey’s uncovering of evidence that the fire was not “accidental” as had been the conclusion of the original investigation, did not have the same effect on state and city officials, as the arson investigator showed that a carelessly disposed of cigarette could not have started the fire. Davey also brought to light information about a possible suspect in the fire, who had at one time confessed to setting it. State fire marshal investigators were sent to Ohio to interview the suspect, Robert Segee, but were unable to charge him. Nevertheless the designation of the case was changed to “inconclusive,” which Massey said left his friend “100 percent at peace” with the outcome.

“His professional commitment led him to fulfill the mission,” Massey said. “But the personal gratification came from the family’s recognition that [Eleanor] was their daughter or sister.”

Retired Hartford Fire Chief Charles Teale, who first met then inspector Davey when he joined the department in 1982, attested to his professionalism and determination.

“He was tough and not an easy guy to get along with,” Teale said. “He pulled no punches and ruffled feathers. That was his style.”

Teale said he really started to get to know Davey and Massey after the identification of Eleanor Cook in 1991 and the three worked closely, along with others, to make the memorial to the victims that stands behind Fred D. Wish School a reality. It was dedicated in 1994 and survivors, who are dwindling with time, return every July 6th for a remembrance.

“Those who lost their lives deserve to be remembered, but we also felt responsible that the department didn’t do its job,” Teale said. “Rick Davey rescued us from that and restored the image and reputation of the Hartford Fire Department.”

Don Cook, 88 and now living in Iowa, confirmed his mother’s affection for Davey, saying that he became like another son to her. He also remembered him as a good thorough investigator, who he believes was forced into retirement for his efforts.

“He left his badge on Eleanor’s grave,” Cook said.

Davey is survived by his wife, Joan A. Kelley-Davey, a son Richard Davey and a stepson Michael Kelley and his family. A memorial service will be held at a later date to be announced. Carmon Windsor Funeral Home is in care of arrangements.

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