Family crusades to bring home body of Ferris LeBlanc
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - One family is crusading to bring home their loved one decades after his death. Ferris LeBlanc was a World War II veteran and a victim in the Upstairs Lounge arson fire. Yet, for years, his family never knew. Now, they're fighting to find his body and take him back to his hometown.
"His voice came to me and said, 'Don't leave me here, don't leave me here.'"
Even in death, Marilyn LeBlanc Downey feels a strong connection to her brother. She's on a crusade to bring him home.
"He knows what we're trying to do. He really does. So I always ask him if there's anything, anyway from the other side you can help us to find you," said Marilyn.
Her journey began three years ago, when she and her family first leaned of his death. Ferris was a victim of the Upstairs Lounge Arson fire back in 1973.
"We finally knew but, of course, what a horrible tragedy to die being burned alive. It was a shock to us," said Marilyn's son, Skip Bailey.
For years, the family believed he had just vanished. After exhaustive searches in their home state of California, Marilyn says many of their family members had given up hope he was still alive.
But not her.
"One of these days, he's going to ring the doorbell, and I'm going to open it and I'm going to say, 'Where have you been all this time?' And it would be so beautiful, but then I'd wake up," said Marilyn.
Marilyn finally learned the truth after one of her brothers said he read about Ferris on the Internet. A quick Google search told them everything they needed to know.
"There he was - all the story about the fire and his death and everything," recalled Skip.
Skip got to work, spending months tracking down leads to find Ferris.
"We think they probably thought he was just local and the family was embarrassed because he was a homosexual man, so they just didn't do any pursuit to find us," Skip explained.
They say that couldn't be further from the truth.
"We didn't disown him and we did not not claim his body because of that. It's because we didn't know," said Skip.
Yet, their search for his remains have been slow going and time is of the essence. Marilyn has breast cancer. It metastasized to her lungs and spine.
"No matter what it takes or how long it takes, we are going to get him and bring him home no matter what we have to go through. I'm just hoping it's going to be while I'm still around," said Marilyn with a smile.
Now, the family has new hope. They tracked down Ferris to Potter's Field in New Orleans East. A map of Resthaven Cemetery, along with old news footage of the burial, are the only clues to finding Ferris, but it's the closest they've ever been.
They have a plot number. Now, all they have to do is find the plot.
"Q32, that's our magic number," said Skip. "We're so close."
It's a task easier said than done.
"He could be right under here for all we know," said Marilyn. "There are no markers, just think of all the love ones out here, no markers or anything. But, you know, I just feel this way. God knows and you know what? That's the important thing that he knows because he's my best friend."