When the
Dancing Stopped

The Real Story of the Morro Castle Disaster
and It's Deadly Wake

During the dark days of the Great Depression, thousands of weary souls escaped their bleak lives for a week of paradise aboard the Ward Line's glamorous cruise ship, the Morro Castle. It was the most famous passenger liner of its day, lightning fast, elegantly appointed. It was also a ticking time bomb.

It was the summer of 1934. Two sailors joined the Morro Castle crew, one a teenager on his first job away from home, the other a dangerous psychopath. Within two months, they would witness the end of the party in a single night of death, killer storms, and catastrophic fire. And that was only the beginning of a twenty-year-long story.

In When the Dancing Stopped, we too walk up the gangplank to that art-deco liner and, at first, enjoy the glamour and the sultry Havana nights. With mounting suspense, we also witness the launch of a mystery that mesmerized the nation and then, in the midst of troubled times, faded away. Using newly declassified FBI files, thousands of pages of investigation notes, testimony, and new interviews, this book takes the reader on a mid-century cruise through history, revealing a cold-case file that had been, until now, left unsolved for history. And it all began with the last cruise of the Morro Castle.

One of those two men, Thomas Torresson Jr., first sailed on the cruise ship as a high school senior recovering from serious illness and soon found a love that would endure his entire life. Within months, he would join the crew. For George Rogers, a gifted radio operator with a secret past, the ship was merely the latest in a long line of jobs. Their paths would cross several times on the way to their destiny, and the disaster would affect the two in very different ways: one would become famous, the other scarred forever.

In the grand tradition of The Devil in the White City, Brian Hicks details a desperate investigation and the search for what may be the modern era's first serial killer through the tragic backdrop of a country suffering through depression and a buildup to war. With cameos by J. Edgar Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ernest Hemingway, When the Dancing Stopped is the captivating true story of two men irrevocably bound by history—a true American hero and a dangerous killer masquerading as one. More than that, there is the larger cast of characters: crew members and passengers, investigators, scoundrels, and, yes, additional victims. For the story that began on that storm-tossed night off the coast of New Jersey continued, as we now learn, for decades to come.

Morro Castle

The Morro Castle at sea

Morro life Boat

A lifeboat with survivors from the Morro Castle fire

Morro Castle deck

Rescue workers examining the aft deck of the ship after the disaster. The clothing was shed by passengers just before they jumped into the sea.