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When you read that title do you think of the recent bombings in September of this year in New York and New Jersey? Or did you think further back to the bombs left at the Boston Marathon in April of 2013?
Perhaps you even thought of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who terrorized this country by sending at least sixteen bombs between 1978 and 1995. Regular readers of my articles may remember that I wrote about a bomb that was thrown in Haymarket Square in May of 1886. The Mad Bomber terrorized New York City for over sixteen years by planting at least 33 bombs between 1940 and 1957.
Seventy-six years ago, on November 16, 1940, the individual who was to become known as the Mad Bomber placed the first of his bombs on a window ledge at a Manhattan office building that was utilized by Consolidated Edison. The small bomb was a short length of brass pipe that had been filled with gunpowder. It appeared to have been made unskillfully. There was a note placed on the outside that read, “Con Edison crooks, this is for you!” Some law enforcement officials believed that the note’s placement meant that it was not intended to detonate. After a perfunctory investigation of possible suspects including disgruntled employees, the authorities allowed the case to languish.
Almost a year later, in September of 1941, the second bomb was found near a different Consolidated Edison office. The second bomb was also unexploded and like the first and many of the subsequent bombs, was found inside a sock. There was no note found with the second bomb. Then, in December of 1941, the United States entered World War Two following the attack on Pearl Harbor. That same month, the bomber sent a note to the police stating that he would suspend his bombings during the war. He also wrote in the same block-style handwriting as the first note, “I will bring the Con Edison to justice. They will pay for their dastardly deeds.” The letter was signed, “F.P.”
The bomber kept his word about the bombings, although he continued to send threatening letters to both the police and the utility company.
It wasn’t until March of 1950 that the third bomb was discovered. This one was also unexploded and had been left at Grand Central Station. Then in April of 1950 a bomb was exploded in a phone booth that was inside the New York Public Library. The next bomb was again left at Grand Central Station, and the interval between devices seemed to shorten.
Over the next several years bombs were left at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre, the Capitol Theater, Loew’s Theater on Lexington Avenue, the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, Penn Station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Radio City Music Hall, and numerous other telephone booths. Each of the bombs had an inexpensive pocket watch and flashlight batteries for the timer. Twenty-two of the 33 bombs exploded injuring at least fifteen people. Thankfully there were no direct fatalities from the bombs. One man did die during questioning by the police, but it was later determined that he was innocent.
The police called in Dr. James Brussel, the assistant commissioner of the New York State Commission for Mental Hygiene. Dr. Brussel developed a profile that was published in the Journal American on Christmas Day of 1956.
In his profile, Dr. Brussel suggested that the unknown offender would be a heavy middle-aged man who was unmarried, but perhaps living with a family member. The criminal would be a skilled mechanic from Connecticut, who was a Roman Catholic immigrant. He would be a male, would have an obsessional love for his mother, but would hate his father. Brussel noted that the offender had a personal vendetta against Consolidated Edison, the city’s power company. Dr. Brussel also mentioned to the police that, when apprehended, the “chances are he will be wearing a double-breasted suit that was buttoned.
Alice Kelly, a Con-Edison clerk is credited with identifying George Metesky as the bomber. She went through all of the company’s workers compensation files and discovered Mr. Metesky had been an employee who was injured in a 1931 accident. Ironically, Con-Edison had impeded the investigation for two years by claiming that employee files from before 1940 had been destroyed.
Mr. Metesky was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Doc Halliday can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org