Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The Mad Bomber Begins, November 16, 1940
Today in 1940, the man who New York City would come to know as the “Mad Bomber” placed a bomb in a Manhattan office building. The building belonged to Consolidated Edison, the regional electric utility. The badly constructed pipe bomb did not explode and the police found a note nearby which said simply “Con Edison crooks - this is for you.” Thus began a string of bombings and attempted bombings which would last more than 16 years.
The Mad Bomber did not strike again for another year; his second attempt was a dud as well. Another note was found, this one signed with the initials “FP”. As in the case of the first bomb, police wrote the attempt off as an isolated incident. Soon thereafter, the bomber began writing letters to various New York City papers, all of them threatening. After the United States entered the Second World War in December, 1941, the bomber announced he would stop his bombings for the duration of the conflict due to his “patriotic feelings”.
The Mad Bomber’s letters continued to be sent, but he kept his word and attempted no bombings during the war. In fact, he did not strike again until March, 1950, nearly five years after the cessation of hostilities. This bomb had been placed at Grand Central Station and was discovered before it could explode. It was immediately obvious that while the bomber had not struck in a decade, he had not been idle. His latest creation was well-made and much more sophisticated than his previous bombs.
The first of the Mad Bomber’s devices to actually explode did so in a phone booth in the New York Public Library. No one was injured. Over the next two years, three more duds were found that belonged to the bomber. Four more bombs actually exploded in that time, once again with no injuries. It was not until 1953 that one of his devices caused an injury. Even then, the spree continued. All told, the Mad Bomber planted more than 30 explosive devices around the city.
On December 2, 1956, the bomber delivered a more serious blow when he planted a bomb in a Brooklyn movie theater. Six people were injured, three of them seriously. This attack created fear among New Yorkers---if he would plant a bomb in a movie theater, we would plant one anywhere. Despite being galvanized by his latest crime, the New York City Police were helpless in their attempts to find the Mad Bomber. All that was known for sure was that he was obviously very intelligent and had a grudge against Consolidated Edison. No other information could be found. Hoping to shed some light on the type of person who would terrorize a city with a bombing campaign of this type, the NYPD contacted Dr. James Brussel, a psychiatrist employed by the New York State Commission for Mental Hygiene.
Brussel created a criminal profile of the Mad Bomber based on the letters he had sent and the construction of his unexploded bombs. He was male, single and was born outside of the United States, probably in central or eastern Europe. He was middle-aged, Roman Catholic, self-educated, neat to the point of obsession and suffered from an oedipal complex. Brussel even predicted that when the man was caught, he would be wearing a double-breasted suit. The police publicized the profile, hoping that someone would recognize the traits. All that surfaced were false leads.
Consolidated Edison began an investigation of their personnel records, hoping to find a clue there. While examining the records of United Electric and Power, a subsidiary company, someone unusual surfaced: George Metesky. Metesky was employed by the company between 1929 and 1931. In September, 1931, he was injured on the job and began to complain of headaches. The doctors he was sent to could find nothing wrong and so after a year of disability, Metesky was fired. He filed a lawsuit again Consolidated Edison, but lost. He then did something that would come to haunt him---he sent the company several threatening letters. In one, he even threatened to use a bomb. His wording was very similar to that of FP, the mysterious Mad Bomber.
Metesky incriminated himself even further when, using the FP initials again, he wrote a letter to the Journal American in which he mentioned the dates of his injury and blamed Consolidated Edison. The police arrested Metesky in January, 1957. He immediately confessed to being the bomber and showed the police the garage in which he made the devices. He told them that the initials “FP” did not represent a name, but a phrase: “fair play.”
Dr. Brussel’s predictions about the Mad Bomber were amazingly accurate. He was male, single, middle-aged, lived with his two older sisters and was from central Europe. He was even correct about the double-breasted suit. Brussel surmised that the Mad Bomber would be paranoid and, thus, compulsive about neatness. Thus, he would wear the sharpest outfit that could be found in 1950’s America--the double-breasted suit. When Metesky was arrested, he was wearing his pajamas. He asked if he could change clothes before going downtown and when he reappeared, he was wearing his finest double-breasted suit.
George Metesky was found insane and was committed to a state mental hospital. He never showed any improvement, but he was a model patient and was released in 1973. He returned to his home in Connecticut and lived until May, 1994, when he died at the age of 90.