The Mad Bomber: George Metesky's Bombs Terrorized New York City
George Metesky behind bars, 1951. (Washington Post)
As millions of people file for unemployment and still more lack health insurance, it's easy to understand, here in 2020, why someone might get salty with an employer for leaving them in the lurch. In the 1940s, George Metesky got so upset that he began threatening the company, and he wasn't satisfied with angry letters. He chose instead to hide a series of signed pipe bombs around New York City over the course of 16 years. While no one was killed and only a few were injured, the scale of the bombings was so broad that George Metesky was christened "The Mad Bomber."
Poor George Metesky
George Metesky had always been an upstanding him. He was a veteran who'd served as a specialist electrician in Shanghai for the Marine Corps after World War I, and after returning to the United States in 1931, he worked as a mechanic for Consolidated Edison. He soon switched to generator wiping at the company's plant in Hell's Gate, where one day, a boiler backfired, knocking him over and filling his lungs with toxic gas. He was given sick pay for 26 days, but following his recovery, the company unceremoniously let him go.
Things only got worse for Metesky from there. His injuries developed into pneumonia, then tuberculosis. He tried repeatedly to get Consolidated Edison to change their minds and offer him further compensation in light of the ongoing and debilitating nature of his workplace accident, but they refused three separate times, claiming that he'd taken too long to file for compensation. Defeated, Metesky dropped it—for the time being.
George Metesky placed the first of many pipe bombs on a windowsill at Consolidated Edison headquarters in 1940. The bomb, which was discovered before it went off, was wrapped in a note that read "CON EDISON CROOKS--THIS IS FOR YOU," signed with the mysterious initials "F.P." (After police got ahold of Metesky and asked him what "F.P." stood for, he told them it meant "fair play.") Because of the presence of this note, some investigators believed that the bomb was never intended to detonate.
Almost a year later, authorities found a second pipe bomb just a few blocks away from where the first had been placed. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 pulled the country into World War II just over a year later, Metesky wrote to the police to let them know that he would hold off on the explosives during the war effort. He was a veteran, after all.
True to his word, Metesky didn't place any more bombs during World War II or for some time after, though he continued to fire off messages to the police, newspapers, and even laymen. It wasn't until 1951 that he picked his vendetta against Consolidated Edison back up.
This time, he bombed public areas that were highly trafficked, like Penn Station, Grand Central Station, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Public Library, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. He planted about 33 bombs in total, 22 of which detonated, resulting in 15 injuries. Most were mild, aside from one unfortunate elderly men's room attendant who tried to dislodge a pipe bomb from a toilet, and some were close calls, like the librarian who happened to notice the bomb under a pay phone or the guard at the RCA building who failed to recognize the bomb and toted it on home to use in a plumbing project.
Metesky also placed multiple bombs inside theater seats, leading to injuries at a showing of Bing Crosby's White Christmas at Radio City Music Hall. He placed so many bombs inside these seats that one wasn't found until after his arrest. Once in custody, Metesky insisted that he'd designed the bombs to be non-lethal, but between 1951 and 1957, the combination of his prolific bombings and notes led to one of the first major offender profiling cases.
The Mad Bomber's Foil
Psychiatrist and criminologist Dr. James A. Brussel was eventually called in to give police insight into the Mad Bomber's character based on his notes, a task at which he succeeded admirably. For example, the strangely shaped letters, Dr. Brussel said, meant the Mad Bomber was likely of Eastern European origin or at least educated in Europe. He suggested that the man would be single, neat, and living with female relatives. Given the evidence of paranoid rage in his letters, Dr. Brussel also deduced that the culprit was an older man, one who'd had enough time to develop these feelings. So precise was his profiling that when Metesky showed up in court, he was wearing a double-breasted suit, just as Dr. Brussel predicted.
In the end, it wasn't just a profile that helped bring down George Metesky. It was Alice Kelly, a clerk at Consolidated Edison. When she reviewed old worker compensation claims, she noticed that Metesky's file not only listed an injury date that matched up with the Mad Bomber's letters but also that they shared certain strange phrases, such as "dastardly deeds." It was an exceptionally dramatic H.R. file.
The Trial Of The Mad Bomber
When Metesky showed up for trial in that double-breasted suit, he was indicted on 47 charges, including attempted murder, damaging a building, malicious endangerment of life, and concealed weapons. He confessed to all of the bombs, which he carefully referred to as "units."
Ultimately, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and deemed unfit to stand trial for his crimes. Instead, he was sent to Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. While ultimately, his treatment failed to alleviate his schizophrenic symptoms, the regular medical care did improve his tuberculosis. He left the hospital in 1973, having served two-thirds of what would have been a maximum 25-year sentence, and went home to Connecticut, eventually dying in 1994 at the age of 90.
Other Serial Bombers
George Metesky is far from the only serial bomber in history, and they tend to follow a specific pattern. Usually men, they're intelligent and detail-oriented (as you'd hope when working with explosives). Across the board, they have a message they're trying to get out. For Metesky, it was his anger towards Consolidated Edison as well as the newspapers and police he believed hadn’t responded to him as they should have.
Anger is a common theme. The Unabomber, one of the most expensive and infamous cases in FBI history, coupled his actions with a 35,000-word manifesto that railed against modern technology. The Olympic Park bomber followed, placing bombs in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, an abortion clinic, a lesbian nightclub, and a women's clinic.
One of the younger, more recent bombers came out of the Midwest, placing bombs in mailboxes across multiple states with the apparent aim of creating a country-sized smiley face. The Smiley Face Bomber, like Metesky, was deemed unfit to stand trial. Apparently, the field of psychology really takes a hard line on emojis.
Tags: 1940s | 1950s | crime | new york city
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