The Mad Bomber of New York City

This week I write about a string of bombings that terrorized New York City for sixteen years. Unlike last week’s case, no one died, which was something of a miracle. When the public realized that a serial bomber was at work, they and the newspapers dubbed him the Mad Bomber.

The First Bombs

The first bomb surfaced on November 16, 1940. It was crude, a brass tube filled with gunpowder. Someone discovered it before it could go off. Perhaps the Mad Bomber didn’t intend for it to explode, because he wrapped in a note that an explosion would have destroyed. The note, printed in block capitals, read, “CON EDISON CROOKS—THIS IS FOR YOU” and was signed, “F.P.”

The Mad Bomber placed this "unit" in a locker in New York's Grand Central Terminal
Police examine the aftermath of a bomb that exploded in a Grand Central Terminal locker

The first bomb and a similar one discovered in September 1941 attracted little public attention. Then shortly after the United States entered World War II, New York police received a note. This one, also printed in block capitals and signed, “F.P,” promised to plant no more bombs for the duration of the war.

The bomber was as good as his word. Instead of bombs, he sent crank letters to the police and to Consolidated Edison.

The Mad Bomber Returns

Nearly a decade after Pearl Harbor, on March 29, 1951, a small bomb exploded in Grand Central Terminal. The bomber had dropped his device in a sand urn near the Oyster Bar in the terminal’s lower level. There were no injuries, but it marked the return of the Mad Bomber.

Between 1951 and 1957, the Mad Bomber left at least 33 explosive devices in public places. Twenty-two of them exploded injuring 15 people. The bomber’s favorite locations included the Grand Central and Pennsylvania railroad terminals, the New York Public Library, Radio City Music Hall, movie theaters, and subway stations.

Police said the Mad Bomber used these components to make his "units"
The Mad Bomber used these components to make his “units”

As the bomb count rose, the public naturally became more uneasy. But police were unable to make significant headway towards discovering the identity of the bomber. It was apparent from notes that the bomber left with some of the bombs that he harbored a grudge against Consolidated Edison, the large electric utility. But that was hardly enough to narrow the field of suspects. And the bombs kept exploding.

A Pioneering “Portrait”

Police captain John Cronin asked his friend, psychiatrist James A. Brussel to meet with detectives. Working with the detectives, Brussel developed what he called a “portrait” of the bomber. Today we would call it an offender psychological profile.

After carefully studying crime scene photos, Brussel created his “portrait” of the bomber. Then as now, the profile did little to identify the bomber in a city of millions. But it would help police recognize him when they found him. Newspapers published the profile on Christmas Day 1956.

Con Ed clerk Alice Kelly read the profile. She dug through the company’s workers’ compensation files looking for employees with serious injuries. She came across one that included phrases the bomber had used in letters to the New York Journal-American. The name in the file was George P. Metesky. Police arrested him at the home in Waterbury, Connecticut that he shared with two unmarried sisters.

Police arrest George Metesky as the Mad Bomber
Police arrest George P. Metesky as the Mad Bomber

George Peter Metesky

George Metesky began working for Con Ed in 1929. On September 5, 1931, he was working as a generator wiper at the company’s generating station at Hell Gate. A boiler backfired, knocking Metesky down and filling his lungs with fumes. Con Ed denied his worker’s compensation claim and discharged him after 26 weeks of sick leave. Metesky felt the company had unfairly denied his claim. He also believed that several coworkers had perjured their testimony in his compensation case to favor the company.

George Metesky, the Mad Bomber, behind bars
George Metesky behind bars

Feeling that Consolidated Edison and the city had ignored him, Metesky decided his only option was to attract public attention. He decided to do this by planting “units” (he never called them “bombs”) around the city. When asked why he signed his notes “F.P.,” Metesky replied that it stood for “Fair Play.”

Metesky admitted to placing 32 bombs and a grand jury indicted him on 47 counts, including attempted murder. However, he never went to trial. Judge Samuel Leibowitz declared him a paranoid schizophrenic and confined him to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. His lung ailment was so severe that orderlies had to carry him into the hospital.

Epilogue

Metesky responded well to treatment and recovered his health. In 1973, a decision by the United States Supreme Court forced the State of New York to move him to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, which is outside the state correctional system.

George Metesky at Matteawan
George Metesky relaxes at Matteawan

Doctors at Creedmoor determined that the former Mad Bomber was now harmless. They released him on December 13, 1973. He returned to his home in Waterbury. The only condition was that he make regular visits to a Connecticut Department of Mental Hygiene clinic near his home. He died in Waterbury on May 23, 1994 at age 90.

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