Last week, featured the Snyder-Gray case, a story of conspiracy and murder. This week, I present ten bombings on American soil that might shock you. Some will be familiar, others you may not have heard of.
Haymarket Riot – Chicago
Rapid industrialization after the American Civil War made fortunes for some but also led to labor unrest. Labor activists held a mass meeting on May 4, 1886 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. About 10:30 p.m., a large contingent of Chicago police arrived and ordered the speaker to desist and the crowd to leave. Someone threw a bomb in front of the police line, killing one officer immediately and mortally wounding seven others. Sixty other officers had non-fatal injuries. Eight men were convicted and seven of them hanged.
Assassination of Frank Steunenberg – Caldwell, Idaho
Frank Steunenberg served as the fourth governor of Idaho from 1897 to 1901. Labor problems plagued Idaho, too, especially in the mining industry. In one violent flare-up in 1899, members of the Western Federation of Miners destroyed a mill belonging to the to the Bunker Hill Mining Company. Although elected with labor support, Steunenberg declared martial law in response. Nearly five years after he left office, a former miner named Harry Orchard (born Albert Horsley) fastened a bomb to the governor’s front gate. On December 30, 1905, the bomb detonated, Killing Steunenberg. Orchard served 46 years in prison and died in 1954.
Wall Street Bombing – New York City
On Thursday, September 16, 1920, a horse-drawn wagon plodded through lunchtime crowds in Manhattan. It stopped in front of 23 Wall Street, headquarters of the J.P. Morgan Bank. At 12:02 p.m., the wagon exploded with a furious roar. The cart was laden with 100 pounds of dynamite. Five hundred pounds of cast-iron sashweights acted as deadly shrapnel. Forty people died in the blast and 143 received serious injuries. Investigators believed Italian anarchists were responsible, but police were never able to charge anyone with the crime. Damage to the building is still visible today.
Bath School Disaster – Bath Township, Michigan
Andrew Kehoe was a difficult man and a dedicated accumulator of grudges. Formerly the school board treasurer in Bath Township, he lost a reelection bid on April 5, 1926. Thereafter, he began collecting dynamite and pyrotol, an incendiary explosive. On May 18,1927, Kehoe murdered his wife, then set timed explosives at his farm and the Bath Consolidated School. The blast at the school killed 43 people, most of them elementary school children. Kehoe then drove his truck to the school and detonated explosives he had packed in it, killing himself. Authorities presumed his motive was revenge for his 1926 election defeat and personal financial stress.
Mad Bomber – New York City
We met George Metesky, New York City’s “Mad Bomber” in a previous blog entry. Metesky was a former Consolidated Edison worker that felt the company had improperly denied a disability claim. Between 1940 and 1956, he planted 33 bombs around the city, with a patriotic time out during World War II. The bombs didn’t kill anybody, but they did injure fifteen people. Metesky went to a mental institution instead of prison.
United Airlines Flight 629 – Longmont, Colorado
Jack Gilbert Graham had a grudge against his mother, Daisie Eldora King. On November 1, 1955, Jack put her on United Airlines Flight 629 from Denver to Seattle. He also packed one of her suitcases with dynamite and bought flight insurance. The plane, a Douglas DC-6B named Mainliner Denver, left Denver’s Stapleton airport at 6:52. p.m. At 7:03, it was over Longmont, Colorado when Stapleton air traffic controllers noticed two bright lights in the sky. After 30-45 seconds, the lights fell to the ground and a very bright flash came from the point of impact. They quickly determined that Flight 629 was missing. All 44 people aboard died. Convicted of murdering his mother, Graham died in the Colorado gas chamber on January 11, 1957.
The Unabomber – Various Locations
Ted Kaczynski joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 as an assistant professor of mathematics. But he was an indifferent teacher, uncomfortable in the classroom and disliked by his students. He resigned suddenly in 1969 and, in 1971, moved to a remote cabin near Lincoln, Montana to live primitively. He developed a neo-Luddite philosophy that disdained modern technology. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski mailed or hand-delivered 16 bombs that three people and injured 22 others. In 1995, Kaczynski mailed a 35,000 word “manifesto,” Industrial Society and Its Future, to the FBI, insisting on its publication. When The Washington Post published it on September 19, 1995. Ted’s brother, David, recognized the writing style and eventually contacted the FBI. The FBI arrested Kaczynski at his cabin on April 3, 1996. He pled guilty to avoid the death penalty and received eight life sentences without parole.
Speedway Bombings – Speedway Indiana
Speedway, Indiana is west of downtown Indianapolis and home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Over the five days between September 1 and September 6, 1978, eight bombs exploded in random locations around town. The break in the case came when federal agents arrested Brett Kimberlin for attempting to illegally obtain U.S. Government credentials. A search of Kimberlin’s home turned up bomb-making materials that matched evidence from the bomb sites. Kimberlin was sentenced to over 51 years in federal prison but served only twenty.
Centennial Olympic Park – Atlanta, Georgia
On July 27, 1996, a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia while the city was hosting the Summer Olympics. Security guard Richard Jewell discovered the bomb before it detonated and started clearing spectators out of the area. Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell came under suspicion of setting the bomb himself. Police eventually cleared him but not before a media frenzy descended on him and his home. Not until May 31, 2003 did police in North Carolina arrest the real bomber, Eric Rudolph, a member of the Christian terrorist group Army of God. Rudolph is serving life without parole in a federal prison. Richard Jewell died in 2007 from complications of diabetes.
Murrah Federal Building – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
A bomb blast destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on April 19, 1995 and kills 168 people. The collapse of the building rather than the blast itself caused most of the deaths. The bombing was the work of two Army veterans, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The pair were self-proclaimed “survivalists,” angry at the federal government over the FBI’s handling of standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco. They built their bomb using Torvex, nitromethane, and ammonium nitrate, secreting it in a rented Ryder truck. Nichols is serving 161 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.