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George Metesky – New Yorks Mad Bomber.

The Mad Bomber of New York City

It was the first criminal profiling case is U.S. history … and it all boiled down to a disgruntled Con Ed employee. He stuffed rudimentary pipe bombs inside wool socks. Over 20 exploded across New York City, injuring 15 and terrifying the public. Despite a manhunt for the bomber, authorities were stumped – until a psychiatrist provided an eerily exact criminal profile that led directly to the culprit’s arrest.

The Mad Bomber, later revealed as being a man called George Metesky, terrorised New York City for nearly sixteen years between 1940 and 1956. He planted a total of thirty three small bombs in theatres, phone booths, train stations, libraries and other public areas.

Metesky also sent letters to the police and press — in these it was evident that the primary motivation behind the attacks was a grudge held against the Consolidated Edison energy and utility company. In one of his letters, written entirely in block capitals, he said:

BOMBS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL THE CONSOLIDATED EDISON COMPANY IS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE FOR THEIR DASTARDLY ACTS AGAINST ME. I HAVE EXHAUSTED ALL OTHER MEANS. I INTEND WITH BOMBS TO CAUSE OTHERS TO CRY OUT FOR JUSTICE FOR ME.

Fingerprint, bomb, handwriting and other forensic experts working alongside the New York Police Department toiled to apprehend the bomber to no avail. Criminal profiling had been used in previous cases — most famously, to profile Jack the Ripper — but it was by no means the standardised practice it was to become.

Nevertheless, nearly out of options, investigators approached psychiatrist and criminologist Dr James Brussel to create a criminal profile of this mysterious madman.

Metesky held all of New York City in an astonishing nightmare of terror that lasted nearly 17 years. Years before Osama bin Laden was even born, Metesky but the “bomb” in the words “mad bomber,” and his story is almost unbelievable–but entirely true.

It all began at a power plant run by Consolidated Edison, the power company that supplies power to the New York City area. On September 5, 1931, George Metesky, a seemingly normal blue-collar guy, was working as a generator wiper when an accident caused a buildup of hot gases in a nearby boiler. The gases escaped, knocking down Metesky and severely injuring his lungs. Unable to work, he eventually caught pneumonia, then tuberculosis. The Con Ed company refused his repeated requests for worker’s compensation. Seething with hatred for the company he blamed for crippling him, Metesky decided to get revenge.

He created a small pipe bomb loaded with gunpowder, sugar and flashlight batteries. Enclosing the bomb in a package with a note that referred to “Con Ed crooks,” on November 16, 1940 Metesky left the bomb on a windowsill at a Con Ed power plant. It was discovered before it went off. Eleven months later another pipe bomb was discovered in the street in front of Con Ed’s corporate headquarters. It was also found before it exploded.

In December 1941, just after the United States entered World War II, New York City police received a letter written in the same block capitals as the note accompanying the November 1940 bomb. The note proclaimed that due to the bomber’s “patriotic feelings,” he would plant no bombs for as long as the United States remained at war. He was even better than his word–no bombs matching the previous M.O. were discovered during the war, or for six more years after its end.

Then, in 1951, for reasons unknown, Metesky returned with a vengeance. He began planting, hiding and mailing pipe bombs all over the city, always in public places, sometimes theaters, train or bus stations or other high-traffic areas. Sometimes the police found them before they went off; sometimes they didn’t. Metesky blew up a phone booth at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a storage locker in Grand Central Station, and even stuffed a pipe bomb into the upholstery of a theater seat in Radio City Music Hall, which went off during a showing of the Bing Crosby film White Christmas. A bomb that Metesky hid in a toilet bowl in a men’s room at Pennsylvania Station severely injured an elderly bathroom attendant. In total 15 people were injured by the over 30 bombs that Metesky planted around the city; it’s a miracle no one died.

Letters from Mad Bomber.

By 1956, the “Mad Bomber” was a household word and the NYPD began a massive manhunt to find the terrorist and shake him down. The notes found with the first few bombs made “disgruntled Con Ed employee” the number one theory, but when detectives tried to check the personnel records, they suddenly got a lot of static from the Con Ed company. The company claimed that all the personnel records prior to 1940 had been destroyed. This turned out to be a lie. In the meantime, the hysteria of the public and a rash of copy-cat bomb threats made the investigation more frustrating and perilous.

Finally the police appealed to Metesky himself, through the media. After psychological profiles compiled by the police constructed what turned out to be an eerily accurate picture of the terrorist, the police played a hunch that he couldn’t resist the impulse to publicize his motives. In January 1957 the police penned a public letter to the bomber in the New York Journal American. He responded, harping on how bad and crooked the Con Ed company was and describing the hurt and shame of his own accident that had given him cause to hate them. He even gave the exact date of his injury: September 5, 1931.

This date was the clue that led to Metesky’s capture. A Con Ed clerk who had been tasked with going through old worker’s comp files noticed the date and noticed that it matched one of the files she’d been looking at. Con Ed had only a few days before admitted to the police that it did have injury files going back to 1931–something the cops didn’t know before. As soon as they looked at Metesky’s injury file and his angry letters to the company, which used many of the same phrases repeated in the newspaper letters, they went to arrest him. On January 21, 1957, Metesky went into custody with no trouble, and the mad bomber’s reign of terror was over.

Police looking over debris after bomb exploded in locker in Grand Central Terminal in 1953. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and the treatment of mental disorders. A forensic psychiatrist specializes in the legal aspects of mental illness. Dr. Brussel’s method included the diagnosis of unknown offender’s mental disorders from their crime scenes.  He would infer the characteristics of an unknown offender by comparing their criminal behavior to his own experience with the behavior of patients who shared similar disorders. Up until this time it had been historically uncommon for psychiatrist to apply their expertise to investigative matters.

Brussel had an uncommonly quick mind and a facility for interlocking clues. In the evenings, when he was finished supervising the treatment of psychotics and manic depressives in state hospitals, he sat in the upstairs office of his brick cottage on the grounds of a Queens asylum—where he lived with his wife, Audrey—and composed reams of crossword puzzles for the New York Times and Herald Tribune on graph paper he made by obsessively drawing grids on blank pages. Hour after hour he darkened the pages with words and lists of clues: goddess of peace. Neck muscle. Clusters of spores. Roman road. Honey drink. Glacial ridges. Hemingway epithet. Aesop’s race. He produced so many puzzles that he was obliged to publish under three names, lest his byline become awkwardly pervasive.

Captain Finney took a seat facing Brussel’s desk. “We’d appreciate any ideas you might have on this case, Doctor.” Finney admitted that investigators had reached a dead end.

Captain Finney emptied a satchel of evidence on Brussel’s desk. Out spilled photographs of unexploded bombs along with photostats of strangely worded letters and documentary reports amassed over 16 years. “The bombs and the letters: these were all the police had,” Brussel would write. “The rest was a mystery.”

Brussel picked through the evidence, pausing to write notes in a pad. His mind assembled the possibilities as the information accrued, drawing on psychiatric theory and probabilities. The evidence “showed one thing very plainly,” Brussel would write. “At large somewhere in New York City was a man who was quite definitely mad.”

Captain Finney “was a short, stocky man of many accomplishments and few words,” Brussel later wrote. “He was looking at me, waiting for me to say something. I was looking at the pile of photographs and letters he had tossed on my desk.”

After two hours Brussel rose from his desk and stood at a window overlooking City Hall. Seventeen stories below, the first surge of rush-hour traffic thickened with long-finned sedans and Checker cabs clogging Broadway. Streetlights winked on. Chambers Street filled with men in trench coats and brimmed hats, heads down and shoulders slouched against the cold. They moved with haste, as New Yorkers do. “Any one of the people I saw below could have been the Mad Bomber,” Brussel would write. “There was a man standing next to a car. Another man was lounging in a doorway. Another was strolling along, looking up intently at the buildings. Each of them was on these streets at that hour for some reason. Perhaps a legitimate reason, perhaps not. . . . So little was known about the Mad Bomber that virtually anyone in the city could be picked at random as a suspect. Anyone—and no one.”

The manhunt had lasted so long and had engendered so much frustration that Captain Finney and his men had come to feel as if they were chasing a specter loose in the streets. “He seemed like a ghost,” Brussel later recalled, “but he had to be made of flesh and blood. He had been born, he had a mother and father, he ate and slept and walked and talked. Somewhere people knew him, saw his face, heard his voice. . . . He sat next to people on the subways and buses. He strolled past them on sidewalks He rubbed elbows with them in stores. Though he sometimes seemed to be made of night stuff, unsolid, bodiless, he patently did exist.”

For a long moment Brussel looked as if he had slipped into a trance. While he was staring out at the strangers as warm in the street, a detailed image of a living, breathing man took shape. He turned to Captain Finney and described his fugitive, down to the cut of his jacket.

The bomber, Brussel began, was a textbook paranoid schizophrenic. People suffering from this disorder, he explained, may believe other people are controlling them or plotting against them. They are typically reclusive, antisocial and consumed with hatred for their imagined enemies. For all their derangement, they’re capable of acting quite normal—until, inevitably, some aspect of their delusions enters into their conversation. “The paranoiac is the world’s champion grudge-holder,” Brussel would explain. “We all get mad at other people and organizations sometimes, but with most of us the anger evaporates eventually. The paranoiac’s anger doesn’t. Once he gets the idea that somebody has wronged him or is out to hurt him, the idea stays in his mind. This was obviously true of the Mad Bomber.”

The condition, Brussel said, worsened over time, progressively clouding normal logic. Most paranoids don’t become fully symptomatic until after age 35. If the bomber was about that age when he planted his first bomb, in 1940, he would now be at least in his mid-40s, probably older. His guess about the bomber’s age “could have been wrong,” Brussel acknowledged, “but, I thought, the laws of probability were on my side.” The laws of probability, or what Brussel called “inferential deductions,” played into most of his conclusions. “They are not infallible,” he said, “but neither are they mere guesses.”


Dr James A. Brussel of Greenwich Village, New York is considered by many to have advanced the investigative thinking behind the criminal profiling process.

As portraits of evil go, this one was, well, a bit wimpy.

The man was middle aged and of average build, the kind of fellow who was always on time and meticulous in his work. The words he used were proper to the point of being stilted. The clothes he wore were slightly out of fashion, but always impeccably clean and neat. Tidy to a fault. He was always buttoned, right down to the last button of his double-breasted suit. In short, he was a man easy to overlook – especially if you were searching for a maniac who had been terrorizing the city for 16 years.

As hard as it was to believe, this was the portrait of New York City’s “Mad Bomber,” considered by police to be the most dangerous man in town.

When the portrait was drawn, police did not have a clue where to look among the millions of citizens and visitors on the streets.

In hopes of narrowing the search, cops consulted a Greenwich Village psychiatrist, James Brussel, who had some newfangled ideas about being able to deduce a perpetrator’s size, shape, age, habits and mental problems from the nature of his crimes.

In later years, his method – offender profiling – would transform crime fighting and it would show up everywhere, from an elite FBI unit to the gory novel “Silence of the Lambs.” Brussel would earn the sobriquet “Sherlock Holmes of the couch,” although he pointed out in his 1968 memoir “Casebook of a Crime Psychiatrist,” that there was no couch in his office.

In 1956, it was all brand new. Sheer desperation drove police to Brussel. The Bomber had been planting his devices since 1940. Early bombs failed, but over the years, the blasts had gained strength. People were getting hurt, some seriously. Sooner or later, someone was going to get killed.

The last straw came just before 8 p.m., Dec. 2, 1956, in the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, during a Sunday evening showing of “War and Peace.” The bomb was at the rear of the orchestra section, and went off with a pop. Flying metal injured three patrons, and shock sent three more to the hospital.

Detectives said George Metesky made bombs from these materials. Photo: AP

After studying the crime scene photographs, the letters from the bomber and the other evidence in the case, Dr Brussel came up with a comprehensive profile of who the Mad Bomber might be.

Brussel studied photographs of the crime scenes and analyzed the so-called “mad bomber’s” mail to the press. Soon he came up with a detailed description of the offender.

In his profile, Brussel suggested that the unknown offender would be a heavy middle-aged man who was unmarried, but perhaps living with a sibling. Moreover, the offender would be a skilled mechanic from Connecticut, who was a Roman Catholic immigrant and, while having an obsessional love for his mother, would harbour a hatred for his father.

Some of these assessments were merely common sense: they concluded that the bomber had a grudge against Consolidated Edison and was likely a former employee, for instance. It is likely he was permanently injured in a workplace accident and was seeking revenge.

Dr Brussel concluded that the bomber was male as historically, with a few exceptions, bombers have always been male. He was neat, meticulous and precise based on his handwriting, the skilled construction of his bombs and the careful planning behind his attacks.

The bomber was foreign, likely Slavic, based on the formal language used in his letters. Phrases like “dastardly deeds” sounded as if they had come directly out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Based on the fact that some of the letters had been mailed from Westchester Country (between New York and Connecticut), Dr Brussel assessed that the bomber lived in Connecticut. Furthermore, at the time, this state was home to large communities of Eastern Europeans.

The bomber was a textbook paranoid believing that the company and the public in general conspired against him. This also made him overly sensitive to any criticism. Another assessment was that the bomber was likely around fifty years-old. Paranoia generally peaks around age thirty five and the bomber had been active for sixteen years.

Investigators had a profile but, now what? Hundreds, if not thousands of men, matched the profile created by Dr Brussel but there was only one bomber.

Police policy dictated that the specific details of ongoing cases were kept out of the public eye and when Dr Brussel suggested that they release the profile to the press, they outright refused. However, he argued that the bomber craved the publicity and, already outraged by the fact that the newspapers weren’t publishing his letters, would be sure to correct any discrepancies between the profile and his real self.

Eventually, the investigators conceded and just as he had won the argument, Dr Brussel made one, final conclusion. He said: “When you catch him – and I have no doubt you will – he’ll be wearing a double-breasted suit. And it will be buttoned.”

Unsurprisingly, with the publishing of this profile, police were inundated with bomb hoaxes, false confessions and empty leads. But, it would all be worth it…

Over the next few months, as predicted by Dr Brussel, the Mad Bomber became even chattier than before, taking credit for the crimes and revealing more details. He even made contact with Dr Brussel himself — to warn him off the case. Secretly, Dr Brussel was pleased as he believed it was only a matter of time before the bomber’s arrogance got the better of him.

On the 19th of January 1957, in a letter to the New York Journal American, the Mad Bomber said that a workplace injury had left him lying on the cold concrete floor for hours, resulting in him contracting pneumonia and later tuberculosis. While these details could probably be considered vague enough, he also revealed one detail that would prove to be the metaphorical nail in his coffin: the date of this injury, the 5th of September 1931.

Concurrently, an administrator at Consolidated Edison, while pouring through former employee files in the search for a potential suspect, came across the file of one George Metesky. After a disability claim following a workplace injury had been denied, Metesky started writing angry letters to the company. In one, he even used the unusual (and by now familiar) phrase “dastardly deeds”.

They had found their Mad Bomber.

With the aid of Brussel’s work and newly discovered Con Ed accident records, authorities found their man. Just before midnight on January 21, 1957, Connecticut police arrived at Metesky’s home in the Slavic community of Waterbury, a search warrant in hand. The visit woke his older sisters. George answered the door and politely let them in.

“I know why you fellows are here,” he said, “You think I’m the Mad Bomber.”

He led the police to his workshop, where they found pipes and cheap pocket watches, flashlight batteries, even unmatched wool socks of the type used to hide his bombs. When police told George he’d be coming with them, he asked if he could first change out of his pajamas. When he returned, he was dressed in a double-breasted suit, neatly buttoned.

George Metesky is escorted by police in 1957. AP

There he was, as predicted by Dr Brussel, wearing a double-breasted suit, buttoned all the way up. This case inspired both investigators and criminals alike. Instead, he was committed to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Dr Brussel would visit him here and Metesky would often tell the psychiatrist that he had carefully constructed his bombs not to kill anyone. On one occasion, Dr. Brussel even asked him if he thought he was crazy. Smiling politely, Metesky simply answered “no”.

Why did he do it? For exactly the reasons he told the newspapers–and repeated to the police: he was pissed off at Con Ed for giving him a “bum rap” over his 1931 injury.

Metesky was the son of Lithuanian immigrants. He was injured in an industrial accident in 1931 in which a boiler backfired at the United Industrial Light and Power Company, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison. As a result of the scalding boiler fumes he inhaled, he was disabled for 26 weeks, and he was then terminated by Consolidated Edison. Although Metesky filed a worker’s compensation claim stating that the accident had led to pneumonia that progressed to tuberculosis, his claim was denied ostensibly because he had waited too long to file. His three appeals were likewise denied. Unemployed and living with his sisters, Metesky developed an intense and paranoid hatred for Consolidated Edison.

Metesky poses for the camera while in detention in 1957. Photo: AP

Although indicted on 47 counts, including 7 of attempted murder, a judge found George Metesky legally insane and incompetent to stand trial.

Metesky was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and sent to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane in upstate New York. He was released in 1973 and returned to Waterbury, where he lived quietly until his death at age 90 in 1994.

Upon his release, he told reporters that he harboured no bitterness, but had been driven to his rash acts by “what had been done to me.” Then, he headed back up to the family home in Waterbury. Until his death not another peep was heard from the Mad Bomber who had once held all of New York in a terror grip.

As for Metesky’s sign-off of F.P.? He said the initials stood for “Fair Play.”

George Metesky may not have killed anyone, but the fact that he did not was sheer dumb luck. In all other respects his reign of fear is a textbook case of terrorism. There was nothing religious or ideological about his motive–it was just one sick man who had been wronged and decided to take it out on the rest of New York City.

Dr. Brussel assisted New York City police from 1957 to 1972 and profiled many crimes, including murder. Dr. Brussel also worked with other investigative agencies. Brussel’s profile led the Boston Police to the apprehension of Albert DeSalvo, the notorious serial sex murderer known as the Boston Strangler. The media dubbed Dr. Brussel as “Sherlock Holmes of the Couch.”

George Metesky – Wikipedia

George Metesky | American terrorist | Britannica.com

A 16-Year Hunt For New York’s ‘Mad Bomber’ : NPR

Unmasking the Mad Bomber | History | Smithsonian

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Portrait of ‘Mad Bomber’ not what many expected – NY Daily News

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George Metesky – American Police News

George Metesky – Mad Bomber – True Crime Story (1/9)

The Mad Bomber – Neatorama

CRIME: George Did It – TIME

George Metesky | Ephemeral New York

 


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