The Mad Bomber

The following is an article from Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader.

From our Dustbin of History files, the story of  city, a criminal psychiatrist, and a psycho with a grudge.


On November 16, 1940, an unexploded bomb was found on a window ledge of the Consolidated Edison building in Manhattan. It was wrapped in a very neatly hand-written note that read,

The police were baffled; surely whoever delivered the bomb would know that the note would be destroyed if the bomb detonated. Was the bomb meant to not go off? Was the person stupid ...or was he just sending a message?

No discernable fingerprints were found on the device and a brief search of company records brought no leads, so the police treated the case as an isolated incident by a crackpot, possibly someone who had a grievance with "Con-Ed," the huge company that proved New York City with all its gas and electric power.


Nearly a year later, another unexploded bomb was found lying in the street a few blocks from the Con Ed building, this one with an alarm clock fusing mechanism that had not been wound. Again the police had no leads and again they filed the case away -there were larger problems at hand: the war in Europe was escalating and U.S. involvement seemed imminent. Sure enough, three months later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, triggering America's entry into World War II.

Shortly thereafter a strange, neatly written letter arrived at the police headquarters in Manhattan:

True to his (or her) words, no more bombs showed up during the war, or for five years after that. But in that time at least 16 threat letters, all from "F.P." were delivered to Con Ed, as well as to movie theaters, the police, and even private individuals. Still, there were no bombs ...until March 29, 1950.


That day, a third unexploded bomb much more advanced than the previous two was found on the lower level of Grand Central Station. "F.P." seemed to be sending the message that he (or she) had been honing his (or her) bomb-building skills over the last decade. Still, so far none of them had exploded. And police wondered: were these all just empty threats? That question was answered a month later when when a bomb tore apart a phone booth at the New York Public Library. Over the next two years, four more bombs exploded around New York City. And try as they might to downplay the threat, the police couldn't keep the press from running with the story. "The Mad Bomber" started to dominate headlines.

More bombs were found, and more angry letters -some neatly written, others created from block letters clipped from magazines- promised to continue the terror until Con Edison was "BROUGHT TO JUSTICE."

Heading up the case was Police Inspector Howard E. Finney. He and his detectives had used every conventional police method they knew of, but the Mad Bomber was too smart for them. In December 1956, after a powerful explosion injured six people in Brooklyn's Paramount Theater, Inspector Finney decided to do something unconventional.


[caption id="attachment_70785" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Dr. Brussel"][/caption]

Finney called in Dr. James A Brussel, a brilliant psychiatrist who had worked with the military and the FBI. Brussel had an uncanny understanding of the criminal mind, and like everyone else in New York, this eloquent, pipe-smoking psychiatrist was curious about what made the Mad Bomber tick. But because none of the letters had been released to the press, Brussel knew very little about the case. That all changed when police handed him the evidence they had gathered since 1941.

The pressure was on: citizens were growing more panicked with each new bomb, and more impatient with the cops' inability to catch the Mad Bomber. After poring through letters, phone call transcripts and police reports, and studying the unexploded bombs, Dr. Brussel presented this profile to Inspector Finney:
It's a man. Paranoic. He's middle-aged, forty to fifty years old, introvert. Well-proportioned in build. He's single. A loner, perhaps living with an older female relative. He is very neat, tidy, and clean-shaven. Good education, but of foreign extraction. Skilled mechanic, neat with tools. Not interested in women. He's a Slav. Religious. Might flare up at work violently when criticized. Possible motive: discharge or reprimand. Feels superior to his critics. Resentment keeps growing. His letters are posted from Westchester, and he wouldn't be stupid enough to post them from where he lives. He probably mails the letters between his home and New York City. One of the biggest concentration of Poles is in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and to get from there to New York, you have to pass through Westchester. He has had a bad disease -possibly heart trouble.


Finney was impressed ...but skeptical. His team had drawn some of the same conclusions, but even so, there had to be thousands of middle-aged men who fit that profile. What good would it do?

"I think you ought to publicize the description I've given you," suggested Dr. Brussel. "Publicize the whole Bomber investigation, in fact. Spread it in the newspapers, on radio and television." Finney disagreed. It was standard procedure to keep details of investigations away from the press. But Brussel maintained that if they handled the case correctly, the Mad Bomber would do most of the work for them. He said that, unconsciously, "he wants to be found out." Finney finally agreed. As he left the office, Brussel added one more thing. "When you catch him, he'll be wearing a double-breasted suit, and it will be buttoned."

So the papers published the profile and the chase went into high gear. As Finney predicted, "a million crackpots" came out of the woodwork, all claiming to be the Mad Bomber, but none of them had the Mad Bomber's skill or his distinctively neat handwriting. A slew of legitimate leads came from concerned citizens about their odd neighbors, yet nothing solid surfaced. Still, Brussel was confident that the real Bomber's arrogance would be his undoing.


The Mad Bomber's response to his case being made public: he took his terror a step further. The bombs kept coming and the letters got more brazen."F.P." even called Dr. Brussel on the phone and told him to lay off or he would "be sorry." Brussel had him exactly where he wanted him.

The final clue came when police received a letter revealing the date that began the Mad Bomber's misery: September 5, 1931 -almost ten years before the first bomb was found. Brussel immediately ordered a search of Con Ed's personnel files from that era. An office assistant named Alice Kelly found a neatly written letter from a former employee named George Metesky who had promised that Con Ed would pay for their "DASTARDLY DEEDS."

The police traced Metesky to what the neighborhood children called the "crazy house" on Fourth Street in Waterbury, Connecticut, just beyond Westchester County, New York. When they arrived, George Metesky was wearing ...pajamas. He greeted them warmly and freely admitted to being the Mad Bomber. He even showed them his bomb-making workshop in his garage.

They told him to get dressed for his trip to the station. He returned wearing ...a double-breasted suit, buttoned.


So how was Dr. Brussel able to provide such an accurate description?

* It was pretty evident that the Mad Bomber was a man. In those days, very few women would have had the knowledge necessary to make bombs. Bomb-making is, moreover, a classic behavior of paranoid males.

* Because 85% of known paranoids had stocky, muscular builds, Brussel added it to the profile. Metesky had a stocky, muscular build.

* Male paranoics have trouble relating to other people, especially women, and usually live with older, matriarchal-type women who will "mother" them. Metesky lived with two older sisters.

* Another clue to Metesky's sexual inadequacy, Brussel claimed, was his lettering. His script was perfect except for the "W"s -instead of connecting "V"s that would have been consistent with the rest of the letters, Metesky connected two "U"s, which Brussel saw a representing women's breasts.

* Brussel concluded that Metesky was between 40 and 50 years old because paranoia takes years to develop, and based on when the first bomb was found, Metesky had to have been well down the road. Brussel was close -Metesky was 54.

* What led Brussel to believe that Metesky did not live in New York City was his use of the term "Con Edison". New Yorkers call it "Con Ed."

* Metesky's language identified him as middle European, too. His use of "dastardly deeds," as well as some other phrases, was a sign of someone with Slavic roots. There was a high concentration of Poles in southern Connecticut, and Brussel connected the dots.

* Paranoids believe that the world conspires against them, so Brussel know that something traumatic must have happened to Metesky. He was right. On September 5, 1931, Metesky was injured in a boiler explosion at a Con Ed plant. he complained of headaches, but doctors could find no sign of injury. After a year of sick pay and medical benefits, Metesky was fired. A failed lawsuit sent him over the edge, and he began plotting his revenge.

* Brussel also predicted that the Bomber would have a debilitating heart disease. He was close: Metesky suffered from a tubercular lung.

* How did Brussel know what kind of suit Metesky would be wearing when he was arrested? Simple: Paranoids are neat freaks, as was apparent in his letters and bombs. He would wear nothing less than the most impeccable outfit of the day -a double-breasted suit, buttoned.


George Metesky proudly explained everything to the police. In all, he had planted more than 30 bombs, but miraculously, no one was killed. Metesky said that was never his intention. "F.P." he explained, stood for "Fair Play."

On April 18, 1957, George Metesky was found mentally unfit to stand trial and was committed to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In 1973 he was deemed cured and was released. Metesky lived out the remainder of his days in his Waterbury home, where he died in 1994 at the age of 90. Dr. Brussel gained celebrity status for his role in the case; today he's considered the father of modern psychological profiling in criminal investigations.


Although Metesky's bombs never killed anybody, it was more because of strange luck than "Fair Play." (Police called it a "miracle" that his theater bombs -planted inside the seats- never took any lives.) Even worse, Metesky may have paved the way for others who were more successful in their terrible exploits. According to investigators, both the "Zodiac Killer," who killed at least six people -some with bombs- in the San Francisco area in the 1970s, and Ted "Unibomber" Kaczynski, who killed three people in the 1980s and 1990s with package bombs, were inspired by George Metesky, New York City's Mad Bomber.
"One thing I can't understand is why the newspaper labeled me the Mad Bomber. That was unkind." -George Metesky


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


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It would appear that much of the "profiling" that is celebrated about this case is tremendously overstated, in particular, by the profiler himself.

From Malcom Gladwell:

James Brussel didn’t really see the Mad Bomber in that pile of pictures and photostats, then. That was an illusion. As the literary scholar Donald Foster pointed out in his 2000 book Author Unknown, Brussel cleaned up his predictions for his memoirs. He actually told the police to look for the bomber in White Plains, sending the NYPD’s bomb unit on a wild goose chase in Westchester County, sifting through local records. Brussel also told the police to look for a man with a facial scar, which Metesky didn’t have. He told them to look for a man with a night job, and Metesky had been largely unemployed since leaving Con Edison in 1931. He told them to look for someone between forty and fifty, and Metesky was over fifty. He told them to look for someone who was an “expert in civil or military ordnance” and the closest Metesky came to that was a brief stint in a machine shop. And Brussel, despite what he wrote in his memoir, never said that the bomber would be a Slav. He actually told the police to look for a man “born and educated in Germany,” a prediction so far off the mark that the Mad Bomber himself was moved to object. At the height of the police investigation, when the New York Journal American offered to print any communications from the Mad Bomber, Metesky wrote in huffily to say that “the nearest to my being ‘Teutonic’ is that my father boarded a liner in Hamburg for passage to this country — about sixty-five years ago.”

The true hero of the case wasn’t Brussel; it was a woman named Alice Kelly, who had been assigned to go through Con Edison’s personnel files. In January 1957, she ran across an employee complaint from the early 1930s: a generator wiper at the Hell Gate plant had been knocked down by a backdraft of hot gases. The worker said that he was injured. The company said that he wasn’t. And in the flood of angry letters from the ex-employee Kelly spotted a threat — to “take justice in my own hands” — that had appeared in one of the Mad Bomber’s letters. The name on the file was George Metesky.

Brussel did not really understand the mind of the Mad Bomber. He seems to have understood only that, if you make a great number of predictions, the ones that were wrong will soon be forgotten, and the ones that turn out to be true will make you famous. The hedunit is not a triumph of forensic analysis. It’s a party trick.
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