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The Mad Bomber — A George Metesky Tale

George Metesky became infamous for planting bombs across the NYC in an attempt to bring him justice
George Metesky became infamous for planting bombs across the NYC in an attempt to bring him justice

George Peter Metesky, who might as well have been called the DIY Disaster, took his hobby of bomb-making a tad too seriously. Dubbed the “Mad Bomber,” this electrician-turned-villain had New York City on its toes from the 1940s to the 1950s. He wasn’t planting flowers, but explosives – in theaters, train stations, and even libraries (because who reads in peace, right?). His favorite spots included phone booths and restrooms, making every “urgent call” or bathroom break in NYC a potentially explosive experience.

Metesky’s grudge against society stemmed from a workplace mishap that left him quite miffed. In his explosive spree, he planted 33 bombs, turning 22 of them into mini fireworks that injured 15. His capture was like something out of a detective novel, involving offender profiling and deciphering his cryptic letters to the press.

Eventually caught in 1957, he was deemed too unhinged for prison and instead got a one-way ticket to a state mental hospital. I guess you could say he really “blew up” in the world, just not how he intended!

A Mad Bomber is Made

After his stint in World War I, George Metesky swapped his marine uniform for an electrician’s toolkit, working in Shanghai’s U.S. Consulate. Eventually, he returned stateside, settling in Connecticut with his sisters and taking up a job as a mechanic for Consolidated Edison’s subsidiary. But fate had other plans when a boiler hiccup at the Hell Gate plant in 1931 left him gasping for air and down on luck.

This mishap didn’t just knock the wind out of him; it knocked him out of his job after a measly 26 weeks of sick pay. Metesky’s tango with tuberculosis, allegedly thanks to the accident, didn’t win him any sympathy or workers’ compensation from Consolidated Edison. His efforts to appeal were like shouting into the wind, fueling a deep grudge against the company and some not-so-honest colleagues.

Now, onto his explosive hobby – Metesky’s first bomb was a window sill surprise at the Consolidated Edison plant in 1940. But it was from 1951 onwards that he really started shaking things up in New York City. His bombs were more than just fireworks; they were carefully crafted messages of dissent, complete with wool socks for transport and cryptic notes that were more puzzling than helpful. He even made polite yet vague phone calls warning about his ‘gifts.’

Detectives escort George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber,” through police headquarters in Waterbury

Detectives escort George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber,” through police headquarters in Waterbury

Metesky’s bomb spree – 33 in total, with 22 going ‘boom’ and injuring 15 – was a mix of mechanical precision and mysterious vendetta. His choice of tools? Gunpowder, pipes, flashlight batteries, and pocket watches – because who needs high-tech when you can be old-school? The NYPD had their hands full, searching for wool socks and deciphering the mind of a man who turned his grudge into a city-wide game of hide and seek with explosives.

Metesky’s debut in the bomb-making world was, let’s say, a bit of a DIY project. His first creation was a brass pipe special stuffed with gunpowder and rigged with a sweet-and-battery combo for ignition. Left on a power plant window sill, it was more of a surprise package in a wooden toolbox than a headline-making boom. The bomb came with a note, in bold block letters, that was short but not-so-sweet, essentially a ‘Dear John’ letter to Con Edison.

Some sleuths pondered if Metesky was just flexing his bomb-making muscles without intending real harm, as an explosion would’ve turned his note into confetti.

Then came the sequel in September 1941. Another bomb, similar in style but this time abandoned on the street, like a lost puppy, near the Con Edison headquarters. Sans note and sans explosion, it sparked a theory: maybe our bomber had a change of heart or a sudden case of stage fright upon spotting a cop.

But wait, there’s a plot twist! As America joined World War II, Metesky sent out a letter that could have been straight out of a patriotic movie. In his signature block letter style, he declared a bomb-making hiatus, citing his “patriotic feelings.” He promised a dramatic return post-war to settle scores with Con Edison, signing off as the mysterious “F.P.”

It seems even bombers have their own sense of wartime etiquette. However, more was to come.

George Metesky Returns From His Hiatus

During the 1941-1951 intermission in his bombing career, Metesky turned to a less destructive but equally puzzling hobby: penning letters and postcards. He reached out to a wide audience, from police stations to newspapers, private citizens, and, of course, his old friends at Con Edison.

These messages, scribbled in penciled block letters, were like cryptic breadcrumbs for investigators. Particularly, the peculiar shapes of the letters G and Y hinted at a European-style education, adding a twist to the bomber’s profile.

When Metesky made his bombing comeback, he had clearly upped his game. This time, he seemed to have a penchant for public spaces, turning iconic New York City landmarks into his personal game board. Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Public Library, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the RCA Building, and even the subway – none were spared. His bombs found their sneaky homes in phone booths, lockers, restrooms, and, for an added touch of drama, in the cushioned seats of movie theaters.

This new wave of bombings was marked by a certain meticulousness, suggesting that Metesky might have fine-tuned his skills during his time in the military. The city, once again, found itself in a state of wary vigilance, never knowing where the next “surprise” from Metesky would pop up.

George Metesky promising not to make more bombs till the war was over

George Metesky promising not to make more bombs till the war was over

The resurgence of Metesky’s bombing activities began with a bang – quite literally – at Grand Central Terminal on March 29. His comeback bomb, a real showstopper this time, exploded near the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, rattling commuters but, fortunately, harming no one. This was followed by another non-injurious explosion in April, this time in a phone booth at the New York Public Library.

Despite these incidents, the police initially shrugged them off as the handiwork of mischievous youths. Even The New York Times didn’t give much attention to the Grand Central bombing, tucking away the news in a tiny corner on page 24.

Metesky’s repertoire then expanded to include a bomb in a phone booth at Consolidated Edison’s very own headquarters, along with a mailed bomb that, thankfully, didn’t detonate.

The New York Herald Tribune then became an unwilling participant in Metesky’s campaign, receiving a letter in his trademark penciled block letters. The letter not only warned of continued bombings until Con Edison faced justice but also directed the police to the Paramount Theater in Times Square and a phone booth at Pennsylvania Station, leading to the discovery and defusing of a bomb at the former location.

November saw yet another incident, this time a locker at the IRT 14th Street subway station was bombed, again, without causing injuries. As the year drew close, the Herald Tribune received another of Metesky’s letters, a blend of apology and threat.

He regretted any worry or potential injuries but remained steadfast in his mission against Con Edison. His message hinted at more bombs, particularly in theater seats, as he continued to seek a dramatic form of justice for his grievances.

Like it was during the days of Metesky's reign of terror, Grand Central Station continues to be a popular tourist attraction

Like it was during the days of Metesky’s reign of terror, Grand Central Station continues to be a popular tourist attraction

1952 marked a significant escalation in Metesky’s bombing campaign, with a series of explosions that increasingly alarmed the public. On March 19, a bomb detonated in a phone booth at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, miraculously causing no injuries. In June and December, the Lexington Avenue Loew’s theater became the bomber’s stage, with seat bombs exploding on both occasions. The December incident marked a grim milestone – the first time a Metesky bomb caused injury.

1953 saw the “Mad Bomber” spreading fear without causing physical harm. Explosions rattled Radio City Music Hall, the Capitol Theater, and Grand Central Terminal, but miraculously, no one was injured. These incidents, including an unexploded bomb at Pennsylvania Station, led the police to dismiss the perpetrator as a “publicity-seeking jerk.”

1954 witnessed a chilling turn with a bomb in Grand Central Terminal’s men’s room injuring three men. Another bomb exploded at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and a phone booth bomb was discovered at Pennsylvania Station. The year’s most dramatic moment occurred at Radio City Music Hall during a screening of “White Christmas.” A bomb exploded in the audience, injuring four, but the show went on, with police discreetly investigating the incident.

1955 continued the disturbing trend. A bomb exploded at the IRT Sutter Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, followed by an explosion at Macy’s department store, both without causing injuries. Pennsylvania Station and Radio City Music Hall were targeted again, with bombs detonating or being discovered but not causing injuries.

A bomb at the Roxy Theater dropped onto a workbench without exploding, while a bomb at the Paramount Theater caused minor injury. The year ended with another explosion in a Grand Central men’s room, again without injuries.

The famous Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, as seen today, was the site of a handful of bombings by the Mad Bomber during his reign of terror.

The famous Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, as seen today, was the site of a handful of bombings by the Mad Bomber during his reign of terror.

1956 was marked by more tragic events. A men’s room attendant at Pennsylvania Station was seriously injured by a toilet bomb. In a bizarre twist, a piece of pipe found in a phone booth at the RCA Building exploded on a guard’s kitchen table in New Jersey, fortunately without causing injuries. The year culminated in a bombing at the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, injuring six people, one seriously. This incident grabbed massive media attention and led Police Commissioner Stephen P. Kennedy to launch the most extensive manhunt in NYPD history.

The Game is On

The Mad Bomber’s antics in 1952 included a little Christmas Eve surprise at the New York Public Library. Picture this: a clerk, just trying to make a phone call, drops a coin. As he picks it up, he spots a maroon sock sticking to the shelf with a magnet. Inside? A pipe bomb, just casually hanging out.

The clerk, after a brief huddle with colleagues, decides the best course of action is to chuck it out the window into Bryant Park. The result? Over 60 NYPD officers and detectives swarming the park.

Metesky later admitted in a letter to the New York Journal American that this bomb, along with another at the Times Square Paramount, had been aging like fine wine for months.

Fast forward to 1957, eight months post-Metesky’s arrest, and another bomb pops up at the Lexington Avenue Loew’s Theater. This little gem, hidden away in a seat, was found by an upholsterer doing some routine repairs. It turned out to be the last of three bombs Metesky claimed to have left there. The NYPD, feeling pretty confident, declared the “Mad Bomber” case closed, assuming any other bombs were either gone or never existed.

Twice in 1955, the Mad Bomber attacked New York's Penn Station during rush hour, sending the notoriously busy train station into a frenzy.

Twice in 1955, the Mad Bomber attacked New York’s Penn Station during rush hour, sending the notoriously busy train station into a frenzy.

Meanwhile, the NYPD’s search for the bomber was a wild goose chase of epic proportions. They sifted through Con Edison records, chased down countless leads, and even formed a special Bomb Investigation Unit. They issued alerts, distributed pictures of homemade bombs, and scoured driver’s licenses for handwriting matches. Everyone was a suspect, from the odd neighbor to the co-worker who knew a bit too much about bombs.

Police Commissioner Stephen P. Kennedy, not one for understatement, called it the “greatest manhunt in the history of the Police Department.” There was even a $26,000 reward for Metesky’s capture – a tidy sum for nabbing the city’s most elusive bomber.

But it wasn’t all about the Mad Bomber. Other pranksters kept the police on their toes. One such character, Frederick Eberhardt, a disgruntled ex-Con Edison employee, sent a sugar-filled pipe bomb to the company, earning himself a trip to Bellevue Hospital and a legal slap on the wrist.

Grand Central Terminal wasn’t spared from the bomb scare frenzy either. One phone call led to a three-hour locker search involving over 35 NYPD personnel – all because there was only one master key. And let’s not forget the Empire State Building fiasco, where a bomb threat required a search of all 102 floors, all because of a note left in a phone booth.

How was George Metesky Caught?

In the mad, mad world of the NYPD’s hunt for the “Mad Bomber,” things were getting a bit desperate. The usual lineup of fingerprint whizzes, handwriting sleuths, and bomb experts were scratching their heads with no luck.

So, Captain John Cronin decided to think outside the bomb squad box. He called up his buddy, James A. Brussel, a criminologist and psychiatrist, who doubled as a kind of criminal profiler avant la lettre.

Brussel, after a chinwag with the NYPD’s finest and a good look at the evidence, whipped up an offender profile that read like a character from a detective novel. He pictured a male, middle-aged, neat as a new pin, and a bit of a clockwork whiz. He surmised this guy had a major beef with Consolidated Edison and was likely dancing to the tunes of paranoia. Brussel’s guesswork didn’t stop there: he pegged our bomber as a Slavic Catholic, a bit of a loner, probably not a hit with the ladies, and possibly cozied up with an older female relative in Connecticut.

But the pièce de résistance? Brussel bet that when they nabbed this guy, he’d be all dapper in a double-breasted suit, buttoned up tight.

Taking a gamble, the NYPD decided to broadcast this character sketch far and wide, betting that any mistakes would irk the bomber into making a move. The New York Times joined the party, painting a picture of a mechanic with an ego, a high school diploma, and probably a grudge against Con Edison.

George Metesky's mugshot after his arrest

George Metesky’s mugshot after his arrest

This psychological warfare did more than just ruffle the Bomber’s feathers. It set off a citywide panic of bomb hoaxes and false confessions, turning New York into a scene from a slapstick comedy. At the height of the frenzy, the police were chasing their tails with over 50 false bomb alarms in one day.

It was a wild ride in the Big Apple, with everyone on edge, wondering if the next phone booth or theater seat might just be the Bomber’s next stage.

The day after New York City got a peek at the Mad Bomber’s psychological profile, the New York Journal-American decided to play therapist, publishing an open letter coaxing the bomber to turn himself in. They sweetened the deal with the promise of a fair trial and a platform for airing his grievances. True to his mysterious style, Metesky, aka “F.P.”, penned a response that was part defiant, part confessional. He wasn’t about to surrender, but he did share his bomb placement list for 1956, like a twisted Santa checking off his naughty list.

Metesky’s letter had a touch of melodrama, lamenting his numbered days and a life mostly spent in bed. But he found solace in his ability to “strike back from the grave” against Con Edison’s “dastardly acts.” The police played editor, trimming his words before the Journal-American published them on January 10, along with yet another open letter, this time probing for more juicy details about his grudge.

In his follow-up letter, Metesky got technical, revealing his preference for pistol powder over shotgun powder in his bombs. He also offered a temporary truce, promising no new explosions until at least March 1. He delved into his backstory, painting a picture of a man wronged by Con Edison and left to foot his medical bills, feeling less valued than an injured dog. His frustration with the press and the world’s indifference led him to choose bombs as his megaphone.

Again, the police stepped in as editors before the newspaper published this letter on January 15, asking Metesky for more specifics on his workers’ compensation saga, suggesting the possibility of a fair reevaluation.

Metesky’s third letter arrived on January 19, painting a vivid scene of his post-injury ordeal: lying unnoticed on cold concrete, developing pneumonia, then tuberculosis, and facing betrayal in his compensation case. He lamented the impact of his actions on his family and thanked the Journal-American for giving his story a voice. Ending on a somewhat hopeful note, he declared an end to his bombing campaign.

Alice Kelly, a diligent Con Edison clerk, played detective in the Mad Bomber saga and stumbled upon a critical clue. While combing through “troublesome” worker’s compensation files, she found one marked with words like “injustice” and “permanent disability” – phrases echoing those in the Journal-American. The file belonged to George Metesky, a former employee injured in 1931. His letters, peppered with terms like “dastardly deeds,” rang a bell with Kelly, who promptly informed the police.

The NYPD initially treated this lead as just another in a haystack of clues but asked the Waterbury police for a discreet check on Metesky. After his arrest, the police initially credited one of their own detectives for finding Metesky’s file, but later acknowledged Kelly’s crucial role. However, Kelly, a true company woman, turned down the $26,000 reward, saying she was just doing her job. A group of Con Edison shareholders later tried to claim the reward on behalf of Kelly and the company.

Venues in Midtown Manhattan like movie theaters were a popular place for the Mad Bomber to plant his explosives

Venues in Midtown Manhattan like movie theaters were a popular place for the Mad Bomber to plant his explosives

The police investigation revealed that Con Edison had been less than helpful, claiming for almost two years that pre-1940 employee records, which included Metesky’s, were destroyed. Only after a confidential tip and persistent demands did the police learn of the records’ existence.

Metesky’s arrest was straight out of a detective story. NYPD detectives, along with Waterbury police, showed up at his door around midnight. When asked to write the letter G, Metesky realized why they were there and admitted to being the Mad Bomber, explaining “F.P.” stood for “Fair Play.” The search of his home revealed a workshop filled with bomb-making materials.

During interrogation, Metesky admitted to being “gassed” at Con Edison, contracting tuberculosis, and starting his bombing campaign because he felt wronged. He meticulously detailed each bomb location and size, adding 15 previously unknown bombs to the police’s list. He targeted public places for the publicity and confirmed his wartime bombing hiatus was due to his patriotic sentiments.

Police also discovered parts for an even larger bomb intended for the New York Coliseum.

Metesky faced 47 charges, including attempted murder and malicious endangerment, based on the injuries from his bombs. He was indicted after testimony from 35 witnesses, including police experts and those injured by his bombs. Despite his detailed confessions, Metesky was taken from Bellevue Hospital, where he was undergoing psychiatric examination, to hear the charges in court.

The End of George Metesky, the Mad Bomber

After a dramatic turn of events, George Metesky, the infamous Mad Bomber, found himself in the hands of the justice system. Judge Samuel Liebowitz, after consulting psychiatric experts, declared Metesky a paranoid schizophrenic, deeming him incurably ill both mentally and physically. In April 1957, he was committed to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane in New York, expected to live only a few weeks due to advanced tuberculosis. However, Metesky defied the odds, his health improving significantly over time.

While at Matteawan, the Journal-American hired a top workers’ compensation attorney to appeal his denied 1931 injury claim, arguing Metesky’s mental incompetence at the time. The attempt was unsuccessful. Metesky, although resistant to psychiatric therapy, proved to be a model inmate, often visited by his sisters and even occasionally by James Brussel, the psychiatrist who helped profile him. He maintained that his bombs were deliberately designed to avoid fatalities.

Metesky in the Waterbury, Connecticut, jail after his arrest in 1957.

Metesky in the Waterbury, Connecticut, jail after his arrest in 1957.

A significant legal development in 1973 led to Metesky’s transfer to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, following a Supreme Court ruling that mentally ill defendants could not be committed to correctional hospitals without a jury’s verdict on their danger to society.

Deemed harmless and having served a substantial part of a hypothetical 25-year sentence, Metesky was released with the sole condition of regular visits to a mental hygiene clinic.

Upon his release, Metesky expressed a renouncement of violence but continued to harbor resentment towards Consolidated Edison. He recounted his futile attempts to publicize his grievances through letters and rejected newspaper advertisements, leading to his decision to use bombs as a means of drawing attention.

Metesky returned to his home in Waterbury, Connecticut, where he lived until his death in 1994 at the age of 90, marking the end of a bizarre and tumultuous chapter in the history of New York City.

Next, read about the Dark Stories of Epstein Island, and then, about the Horrifying Tale of the Cheshire Family Invasion and Murders.

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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