A Brief History
Digging deeper, we find a city menaced by George Metesky (born 1903) from 1940 until his arrest in 1957.
Placing at least 30 bombs around the city during his terror spree, Metesky was an angry and frustrated man who felt cheated by his former employer and the rest of society.
He had been injured in 1931 while working for Consolidated Edison (Con-Ed) and had been disabled from lung injuries.
Metesky thought he was never properly compensated for his lost health and lost a series of efforts to get workman’s compensation. He also later claimed to have tried to attract media publicity for his case but was ignored, just as he claimed his pleas to various government agencies were ignored.
Not surprisingly, the “Mad Bomber’s” first target was Con-Ed, where he left a pipe bomb on a window sill. That bomb did not kill anyone, nor did any of the dozens that followed in the next 16 years, but the bombs were potentially lethal and several injuries were inflicted.
Metesky left bombs in diverse places, from bathrooms to lockers, train stations and movie theaters. He made his pipe bombs using pipe he machined himself and gunpowder, something anyone can buy in sporting goods stores, as the explosive. A favorite method of his was to slice an upholstered seat in a movie theater and place the bomb inside the cushion where it was hidden.
Oddly enough, Metesky communicated with the police via notes and promised to not place any bombs for the duration of World War II, a promise he lived up to. Meanwhile, copy cats were sending mock ups of pipe bombs and notes purporting to be from the “Mad Bomber” which muddled the police investigation.
Ultimately, Metesky would leave enough clues in his communication with the police and the media for the detectives involved in the massive effort to find and arrest him to finally be able to identify their culprit. Searches of his property found the machine tools used to make the bombs as well as other bomb-making components.
Found to be insane by the New York court system, Metesky was sent off to an insane asylum. Although he was soon transferred to a second, non-criminal asylum, he behaved well and was held until 1973 when he was released. Doctors had deemed him to not be a threat to society, and it was believed he would die soon. Additionally, since his sentence would have been only 25 years if he had been convicted criminally, the 16 years he was hospitalized equaled about how long he would have been jailed if convicted.
The “Mad Bomber” lived another 20 years and died at age 90 in 1994. In spite of the publicity his case received and legal assistance in trying to reopen his workman’s compensation case, he was denied those benefits until the end.
Question for students (and subscribers): How would you have sentenced Metesky? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The single best book on this topic is…
Greenburg, Michael M. The Mad Bomber of New York: The Extraordinary True Story of the Manhunt That Paralyzed a City. Union Square Press, 2011.