City Under SiegeOn December 2, 1956 a small group of New Yorkers looking to forget their pre-holiday worries filed into the Paramount Movie Theatre in Brooklyn. Some moviegoers were weighted down with Christmas packages obtained in afternoon shopping excursions. Others carried briefcases, the contents of which they hoped to escape for a couple of hours.
Escape from everyday cares was imminent. At 7:55pm, a bomb ripped apart the theatre. When the smoke and panic cleared, six people were injured. Three of those injuries were serious. As the bomber himself would soon write, it was "by the hand of God" that nobody had been killed.
Everyone knew whom to blame for the attack. The Mad Bomber (or F.P. as he signed his mysterious, paranoid letters) had been planting bombs in New York City for sixteen years. Unfortunately, neither the public nor the police believed he would be stopped before someone was killed.
The bomber's competence made tracing his devices nearly impossible. Years of traditional police work had broached few leads, and everyone from city officials to the local media to ordinary citizens were asking why the most sophisticated police force in the world had come up with nothing.
The detectives working the case were at their wits end and ready to try anything. After all, the Mad Bomber's devices were getting more powerful with every explosion and his incessant, arrogant letters to the department and local media were making them look bad. The papers had not printed the bomber's letters at the request of detectives, but they did cover the case.
The media's conclusion: New York City was paralyzed. Heady with a post war economic boom, the greatest port in the most powerful nation that ever existed — the mysterious Mad Bomber was holding the city hostage with fear.
Since traditional means had been fruitless, Inspector Howard Finney of the New York City crime lab decided it was time to try something new. He asked his friend Captain Cronin at the Missing Person's Bureau if he had any ideas. Cronin suggested that perhaps a psychiatrist could work up a profile of the bomber and that profile could be useful in catching him. The concept of criminal profiling wasn't precisely new, but it was certainly experimental and had not been used effectively to solve a major case. Cronin recommended Finney talk to a friend of his that had had some minor success in psychiatric detecting.
As a tough and respected veteran of the force, Finney had the clout to try the radical idea. He was himself a man of science with a master's degree in forensic criminology and ran the crime lab tightly and effectively. Although he remained skeptical of "head-shrinking," Finney decided to give the concept a try.
His bulging case file tucked firmly under his arm, Finney and two of his detectives paid a visit to Cronin's friend, a Manhattan criminal psychiatrist named Dr. James Brussel. Little did Finney know just how helpful Dr. Brussel would be in helping the police find the madman that had eluded them for sixteen years.
Small BeginningsThe Mad Bomber had planted his first bomb at the Consolidated Edison building on West 64th Street on November 16th, 1940. He enclosed it in a wooden toolbox and placed it on a windowsill then slipped unnoticed out of the building. The utility giant Con Edison (as it is locally known) was and remains the main supplier of energy for the New York City, and the offices were so huge and bustling that nobody took any notice of a stranger.
The small dud of a pipe bomb never exploded. Around the outside of the device, the bomber had wrapped a note written in neat block lettering:
"CON EDISON CROOKS, THIS IS FOR YOU."
The workers who discovered it called in the bomb squad. The bomb squad officers found no fingerprints or any other evidence with which to trace the crudely made device. The note inspired some curiosity because it would have been destroyed if the device had exploded.
The puzzled investigators wondered whether the bomber meant for the note to be destroyed or whether he had not realized that the note would be destroyed. Or, they wondered, was the bomb an intentional dud?
After some rudimentary checking into the records of recently dismissed employees and others with grievances against the company, the police gave up on finding the bomber. There were more pressing cases that had more of a chance of being solved. The incident never made the papers.
No one at Con Edison or at the bomb squad thought much about the dud pipe bomb in the next few months. Then, nearly a year after the first incident, someone found a second unexploded device lying on 19th Street — a few blocks from Con Edison's Irving Place offices. Its simple alarm-clock detonator had not been wound. The bomber had wrapped his handiwork in an old woolen sock, and this time there was no note.
The bomb squad investigators recognized the construction as similar to the previous device. They assumed the bomber had been on his way to the Con Edison offices nearby and for any number of reasons had aborted his attempt to plant the bomb. He had simply thrown it into the street.
Again, the papers ignored the incident. The war in Europe as well as the U.S.'s inevitable involvement in the conflict occupied most every page. Three months later, as the U.S. entered the war, the bomber sent a letter to Manhattan Police headquarters. Written in neat block letters it read:
Some of the notes were handwritten. The handwriting was the same as had been written on the first bomb's note with neat, precise lettering. Only the W's were written with a strange, reckless curvature that was oddly out of place with the straight letters.
F.P. was true to his word. During the next nine years, he planted no bombs. He was not, however, inactive. During this time, he wrote dozens of bizarre, threatening letters to Con Edison, the police, movie theatres and private individuals.
Then, on March 29th, 1950, a third unexploded bomb was discovered in Grand Central Station. The bomb squad recognized the construction as similar to the Con Edison bombs. The construction was similar, but not identical. The bomber had used his nine-year hiatus to hone his skill and the new device was more powerful and skillfully constructed than the first two. Detectives wondered if the "bomber" meant for his devices to detonate at all.
Unfortunately, that theory exploded along with a fourth bomb at a phone booth inside the New York Public Library. Then another exploded at Grand Central. In all, the Mad Bomber would plant over 30 bombs in his career — mostly leaving them in public places but occasionally diverting from that pattern. Once he mailed a bomb to Con Edison. When he planted bombs in movie theatres he would slash open the underside of a seat and insert the bomb there before slipping out the theatre. It was one of those bombs that exploded at the Paramount.