Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Small Beginnings

The 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:


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:

Patriotic Letter
Patriotic Letter

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.

One of the Con Edison letters
One of the Con Edison 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.

New York City Public Library
New York City Public Library

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