Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

GEORGE METESKY: NEW YORK's MAD BOMBER

City Under Siege

On 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.

 

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