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The Mad Bomber: How George Metesky Terrorized New York City in the 1940s and 50s

In 1940, the Big Apple was set on edge by a mad bomber...


mad bomber george metesky

Imagine being terrified to go to a movie theater for fear of a bomb being planted just below your seat.

That’s the real fear many New Yorkers faced from 1940 to 1956, when an unidentified person known as the Mad Bomber planted explosive devices in high trafficked places across the city—including Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station, and Radio City Music Hall.

That yet-to-be-identified person was George Metesky, who signed his notes—which he often sent to police stations, newspapers, and even Con Edison—as F.P; he later confided to the police that it stood for “fair play.” Due to the erratic nature of the bombings—which seemed to occur without rhyme or reason—the NYPD made little progress identifying the assailant.

Enter James Brussel, a criminologist and psychiatrist who created an extensive profile that eventually led to the capture of Metesky on January 21, 1957. For starters, Brussel correctly theorized that Metesky was suffering from paranoia. When the Mad Bomber underwent a psychiatric examination after his arrest, he was indeed diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and declared legally insane and incompetent to start trial.

But that’s just a glimpse of Brussel’s eerily accurate profile that finally led authorities to the man they called the Mad Bomber.

Michael Cannell’s new book, Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling, details the 16-year manhunt for the Mad Bomber, and the criminal profile that revolutionized the way culprits are identified.

Read on for an excerpt and then download the book on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iTunes.


mad bomber incendiary

At 11:45 P.M. three unmarked police cruisers crossed a bridge spanning the Naugatuck River and drove into Brooklyn. The cars crept uphill to Fourth Street, their headlights shining through the freezing ground fog blanketing the Naugatuck Valley. The men in the cars did not speak. They looked silently out the windows at factory workers’ homes half-hidden in mist. There was no sound in the streets, only the crunch of tires, as if Waterbury were waiting for something to happen.

The cars eased to a stop in front of no. 17. The three-story house, with its pillars and sagging porches, loomed through the fog. The rooms were entirely dark. Lynch and four detectives stepped onto the creaking porch. Two men walked to the rear of the house to head o an escape route, their heads wreathed in their misty winter breath. They prepared themselves for the worst.

Pakul knocked on the weathered door and waited. His men clenched and unclenched loaded revolvers stashed in overcoat pockets. A small vestibule light blinked on. The front door opened. Standing in the wan parlor light was a thickset middle-aged man wearing round gold-rimmed eyeglasses and burgundy pajamas buttoned to the neck under a bathrobe. His gray hair was neatly parted. Could this be him? Could this be the human face behind so much terror?

“George Metesky?” asked Captain Pakul.

“Yes.” The man met the midnight visitors with an ingenuous expression. He looked as if he’d just woken from a comfortable sleep.

“These gentlemen are New York City detectives.” They flashed their badges. Metesky looked at them blankly. His small, close-set blue eyes glinted with a hint of amusement. Had he gone to bed that night knowing that he might be roused by a knock on the door? “It was almost like he was waiting for us,” a detective later said. “His hair was neatly combed; his eyeglasses were spotless, sparkling.”

Pakul explained that they were investigating a hit-and-run. They had a search warrant and wanted to look around. The men wiped their feet and led into a parlor. The surroundings were quaint to the point of creepy—peeling wallpaper, lace curtains, and fading prints. Baby photos and a portrait of Jesus in the manger hung in the hallway. Threadbare rugs covered linoleum floors. The furnishings conveyed a family’s e orts to keep up the appearance of a middle-class household.

Metesky asked the officers to speak quietly so as not to wake his sisters. Detective Lynch nodded. He asked if they could see Metesky’s bedroom. They found it small, and as orderly as a jail cell with crisply folded pants and shirts. The brass bed was primly made up. Two New York City subway tokens and some flashlight bulbs sat on an oak dresser. On a high closet shelf the detectives found a loaded .38 caliber Smith & Wesson, a snub-nosed revolver easily concealed in holsters or pockets. It must have come as a relief to find it before Metesky could lay his hands on it.

mad bomber pennsylvania station

Pennsylvania Station – one of the places the Mad Bomber targeted. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A detective asked Metesky if he ever drove to New York. He nodded. Had he gone through White Plains? He nodded again.

Metesky must have known why the detectives were calling on him in the middle of the night. And they knew that he knew. But for the moment both sides persisted with the ction of a hit-and-run investigation.

The detectives found a notebook filled with handwriting similar to F.P.’s block lettering. They handed Metesky a pen and asked him to write his name on a yellow legal pad. They watched, spellbound, as the familiar block letters appeared on the page—the G in George had the telltale double bars. The Y had its distinctive serif. “This is not then about an auto accident?” he asked. Something about Metesky’s bland smile was infuriating.

“Why don’t you go ahead and get dressed, George,” Lynch said. “We’d like to see the garage.”

Here was a moment of truth. So far Metesky had perfectly matched Dr. Brussel’s pro le—Slavic, middle-aged, medium build, residing with female relatives in Connecticut, history of workplace disputes. The detectives waiting in the hallway knew that Dr. Brussel had also predicted the bomber would dress in a neatly buttoned double-breasted jacket. Sure enough, Metesky stepped from his bedroom wearing sensible brown rubber-soled shoes, red-dotted necktie, brown cardigan sweater, and double-breasted blue suit.

He led them down a gravel driveway, their flashlight beams swinging over the muddy gravel. Metesky unlocked the garage doors and flipped on the lights. The police report would call the garage as “clean and orderly as a hospital operating room.” Rows of methodically placed tools hung on a wall beside the $4,000 Daimler sedan Metesky’s sisters had bought him with earnings from their modest factory paychecks. The odometer read forty-five hundred miles, enough for thirty round-trips to New York City.

mad bomber george metesky arrest

The arrest of George Metesky. Photo: Criminal Minds Wiki

Tucked against the rear wall sat a spotless workbench with a well-oiled metal lathe powered by an extension cord running to the basement of the house. “Here we have the whole story,” said Lynch, patting the lathe. It was the second giveaway.

“You’re looking for more than an accident,” Metesky repeated. He spoke in a soft, unaccented voice with awkward double negatives and other slight grammatical lapses, just as Dr. Brussel had anticipated.

Detective Michael Lynch looked at Metesky. “George, we’re from New York. You know why we’re here, don’t you?”

Metesky shrugged slightly, shook his head. “I really don’t.”

“We think you do.”
The detectives circled Metesky. He glanced from one to the next. “I think I’d better consult an attorney before I say any more.”

“Come on, George,” Lynch said. “Never mind an attorney. Why are we here?”

Metesky breathed rapidly. His eyes narrowed. His lips curled with a hint of amusement. Finally he said, “I guess it’s because you suspect that I’m the Mad Bomber.”

“Maybe you are not so mad,” Lynch said. “Tell me, George, what does F.P. stand for?”

Metesky exhaled. His frown relaxed. “Fair play.” With those two words, barely whispered, the 17-year manhunt came to a quiet end.

Want to keep reading? Download Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iTunes.

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Featured photo: Criminal Minds Wiki