January 22: NYC’s “Mad (but Patriotic) Bomber” Finally Arrested in Waterbury


On this day in 1957, millions breathed a collective sigh of relief as detectives arrived at the Waterbury home of George Metesky and arrested the man responsible for terrorizing New York City residents for 16 years by placing pipe bombs throughout the city.

New Yorkers first encountered Metesky’s handiwork in 1940, when an unexploded pipe bomb was discovered in an office belonging to Consolidated Edison, the city’s major electric utility, with a handwritten note that read “Con Edison Crooks – This is for you,” and cryptically signed “F.P.” Over the next year, after a number of other bombs were left by “F.P.” throughout the city, police received a bizarre note from “F.P.” stating that “I will make no more bomb units for the duration of the war — my patriotic feelings have made me decide this,” while warning that he still planned to bring Con Edison’s “crooks” to justice after World War II was over.

True to his word, the mystery man, dubbed “the Mad Bomber” by city tabloids, continued to send cryptic, threatening notes to the NYPD, Con Edison offices, and newspapers, but left no more bombs until 1951, when he claimed credit for an explosion in Grand Central Terminal that startled travelers but left no one injured. Over the next few years, Metesky left dozens of bombs in highly crowded, public places such as movie theaters, subway stations, and department stores, initiating a new wave of terror throughout the city as residents were consumed by a constant fear of an explosion going off nearby.

NYPD detectives booking George Metesky, center. (Library of Congress)

Given the number of bombs Metesky planted and the methods he used (often slicing open upholstery and hiding a bomb in a movie theater seat or subway bench) — it was remarkable how few people were injured. Still, the NYPD redoubled its efforts to catch the Mad Bomber upon his return in the early 1950s, taking the then-radical step of hiring a psychologist to study the bomber’s letters and methodology in order to provide detectives with clues to his identity in the first known example of criminal profiling.

Using their new psychological profile as a guide, and following a lead provided by a Con Edison employee who thought she recognized the handwriting of the Mad Bomber, detectives were finally led to a modest home in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Lithuanian immigrant and disgruntled former Con Ed employee George Metesky lived with his two sisters. Metesky immediately surrendered and confessed, telling detectives that “F.P.” stood for “Fair Play,” which Metesky felt he never received from his former employer. Metesky had suffered injuries in an explosion when he worked for Con Ed in 1931 that left him unable to work, and after the company repeatedly denied his disability claims, he harbored a grudge that morphed into an obsession. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Metesky was sentenced to a prison for the criminally insane in upstate New York. A sixteen-year reign of terror was finally brought to an end, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Sam Roberts, “Retracing the ’50s Hunt for New York’s ‘Mad Bomber,’New York Times

Michael Cannell, “Unmasking the Mad Bomber,Smithsonian Magazine