The case that began criminal profiling has faded in memory, replaced by newer bombing horrors such as the Boston Marathon Bombing or the attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But those cases were solved in a matter of days. The first case where a psychological profile of an active criminal led to his capture – the Mad Bomber of New York City – was active for sixteen years. The NYPD had tried all the usual investigative procedures to catch the bomber and failed, so the lead investigator was open to an unusual procedure.
The Case Begins
In 1940, a wooden tool box was left on a window sill at a Consolidated Edison power plant. When opened, it revealed a pipe bomb. A note left with the bomb read “Con Edison Crooks – this is for you.” The note was written in block letters and signed “F.P.” This bomb might never have been meant to detonate. Instead, it could be viewed as a calling card from the bomber, to announce his presence. In late 1941 another dud bomb was discovered on the street a few blocks from the Con Ed headquarters. Within a few months, the country entered World War II, leading to an unusual communication from “F.P.” to the police in which he stated he’d suspend his bombing campaign for the duration of the war because of his patriotic feelings. “Later I will bring the Con Edison to justice,” the bomber said in conclusion, “They will pay for their dastardly deeds.”
For the next ten years, no bombs were planted, and “F.P.” contented himself with sending crank letters and post cards to the police, newspapers and Con Edison. Then on March 21, 1951, a bomb was planted in a sand urn for cigarettes outside the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. This one detonated, though it caused no injuries. During the next six years, 30 bombs were planted. Nine were duds, but the other 21 exploded successfully. The targeting was random. The bombs could be left in a telephone booth, a restroom, or inside a storage locker, but always in an area of high traffic. Both Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania Station were each hit five times, while the New York Public Library was bombed three times. The scariest change of modus operandi was when the bomber began inserting his bombs into seats at movie theaters. One went off at Radio City Music Hall where an audience of several thousand had gathered to watch “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby.
It was an incredible string of luck that no one was killed during the bombing campaign. Still, 15 people were maimed or seriously injured, and fear was instilled in the populace. The bombings also led to a string of false warnings, one that necessitated the evacuation of the Empire State Building and a search of all 102 of its floors. Another time, the police had to search 3000 lockers at Grand Central Station. It took hours since half of the lockers were in use and only one master key was available. The tipping point was on December 2, 1956, at the Paramount Theater. Shortly before 8pm, a bomb exploded, injuring six, three of them seriously. After that, the police commissioner called on the NYPD to engage in the greatest manhunt in their history.
Enter The Profiler
Dr. James Brussel
Psychological profiling was not new, but it was still evolving. During World War II, the OSS had commissioned a psychological profile of Adolf Hitler. In 1972, it was declassified and published as “The Mind of Adolf Hitler.” The psychologist who did the report, Walter Langer, correctly predicted that Hitler, when faced with defeat, would choose suicide over capture. Profiles were also used after the war in counter-intelligence. One psychologist who participated in this was Dr. James Brussel, who was in charge of Neuropsychiatry at Ft. Dix during WWII and then for the whole US Army during the Korean War.
The chief of the crime lab, Inspector Howard Finney, was frustrated by the force’s inability to even approach identifying the Mad Bomber. Some of the bombs were left in place for weeks before detonating, so canvassing for suspicious individuals in the area was a fruitless endeavor. Finney approached a friend of his, Captain John Cronin of the Missing Persons Bureau, to see if he had any suggestions of what to do. Cronin did, and arranged a meeting for Finney with a friend of Cronin’s, Dr. Brussel. He’d left the Army by then and was a psychologist working for the N.Y. State Commission on Mental Hygiene. Brussel was also a trained criminologist. Finney gave Brussel access to all of the case files, including the letters that the bomber had written.
Brussel read through the files, analyzed F.P.’s writing style, and looked at how he carried out his campaign. He soon delivered his profile. Among other things, it stated that the bomber was:
- Paranoid, with an Oedipal complex, who may have lost his mother early in life and now lived with one or more female relatives.
- Around 50 years old.
- A meticulous man who was obsessively neat.
- An immigrant Roman Catholic Slav from Central or Eastern Europe.
- A former employee of Con Edison who was injured on the job and who bore a grudge against the company.
- A resident of Southwest Connecticut, not New York City.
- Wanting to be caught.
Brussel also had one final prediction that he gave Finney: when they caught the bomber, he would be wearing a buttoned-up double-breasted suit.
Appealing to the Public
Standard procedure in cases at that time was to keep a tight lid on information about the suspect. Brussel, however, suggested publicizing the profile throughout the city using the newspapers, radio, and television. Brussel thought the bomber wanted credit for his work, and if Brussel had gotten something wrong, he’d try to correct the mistakes. In that arrogance he could reveal vital clues about himself. Indeed, Brussel received a brief call from F.P. telling him to stop his involvement in the case. It demonstrated the bomber’s resourcefulness – Brussel’s number was unlisted.
The publicity did generate a tidal wave of false leads and crankpot calls, but it got the profile to the public, and this helped break the case. Con Ed had several people comb through its personnel records, looking for someone who fit the profile. This was a challenge because the company was formed by the merger of several smaller power companies in the 20’s and 30’s. The earlier files were poorly organized, if they were organized at all.
One of the clerks working on the project, Alice Kelly, was going through the records of United Electric & Power Company. She found an employee who claimed that an on-site accident at the company led to his contracting tuberculosis. That couldn’t be proven, and so the claim was denied, but the now-former employee wrote several complaint letters to the company saying that they would pay for their “dastardly deeds.” The name of the man was George Metesky. At the same time, F.P. wrote to the Journal-American newspaper, and as Brussel suggested he revealed himself by detailing his accident. Alice Kelly brought the file on Metesky to her supervisor, who passed it on to the police.
The End of the Campaign
George Metesky lived in Waterbury, Connecticut, with two unmarried sisters. He was a member of a local Catholic parish, as were many of the Slavic enclave there, though neighbors knew he often made trips to New York City, supposedly to attend St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He kept to himself and had a workshop in his garage. On a January night in 1957, the police descended on the house and arrested Metesky as the Mad Bomber. He didn’t resist and freely confessed that he was F.P., which he explained stood for Fair Play. Metesky was in his pajamas and bathrobe when the police arrived, so they gave him a chance to get dressed. When he came out, he was wearing a double-breasted suit, buttoned up.
Metesky was judged criminally-insane and committed to an asylum for sixteen years. When released, he returned to the house in Waterbury and lived there quietly until he died in 1994 at the age of 90. His death didn’t make the newspapers. Brussel went on to consult on a number of murder investigations, most notably that of the Boston Strangler. His involvement in the Mad Bomber case changed forever the way police work was done, and was the starting point on the path that led to the modern criminal profilers.