On November 16, 1940, an unattended wooden toolbox was discovered on a windowsill in the Consolidated Edison Company building at 4 Irving Place in Manhattan. The headquarters of the utility giant is huge, taking up an entire block, and it was bustling that day. No one had seen who left the box behind, where they had come from, or where they went. When it was opened, workers discovered a small homemade pipe bomb. Around the outside of the device was a note, hand-written in neat block lettering:
“CON EDISON CROOKS, THIS IS FOR YOU."
The workers who discovered it called the police.
The NYPD bomb squad, which had just lost two of its officers in July as they tried to defuse a bomb planted in the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, concluded that the device was a dud -- perhaps an intentional one, since the bomber’s note would have been destroyed in the explosion. Investigators found no fingerprints on either the bomb or the box and no other clues as to who left it. A check of Con Ed’s records for recently dismissed employees or others who might have had a grudge yielded no leads, so the investigation was closed, and the incident was forgotten.
The next year, another bomb, wrapped in a wool sock, was found lying on 19th Street just a few blocks from the Con Ed building. This one was also a dud, and its crude alarm-clock detonator had not been wound. There was no note, but the bomb squad investigators recognized the construction as similar to the first Con Ed bomb. They wondered if it was the same person, and whether the would-be bomber had simply aborted their plan before getting to the offices. Again, there were no leads, so police shelved the case for more pressing matters.
Months later, as the U.S. prepared to enter World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a package arrived at NYPD headquarters. It was from the bomber, but it wasn’t another explosive. Rather, it was news that they would be retiring for the war. Written in the same neat block letters as the note on the first bomb, it read:
"I WILL MAKE NO MORE BOMB UNITS FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR—MY PATRIOTIC FEELINGS HAVE MADE ME DECIDE THIS—LATER I WILL BRING THE CON EDISON TO JUSTICE—THEY WILL PAY FOR THEIR DASTARDLY DEEDS."
It was signed with the initials F.P. Whoever they were, F.P. stayed true to their word: No bombs were planted for the duration of the war, or for several years after.
The peace ended on March 29, 1950, when a third unexploded bomb was found in Grand Central Station. Its construction was similar to the Con Ed bombs, but more sophisticated. The bomber, investigators thought, had used his downtime to hone his craft.
Later that year, the string of duds ended, and were replaced by well-made devices that actually blew up. Several people suffered minor injuries when a bomb exploded in a Grand Central Station bathroom. Five were hurt when one detonated at a screening of White Christmas at Radio City Music Hall. An elderly bathroom attendant was seriously injured when yet another device, planted in a restroom at Grand Central, exploded. And six more people were hurt -- three seriously -- by a bomb tucked inside a seat at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theater.
In all, the Mad Bomber (as the public and newspapers started calling F.P.) planted 33 bombs over a 16-year period. Twenty-two of them exploded, injuring 15 people.
With help from a Manhattan criminal psychiatrist, the police were able to work up a profile of the bomber. A secretary at Con Ed later cracked the case wide open by connecting details the bomber mentioned in a letter to a newspaper with an accident at one of the company’s plants two decades prior. This led police to George Metesky, a former Con Ed boiler cleaner who’d been injured on the job, fired, and denied disability benefits. When police knocked on his door, Metesky, a short, older gentleman in a bathrobe, answered, “I think I know why you fellows are here. You think I’m the Mad Bomber.”
Metesky calmly and politely confessed to the bombings, explaining that F.P. stood for “fair play." Police found a workshop in his garage where he had built his bombs, as well as plans for an even bigger device that he was going to plant in the New York Coliseum. Metesky was declared unfit to stand trial and committed to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Beacon, NY. He was unresponsive to treatment -- he believed the psychiatrists were part of a conspiracy against him -- but was otherwise a model patient who spent most of his time trying to secure a jury trial so he could air his grievances with Con Ed. In conversations with the psychiatrist who helped capture him, Metesky claimed that he deliberately planned the blasts to avoid any fatalities, and regretted that he had hurt people. Upon his release from Matteawan in 1973, the Mad Bomber went back to his family's Connecticut home, where he died in 1994 at the age of 90.