On this date in 1980, two men made an early morning delivery of what appeared to be computer equipment to the Harvey’s Resort and Casino in Stateline, NV. Harvey’s employees soon discovered the “computer equipment” and the note attached to it. The note informed them that the large package was a bomb, and that it would go off unless the bombers were paid $3 million by the casino.
Police, the FBI, and the ATF were called in. Bomb squad personnel examined the object and confirmed that it was a bomb. The device, which was very sophisticated, contained a large amount of dynamite.
The decision was made to pay the ransom, then concentrate on tracking down the extortionists later. Unfortunately, the delivery of the ransom money – which was to be done by police helicopter – didn’t go off as planned. This left the bomb squad with the task of figuring out how to disarm the largest dynamite bomb anyone in law enforcement had ever seen.
After x-raying the equipment and carefully examining it, the explosive ordnance disposal experts decided that the best was to disarm it way to quickly disconnect the detonators before they could set off the dynamite. To do this, they rigged shaped charges of C-4 and positioned them so they would blow the detonators off. Sand bags were stacked around the bomb to minimize the damage in case the plan didn’t work. This was a good idea, as the plan didn’t work. The shaped charges set the bomb off, destroying most of the casino and causing some damage to the neighboring hotel. Thankfully, there were no injuries from the explosion.
As the ensuing investigation unfolded, a suspect soon emerged: a Hungarian immigrant from Clovis, CA named John Birges. Birges, as it turned out, lost thousands of dollars gambling at Harvey’s. (note to all you high rollers out there: You can lose. That’s why they call it “gambling.”) In the summer of 1981, investigators received a tip that Birges had stolen dynamite from a construction site. Forensic examination matched the dynamite used at the site with that used in the Harvey’s Casino bomb. John Birges was arrested in August 1981, almost a year after the bombing. His three accomplices were soon arrested as well. It wasn’t long before they flipped and agreed to testify against Birges in exchange for lighter sentences. John Birges was convicted of multiple state and federal crimes. He died in prison of liver cancer in 1996.
FBI – Harvey’s Casino Bomb
Wikipedia – Harvey’s Resort Hotel bombing