this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

Frank Steunenberg

On this date in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was killed by a bomb that was rigged to a gate at his home. While in office, Steunenberg took a tough stand against the Western Federation of Miners during a period of labor unrest. Former WFM member Albert Horsley (a/k/a Harry Orchard) was arrested for the crime. Legendary Pinkerton detective James McParland headed up the investigation. McParland pressured Horsley into implicating three high-ranking WFM officials as co-conspirators. Horsley was ultimately convicted of Steunenberg’s murder, but his testimony against the other men was discredited. Two of them were acquitted at trial, and charges were dropped against the third. Albert Horsley was sentenced to death by the court, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He died in prison in 1954 at the age of 87.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Frank Steunenberg

Wikipedia – Albert Horsley

Find a Grave – Frank Steunenberg

Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History

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this day in crime history: december 29, 1975

TWA

On this date in 1975, a bomb was detonated in the TWA baggage claim area at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Eleven people were killed and seventy-five were injured. A Croatian nationalist emerged as a suspect, but there was never sufficient evidence linking him to the crime. The case remains officially unsolved.

Further reading:

New York TimesTerrorist’s Release Reopens Wound of Unsolved Bombing

Wikipedia – 1975 LaGuardia Airport bombing

this day in crime history: november 24, 1917

On this date in 1917, a bomb exploded at the Milwaukee, WI Police headquarters. The bomb, a black powder device, was found outside a Catholic church. The church janitor brought it to the police station, where it exploded while being examined by officers. Nine police officers and a civilian employee were killed in the blast. The case was never solved, but an anarchist group was believed to be responsible.

Further reading:

City of Milwaukee – 1917 Bombing

Wikipedia – Milwaukee Police Department

this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

On this date in 1910, a bomb was detonated in an alley next to the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, CA.  The bomb, which was planted by labor union activists who were angry at the paper’s anti-union editorial policies, was set to go off when the building was empty.  A faulty timer resulted in an early detonation.  A faulty placement of the device–right over a gas line–resulted in a fire that ultimately destroyed the entire building, and the building next door.  In all, 21 people were killed.

The police investigation of the bombing quickly hit a dead, leading city officials to hire private investigator William J. Burns to track down the guilty parties.  Burns, who was already investigating other bombings believed to be union-related, incorporated the case into his ongoing investigation.  Based on information from spies that Burns had planted in the unions, as well as eyewitness testimony, Burns identified the guilty parties as brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, and Ortie McManigal, who were all labor union officials.  In April 1911, McManigal and J.B. McNamara were arrested in a hotel in Detroit.  They were found in possession of suitcases that contained blasting caps, dynamite, and alarm clocks.  After a grueling (and probably unconstitutional) interrogation, Burns got McManigal to agree to turn state’s evidence.  A warrant was obtained for the arrest of J.J. McNamara.  He was arrested several days later at an executive board meeting of the Iron Workers Union.

National labor leaders condemned the arrests as a frame job.  The union tried to hire famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the men.  Darrow initially declined due to his failing health, but was eventually convinced to take the case by labor organizer Samuel Gompers.

Darrow quickly realized that the police had a fair amount of evidence against the McNamaras, including the testimony of McManigal, who was not being charged in the case.  He eventually convinced the brothers to plead guilty in order to avoid death sentences.  J.B. McNamara was sentenced to life in prison.  J.J. McNamara got 15 years.  J.B. died in prison in March 1941.  Upon his release, J.J. went back to work for the Iron Workers Union as an organizer.  He died in Butte, MT, two months after his brother’s death.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns

this day in crime history: september 28, 1973

On this date in 1973, a bomb was detonated at the IT&T building in New York.  The device was placed in the company’s Latin American section.  It caused extensive damage to several offices, but no one was killed or injured.  Another bomb was detonated that day at IT&T’s Rome headquarters.  The Weather Undergound took responsibility for the bombings, which they claimed were in retaliation for the company’s role in the coup that took place in Chile earlier that month.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – List of Weatherman actions

this day in crime history: september 16, 1920

On this date in 1920, an unidentified man stopped his horse-drawn cart in front of the J. P. Morgan building on Wall Street. He got down from the cart and disappeared into the noontime crowd. A short while later, a bomb consisting of dynamite and cast iron slugs detonated on the busy street. Thirty-eight people were killed and over four hundred were injured. Police conducted an exhaustive investigation that lasted over three years, but the case was never solved.

Further reading:

The Street.com: “Previous Terror on Wall Street — A Look at a 1920 Bombing”

FBI: Terror on Wall Street

Wikipedia: “Wall Street bombing”

this day in crime history: august 26, 1980

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.

Further reading:

FBI – Harvey’s Casino Bomb

Wikipedia – Harvey’s Resort Hotel bombing