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

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this day in crime history: july 27, 1996

rudolphwanted

On this day in 1996, a bomb was detonated at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA during the 1996 Summer Olympics. One person was killed by the blast. Another died of a heart attack at the scene.

The bomb, actually three pipe bombs in a military-style pack, was discovered by security guard Richard Jewell. Jewell managed to clear most of the spectators away from the area before the detonation. In addition to the two fatalities, 111 people were injured.

Jewell was hailed as a hero. At first. Within three days of the bombing, the FBI leaked to several media outlets that Jewell was a “person of interest” in the investigation. Jewell was painted in the media as a failed wannabe cop who planted the bomb in order to play hero. NBC talking head Tom Brokaw said, “The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case.” As it turns out, there were more holes than there was case.

By October, the FBI had given up on Jewell for lack of evidence. The US Attorney went so far as to send Jewell a letter informing him that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing related to the bombing.

Jewell sued the media outlets that had libeled him. He reached settlements with NBC, CNN, the New York Post, and his former employer, Piedmont College. A lawsuit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was dismissed in 2007 after Jewell died at the age of 44.

After clearing Jewell, the investigation into the bombing stalled out until early 1997, when two more bombings occurred in the Atlanta area. While investigating the bombings of an abortion clinic and a lesbian nightclub, investigators noted similarities between those bombs and the one detonated at the Olympics. Evidence from the 1997 bombings led the feds to a new suspect: Eric Robert Rudolph.

In May 1998, Rudolph was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. He was believed to be hiding somewhere in the Appalachians. Multiple searches were unable to locate him. He was finally arrested in May 2003 in Murphy, NC. Officer Jeffery Postell spotted him behind a Save-a-lot store at four in the morning. Suspecting a burglary in progress, Postell arrested Rudolph, who was unarmed.

In exchange for not receiving a death sentence, and for revealing the location of a large cache of dynamite, Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to all charges. He is currently incarcerated at the federal supermax prison in Florence, CO. He will never be eligible for parole.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Centennial Olympic Park Bombing

Wikipedia – Eric Rudolph

Wikipedia – Richard Jewell

Washington Post – Richard A. Jewell; Wrongly Linked to Olympic Bombing

this day in crime history: july 22, 1934

On this day in 1934, John Dillinger was shot and killed by lawmen as he left the Biograph Theater in Chicago, IL. FBI agents under Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis, along with officers from the East Chicago, IN Police Department set up a stakeout outside the theater, which was showing the film Manhattan Melodrama.

After the movie, Dillinger walked out with his girlfriend Polly Hamilton and Anna Sage, the infamous “Woman in Red” (she was really wearing orange, but “The Woman in Orange” doesn’t have quite the ring to it). Agent Purvis ID’d Dillinger, and the agents closed in. The outlaw ran toward an alley and tried to draw a pistol from his pocket. The agents opened fire, and Dillinger was hit four times. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“It’s like the coroner said, ‘Crime don’t pay!’ does it?”

Further reading:

Crime Museum – John Dillinger

FBI Famous Cases – John Dillinger 

Biograph Theater

this day in crime history: july 15, 1997

Cunanan

On this day in 1997, fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed outside his home in Miami Beach, FL. Versace’s killer, Andrew Cunanan, had gone on a killing spree that started three months earlier in Minneapolis. Versace was Cunanan’s fifth and final (known) victim. Cunanan committed suicide on July 24th on a houseboat in Miami. His motive for the killings remains unknown.

Further reading:

FBI: Serial Killers – Andrew Cunanan Murders a Fashion Icon

Crime Museum – Versace Murder

Wikipedia – Andrew Cunanan

this day in crime history: june 22, 2011

WnC-Busted

On this date in 2011, Whitey Bulger, the former head of Boston’s Winter Hill gang, was captured after sixteen years as a fugitive. For twelve of Bulger’s years on the run, he was featured on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Bulger had been indicted on multiple counts of racketeering. The racketeering charges included complicity in nineteen murders.

Bulger, who had worked as an FBI informant since the 1970s, was tipped off to the indictments by his FBI handler, Special Agent John Connolly. Bulger and longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig skipped town and disappeared. The last credible sighting of the couple was in London in 2002.

In 2011, the FBI decided to change its tactics in locating the fugitive mobster. Instead of focusing their efforts on Bulger, they would focus on Greig, in hopes that they might hear from someone who had spotted her. A public service announcement was recorded and aired during daytime television programs. The strategy paid off rather quickly. A woman who had lived in Santa Monica recognized Greig and Bulger as former neighbors. According to the Boston Globe, the tipster was Anna Bjorn, an Icelandic model and actress who was Miss Iceland 1974. Bjorn was reportedly paid a $2 million reward for the tip.

Agents found Bulger at home when they arrived. They used a ruse to lure him from his apartment and placed him under arrest. They then entered the apartment and placed Greig under arrest for harboring a fugitive.

Bulger and Greig were returned to Boston for trial in federal court. Bulger was convicted on multiple counts of racketeering, including complicity in eleven murders. He received two life sentences plus five years. He is currently incarcerated at USP Coleman II. Greig pleaded guilty to harboring a fugitive and identity fraud and was sentenced to eight years. In April 2016, she was sentenced to an additional 21 months for contempt..

Further reading:

National Post – Accused Boston crime Boss Whitey Bulger Arrested

Daily Mail – Whitey Bulger tipster revealed

Wikipedia – Whitey Bulger

this day in crime history: june 17, 1933

On this date in 1933, three men — believed to be outlaw, and former lawman, Verne Miller, along with bank robbers Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Adam Richetti — attempted to free Frank “Jelly” Nash from Federal custody in Kansas City. A gunfight ensued, leaving three police officers, an FBI Agent, and Frank Nash dead.

FBI History: Famous Cases Kansas City Massacre – Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd

Wikipedia: Kansas City Massacre

Movie: The Kansas City Massacre (1975)

this day in crime history: june 16, 1999

On this date in 1999, middle class St. Paul, MN mom Sara Jane Olson was arrested after being profiled on America’s Most Wanted. As it turns out, the socially active mother of three had a secret identity. In a prior life, she was Kathleen Ann Soliah, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist group.

Soliah had been in hiding since 1976, when she was indicted for her role in planting pipe bombs that were targeted at police officers in Los Angeles.

Olson eventually pleaded guilty to the explosives charges and to her role in a robbery that resulted in the death of a woman. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but her sentence was eventually reduced by a judge.

In 2008, Olson was erroneously released from prison due to a miscalculation by prison officials. She was rearrested and returned to prison. She was paroled in March of 2009 and was allowed to return to Minnesota to serve out her sentence.

Further reading:

CNN – ’70s radical Sara Jane Olson released from prison

Wikipedia – Sara Jane Olson