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

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this day in crime history: december 11, 1985

On this date in 1985, Hugh Scrutton, a computer store owner in Sacramento, CA was killed when a bomb loaded with nails and splinters exploded in the parking lot of his store. Scrutton was the ninth victim, and first fatality, in the 17 year bombing spree of the man who turned out to be the nuttiest of nutty professors: Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber. By the time he was arrested in 1994, Kaczynski had planted sixteen bombs. Two of the bombs were defused before they could explode. The other fourteen bombs killed three and injured eleven. He is currently serving a life sentence (without the possibility of parole) in federal prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Theodore Kaczynski

FBI – The Unabomber

The Unabomber’s Manifesto

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: november 2, 1979


On this date in 1979, three members of the Black Liberation Army broke fellow BLA member Assata Shakur (aka Joanne Chesimard) out of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, NJ. The escape began when the BLA members, posing as prison visitors, drew .45 pistols and took two guards hostage. They seized a prison van and used it to flee the prison with Shakur. Once outside the prison, they switched cars and made their getaway. The two hostages were released unharmed.

Shakur, step-aunt of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was serving a life sentence for her role in the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. After escaping prison, she lived as a fugitive in the U.S. She eventually fled to Cuba where she was granted asylum by the government.

Further reading:

FBI Podcast – JOANNE DEBORAH CHESIMARD

Wikipedia – Assata Shakur

this day in crime history: november 1, 1950


On this date in 1950, two assassins made an attempt on the life of President Harry Truman. The attempt was made when Truman was staying in Blair House while structural repairs were being made to the White House.

Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, members of the pro-independence Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, approached Blair House from opposite directions. They planned to mount simultaneous assaults and shoot their way inside the house, where they would kill Truman. The men engaged White House police officers and Secret Service agents in a gun battle that resulted in the wounding off two officers and the death of Officer Leslie Coffelt.

Neither assassin gained entry to Blair House. Torresola was killed by Officer Coffelt before he collapsed and died from his own wounds. Collazo (pictured above) was wounded in the gun battle and arrested. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life by President Truman. He was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. He returned to Puerto Rico, where he died in 1994 at the age of 80.

Further reading:

Truman Library – Assassination Attempt on President Truman’s Life

Wikipedia – Truman assassination attempt  

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 29, 1982

On this date in 1982, 12 year old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, IL took an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule for a sore throat and runny nose.  Shortly after taking the capsule, she was found unconscious on the bathroom floor.  She was rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

That same day, 27 year old Adam Janus was rushed to the hospital after losing consciousness in his Chicago-area home.  Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.  He died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  A heart attack was suspected as the cause of death.  That evening, Janus’s family gathered at his home to mourn.  His brother and sister-in-law, both suffering from headaches, each took Extra-Strength Tylenol from a bottle they had found on the kitchen counter.  Both soon collapsed on the floor.  An ambulance was called and they were rushed to the hospital where they both died.

The sudden deaths of three family members led investigators to focus on poisoning as the cause of death.  Toxicology tests eventually showed that all three, as well as Mary Kellerman, had ingested large amounts of cyanide.  The Extra-Strength Tylenol was eventually identified as the source of the poison.  The public was alerted to the danger and a massive recall was instated by Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol’s manufacturer), but three more people in the Chicago-area had died by this time.  The other victims were Mary Reiner, Paula Prince, and Mary McFarland.

As the investigation continued, it became apparent that the five bottles that had caused the deaths (as well as three others that were discovered during the recall) were tampered with in stores, as all had not been manufactured in the same plant.  All of the poisoned capsules were found in the Chicago area.  Several suspects emerged, including a man who attempted to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson, but there was insufficient evidence to link them to the crime.

In recent years the FBI has shown renewed interest in James Lewis, the man who was convicted in the $1 million extortion attempt.  In January 2009, they searched his home in Massachusetts and took DNA samples from him and his wife.

In May 2011, the investigation began to focus on Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Kaczynski’s early crimes took place in the Chicago area, and his parents owned a home there at the time. The investigation remains open.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Chicago Tylenol Murders

The Eighties Club – The Tylenol Murders

Wikipedia – Chicago Tylenol murders