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Forensic Features
The Mad Bomber

The Mad Bomber "One thing I can't understand is why the newspapers labeled me the Mad Bomber. That was unkind." -- George Metesky

Decades before the explosive-devices-by-mail campaign of the Unabomber, a series of bombings in New York City was solved by one of the first applications of criminal profiling. Using little more than some letters written by the perpetrator, a psychiatrist was able to so accurately describe the bomber that he was even correct about the kind of clothes he'd be wearing when captured.

The case opened on November 16, 1940, when an unexploded bomb was found on a window ledge of the Consolidated Edison Building in Manhattan. The mechanically unsophisticated device was wrapped in a hand-written note that read, "CON EDISON CROOKS - THIS IS FOR YOU." Thinking it an isolated incident, police took little notice of it.

But the following September, a similar bomb was found lying in a downtown street. And in December, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, police received a bizarre letter, allegedly from the bomber. Using the same block-style handwriting and paper type as the previous note, the bomber declared that he would cease his activities for the duration of the war, but added, "I WILL BRING THE CON EDISON TO JUSTICE - THEY WILL PAY FOR THEIR DASTARDLY DEEDS." It was signed simply, "F.P." Apparently eager to get his message out, "F.P." sent similar missives - seventeen letters in all - to newspapers and local businesses, including Con Edison.

Once his self-imposed moratorium had ended, however, explosive devices started showing up again. On March 29, 1950, an unexploded bomb was found at Grand Central Station and in April the other shoe finally dropped: a bomb exploded in a phone booth at the New York Public Library. From that point on, the bombs -- and letters bitterly attacking Con Edison -- were coming fast and furious. Between 1951 and 1956, as many as thirty-seven bombs were planted around the city and at least a dozen of them were detonated, injuring at least ten people.

It had become clear to Inspector Howard E. Finney, the official in charge of the investigation, that conventional police methods were not going to catch the man the news media had dubbed The Mad Bomber. Finney, who had a degree in forensic psychiatry, called in Dr. James A. Brussel, a psychiatrist who had a reputation for making remarkable deductions in criminal cases.

Working from the Bomber's letters and the other facts of the case, Dr. Brussel provided authorities with the following profile:

- The bomber was a male, age 40-50, suffering from paranoia
- Unmarried, a loner, probably living with a female relative
- Neat, clean-shaven, with a muscular build
- Educated
- A foreigner, probably central or eastern European
- Feels superior to others, resents criticism

Although his letters were postmarked Westchester, he didn't live there Religious, probably Catholic Suffered a serious disease, possibly heart disease...
...and as the icing on the cake, Brussel concluded, "When you catch him, he'll be wearing a double-breasted suit - buttoned."

When police went to Metesky's home in Waterbury, Connecticut, they found an unmarried, fifty-four-year-old Polish man, living with his two older sisters. He had a muscular build and made no attempt to hide the bomb-making workshop in his garage. In fact, he good-naturedly admitted he was the Bomber and told the police that the "F.P." with which he signed his letters stood for "Fair Play." He even put on a double-breasted suit - which he buttoned -- for his trip to Police Headquarters. It seemed that the only part of Brussel's profile that was incorrect was the prediction of heart disease, but even that was only slightly off: Metesky had once had tuberculosis.

So how did Dr. Brussel reach his amazingly accurate conclusions about the Bomber?

First, it was a safe bet that the Bomber was male, as bomb building was not an activity commonly taken up by women. It is, however, an activity of paranoid individuals. The Bomber's letters revealed other paranoid characteristics, such as a sense of persecution, tenacity in holding a grudge, intense resentment of criticism and a feeling of superiority. In determining the Bomber's age, Brussel was playing the averages: paranoia takes years to develop and generally peaks around age 40; since the first bomb was found in 1940, Brussel figured that by 1956 the Bomber had to be pushing or past fifty. He predicted the Bomber would be unmarried because paranoics are typically loners and because of clues in his handwriting: his letters were all very square-edged capitals, except for his "W's", which were rounded at the bottom, suggesting a woman's breasts. Brussel believed this indicated a sexual inadequacy. Brussel was again playing the averages when he predicted the Bomber would have a muscular build, relying on a 1955 German study that found that 85% of paranoid individuals were athletic and stocky.

The Bomber's letters also indicated a high level of education, but the use of certain terms like "dastardly deeds" and "The Con Edison" sounded to Brussel like the usage of a non-native. Brussel speculated that the Bomber was from central Europe because historically that region had a high incidence of bombers. If the Bomber was indeed from that region, he was probably Catholic and given the cultural emphasis on family, an ummarried man would most likely live with female relatives. In addition, Brussel predicted that while the Bomber mailed his letters from Westchester, he probably lived in southern Connecticut. Brussel's reasoning was that the Bomber was far too smart to mail his letters from the town where he lived. But if he lived in south Connecticut - which at that time had a high concentration of central European immigrants - he would pass through Westchester on his way to Manhattan.

Brussel predicted the Bomber's serious illness because of the numerous references to "pain and suffering" in his letters. And, finally, the most interesting prediction - that the bomber would be wearing a buttoned double-breasted suit - was because paranoics are usually obsessively tidy and fastidious. At the time, a double-breasted suit was the most "proper" attire for a man.

On April 18, 1957, George Metesky was found mentally unfit to stand trial and was committed to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Released in 1973, he returned to his home in Waterbury, where he died in 1994 at the age of 90.

Dr. Brussel continued to contribute to the field of criminal profiling, publishing a book, CASEBOOK OF A CRIME PSYCHOLOGIST in 1968. In addition, he consulted with investigators in the Boston Strangler case, and in 1970 examined Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald for the prosecution during his first trial for the murder of his wife and daughters.

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The Mad Bomber

The Mad Bomber behind bars
The Mad Bomber

Dr. James Brussel, criminal profiling pioneer

George Matesky wearing a buttoned, double-breasted wool suit, as predicted by criminal profiling pioneer, Dr. James Brussel.

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