JUSTICE STORY: The mystery of the ‘Sunday Bomber’ who terrorized New York

by Editorial Team

The explosion came late on a quiet Sunday afternoon, a deafening roar that shattered windows, showered debris and sent folks strolling near the New York Public Library on Fifth Ave. scurrying away in panic.

People had good reason to be scared, but the crude device that detonated in a library garden on W. 40th St. had New Yorkers facing a larger, terrifying reality. It was the second mysterious blast in Midtown Manhattan in a week — and the incidents had occurred on consecutive Sundays.

Which meant the city was in the grip of a serial bomber.

Over the next few weeks in the fall of 1960, the unknown madman the tabloids inevitably dubbed the “Sunday Bomber” would plant several more explosives, almost all of them on the Sabbath, in an escalating campaign of terror that would leave dozens of victims injured, a teenage girl dead and have more than 600 NYPD detectives chasing shadows in a desperate attempt to prevent the next disaster.

The bomber initially struck on Oct. 2 in Times Square, in the small triangular mall spanning from 46th to 47th Sts. that’s currently the site of the TKTS booth. A bomb containing black powder and lit by a cigarette or short fuse exploded near 5 p.m. in a flower bed, blasting dirt, rocks and twigs in all directions.

Seven people, including two children, were hurt; a 73-year-old man was hospitalized with eye and ear injuries. Serious carnage had been avoided because the bomb was packed in a carton rather than metal, leading cops to believe the person or persons responsible was just trying to scare people — even as a chilling handwritten note was found in a nearby movie theater with an ominous promise for the following day.

“Please forgive me for the first bomb but I have to kill 100 people in one week,” it read. “I am sick like before. The next bomb will be Oct. 3, 1960 at a Times Square show.”

It was signed “The Sick.”

The specter of a pyrotechnic psychopath terrorizing the city brought back then-recent memories of George Metesky, aka the “Mad Bomber,” who evaded capture for 16 years while planting more than 30 pipe bombs around New York in the 1940s and ’50s, injuring 15 people.

But authorities were relieved when nothing happened the day after the Times Square incident, and as the week went by they figured — hoped — it was the work of a one-off crank or a malicious prank by some stupid kids.

That changed on Sunday, Oct. 9, when the bomb outside the Public Library showed the earlier blast wasn’t an isolated incident. Miraculously, no one was injured — the device was also packed in a carton.

There was no note this time, but investigators did have a lead: Witnesses had seen a group of boys standing near where the bomb went off who ran away minutes before the blast.

Police had a scant six days to catch the culprit before another Sunday rolled around. But they were caught flat-footed when a bigger bomb went off three days later on Oct. 12 — a Wednesday.

The site was the packed Times Square/42nd St. subway station at Seventh Ave. at the start of the afternoon rush hour. The explosive, wedged next to a photo booth, filled the station with thick black smoke, broke subway car windows and knocked commuters off their feet.

The official injured count was 34 — which didn’t include two teenage boys with powder-blackened faces who witnesses saw near the wrecked booth and fled after one crying boy exclaimed “I got too close.”

It was a promising lead that maybe matched the boys at the library explosion. That is, until a 16-year-old girl injured at the IRT station gave cops a detailed description of a man she saw kneeling by the photo booth who then ran away moments before the blast.

He was chunky and bespectacled, she said, wore an orthopedic shoe and walked with a limp.

Police released a sketch of the suspect and the publicity apparently had him laying low. The next Sunday, Oct. 16, the city was spared a bombing. But he struck again the following Sunday, Oct. 23, when a device blew up in an empty cabin on the Staten Island Ferry. It shattered benches and blew a hole in the deck, but no one was injured.

Witnesses claimed they saw a short, 350-pound man with a package that “looked like a time bomb” at the Manhattan ferry terminal before the blast, but that lead fizzled, too.

Lives were likely spared the following Sunday, Oct. 30, when another crude bomb sizzled and sparked but failed to go off inside a Times Square theater.

The case took a tragic turn a week later. On Nov. 6, a powerful bomb went off under the seat of an A train stopped at the 125th St. station at Eighth Ave., killing a 15-year-old girl and injuring 18 passengers. After the previous Sunday’s dud, the bomber had seemingly upped the ante, this time using dynamite and a detonating cap.

It turned out to be the bomber’s final bloody Sunday. Feeling the heat, he went underground and the trail ran cold — until later that month when detectives questioned a man they described as “a red hot suspect.”

Walter Long, 29, checked all the boxes for the Sunday Bomber. He had worked for a construction company as a watchman — guarding dynamite and blasting caps. He had a long arrest record for crimes including rape and robbery.

And he had a history of mental illness, having recently escaped from Manhattan State Hospital on Ward’s Island, formerly known as the New York City Asylum for the Insane.

Cops put the screws to Long, who after 20 hours admitted he often stole blasting material from his job and had been “in the vicinity” of the first four bombings. But he insisted he was innocent and was soon readmitted to Manhattan State.

The Sunday Bomber never resumed his reign of terror.

Long’s whereabouts remain a mystery, as does the bomber’s true identity. But there likely wasn’t one cop back in the day who didn’t hesitate to make the connection.

READ FROM SOURCE: https://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/ny-justice-story-sunday-bomber-20191215-gbidwix4mjamxnsgdcgfsctfxi-story.html

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