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BruceB

Bombing at the World's Fair

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If we could speculate, I'd say it was most likely the IRA. They had the motive, means and history of attacking british targets.

If it were a local facist group it would not have had the blessings of the German nazi gov't. There'd be no propaganda value in bombing a pavlion at the NYWF in a then neutral country. Attacking a target without taking credit or trying to blame someone else wasn't Hitler's style.

Communist or anarchists, not likely. Why the british pavlion and not a capitalist or local gov't building.

I'd also like to honor the memory of Det's Lynch and Socha for their brave sacrifice. Fedelis ad mortem.

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Was anyone ever questioned about the bombing? Were there any arrests at all--even for questioning?

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The IRA is an interesting suspect, but by the end of the 1930's the IRA was feuding with itself and probably had fewer than a thousand active members and a large number of them were in prison in Ireland (the Republic of Ireland never supported the IRA and the IRA actually attempted to overthrow the Republic after the revolution of 1922). I am not sure they were focused or large enough to pull of a bombing in the USA at that time.

I have often wondered if that bombing had more to do with the start of the War in Europe. By the time of the bombing, Britain the evacuation of Dunkirk had taken place and the Battle of Britain was about to begin. German saboteurs always seemed to be more likely suspects. Actually, the Nazis did like to stir up trouble in odd places and calculate the reaction and then capitalize on it. The 1933 Reichstag fire is an example, I believe.

It is also possible that the bombers were merely disgruntled New Yorkers who saw the bombing as some sort of warped retribution for some perceive injustice.

Much like the disappearance of Judge Crater a few years earlier, we will never know for sure.

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Much like the disappearance of Judge Crater a few years earlier, we will never know for sure.

We now have a pretty good idea what happened to Judge Crater, here are some of the highlights.

Stella Ferrucci-Good of Bellerose, Queens, who died three years ago on April 2, 2005 left behind a handwritten letter an envelope marked "Do not open until my death" that her granddaughter Barbara O'Brien found in a metal box in her grandmother's home.

In the letter, Ferrucci-Good claimed that her late husband, Robert Good; an NYPD cop named Charles Burns; and the cop's cabby brother, Frank Burns, were responsible for Crater's death.

She added that they buried the judge in Coney Island, Brooklyn, under the boardwalk near West Eighth Street, at the current site of the New York Aquarium.

The metal box also contained yellowed clippings about Crater's disappearance, with scribbled notations in the margins.

In her letter, Ferrucci-Good also claimed that Officer Burns was one of the cops guarding notorious Murder Inc. killer Abe “Kid Twist” Reles when he somehow plummeted to his death from the sixth-floor window of a Coney Island hotel in 1941.

Reles had become a mob informant to escape the electric chair, testifying against a slew of Murder Inc. killers. His suspicious death plunge came just hours before he was due to rat out mob boss Albert Anastasia.

O'Brien's father, William St. George, said the police told family members that five bodies were found when the aquarium was built. Police sources confirmed that skeletal remains had been found there in the mid-1950s. They removed the bodies and buried them in Potter’s Field, where they were lost among the other Jane and John Does.

Police sources also confirmed that a police officer named Charles Burns served with the NYPD from 1926 to 1946, and that he spent part of his career assigned to the 60th Precinct in Coney Island.

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I remember reading this story in the NY Times, but, as I recall, there was a good amount of skepticism as to the complete veracity of this account. In any event, it remains unsolved and endlessly interesting.

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I'd like to read the police records of the bombing. It would show what line of thinking the detectives on the case had regarding suspects. Technically, homocides remain open indefinetly if unsolved so any files may not be accessable to the public as on-going investigations.

I disagree about the nazis being involved. It was simply not their style. Nazis hit their targets very openly in brown shirt SA uniforms. Jewish homes and businesses trashed and people openly beaten in the street, kristalnacht and book burnings. All out in the open and for all to see. If the nazis hit you they wanted you to know who and why. The Reichstag fire was an example of how they used it for propaganda. Even then, it was very obivious who actually did it. Yes, the Germans engaged in sabotage but that was against military targets. No bombs in civilian buildings. The Luftwaffe didn't bomb targets in London until the Brits bombed Berlin first.

Could it be another disgruntled group ? I suppose the Czechs as Britian sold out Czechoslovakia to Hitler but why not hit a French target as well.

The bomb was targeted specifically at the british pavlion so it could only be someone with a grudge against the brits.

On balance I still say it was the IRA. At it's lowest point, a terrorist group will pull off a bombing to show they're still out there and going strong. Disorganization and low membership mean nothing. How big a group, well funded and organized was Timothy McVeigh ? All you need is someone with enough motivation and the technical ability to construct a relatively simple explosive for a cowardly act that might rally the faithful and recruit more aherents to the cause.

The telephone call warning meant the bomber wasn't looking for casualities. Mostly just to embarass the brits. When 2 cops got killed, the bombers backed away from taking credit as they failed to damage the target and it would have been negative publicity as well as a trip to the electric chair.

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1500 Detectives at Bomb Conference. Valentine Will order them to "Break" Case N.Y. Times 07/11/40

http://www.brucebacklund.com/pdfiles/1940bomb.pdf

Another article about the 1940 NYWF bombing. Describes the phoned in bomb threats.....I think they questioned several hundred people but developed no solid leads in the case. I know the 25 grand reward was still good as late as 1945 for info pertaining to the bombing suspects. Would make a good book!

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I should have also considered the loner with no affilitation to any group who has an obsessive gruge.

Believe it or not, it's still an open cold case and the reward offer might still be good.

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I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out the Nazis. The British exhibited a captured German parachute used to mine the British coast, a very public statement that made headlines at the time. In 1942 eight Germans were dropped off by u-boats in Amagansett on a sabotage mission. That group was caught due to heightened costal security and their leader, oddly enough, essentially turned himself over to the FBI. Many believe it was not the first time such a mission had occurred, nor was it the last.

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I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out the Nazis. The British exhibited a captured German parachute used to mine the British coast, a very public statement that made headlines at the time. In 1942 eight Germans were dropped off by u-boats in Amagansett on a sabotage mission. That group was caught due to heightened costal security and their leader, oddly enough, essentially turned himself over to the FBI. Many believe it was not the first time such a mission had occurred, nor was it the last.

I could agree with an American based pro-nazi group being involved. The fact that stolen dynamite was used points to an organized group to obtain hard to get and hard to trace materials.

Bomb making itself requires some skill and experience more likely to be found in a group than a loner with only a few exceptions.

But the nazi government ? C'mon get real !

OK let's recap some history: July 1940 the Battle of Brittan is in full swing. The RAF is the last obstacle to Hitler's amphibious landing and taking of the British Isles and completing a total conquest of Europe between himself and Stalin. Destroying the RAF is Hitler's most immediate problem now.

OK. Now, how does blowing up the British Pavilion at the 39-40 NY World's Fair bring Hitler any closer to his goal ? Demoralize the Brits by blowing up King George's stamp collection ? Yeah, that'll stop the RAF and make Churchill fold !

Consider: Why would Hitler at this point in time when the US wanted to remain neutral would he do a repeat of the Lusitania, acutally worse in some ways, by attacking a civilian target on continental US soil ? No, so the nazi german gov't theory is ridiculous.

Forget the sabetours as they were after military targets and that was after the US entered the war.

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Cool believe what you want. Don’t be surprised if someday you hear otherwise.

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It could be like the more recent sleeper cell thing- Berlin sets up and funds activitist organizations which could be 'called up' as grass roots third front paramilitary operations if ever needed, for industrial sabotage or infrastructure sabotage in preparation for a major military strike.

In the meantime, Berlin could continue to to covertly fund those organizations as intelligence operatives, and if any of those groups then decide to mount their own renegade strike operation, and fail to check with Berlin (they would have almost assuredly said no for the reasons cited).....then you could say that Berlin funded it, although they may not have expressly given it a thumbs up. (Did Nazis give a thumbs up, or simply a 'stiff arm up' ? :D I'm thinking Dr. Strangelove here who had this particular arm twitch...)

By the way, I found a definition of the difference between sabotage and terrorism, with terrorism's primary targets being casualties rather than a building, bridge, etc., which are sabotage targets, and saboteurs commonly try to minimize 'collateral casualties'. Terrorists try to increase such casualties.

Since there was a warning phone call to the pavilion shortly before the bomb was discovered, I think we can rule out terrorism as it's defined today.

This might tell us something about the motivation of the perpetrators, at least we can probably RULE OUT a possible motivation.

It would seem that they didn't intend for the bomb to be found, but intended for it to go off, bringing down the Pavilion, after Fairgoers had been evacuated.

Did anybody ever do a study on the force of the blast- how much damage it would have done to the Pavilion if the bomb hadn't been found and moved first by the policemen? Would it have 'brought down' the building?

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I could agree with an American based pro-nazi group being involved.

So could I, Don. But one which may well have enjoyed at least some kind of financial and/or tactical support from bigger, more international Nazi fish like Randy suggests. Then again, the pre-bombing phone call warning has always made me wonder if maybe the tragedy really was caused by members of the IRA. Perhaps a little Irish Catholic guilt at work? ;)

Meanwhile, Randy-- it's an interesting question you've asked about the force of the bomb-- and one I've often wondered about myself. In addition to killing two officers and wounding four others-- it also shattered windows in the Polish Pavilion, stripped a couple of trees, and left a sizeable crater in the ground where it exploded on the outskirts. Because of the temporary construction of buildings like the British Pavilion-- it's a fair assumption that had it actually gone off inside the structure-- the bomb would've done some substantial damage. But bring the whole building down? That I kind of doubt-- if only because of the sheer size of the BP alone.

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If it is not effective because people are immune to it, then the definition of terrorism is pretty much what a U.N. panel arrived at a few years ago (that the General Assembly refused to approve)-

that terrorism is defined by its primary purpose to inflict psychological damage on civilian populations who are otherwise not directly involved in a conflict.

The General Assembly refused to endorse the definition because it was constructed narrowly enough to not include Israel's military strikes against armed civilian combatants who fire rockets into Israel.

I'm not sure that psychological warfare was the intended purpose of the bombing of the British Pavilion. The purpose appears to have been a pile of rubble, but not loss of human life. (not that I agree with what they did of course).

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Keep in mind the fair received a steady stream of threats from mid-1937 until its 1940 closing. For some foreign pavilions weekly written and phoned in threats was the norm. When Germany committed to participate there was an uproar, heck even from Mayor LaGuardia. Russia was mired in controversy and a constant security headache for the fair.

Obviously the threats phoned in July 3 & 4 were legitimate but how many threats had they recieved prior and at what frequency? Question always being which ones are legitimate?

I could see a psychological intent on bombing the British pavilion, a clear statement that all things British are unsafe even on neutral/foreign soil.

For a while there was speculation that the NYWF bombing was the first work of the notorious “Mad Bomber.” Later on he turned out to be a disgruntled Con Edison employee. If he was to bomb anything at the fair it would have been the Con Edison exhibit.

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The "mad bomber" George Metsky did indeed start around that time but his devices were crude pipe bombs many of which didn't go off. The lone wolf terrorist usually continues his attacks against whoever annoyed him and won't stop until caught.

Another feature of the lone wolf is a compusion to taunt authorities in letters to the newspapers.

The WF bombing had no letter writer or other targets hit so we can probably eliminate the loner.

The WF device was a briefcase loaded with approximately 8 sticks of stolen dynamite/detonator caps using an alarm clock detonator. The bomb was booby trapped as Det's Lynch and Socha opened the briefcase it exploded causing a 30 ft crater and injuring 2 or three other cops.

Some terrorists today use bombs to target first responders: EMT, fire dept and police including planting of secondary devices to injure or kill rescuers who rush to the scene after the first device detonates. So the target may not have necessairly been the British pavilion but the police who responded.

It's easy to accuse the nazis as evil as they were and their crimes were as numerous as they were unspeakable but in this instance the bombing of a pavilion at the NY WF was the work of a terrorist group. I don't want anyone here at PTU to think I'm excusing Hitler my interest here is finding the truth. I'm starting to think I've stepped on some ethnic toes with my suggestion of the IRA being involved but I'm sorry, facts are facts.

Accusing Hitler of the WF bombing would be like accusing a mafia capo like John Gotti of a street corner purse snatch or gas station hold-up. There was no strategic or propaganda value to such an act and it's too penny-ante for him to even consider. They're thugs to be sure but big bosses don't stoop that low.

In fact it would not be in Hitler's best interest to push neutral US into the war 1 1/2 years early at such a critical juncture as the battle of Britian.

Well, I think I've pontificated enough on this subject. I hope you will forgive me going on as I've done but there is a certain personal and professional interest I have in this subject. I won't try to change anyone's mind if they're set on the nazis as being the culprit. We're all entitled to our opinions and anyone else's is as good as mine.

Don

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Did the IRA have any operatives or sympathizer cells that today we know were active in the NYC area?

The booby-trap device- completely separate from the alarm clock timer trigger- does indeed have terrorist implications.

Are we sure about that, or did the NYC cops simply accidentally set off the trigger when they opened the briefcase and started fiddling with it? Were enough pieces of the device found to enable 1940's forensic experts to conclude that there was a booby trap device attached to the briefcase opening mechanism?

I'm not familiar enough with the forensic evidence to have ever heard those kind of details. And I can understand if law enforcement quickly announced that a booby trap device 'went off' in order to cover up possible limitations in the training of their so-called bomb squad experts.

If procedures went well up to a point but then the officers screwed up and tried something they shouldn't have, I can see why the authorities would never want that story to come to light. That's a big IF- I have no idea what really happened.

I just wonder why, after carefully removing it from the pavilion and gingerly moving it- a heroic job- they attempted to open it without being behind a blast shield, or using a long probe or something. Of course they didn't have robots back then, so it's unfair to suggest technology that they simply didn't have.

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I don't know if the booby trap aspect was ever publicly announced as it is common for law enforcement to withold some details from the public as a means of testing suspects and weeding out "confessing sams". Considering how long ago the event occurred, I don't think I'm giving out any secrets the NYPD would want to remain confedential.

The bomb squad of the time was merged with the fraud squad so that should highlight how important and often used the subject was at the time.

Bomb squad techs at the time even into the early 70's couldn't work behind a shield when handling a device. Instead they wore a heavily padded suit and flack jacket. I'm not sure the exact reason why they stopped and opened the device. Most likely to check if it was really a bomb and examine the device, check when it was set to go off that they might have time to attempt to defuse it. If it couldn't be safely removed from the fairgrounds it was in a relatively safe place for a controlled detonation.

As I understand it, the device went off instantly as Lynch and Socha opened the briefcase. The techs of the 40's must have had enough forensic savy to piece together the detonator and the explosive remenants to ID the dynamite and blasting caps. Kind of amazing when from the photos of the crime scene I saw there were cops and even reporters wandering all over the scene causing large scale contamination of the crime scene. A major no-no today.

Many criminal cases are usually cracked when the perp blabs about his exploits to friends and acquaintances. Then they tell the police either voluntairly or when they get caught committing crimes of their own and are looking for a deal. This was a tight lipped group or NYPD was shaking the wrong trees.

As for the IRA I don't know if there were any active cells in the NY area or if they came here specifically for this job. I just want to remind everyone that the IRA is one of several possible suspects including American based pro-nazi groups even anarchists targeting the police.

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Do we have any of those crime scene photos on this site? Is there a site where they could be seen?

Just a theory, but what about good old-fashioned anarchists setting the bomb?

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I have two of them-- but out of respect for the late officers families and sensitivity to the graphic nature of the photographs-- I wouldn't post them here (or anywhere else). What Don said about cops and reporters trampling over the crime scene is extremely accurate, however. We wouldn't even allow that to happen on CSI:NY! :o

Obviously a very different time.

Anarchists are a possibility, Bogframe. Still a toss-up for me between German Bund or IRA members, though.

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Death At The Fair

Time Magazine

July 15, 1940

A holiday crowd filled the grounds of the New York World's Fair. It was the Fourth of July. The hum of many noises was punctuated by bursts of fireworks. Josephine Chmiel, candy-counter girl at the Polish Building, curiously watched a cluster of men, some of whom were uniformed police, standing in the roadway. One of them stooped over. As he straightened up again, a stupendous sound struck Josephine like a blow. The cluster of men vanished.

Three of them lay huddled on the grass. Two others were crawling blindly away; one of them, hands to face, tried to get up off his knees, staggered and fell. A maple tree near by was stripped of leaves. An iron fence beyond was twisted awry.

That afternoon, William Strachan, an electrician, had stepped into the room which held the ventilating apparatus, on the second floor of the British Pavilion, for a casual inspection, had noticed on the floor a small, buff-colored bag. Remembering that he had seen it there the day before, he bent over it. It was ticking. Detectives William Federer and Fred Morelock were summoned, and Morelock carried the bag through the British Pavilion, through crowds of sightseers, outside, around the Italian Pavilion, to a deserted spot near the Polish Building, where he set it down.

Bomb squad Detectives Joseph Lynch and Ferdinand Socha arrived. Lynch cut a hole in one corner of the buff-colored bag. Several sticks of dynamite were exposed. The tick-tick-tick continued. Lynch stepped back, remarked: "It looks like the real goods." At that instant the bomb went off.

Instantly killed, horribly mangled were Lynch and his partner Socha.

A telephone operator at the British Pavilion, Mrs. Marjorie Rosser, reported that early in the week a man had phoned, and in a muffled voice said: "Get everybody out before the box explodes." A careful search for a bomb had been made then. The night after the explosion, Mrs. Rosser's husband, answering the telephone at their home, heard a man's muffled voice say: "I'll kill you." Before the startled Rosser could answer, the line went dead.

At week's end only clues were those sifted from the earth, picked out of victims' flesh: a clock's cogwheel, bomb fragments, strands of fine upholsterer's hair which had been used to pad the dynamite sticks.

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Here's a photo that I hadn't seen before.

I don't know how extensively newspapers of the time printed photos like this.

http://www.nypost.com/rw/nypost/2010/07/11/news/photos_stories/Cropped/bomb--300x300.jpg

It is captioned "Aftermath of the 1940 bombing that killed two NYPD officers." and is credited to the AP wire service.

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