George Metesky – Understanding the Mental Health Causes

George Metesky - Mental Health Factors

“Con Edison crooks–this is for you.” F.P.

This note accompanied a bomb found on a first-floor window sill of the New York City Consolidated Edison plant in 1940. Rudimentary in design, the bomb consisted of a brass pipe stuffed with gunpowder. Detectives believed F.P. planned to ignite the bomb by initiating a chemical reaction within an attached bundle of flashlight batteries and table sugar.

Luckily, the bomb was found before F.P. could detonate it. NYC police speculated that the bomb’s maker may not have planned to explode the bomb. It seemed illogical that F.P. would leave a note with a bomb intended for detonation since a piece of paper would be destroyed in an explosion.

Approximately one year after the first incident, a second pipe bomb was found lying in the street, just five blocks from the same Consolidated Edison building. No note was attached to this bomb. Police speculated that F.P. may have dropped the bomb when he realized he had been seen by law enforcement.

Several weeks after President Roosevelt declared war on Japan in December 1941, the NYPD received another note from the bomber:

“I will make no more bomb units for the duration of the war. My patriotic feelings have made me decide this. Later, I will bring the Con Edison to justice. They will pay for their dastardly deeds.” F.P.

F.P. was true to his word. For the next 15 years, New York City was terrorized by “The Mad Bomber.” Over three dozen pipe bombs exploded in and around Grand Central Terminal, movie theaters, libraries, public restrooms, and other venues. Although the bombs did not kill anyone, they did severely injure many citizens and kept people frightened to venture into public areas.

Throughout F.P.’s reign of terror, newspapers began receiving letters from the Mad Bomber. They contained rants about some injustice inflicted on F.P. by Con Edison. One letter said:

Have you noticed the bombs in your city – if you are worried, I am sorry – and also if anyone is injured. But it cannot be helped – for justice will be served. I am not well, and for this, I will make the Con Edison sorry – yes, they will regret their dastardly deeds – I will bring them before the bar of justice – public opinion will condemn them – for beware, I will place more units under theater seats in the near future. F.P.

Detectives told newspaper editors to reply to F.P.s letters to see if they would get a response. Much to the detectives’ surprise, F.P. did answer these letters, revealing a little more about himself and his grievances each time he replied.

Motives Behind Metesky’s Crimes

When George Metesky returned to the U.S. in 1918 after fighting as a Marine in World War I, he was hired by a subsidiary of Con Ed operating in Waterbury, Connecticut. Thirteen years later, he moved to New York City and began working at a Con Ed generating factory. While standing near a boiler, Metesky suffered severe injuries when the boiler backfired, exploded, and knocked Metesky unconscious.

After receiving six months of sick pay, Metesky was fired by Con Edison. Metesky claimed that he suffered chronic pneumonia and tuberculosis due to inhaling hot gases. Con Ed disputed these claims. Metesky filed multiple appeals between 1931 and 1936, but all were rejected by the Worker’s Compensation Board of New York.

Metesky developed a pathological hatred for Con Ed that festered and fueled his desire to seek revenge via bombs. After over a decade of studying Metesky’s handwritten notes, searching for leads, and utilizing something new to law enforcement–criminal profiling–NYPD detectives finally found and arrested the Mad Bomber on January 21, 1957.

A Psychological Overview of George Metesky

Many people lose their jobs for one reason or another, but they do not attempt to terrorize and harm people by planting bombs all over their town. Unfortunately, Metesky may have been suffering from a schizoaffective disorder before he lost his job. He believed that Con Edison’s attorneys were “out to get him” and that he “got a bum deal” from “injustices” done to him. Over time, his mental illness likely worsened into a full-blown case of paranoid schizophrenia.

A psychiatric examination at Bellevue Hospital conducted after Metesky’s arrest found that he presented classic signs of paranoid schizophrenia:

  • Delusions of being persecuted or conspired against
  • A sense of inflated self-importance and power over others
  • Lack of empathy or insight into other people’s suffering
  • Lack of insight into their mental illness
  • Inability to maintain relationships; prefers living alone and avoiding social contact

While the psychiatric report didn’t specify if Metesky had auditory or visual hallucinations, it’s common for people with schizophrenia to hear voices or see strange images that they perceive as genuine. Metesky may have heard voices telling him that planting bombs all over New York City was the best way to enact revenge against his enemies–and society as a whole.

A judge overseeing Metesky’s case ruled that he was “incurable both physically and mentally” and “legally insane.” Consequently, Metesky never had a trial. Instead, he was committed to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Beacon, New York on April 18, 1957.

At the time of his commitment, Metesky was indeed suffering from advanced tuberculosis and not expected to live more than a few weeks. However, after receiving treatment for over a year, his symptoms improved. Alternately, he did not respond as well to psychiatric therapy and continued to maintain his delusions of prosecution and self-importance.

Release From the New York State Department of Correctional Services

Between 1957 and 1973, Metesky was a model psychiatric hospital inmate. He incurred no infractions and complied with his therapy schedule.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mentally ill individuals could not be placed in hospitals operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services unless a jury had declared the individual dangerous. Metesky had been sent to Matteawan without a trial. Subsequently, he was relocated to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, a hospital not affiliated with the correctional system.

One year after living at Creedmoor, a psychiatrist officially declared Metesky a nonviolent patient. In 1974, he was allowed to return to his Waterbury home and live with his sister. He died in 1994 of natural causes at the age of 90.

What Caused The Mad Bomber’s Mental Illness?

Not much is known about Metesky’s childhood. As the son of Lithuanian immigrants, it is possible he grew up in poverty and may have developed thoughts of being victimized and oppressed. Some stories about his arrest claim that when detectives put Metesky in handcuffs, one of his sisters protested that “George would never hurt anybody!”

Today, we know that schizophrenia is a multi-faceted mental illness caused by the interplay of several factors. We know that schizophrenia is genetic and often affects individuals who have a close family member with the disorder. Brain imaging studies have shown differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia. Complications during pregnancy and birth may impact brain development and increase the risk of schizophrenia. Finally, stressful or traumatic life events occurring in childhood, such as living in poverty, the death of a close family member, and growing up in a dysfunctional home, are known to contribute to the onset of schizophrenia in early adulthood.