Wall St in New York was a global financial centre. In 1920 the stock market thrived and smart business lunches called. At noon on 16th Sept 1920 an ordinary man driving a horse-and-cart drove in, and stopped the animal with its heavy load of dynamite and iron weights. He was in front of the U.S Assay Office, across from the JP Morgan and Co Bank headquarters, the stock exchange building and Federal Hall.Dynamite detonated a minute later, sending bomb metal and glass from the Morgan building's windows .. throughout the Financial District. Flames covered footpaths, pedestrians were blown apart and cars piled up. The explosion killed 30 people immediately and seriously injured 143 more. The death toll tragically kept rising throughout the day - 40 deaths in total!!
But scattered through the streets, mixed in with the explosion’s debris, were c500 pounds of metal window-sash weights. Most casualties had been hit by the metal shards packed in with the dynamite, indicating that this was a deliberate bombing. And it was specifically set off in front of JP Morgan, the heart of U.S capitalism.
Even so, forensics were not well developed then. Crews cleaned the damage overnight, removing physical evidence that would have been crucial in identifying the criminals. There was a powerful sense that the market needed to reopen and by the next morning, Wall St was resurrected. Broken windows and workers were plastered, streets were washed down, and the bomb-material was buried.
Anger over capitalism and wealth inequality had been growing in the U.S for decades. In 1916 ten people were killed and 40 injured by an explosion at a San Francisco parade. Authorities initially focused their attention on well-known radicals and anarchists in the city. In fact 2 radical labour leaders, Warren Billings and Thomas Mooney, were convicted and sentenced to hang, but with little evidence of their guilt both sentences were commuted to life in prison. They were both eventually pardoned, and the real bombers were never identified.
It was a already time of social upheaval, with 25% of workers on strike in 1919 in search of higher pay and decent working conditions. It was said that even prior to the 1920 attack, bombs had been sent through the mail to Morgan, John Rockefeller and Woodrow Wilson. But as the packages never reached their targets, where was the evidence of these bombs?
A letter carrier had found earlier printed flyers from the American Anarchist Fighters Group, demanding the release of political prisoners. Discovered AFTER the bomb, these flyers seemed similar to ones used in 1919 in two bombing campaigns run by Italian Anarchists. The Bureau tried to trace the printing of these flyers, but failed.
Nonetheless Italian anarchists were now primary suspects, partially from their assumed frustration about the treatment of Italian immigrant anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. They’d been arrested for murdering a guard and paymaster near Boston early that very year, 1920!
The NYPD, FBI and private detective firms began investigations. An early suspect was Edward Fischer, an investment-world employee of a well-regarded brokerage firm. Just before the bombing, he sent notes to two former bosses, telling them to get out of Wall St at exactly 3 o’clock Wed. But Fischer, described as the victim of a nervous breakdown and mental damage, was in Toronto at the time of the bombing. Authorities briefly questioned and released him.