Harveys Casinos Highest Bid Why The Biggest US Bomb Failed To Be Defused

On August 26, 1980, the night administrator of Harvey’s Casino and hotel, located in Nevada, found a large object covered with a fabric awning with the IBM logo near the office on the second floor. There was a thick letter on it, which said that there was a homemade bomb under the canvas, capable of destroying not only Harvey’s casino, but also all gambling establishments and hotels within a radius of 100 meters.

The area of Nevada, where Harvey’s casino and four other gambling clubs are located, is called Stateline and it is far from the scope of Las Vegas. Nevertheless, passions are boiling here too — cases when ruined players blackmailed the casino and demanded to return the lost money, threatening an explosion, sometimes happen.

Harvey’s Casino and Hotel Building

Most often, after finding a note with demands to give out a million dollars and a plane to Mexico, the FBI within 1-2 hours finds a “terrorist” in one of the local motels, drunk and full of remorse. But here the federal agents were dealing with a completely different case — the bomb really existed and was real.

The explosive object consisted of two boxes placed one on top of the other. On the upper, smaller one, there were 28 toggle switches in the “On” position. In a voluminous letter left by the criminal, it was said that the combination of disabling the bomb cannot be guessed or calculated, and even the creator himself does not remember it by memory.

The terrorist also reported that any manipulation of the bomb – an attempt to move it, saw it, fill it with water or gas, will lead to an immediate explosion. The “infernal machine”, according to the author, was equipped with motion sensors and a float mechanism connected to a detonator. With the help of X-rays, it was possible to find out that the bomb is real and there is a huge amount of explosive inside it, tricky mechanisms and electronics.

The criminal offered to provide a circuit for disabling the detonator in exchange for $ 3 million in $100 bills, of course, not marked. The money had to be loaded into a helicopter and taken to the outskirts of the local airfield, where there is a letter in a telephone booth with instructions for further actions.

The layout of the detonating device, created according to the drawings of the author

The steel boxes mounted on a massive trolley were made flawlessly and their parts were precisely fitted to each other without cracks and gaps. At first glance, it was clear that the bomb was made by a professional who would stop at nothing to get a ransom.

But Harvey’s owner Harvey Gross flatly refused to pay the criminal. A man of the old school, who started his business many years ago with several old slot machines in the basement, in 1980 he owned an entire gaming empire. The businessman said that he was not afraid of the loss of the casino and hotel and was only concerned that his employees would be out of work.

Having received no money for ransom, federal agents were forced to fill bags with bills from the joke shop and send a helicopter to the place indicated in the letter. In a telephone booth, the pilot was instructed to fly to a place located 40 km from the airport and wait for a signal there.

A tourist in a souvenir T-shirt on the background of a dilapidated casino

The helicopter circled over the indicated square for half an hour and the pilot even noticed a short light signal. But its source could not be determined, and it did not happen again. The helicopter returned back and the criminal did not get in touch again. Later it turned out that he and his accomplices forgot spare batteries for a powerful flashlight at home and could not send a signal. While the extortionists were in a panic rushing around the night parking lot, trying to steal a battery from some car, the helicopter flew away.

Early in the morning on August 27, a call rang in the casino office and an unidentified man said that he needed to turn off the toggle switch number 5. Since he immediately hung up the phone and did not explain what might follow, this option was not even considered by specialists in neutralization.

There was only one way of clearing mines — using the risky Monroe method. In this case, the sappers produce a directional explosion using a shaped charge, which should instantly destroy the contacts between the parts of the explosive device and prevent it from working. The chance of a favorable outcome in this case does not exceed 25-30%, but the FBI did not see any other way out.

Harvey Gross without hesitation agreed to such a method of mine clearance, dangerous to his property. Unfortunately, during the neutralization, the bomb still exploded – it happened exactly 35 hours after its discovery. As a result of the large-scale explosion, no one was injured, but a significant part of Harvey’s casino turned into smoking ruins.

The bomb was lined with several tons of sandbags to reduce its destructive power

Experts say that the explosion in Stateline in 1980 was the largest explosion of a homemade bomb before the famous terrorist attack in the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993. The witnesses of the event received a lot of impressions — after a deafening roar and a blinding flash, clouds of smoke and dust rose into the sky, and then chips and smoldering dollars fell from the sky on the heads of onlookers standing hundreds of meters from the epicenter.

Despite the scale of the explosion, its destructive power was overestimated and one wing of the gaming establishment survived, having lost only window frames and doors. Just two days later, the game was in full swing in this part of the casino, as if nothing had happened, and there was no end of those who wanted to visit the famous casino.

The moment of the explosion

The restoration of the casino cost $ 18 million, which is 6 times more than the ransom, but most of the costs were covered by Gross insurance. Just a year later, the destroyed part of the complex was completely restored, and five years later, the multi-storey building of the new Harvey’s casino rose nearby.

It turned out to be quite easy to find the extortionist who created a grandiose explosive device. The police managed to track down a van that was circling near the casino the night before the bomb was discovered. Its owners turned out to be two sons and the mistress of the extortionist, whose capture was already a matter of technique.

The attacker is John Bridges, born in Hungary and served in the Luftwaffe during World War II. The war ended for the pilot in Soviet captivity, where he spent a long eight years. After his release, the former German pilot emigrated to the United States, where he took a new name and began life with a “clean slate”.

Special Agent Joseph Jablonski shows reporters a picture of a bomb

But in his old age, Bridges became interested in gambling and spent all his savings in the casino — 750 thousand dollars (now it is 3 million dollars or 225 million rubles). At the age of 58, John turned out to be a beggar and he even had to borrow money from his son, who had barely reached adulthood, to pay utility bills.

In the fall of 1979, a plan for mining a casino was born in the head of a would-be gambler. Bridges stole explosives at one of the construction sites and spent several months constructing a bomb in his garage. He visited Harvey’s casino in advance with a roulette wheel and carefully measured all elevator doors and openings so as not to become a hostage of chance.

John Bridges

After the FBI came out to the accomplices, they, in exchange for a promise not to bring them to justice, immediately turned Bridges in and laid out everything they knew about the bomb and the history of its creation. John received a life sentence and died 16 years later in prison from liver cancer. His bomb is still considered the most complex and ways to defuse it have not been invented.