behind the blue line by feds by nleomf

History's Blotter: The Wall St Bombing

At precisely 12:01 p.m., a huge explosion rocked the New York Financial District. It shattered windows for blocks around, throwing shards of glass in all directions along with heavy lead slugs believed to have been used as shrapnel in the bomb. The blast killed 38 people and injured hundreds more.

“An act of diabolism unparalleled in the annals of terrorism.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1920       

Americans were outraged and shocked by the attack seemingly directed at the heart of the American financial system. According to William J. Flynn, the director of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), “[The bomb] was planted in the heart of America as a defiance against the American people and the American Government.” Flynn jumped on the first train to New York to investigate the explosion, but when he arrived he found a crime scene crowded with investigators. 


Corner of Wall and Broad St. soon after the bombing

The New York Police Department reasonably claimed jurisdiction over the case, though the New York Fire Department refused to be excluded. The NYPD, NYFD, and Flynn’s Bureau were joined by US Treasury Agents and the flamboyant head of the Burns Detective Agency, William J. Burns, often referred to as the “Sherlock Holmes of America” (by Arthur Conan Doyle himself). This crowded field of detectives was neither cooperative nor cordial—which may explain why the case was never solved.

Competing agencies conducted separate interviews of witnesses and were slow to share evidence. Flynn’s first instinct was to link the bombing with other recent bomb attacks attributed to Italian Anarchists, specifically the followers of Luigi Galleani. Galleani had been deported back to Italy in 1919, but his followers still preached his doctrine of terrorism as a noble political act. Flynn never got enough concrete evidence to tie Galleani or his agents to the bombing, but it remains the most likely scenario. In 1927, 17 days before the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti (two Galleanisti convicted of murder) more bombs exploded in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. This proved to be the final wave of anarchist bombings in the US and the last acts of terrorism until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

For a detailed account of the 1920 Wall Street Bombing investigation, read Beverly Gage’s The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror.


For more information about the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, please visit For more information about the National Law Enforcement Museum, please visit

Posted in News from the National Law Enforcement Museum


This Week on FEDtalk

Fellows Moving Government Forward

Tune in to FEDtalk this week to hear about the fellowships bringing innovation and technology skills to government. Guests from fellowships impacting the legislative and executive branches will discuss how they bring new skills to government.

Read more ...

Hear it from FLEOA

FLEOA Successfully Advocates for Change to Michigan LEOSA Policy

On Tuesday, FLEOA President Larry Cosme issued a letter on Michigan LEOSA policy.  The full text of the statement is below.

Read more ...

The free weekly e-report for Federal Law Enforcement

Get in touch with us

Email FEDagent publisher

Copyright 2020
Hosted by Peak Media Company, LLC