Hotel for ransom

In 1980 three men placed a bomb packed with 450kg of dynamite in a Nevada hotel, hoping to collect a three million dollar ransom.

Federal Bureau of Investigation / Public domain

Sometimes you read about something and it feels like a screenplay, you know? The bombing of Harvey’s Resort Hotel in Stateline, Nevada, is one of those things.

John Birges had a gambling problem. He had lost three quarters of a million dollars gambling at the casino in this hotel, and decided that he wanted to get his money back. So he and two associates built a bomb. It contained 450kg of dynamite, a thick steel casing, and a series of little switches. The idea was to plant it in the hotel, retreat to a safe distance, and then “sell” the only way to get it out without exploding.

The bomb itself was pretty complex: it had a timer, of course, but moving it or opening it would set it off instantly. Most of the switches would also set off the explosion, but if you switched the safe ones (three or five of them) the bomb could be moved. Birges had left detailed instructions in a ransom note.

The ransom would never be paid. The FBI actually went to the rendezvous point, but because of a misunderstanding they went to the wrong place. Bomb disposal experts decided that their best shot at disarming the device was to put some C4 explosive on it: separate the detonator from the dynamite and stop the whole thing from blowing. One problem: there was dynamite around the detonator too…

The controlled explosion became a real explosion and took out most of the casino building. Birges was caught because his son’s ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend called the FBI. Birges spent the rest of his life in prison.

[Thanks to Gareth E. for suggesting this topic.]


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