A letter bomb, also called parcel bomb, mail bomb, package bomb, note bomb, message bomb, gift bomb, present bomb, delivery bomb, surprise bomb, postal bomb, or post bomb, is an explosive device sent via the postal service, and designed with the intention to injure or kill the recipient when opened. They have been used in terrorist attacks such as those of the Unabomber. Some countries have agencies whose duties include the interdiction of letter bombs and the investigation of letter bombings. The letter bomb may have been in use for nearly as long as the common postal service has been in existence, as far back as 1764 (see Examples).
Letter bombs are usually designed to explode immediately on opening, with the intention of seriously injuring or killing the recipient (who may or may not be the person to whom the bomb was addressed). A related threat is mail containing unidentified powders or chemicals, as in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
What might be the first recorded case of a device broadly similar to a modern parcel bomb featured in the 18th century affair known as the Bandbox Plot. On November 4, 1712 a bandbox (i.e. a lightweight hat-box) was sent to Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, the British Lord Treasurer. It contained a number of loaded and cocked pistols, to whose triggers was attached a thread which would have made the pistols fire the moment the box was opened. The plot was foiled by the perspicacity of Jonathan Swift (author of "Gulliver's Travels"), who happened to be visiting the Earl of Oxford. Swift, perceiving the thread, seized the package and cut the thread, thus disarming the device. The attack was laid at the door of the opposition Whig party and threw enormous popular sympathy behind Harley. The precise perpetrators were never identified or apprehended.
One of the world's first mail bombs is mentioned in the 18th century diary of Danish official and historian Bolle Willum Luxdorph. His diary mainly consists of concise references to news from Denmark and abroad. In the entry for January 19, 1764 he writes the following: Colonel Poulsen residing at Børglum Abbey was sent by mail a box. When he opens it, therein is to be found gunpowder and a firelock which sets fire unto it, so he became very injured. The entry for February 15 same year says: Colonel Poulsen receives a letter in German, [saying] that soon the dose will be increased. It is referring to the dose of gunpowder in the box. The perpetrator was never found. In a later reference Luxdorph has found a mention of a similar bomb being used, also in 1764, but in Savona in Italy.
June 1889: Edward White, formerly an artist at Madame Tussauds, was alleged to have sent a parcel bomb to John Theodore Tussaud after being dismissed.
1919: A series of package bombs were sent to officials, journalists, and others in the United States by the Galleanist anarchist faction there; this precipitated the 1919-1920 Red Scare.[circular reference]
1947: Several letter bombs were sent to President Harry Truman in the White House. They were intercepted by White House mail room workers, who were on alert because of the letter bombs to British officials. These also were claimed by the Stern Gang.
1961: The Naziwar criminalAlois Brunner received a letter bomb that caused the loss of an eye. In 1980 another letter bomb cost him the fingers of his left hand. Two Damascus postal workers were killed. The senders are unknown but some suspect the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
November 27, 1962: A parcel sent to rocket scientist Wolfgang Pilz [de] exploded in his office in Egypt when opened, injuring his secretary. Another parcel sent to the Heliopolis rocket factory killed five Egyptian workers.
1960s, 1970s and early 1980s: Several terrorist organizations in Argentina such as Montoneros and ERP included letter bombs into their weaponry.
December 28, 1977: In Malta, Karin Grech, age 15, was killed when she opened a letterbomb addressed to her father Edwin Grech. On the same day, another bomb was sent to Labour MP Dr. Paul Chetcuti Caruana, but it did not detonate.
August 1985: A woman in Rotorua, New Zealand, Michele Sticovich, was instantly killed and a close friend of hers seriously injured after she opened a parcel addressed to her containing a number of sticks of gelignite. Mrs Sticovich's estranged husband, David Sticovich, was arrested and ultimately pleaded guilty to her murder.
October 19, 1986: Dele Giwa, a Nigerian journalist and editor of the Newswatch magazine was killed with a mail bomb, claimed to be sent by Nigeria's former dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. The general has never admitted complicity, remaining mute on the issue.
1990: Priest Michael Lapsley was sent a letter bomb by South African government's death squad, the Civil Cooperation Bureau, hidden inside two religious magazines. He lost both hands and the sight in one eye in the blast, and was seriously burned.
July 28, 2017: A Queens, New York landlord opened an explosive package resembling an oatmeal container which had been sitting on his building's doorstep for several days, and died from extensive burns four days later. The USPS refused immediate comment on whether the package was mailed, citing its ongoing investigation.
^*(USPIS) In the United States, the Postal Inspection Service is responsible for investigating the use, or threat of use, of letter bombs, harmful chemicals and dangerous devices sent through the postal system.