Eric Muenter

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Muenter after his arrest

Eric Muenter (1871–1915), also known as Erich Münter, Erich Muenter, Erich Holt or Frank Holt, was a German-American activist and would-be assassin. Although employed as a German professor at elite American universities, he was actually a spy and a "fanatic in the clandestine service of the Imperial German government."[1] While an instructor at Harvard University, he poisoned and killed his pregnant wife. He appeared again as Cornell University professor Frank Holt who contacted the German spy network which undertook to sabotage US aid to the war in Europe against Germany. In 1915, he planted a bomb which exploded in the US Capitol, shot Jack Morgan, son of financier J.P. Morgan in his home, and predicted the bombing of a steamship bound for England before committing suicide while in police custody.

His activities, and those of other Germans, were played up by the press as "Hun barbarity" anti-German feelings rose in the years as America eventually entered the war with Germany.[2]


Murder of wife[edit]

While teaching German at Harvard University in 1906 he poisoned his pregnant wife. Leona Muenter (nee Krembs) died April 16, 1906 of arsenic poisoning. On April 27, 1906, Cambridge Massachusetts police issued a warrant for the arrest of Erich Muenter. On June 5, 1906 Muenter mailed a pamphlet entitled "Protest" to his wife's family from New Orleans. He vowed that he would "annihilate" Chicago and Cambridge in one blow if he could for accusing him of poisoning his wife, and claimed that he actually feared the punishment inflicted on Christian Scientists who refused medical treatment.[3][4][5][6] He fled before this was discovered, and spent the next decade in various places in the United States under assumed identities.[7][8] He was a committed German nationalist and opposed the US policy of selling arms to Great Britain and France, Germany's enemies in World War I.[9]

German spy intelligence[edit]

Muenter went underground in Mexico for a period before emerging again in Texas under a new identity and marrying a new wife. He got jobs in colleges working his way up to Ivy League as German professor Frank Holt at Cornell University. In 1915, Muenter was inspired by the book The War and America by Hugo Münsterberg, another German sympathizer. He became involved with the secret German spy intelligence unit Abteilung IIIb which was sabotaging arms-carrying vessels departing from U.S. ports with small chemical timer incendiary bombs which would explode at sea after a couple of days. Throughout his attacks on shipping, the Capitol Building and J.P. Morgan, Jr. he maintained he was just an angry peace activist acting on his own. German networks were later alleged to have supported his attacks.[10] Muenter clearly had connections to the German network and taunted authorities with veiled statements about Abteilung IIIB’s ship sabotage efforts [11]

1915 United States Capitol bomb attack[edit]

The bombed Senate reception room

On July 2, 1915, Muenter hid a package containing three sticks of dynamite with a timing mechanism set for nearly midnight under a telephone switchboard in the Senate reception room in the United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. His original target had been the Senate chamber, which he found locked. The bomb exploded at approximately 11:40 PM resulting in no casualties. Muenter wrote a letter to The Washington Star under a pseudonym R. Pearce, explaining his actions, which was published after the bombing. He said that he hoped the explosion would "make enough noise to be heard above the voices that clamor for war. This explosion is an exclamation point in my appeal for peace."[12]

SS Minnehaha steamship bomb attack[edit]

After setting off the bomb in the Capitol, he fled to New York City, where he hid a pencil bomb timed explosive on SS Minnehaha, a ship loaded with munitions bound for Britain.[13]

Shooting of J.P. Morgan Jr.[edit]

Under the alias of Frank Holt, Muenter took a train and a cab to the East Island, Glen Cove, New York estate of J. P. Morgan on July 3, 1915. The millionaire financier Morgan had helped Britain finance its war effort against Germany. He carried a small suitcase with newspaper clippings against arms shipments, and a few sticks of dynamite, while in his coat was carrying two revolver handguns and another stick of dynamite. Muenter rang the front door bell. When the butler opened the door, Muenter presented a business card and demanded to see Mr. Morgan. When the butler balked after he would not state his business, Muenter pulled out both revolvers, and ran into the house looking for Morgan. When he encountered children, he pointed a pistol at them and had them follow. On the staircase he shouted "Now, Mr. Morgan, I have you!" as Mrs Morgan tried to block the path to her husband, but Morgan lunged at his attacker and tackled Muenter to the ground as he fired two rounds into Morgan's groin and thigh. Having pinned Muenter to the ground, Morgan twisted one revolver out of his attacker's hand as his wife and others grabbed the other. Muenter was heard to cry “Kill me! Kill me now! I don’t want to live any more. I have been in a perfect hell for the last six months on account of the European war.” Morgan's butler finished subduing Muenter, beating him senseless with a lump of coal. Morgan recovered quickly, returning to work on August 14.[14] [15]

Muenter refused to identify himself to police, saying only that he was a Christian gentleman who wanted to persuade Morgan to end the war.[16] However, a tip was soon received pointing out a resemblance between "Holt" and Muenter, who was still wanted in Cambridge for the poisoning of his wife.[17][18][19] Harvard official Charles Apted, who had lived near Muenter in Cambridge, was dispatched to New York, where he identified Muenter,[20][17]

In his jacket he had written down the names of Morgan’s four children, and a clipped cartoon of Lady Liberty pointing to a crate of fireworks, representing the European war, telling Uncle Sam that they are "dangerous fireworks". He also circled some sailings on a schedule for merchant vessels leaving New York. He told police that his original intention was to take Morgan’s wife and children hostage to force Morgan to help stop munitions shipments to Europe, though on at least one occasion he admitted he also intended to assassinate Morgan. Authorities quickly connected him to the Capitol bombings and the wife poisoning case. A search of the suitcase found a handwritten letter addressed to “His Majesty the German Kaiser” similar to letters he mailed out at the time of the bombing of the Capitol signed "R. Pearce". The Morgan shooting made world headlines the next Sunday morning, the 4th of July.

Bomb-making materials[edit]

Captain Thomas J.Tunney, head of New York City Police Department’s Bomb Squad, tricked Muenter into confessing details how he had made the timer for the Capitol bomb, but he would not tell all until July 7. Police tracked down a trunk Muenter had placed in storage in New York City. Inspector of Combustibles Owen Egan declared it "the greatest equipment for bomb making ever brought to New York" with 134 sticks of dynamite, blasting caps, coils of fuse, batteries, nitric acid, windproof matches, mercury fulminate, smokeless explosive powder. Three explosive tin can bombs had been recently completed.


Muenter tried to kill himself on the night of July 5 by slashing his wrist with a pencil eraser metal retainer. On July 6, he was dead. New York’s counterterrorism police at first believed that he was killed by an assassin sent to silence him with two bullets in the head. But the version they decided on was that Muenter ran out of a briefly opened door and jumped head-first onto the concrete floor of the jail corridor twenty feet below.[1][7][8][9] Muenter's wife received a note from her husband warning that a ship bound for England would sink on the 7th of July. On that day, just two days after his suicide, the crew was warned but they could not find the bomb on the SS Minnehaha. It exploded, but had been placed far away from the munitions and caused minor damage.[13]


  1. ^ a b Book review: ‘Dark Invasion 1915: Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America,’ by Howard Blum Written by Jim Landers Dallas News Feb 21, 2014
  3. ^ ""Erich Muenter's "Reign of Terror"". Retrieved 13 Oct 2016.
  4. ^ The New York Times Index. New York Times Company. 1915. pp. 285–.
  5. ^ "Muenter, Once German Teacher Here, Killed Wife, Shot Morgan, Sabotaged in World War 1". The Harvard Crimson. February 14, 1942. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  6. ^ "Says Muenter Is Not Guilty". Los Angeles Herald. Associated Press. May 1, 1906. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Chas. Apted Dies; 'Cop' at Harvard". New York Times. June 6, 1941. p. 21.
  8. ^ a b Russell, Daniel E. "The Day Morgan Was Shot" (PDF). Glen Cove Heritage.[better source needed]
  9. ^ a b "Man Who Shot J. P. Morgan Twice Admits Setting Bomb At National Capital". Hartford Courant. July 4, 1915. Retrieved 2009-10-30. Former German Instructor At Cornell Talks Freely After Third Degree Is Used, and Says He Wanted To Stop Shipment of Munitions To Europe. Is Suspected of Other, Similar Crimes. Describes Construction of Rare Type of 'Infernal Machine'. Financier Reported in Excellent Condition. Has Two Bullet Wounds In His Hip. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  11. ^ Terrorism Hits Home in 1915: U.S. Capitol Bombing 6/22/2015 in DC by Mark Jones
  12. ^ "Bomb Rocks Capitol". United States Senate. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  13. ^ a b Kinghorn, Jonathan. "S.S. Minnehaha". The Atlantic Transport Line. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  14. ^ The Day Morgan was Shot Glenn Cove Heritage
  15. ^ "Intruder Has Dynamite – Forces His Way Into Banker's House at East Island, L. I. – Mrs. Morgan Risks Life – Leafs in Front of Husband, Who Thrusts Her Aside and Knocks Holt Down. – Wife Seizes His Revolver – As Financier Struggles on Flood She Aids Him Until the Servants Arrive. – British Ambassador Near – Sir Cecil Spring Rice a Guest at Breakfast Party Which the Shooting Interrupts" (PDF). The New York Times. July 4, 1915.
  16. ^ Harrisburg telegraph., July 03, 1915
  17. ^ a b "Muenter Case Cleared UP – Frank Holt, Assailant of J. Pierpont Morgan, and the Man Who Placed Bomb in Capitol at Washington, Identified as Prof. Erich Meunter, Wanted Here for Wife Poisoning". Cambridge Chronicle. July 10, 1915. p. 9.
  18. ^ "Holt Looks Like Fugitive Muenter – Cambridge Police Discover Resemblance to Harvard Instructor Whose Wife Was Poisoned" (PDF). The New York Times. July 4, 1915.
  19. ^ "Holt is Meunter, Say, Associates – Student Friend Tells of Fugitive Harvard Professor's Return Under New Name. – Others Recognize Picture. – New York Detectives Working on the Theory That the Two Men Are the Same" (PDF). The New York Times. July 5, 1915.
  20. ^ "Found Holt Scarred as Was Dr. Muenter – Physician Got New Evidence that Dynamiter Was Man Sought for Murder. – Ten Points of Similarity – Prisoner Tried to Starve Himself and Had Cut Wrist—Delayed Promised Statement" (PDF). The New York Times. July 7, 1915.

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