Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing
Harveys bombing.jpg
The bomb explosion on August 27, 1980
LocationStateline, Nevada
DateAugust 26–27, 1980
TargetHarvey's Resort Hotel
Attack type
Bombing, attempted extortion
WeaponsDynamite improvised explosive device
PerpetratorsJohn Birges and three others
Nevada State Fire Marshal Thomas J. Huddleston examining the bomb.

The Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing took place on August 26–27, 1980, when three men planted an elaborately booby trapped bomb containing 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of dynamite at Harvey's Resort Hotel (now "Harveys") in Stateline, Nevada, United States. After an attempt to disarm the bomb, it exploded causing extensive damage to the hotel but no injuries or deaths. John Birges Sr. was convicted of having made the bomb, and wanted to extort money from the casino after having lost $750,000 there. He later died in prison in 1996, at the age of 74.


John Birges, Sr., was a Hungarian immigrant from Clovis, California. He flew for the German Luftwaffe during World War II. He was captured and sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in a Soviet gulag. Eight years into his sentence in the gulag, he was released during a period of mass repatriation of Soviet Union POWs to their home countries, and returned to Hungary. From there, he emigrated to the U.S. and built a successful landscaping business, but his addiction to gambling led to his losing a large amount of money and prompted the bomb plot.[1] His gambling debt and experience with explosives were primary pieces of evidence linking him to the bombing.[2]


The mastermind behind the bomb, former millionaire John Birges, was attempting to extort $3 million ($9.3 million today) from the casino, claiming he had lost $750,000 ($2.3 million today) gambling there.

The FBI went to the spot that they believed to be the ransom drop, but due to vague directions, Birges was waiting at a different location. No money was paid to Birges.[3]

The bomb was cleverly built and virtually tamper-proof. The ransom note stated that the bomb could not be disarmed even by the bomb builder, but if paid $3 million he would give instructions on which combination of switches would allow the bomb to be moved and remotely detonated.[3] The FBI determined that it would take four men to move it and there was no way to know if the bomb was truly disarmed or safe to move. The FBI decided that the bomb would have to be disarmed in the hotel. All guests and their belongings were evacuated from the hotel and the gas main was shut off.[3]

After studying the bomb for more than a day through x-rays, bomb technicians decided that, although there were warnings from the bomb maker that a shock would trigger the device, the best hope of disarming it was by separating the detonators from the dynamite. The technicians thought this could be accomplished using a shaped charge of C-4. The attempt to disarm the bomb failed as the technicians did not know that dynamite had also been placed in the top box containing the detonation circuit; the shaped charge detonated the top box explosives, which caused the rest of the bomb to detonate. The bomb destroyed much of the casino, although no one was injured. Harrah's Casino (which was connected to Harvey's Resort via a tunnel) was also damaged by the explosion, which broke many of the casino's windows.[4][5]

The bomb, one of the largest the FBI had ever seen, was loaded with an estimated 1,000 lb (450 kg) of dynamite stolen from a construction site in Fresno, California. According to FBI experts, the Harvey's bomb remains the most complex improvised explosive device they have examined, and a replica of "the machine", as the extortionists called it, was still used in FBI training as of 2009.[6]


Birges was investigated as a possible suspect due to his white van being identified as being in South Tahoe at the time of the bombing.[3] Birges was eventually arrested based on a tip.[7][8] One of his sons had revealed to his then-girlfriend that his father had placed a bomb in Harvey's. After the two broke up, she was on a date with another man when they heard about a reward for information, and she informed her new boyfriend about Birges. This man then called the FBI.[4]

Birges was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.[9] In 1996, at the age of 74, he died of liver cancer at the Southern Nevada Correctional Center, sixteen years and a day after the bombing.


  1. ^ "Federal Grand Jury Indicts 6 in Bombing of Casino at Tahoe". The New York Times. Associated Press. 19 August 1981. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  2. ^ Esposito, Richard; Gerstein, Ted (March 6, 2007). Bomb Squad: a year inside the nation's most exclusive police unit. Hyperion. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-4013-0152-1. Archived from the original on June 26, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d Higginbotham, Adam (2014). "A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite". The Atavist Magazine. Archived from the original on October 9, 2015. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Vogel, Ed (August 27, 2005). "Casino explosion nearly forgotten". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Archived from the original on October 28, 2012. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
  5. ^ Fabio, Adam. "This is What A Real Bomb Looks Like". Archived from the original on February 19, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  6. ^ "A Byte Out of History: The Case of the Harvey's Casino Bomb FBI". U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. August 26, 2009. Archived from the original on August 9, 2016. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  7. ^ King, Wayne (18 August 1981). "F.B.I. Says Casino Bombing Figure Considered Coast Bank Extortion". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 24 May 2015. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  8. ^ Special to the New York Times (17 August 1981). "Arrests Reported in Casino Bombing". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Conviction in Casino Bombing". The New York Times. 23 October 1982. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 38°57′37″N 119°56′33″W / 38.9603°N 119.9424°W / 38.9603; -119.9424