Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing
Harveys bombing.jpg
The bomb explosion on August 27, 1980
Location Stateline, Nevada
Date August 26–27, 1980
Target Harvey's Resort Hotel
Attack type
Bombing, attempted extortion
Weapons Dynamite
Deaths 0
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators John Birges and three others
Motive Extortion

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

The FBI went to the spot they believed to be the ransom drop, but due to vague directions, Birges was waiting at a different location. No money was ever paid to Birges.[1]

The bomb was cleverly built and virtually tamper-proof. The ransom note said 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.[1] The FBI determined it would take 4 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.[1]

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 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 windows in Harrah's.[2][3]

John Birges[edit]

John Birges, Sr. (1922–1996), 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 Russian gulag. Eight years into his sentence in the gulag, he was released during a period of mass repatriation of Soviet Union POW's 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. His gambling debt and experience with explosives were primary pieces of evidence linking him to the Lake Tahoe bombing.[4]

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.[1] Birges was eventually arrested based on a tip. 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.[2]

Birges built one of the largest bombs the FBI had ever seen from dynamite he had stolen from construction sites in Fresno. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. 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. According to FBI experts, the Harvey's bomb remains the most complex improvised explosive device ever created and a replica of "the machine", as the extortionists called it, is still used in FBI training.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Higginbotham, Adam (2014). "A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite". The Atavist Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-26. 
  2. ^ a b Vogel, Ed (August 27, 2005). "Casino explosion nearly forgotten". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Archived from the original on October 28, 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  3. ^ Fabio, Adam. "This is What A Real Bomb Looks Like". Retrieved 8 February 2016. 
  4. ^ Esposito, Richard; Gerstein, Ted (2007-03-06). Bomb Squad: a year inside the nation's most exclusive police unit. Hyperion. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-4013-0152-1. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  5. ^ FBI - A Byte Out of History - The Case of the Harvey's Casino Bomb

Further reading[edit]