The Zip Gun Bomber
On May 7th, 1982, a high school guidance counselor from Brooklyn became the victim of an explosive device, mailed inside a cookbook. For over a decade, investigators could only speculate about the crime... but then more started being sent out, creating a panic among the five boroughs of New York City...
Joan Betty Dallas was born on December 4th, 1927. She would spend most of her life in Brooklyn, New York - the most populated borough of New York City.
There, she met and married a man named Howard Kipp, and the couple had two children: a daughter named Debbie, and a son named Craig.
Joan worked as a high school guidance counselor; primarily in School District 20, where she would end up supervising the counseling programs for the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, and Borough Park.
By 1982, Joan had worked as a guidance counselor for over fifteen years. Her children were now grown and married: Debbie, now in her early 30's lived in Connecticut, with a family of her own; while Craig, who was in his late 20's, was married and continued to live in the area. In fact, he lived less than a thousand feet away from her parents, in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge.
In addition to working as a high school guidance counselor, Joan also served as the treasurer of the Bay Ridge Community Council. She was actually planning to run for the Council's open Vice-President position; an election that she was expected to win.
On May 7th, 1982, Joan left work early. She normally stayed until 5:00 or 6:00 PM - if not later - but decided to wrap things up early this Friday afternoon. She was planning to leave the state with her husband for a little weekend getaway at their family's summer home, along Connecticut's Lake Hayward, to celebrate the Mother's Day holiday. It was actually pretty close to where their daughter, Doreen, lived.
She arrived home at around 4:10 PM - just a few minutes before her husband, in fact. Their home, which was located on 91st Street, was a quaint little two-story home in a neighborhood full of them.
As Joan returned home, she checked the mail. There was a package in the mail, addressed to her - which she believed to be a Mother's Day gift. After taking the package inside, she opened it up, and discovered that it was a cookbook; a Sears cookbook titled "The Quick And Delicious Gourmet Cookbook."
At around 4:10 PM - the time in which her husband was returning home - Joan opened up the cookbook to glance through the cookbook. Perhaps she wanted to see some recipes for the near-future - as she did love to cook - or perhaps she was intrigued by the odd weight of the book, which seemed lighter than it looked.
Either way, this time period is verified by multiple accounts due to what happened next.
As soon as Joan Kipp opened up the cookbook, she quickly discovered that it had been hollowed out. Inside, a device had been placed, which shot out in three directions at once.
The device, an improvised bomb, fired three shots in total; two of which hit Joan in the abdomen. In addition to the two shots fired by the device, a small explosion of high heat and shrapnel caused burns to Joan's chest and hands, which were noted by investigators.
Joan's husband, Howard Kipp, rushed inside to help his wife, who was now in shock and bleeding. Over twenty years later, he recalled those moments of pure terror.
"I was under the kitchen window in the driveway when I heard the explosion. When I ran into the house, she was conscious. She said, 'Look what they did to me... there may be others."
There may be others.
Those were some of Joan Kipp's last words, as she was rushed to the nearby Lutheran Hospital, where she did in surgery at around 7:45 PM that evening - approximately three-and-a-half hours after opening up what she believed was a Mother's Day gift.
Little did Joan know at the time of the bombing, but her words were as prophetic as they were terrifying. There were others. They wouldn't be known for over a decade, but Joan was just the first victim of a terror attack that left New York City frozen in fear.
This is the story of the Zip Gun Bomber.
The bomb that was used to kill Joan Kipp - which had been hidden inside a hollowed-out Sears cookbook - was a simplistic-yet-sophisticated design.
The device consisted of a 6-volt battery, which had been paired through a bit of electrical wiring to a couple of metal tubes; metal tubes that had been filled with some explosive powder and a trio of .22 caliber rifle shells.
Charles Abercrombie, the county's assistant district attorney, said about the bomb:
"The tubes were positioned to hit something chest high or higher - that means vital organs."
It seems like the bomb had worked as-intended, as two out of the three .22 cartridges that were fired from the device had struck Joan in the upper abdomen, near her chest. The third, which was pointed in a different direction, embedded itself in a nearby wall.
Investigators began looking into the device itself, and this is when they learned how it had been constructed. It seemed like the person responsible had an in-depth knowledge of electrical wiring, and had likely built similar devices in the past - but the parts required weren't rare or hard-to-find. Some wires, a battery, some powder, some metal piping, and a few .22 shells.
Detectives looked at the packaging, which the device had been mailed in, and discovered that it had been sent out of Staten Island.
In addition, investigators discovered that a note had been sent with the package. It contained threats against her entire family, and read:
"Dear Joan, you're dead."
It is believed that Joan might have considered the bomb a sick prank-gone-wrong in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as she had told her husband "there may be others." As they waited for an ambulance to arrive, she had told him to contact school officials from the district she worked in, as she believed hers might just be one of several, perhaps sent out by a troubled student to those that might have wronged them.
Fortunately, there were no other bombs found in the vicinity. However, that made the investigation incredibly difficult for investigators, as they had to determine how Joan Kipp had found herself in the cross-hairs of either a conniving killer... or a domestic terrorist.
The superintendent of the school district Joan worked at, expressed their disbelief at the entire ordeal. According to them, Joan lived:
"... almost a sheltered kind of life... She was very family-oriented - and it's hard to figure out how any of this could happen.
"It's shocking that a person such as Joan - who dedicated her life to helping others - should have her life ended in such a violent way."
Police announced that the package containing the explosive device had been sent through the US Postal Service, and it was estimated that the device was delivered at around noon. According to police Captain Jack Clark, neither Joan nor her husband were home at the time of delivery. It was believed that she was the first person home, and was the only one to handle the package inside.
However, according to Captain Clark:
"We're investigating every possible angle. We are not ruling out anything."
The investigation quickly zeroed in on Joan's family; not only her two adult children, but her husband, Howard, who now found himself a widower. Some time later, he recalled his version of events, following Joan's death:
"I gave them Joan's personal diary to look at. I gave them the key to my shop, so that they could look at everything they wanted to about my life, about our lives. I didn't even ask them to have a search warrant. They were in and out of this house for days, looking at everything, asking everything, knowing everything about my activities."
Police never confirmed that they were investigating Howard Kipp as a person-of-interest, but it is believed that he was a suspect in the immediate aftermath of his wife's murder.
In addition, Joan's 31-year old daughter, Doreen - who lived in Connecticut - found herself facing the police spotlight when she came into town for her mother's funeral. On the day that Joan Kipp was laid to rest, Doreen was brought in for police questioning. Based on her account, she was less-than-thrilled about how events unfolded.
"I was harassed. I felt my family needed to be protected from the police. We were advised by lawyers to get that protection."
After being brought in for questioning on the same day as her mother's funeral, Doreen became combative to the ongoing investigation, and began to urge for her family members to do the same. This included her father, Howard - who was already viewed suspiciously by investigators - and her younger brother, Craig, who would become the main suspect in the bombing.
Investigators believed that Craig - the 28-year-old son of Howard and Joan Kipp - had been harboring a grudge against his parents, following his dismissal from a marine consulting business that his father owned.
He had been left the business a short time beforehand; a job where he had gained a working knowledge of electrical wiring, via installations on ships and boats.
Craig, who had been 27 at the time of his mother's day, turned 28 just a short time later. He was married, and lived in the Briarleigh Hall apartments along Marine Avenue, just a couple of blocks down from his parent's home.
In the immediate aftermath of his mother's death, Craig was suspected of involvement in the bomb mailed to her, due to a couple of indicators. First was his scent, which a German Shepherd package-sniffing dog had found on the packaging that the bomb was sent in. Secondly, a handwriting analyst stated that the threatening note sent to Joan Kipp - which pronounced her dead while threatening the rest of her family - seemed to have handwriting similar to Craig's.
Lastly, whenever police had tried to interview Craig, or bring him in for a polygraph, he had refused. That was his right, of course - and I've said many times before on this podcast how ineffective polygraphs are at determining the truth - but this was deemed suspicious by police.
So, on August 9th, 1982, after returning from his family's summer vacation home in Connecticut - the same one that Joan Kipp was excited to get to just a few months earlier - 28-year old Craig Kipp was arrested by investigators.
With him were his wife, Susan, and his father, Howard, who were both shocked at this development. A newspaper called the Brooklyn Spectator spoke about their moods following the filing of charges:
"Both of them seemed surprised when police arrested Craig... but Craig did not put up any struggle when police... swooped down on the apartment."
Craig was officially booked on a federal charge of "mailing injurious articles," which carried with it the possibility of a life sentence when the result of the mailing was a death.
Robert Colangello, the Brooklyn Chief of Detectives, said that Craig had become their prime suspect "pretty early on," and expected homicide charges to be filed against the young man, in addition to the charge he was arrested on.
In the process of arrested Craig, police were making it very clear that they thought the mailing of the explosive device sent to Joan Kipp - which was addressed to the 54-year old woman that fell victim to it - was intentional. That it had a purpose, and was personal; instead of it being a random act.
Investigators described the motive as "... a rocky parent-child relationship" between Craig and his mother. Prosecutors even described his relationship with his mother as being "... one of hatred and bitterness."
However, everyone in the family disputed these allegations; including Craig's father, Howard, who was still reeling in the loss of his wife.
When bail was set at $300,000 - an amount worth nearly twice as much today - that bail was paid for by Craig's father.
Howard Kipp stated that Craig's departure from his marine consulting business was an amicable one, built more on a mutual parting of ways than a firing. Apparently, Craig wasn't well-suited for the job, as he wasn't able to do the more technical and intensive wiring work required of employees, and Craig didn't want to travel for the job. He liked staying close-to-home and didn't want to leave his wife for extended periods of time: which was a requirement of the job.
Both Howard Kipp and his daughter, Doreen - Craig's sister - spoke out about Craig's relationship with his parents; in particular, his relationship with his mother. They said that the two had arguments, just like any parent-child couple, but that the two loved one another.
In response to the police alleging rampant drug use by Craig, as a perhaps alternative motivation, both Doreen and Howard disregarded those rumors entirely. They said that they knew Craig smoked weed semi-regularly, but he had no serious problems. Also, he had no prior criminal or legal history prior to this encounter with police.
In June of 1983, citing a lack of evidence pinning Craig Kipp to the crime, the charges against him were dropped by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.
Charles Abercrombie, who handled the prosecution, said that the handwriting analysis performed early on provided a link between Craig and the explosive device, but subsequent analysis - performed by other firms and experts - struggled to find any similarities.
"It's very difficult to link block lettering to individual people."
Abercrombie also stated that their only other piece of compelling evidence - the package-sniffing German Shepherd that detected Craig's scent on the explosive device - was not very credible without more concrete evidence to compliment it.
With the release of Craig Kipp from possible charges, the case of Joan Kipp's death began to grow cold.
Her death remained a terrifying outlier in the local news; a lone woman struck by an explosive device mailed to her in a hollowed-out cookbook, the victim of what seemed to be a truly random attack.
Both of her children returned to their families; and eventually, Joan's entire family had moved out-of-state. Doreen already lived in Connecticut at the time of her mother's death, and a short time later, Craig would do the same thing with his wife, Susan.
Howard Kipp, Joan's husband, ended up moving out-of-state, to Massachusetts, where he ended up remarrying. There, he continued to hold out hope for justice, but knew that it wouldn't be easy. However, he knew that neither he nor anyone else in his immediate family was involved.
"There aren't any secrets. I didn't kill Joan Kipp and I'm positive my son didn't either."
Despite gaining distance from the scene of the murder, there was always the nagging thought in everyone's mind: was Joan Kipp the only intended target of the person that killed her? Or were there more victims to come?
Some of Joan's last words, after all, were a prophetic-sounding "there may be others." Those words stuck with investigators, who feared that there might be more explosive devices to come.
More than ten years later, authorities would finally get an answer to their unanswered questions.
In October of 1993, a man named Anthony Lenza went on vacation with his wife.
Anthony, a retired sanitation worker from Staten Island, was 68-years old. His wife, Connie, was a year younger than him, and the two lived in the neighborhood of Westerleigh, along Dickie Avenue. In October, they decided to go on vacation; heading to northeastern Pennsylvania, in the area of Pike County.
Anthony and Connie's children and grandchildren came to visit them, bringing up their mail from the last week or so.
With the rest of their family around them on October 15th, Anthony and Connie began going through their untouched mail. Anthony's attention was drawn to a bulky package addressed to him, which he began to open up. Inside was a blue velvet coin box, which - as he would later describe - he began to open up "upside down."
The device that had been hidden inside the coin box went off, shooting off in three separate directions. Anthony and his wife, Connie, were both shot by the projectiles inside, as well as their 11-year old granddaughter, Liza. Thankfully, all of their injuries were treatable, but investigators were stumped at what had caused this event to unfold.
Police discovered that the device was very similar to the one which had been sent out over a decade prior, in Brooklyn. Both used a pair of 6-volt D batteries. Both had metal pipes, taken from brake lines, fitted to form makeshift gun barrels. And in both devices, the triggering mechanisms used a screw inside a ballpoint pen spring.
In addition, the labeling on the package had a very similar typeface to the package sent to Joan Kipp back in 1982.
All-in-all, this device and event was very similar to what had happened eleven years prior. Thankfully, nobody was killed as a result, but police were just as stumped as to why this had happened. Like Joan Kipp, Anthony Lenza was a perfectly amiable individual, who had no known history of legal or criminal trouble, and who had no known enemies.
Roughly six months later - on April 5th, 1994 - a similar incident unfolded; this time, back in Brooklyn, along Sheepshead Bay.
Alice Caswell was a 75-year old woman, who had lived in her small brick home for over 25 years. She had lived there with her husband, Norman, but he had passed away roughly six years beforehand.
On April 5th, at around 1:20 PM, Alice's usual postman, Richard, dropped off a package in the mail slot of Alice's front door. The package was addressed to Richard McGarrell - Alice's brother, who was a retired Customs agent that had worked at Newark Airport. Richard had lived with Alice for a short period of time, but that had been decades ago - over twenty years beforehand, in fact. He now lived in a New Jersey retirement home, but Alice continued to receive his mail from time-to-time.
Usually, Alice would just open up the mail for her brother to see what was inside, and would either throw away the garbage or try to deliver it to him. This package was no exception.
A few minutes after receiving the package, Alice began to open it up... and was immediately wounded by the subsequent blast. The device embedded within went off, and sent shrapnel flying into Alice's abdomen.
Dazed, she made her way outside, and walked to a nearby neighbor's home. There, she received attention, and the neighbor dialed 911 for her.
Alice Caswell was rushed to the nearby Kings County Hospital Center, being put in critical condition at one point, but was able to pull through and recover. She eventually made it back home, but police had a bonafide conundrum on their hands.
They were struggling to determine what was linking together all of these victims. In the first two bombings - Joan Kipp and Anthony Lenza - the intended target was the person who opened the package. But now, a 75-year old woman became the unintended recipient of the device, which was addressed to her brother - a retired Customs agent.
Investigators knew that there must be something linking all of these individuals together, as the devices mailed to them were complicated and precise. They seemed to have a purpose, but that purpose remained a complete enigma to police.
At this point, the media had begun referring to the maker of these explosive devices as the "Zip Gun Bomber," despite the definition not exactly fitting that of a "zip gun."
A few weeks after Alice Caswell was injured by a bomb in her home, a New Yorker named Harold Orsmby noticed that his family had received a suspicious package.
Harold had been paying attention to some recent stories in the news. Not only were there a trio of suspicious packages sent to people in New York City - two in Brooklyn and one in Staten Island - but another bombing spree had caused panic. In the same time as this new spree was starting, another opportunist was mailing out package bombs in upstate New York.
This bomber, named Michael T. Stevens, had mailed out six bombs to his ex-girlfriends' relatives, in an effort to thwart her running off with their child. He lived in the area of Fort Covington, and all of his packages had been sent out from that area.
In April of 1994, Harold Orsmby noticed a package that his family had received, which had been mailed out from Fort Covington. He stopped his son from opening the package, and called the police.
Authorities took custody of the package, and confirmed that it was, indeed, a bomb. However, nothing else has been written about this event, as police have tried to keep as many details as possible private, to prevent false confessions from taking place.
The following month - May of 1994 - saw investigators focus in on a person-of-interest.
Louis Cipolla was a former US Customs officer and firearm instructor, who was suspected of involvement in a similar incident from upstate.
In the early morning hours of May 18th, 1994, in the small town of Verplanck, New York, the home of Gary and JoAnn Dykeman was awakened by a small explosion. The blast came from the side of their home, and - thankfully - didn't harm anyone, but did destroy an automobile and caused property damage, in addition to causing the family a great amount of anxiety and fear.
The victims were involved with a publishing company, which Louis Cipoola had also been previously involved in. Police quickly focused in on him as a suspect, as they believed he had an axe to grind, in regards to a motive.
The same multi-department task force that was working on the unsolved case of the Zip Gun Bomber focused in on Cipolla, which included members of the ATF - the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms - as well as the US Postal Inspectors office and detectives with the New York Police Department.
Just two days after the blast in Verplanck, New York, the home of Louis Cipolla was searched. There, police officials found several pieces of bomb-making equipment, such as machinery, black powder, grenades, etc. In addition, they also found the Anarchist's Cook Book, and an assortment of weapons and ammunition.
Most intriguing to them, though, were a couple of newspaper clippings from the month prior, which contained details about the explosive device mailed to 75-year-old Alice Caswell, in Brooklyn.
Louis Cipolla eventually faced charges relating to the incident in upstate New York, but was cleared in the mail bombing spree attributed to the Zip Gun Bomber. Investigators could find no evidence linking him to the case, and have not pinned up as a suspect since.
On June 27th, 1995 - a Tuesday - a young woman named Stephanie Gaffney was at her grandparent's apartment, in the NYC borough of Queens.
Stephanie, then-eighteen years old, was roughly eight months pregnant at this point in the summer of 1995. The apartment she was at - which belonged to her grandparents - was in the neighborhood of St. Albans. She was living there for the time being.
While talking on the phone, Stephanie noticed that the mail had just been delivered. She picked up the mail, and noticed that there was a package addressed to "Gilmore or occupant."
"Gilmore" was the surname of Stephanie's grandfather, an ex-New York police officer, as well as her uncle, who was a detective in the NYPD. In fact, just a few years before - in 1992 - Detective James Gilmore had played a vital role in the bust of a Dominican drug gang.
Stephanie, who decided to open the package to see what it was, quickly discovered that it wasn't what she expected.
"I just received something in the mail, and I opened it, and it was a book. And I opened the book, and it exploded."
The device hidden inside the hollowed-out book exploded out at Stephanie, including pieces of shrapnel. She was rushed to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where she was treated for burns to her abdomen, chest, and legs.
Thankfully, both Stephanie and her unborn baby were unharmed. However, due to the distress caused to the baby, doctors were forced to induce labor the following day - June 28th - at around 11:30 PM. Stephanie then gave birth to a healthy baby girl that Wednesday evening.
Stephanie Gaffney thinks that the only reason she survived the explosive device is because she held the book at an angle, facing away from her.
A year or so passed in which no explosions rocked the area of New York City.
Many drew comparisons between this case and that of the Unabomber - the code name given to the bombing culprit that mailed bombs to sixteen different targets between 1978 and 1995.
The final device linked to the FBI case dubbed "Unabom" was received in April of 1995 - just weeks before Stephanie Gaffney was injured and forced into induced labor. Investigators had looked into the cases as perhaps being linked, but it was believed that they were totally different. Not only were the Unabom devices very similar to one another, but they were also completely different from the devices mailed by the Zip Gun Bomber.
The Unabom devices were much more explosive, in that they more resembled bombs. Meanwhile, the devices mailed through New York, by the Zip Gun Bomber, more closely resembled a gun... or something like that.
In April of 1996, Ted Kaczynski was arrested in the forest of Montana, bringing the manhunt for the Unabomber to a close. However, the Zip Gun Bomber sent one final reminder that - whoever they were - they were still out there, awaiting and eluding capture.
Richard Basile and his wife, Marietta, were retired real estate agents that lived in Brooklyn, New York. Both were in their late 70's, and they lived in a white, two-story stucco home in Bensonhurst, along Bath Beach - a home they cherished, and had lived in for some time.
On June 20th, 1996, they received a package in the mail. The package was addressed to Marietta, Richard's wife, but he decided to open it up for her. It seemed to have been sent by the March of Dimes of Greater New York, and looked and felt like a video-tape.
Richard opened up the package, and saw that - based on the container it had been sent in - that it was, indeed, a video tape. However, when he opened it, he was alarmed by the following blast, which shattered the nearby kitchen window.
An article in the New York Times read:
"The blast in the Basiles' kitchen blew a hole through a window and damaged a wall."
Ken Barris, the mail carrier that had delivered the package just a short time beforehand, rushed into the home of the Basiles to help.
"It looked like the tape was taken apart. It looked like two barrels, one on each side. I smelled smoke, and there was a little debris in the kitchen and there were holes in the glass."
Ken, the postman that had been expecting the worst, was surprised to find both Richard and Marietta unharmed. Richard was in the kitchen, and had miraculously avoided all three of the firing bullets.
"If he had opened it in another direction, he would have had two bullets in the belly."
The explosive device mailed to the Basile family proved to be the last one from the current spree.
Investigators were able to link the devices together based on their designs. All were very similar to one another, with each hidden device containing loaded gun barrels - so to speak - hidden inside hollowed-out objects. In most cases, this object was a book, but in other cases, a video cassette or a coin box was the item used.
In each case, the creator of the device had removed the firing pins from the projectiles used - which were .22 cartridges - and replaced them with electrical filaments. These were then charged by the recipients of the packages opening them up. This completed an electrical circuit that the culprit had created through the devices' inner wiring, and created enough heat to fire off the projectiles.
Usually, three bullets were fired off at once, which the barrels aimed at what would usually be the victims' torso.
The design of each was pretty rudimentary, but required a working knowledge of electrical wiring. Bart Varvara, a US Postal Inspector, stated:
"Mail bombs are never crudely made. It takes a pretty sophisticated individual to make one."
In addition to the devices being very similar to one another, so was the packaging from each. All were mailed in brown mailer bags, and contained legitimate-looking return addresses, which made them appear legitimate. In other words, they didn't look like random piece of junk mail; they usually proposed some kind of free offer, or offered up some kind of gift.
Greg Rhatigan, an investigator for the US Postal Service, described the covers of each package as being "eye-catching." In other words, each was:
"... something that might get your attention, maybe an advertisement to a trip or an advertisement for a medical association."
Because of the seemingly-random nature of the crimes, investigators were never able to figure out why the culprit seemed to be targeting the recipients of the devices. It was impossible for investigators to determine whether or not they had been chosen for any reason... or were completely random.
Kevin B. Barry, a retired bomb squad detective with the NYPD, voiced concerns over the lack of any leads for the investigation to pursue, stating about the person who mailed the devices:
"He was using presentation cases, or coin boxes, with some kind of spring-activated firing device. They all came through the mail. They never came up with a rhyme or reason on who he was targeting."
Following the explosion of the package sent to Anthony Lenza in October of 1993, investigators were able to determine that the devices built - the so-called "zip guns" - were very similar to one another. This linked the subsequent mail bombs - from 1993 to 1996 - to the mysterious death of Joan Kipp in 1982.
Despite this, however, investigators were unable to piece together what linked together the victims and their families.
Multiple agencies were involved in the investigation, which was headed by the Postal Inspector's office. This investigation was able to determine that all of the addresses that received a package had links to civil or military service, but these connections were pretty loose. There was nothing concrete behind it.
Michael Kmetz, a spokesman for the Postal Inspector's office, stated about the investigation:
"Baffling is a good word. We have no motive and no common denominator. The combination of the two would lead us to a suspect.
"All we have are the devices."
In addition, postal inspector Greg Rhatigan said:
"We don't have a face, we don't have a signature. We've never had a communique - we haven't had one tip."
Inspector Rhatigan seemed to believe that the suspect was someone from out-of-town; someone who moved to NYC and began stirring up trouble.
"... the problem is New Yorkers are straight-forward: if they have a score to settle, they'll throw a bomb through your window or put a gun right in your face."
Surprisingly, this seemed to resonate with criminologist Harvey Kushner, who stated that the culprit was likely someone who wasn't very outgoing.
"He's obviously a loner. He speaks to no one. He does not brag about it."
One of the working theories for investigators was that the bombings were a part of an extortion attempt. Perhaps someone had tried blackmailing the victims, and when that had failed, they were mailed the bombs as a reminder of their mortality... or something like that.
Police came to this theory after it was noted that several of the victims and their loved ones were reticent to speak to investigators. Some said very little about the incidents in-question, if at all.
One law enforcement source, who chose to remain anonymous, stated about this theory:
"It was like it happened, they learned their lesson and they moved on. It was like they wanted to close the chapter on it."
Despite this hesitance, investigators were unable to find much proof behind this theory. They could find no proof of an extortion attempt of the various victims; at least, they haven't spoken out about this possibility in the decades since.
Police did reveal that they were planning to speak to Craig Kipp - the son of first victim, Joan - once again in 1995. However, despite this announcement - and a $50,000 reward for information - police stumbled upon upon a notable suspect just a short time later.
A suspect that had a personal connection to the very first victim.
Steven Wavra had served in the United States Navy from 1972 to 1973, a time period in which he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
After leaving the Navy, Wavra began to accumulate a long criminal history, ith some of his various crimes including possession of noxious liquids, making bomb threats against postal facilities, and assaulting a military police officer.
Twice, he had actually been caught by law enforcement creating devices very similar to the one utilized by the Zip Gun Bomber. And twice, he had been detained by authorities shortly after a bombing, and had raised suspicions about possible involvement.
In 1983 - a year after the death of Joan Kipp in Brooklyn - cops were working on an unrelated case involving Steven Wavra's roommate. While conducting a search of their home, police found bomb-making equipment on their kitchen table, as well as a hollowed-out book; similar to the one that had been used to kill Joan.
Wavra claimed responsibility for the book and the equipment, saying that his roommate:
"... had no knowledge of what I was doing with it, and I did not tell anyone. I was using it, or was yet to use it, in another crime, not through the mail, but on a U.S. military base."
It was then learned that Joan Kipp had been Steven Wavra's guidance counselor, at Dyker Heights Junior High School; a school that Steven might have held resentment for. After all, he had been held back twice, and investigators theorized that he might have held Joan Kipp responsible, even all those years later.
Steven denies this, and offered up a pretty convincing alibi to prove that he couldn't be held responsible for her death, anyways.
"I had nothing against her. I was in prison at the time. They know that I could not possible directly be involved in it."
Unfortunately, investigators would confirm that at the time of Joan Kipps' death - in May of 1982 - Steven had actually been incarcerated. He was in-and-out of jail after leaving the Navy in the early 1970's, and being in prison is seen as a pretty solid alibi.
Steven Wavra would fall out of favor with investigators through the rest of the decade, with some detectives believing that perhaps he had an accomplice on the outside who may have mailed the package on his behalf. After all, his roommate was often seen as an accomplice of his, and police remained skeptical of Steven.
He came into police cross-hairs again over a decade later, in 1995, when Steven mailed out a rambling 250-page manifesto he had written to several federal courthouses. He was arrested in a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, and - at the time of his arrest - he was discovered to be carrying a hollowed-out book which contained several Exacto knives. In addition, four .22-caliber rifle shells were found in his possession, which - as an ex-felon - was illegal.
The task force that was investigating the case of the Zip Gun Bomber focused in on Steven Wavra yet again, hoping to find a link between him and the bombs sent out over the last handful of years. They learned about his tentative connection with the 1982 bombing of Joan Kipp, and tried to find any other similar links between Wavra and the other mail-bomb recipients.
Investigators were able to determine a connection not with Steven, but his roommate/accomplice - whose identity was never released. Funnily enough, police were able to determine that this roommate shared a pharmacist with each of the bombing recipients, and that seemed to be the only connection linking all of them together.
Like I said, this was a very loose connection, but it was all that investigators were able to dig up in the years during and after the bombing spree came to an end, which started in 1993 and ended in 1996.
Despite not gaining enough evidence to charge with Steven Wavra or his roommate with the crimes, police remained convinced that the two of them had some involvement - or, perhaps, knew more than they were letting on. John Tarangelo, a retired detective that worked on the case for over two years, stated:
"It always came back to the two of them, consistently. There was always a common denominator between them and the victims, whether it was the pharmacy, the neighborhood, the hollowed-out cookbook. There was a record of [Wavra's pal] in the computer of each of the victims' local pharmacies. We could never figure it out."
Like I said, neither Wavra or his roommate were ever charged with the crime spree, but Wavra was later sentenced to ninety months in a federal prison for being in possession of ammunition while being a convicted felon. He served his sentence in Beaumont, Texas, before being released in March of 2005. He continues to deny any involvement in the crimes attributed to the Zip Gun Bomber, and - at one point - claimed that he was working on his own "case story" of the entire ordeal, written from his perspective. This has yet to come to pass.
The identity of the Zip Gun Bomber remains unknown.
Despite the case consuming the lives of officers and investigators with the ATF, the Postal Inspector's Office, the NYPD, and the US Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of New York, it remains a giant question mark.
The culprit - or culprits - never made contact. Not with the media, not with the authorities, and - as far as we know - their only correspondence with the victims came in the form of the devices mailed to them. In only one of those cases was there any type of writing: the initial bomb, which killed Joan Kipp, carried with it a note threatening her family. But besides that, there was nothing for investigators to look for.
Police were even unable to come up with a simple motive. Because of the lack of any motive, they can't really know whether the purpose of the bombings was to serve as a vendetta against specific people, or if the devices were made to spread fear and panic through New York, through a campaign of domestic terrorism.
Daniel Mihalko, a US Postal Inspector, told the media that their long-lasting investigation struggled to come up with any details that proved useful.
"We can't tie the victims together. We don't have a motive here. So we're not really sure what the zip gun person is really trying to show here."
A $100,000 reward exists for any information that may lead to this criminal being identified and detained by authorities.
Until such time, the story of the Zip Gun Bomber remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Originally published on August 19th, 2018
Other original music created and composed by Ailsa Traves