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A mail bomb on display at the National Postal Museum

A letter bomb, also called parcel bomb, mail 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[1]. 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.


Parcel bomb sent to Madame Tussauds in 1889
  • One of the world's first mailbombs 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[2]. In a later reference Luxdorph has found a mention of a similar bomb being used, also in 1764, but in Savona in Italy[3].
  • Edward White, formerly an artist at Madame Tussauds, was alleged to have sent a parcel bomb to John Theodore Tussaud in June 1889 after being dismissed.[4]
  • A Swedish man named Martin Ekenberg used a mailbomb August 20, 1904, targeting CEO Karl Fredrik Lundin in Stockholm. It was made of a box loaded with bullets and explosives.[5]
  • In 1915, Vice President of the United States Thomas R. Marshall was the target of an assassination attempt by letter bomb.
  • Austrian Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner was sent a letter bomb by the Israeli intelligence services Mossad, to which he lost an eye and several fingers.
  • Ruth First, a South African communist anti-apartheid activist was killed by a parcel bomb mailed by the South African government to her home in Mozambique.
  • Theodore Kaczynski, the "Unabomber", killed three and injured 23 in a series of mailbombings in the United States from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
  • In 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.[6],
  • Robert Smith Vance, a U. S. federal judge, was killed instantly upon opening a letter bomb in the kitchen of his home in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Helen, seriously injured. Walter Leroy Moody was later convicted of killing both Vance and Georgia attorney Robbie Robertson by use of letter bombs delivered through the mail.
  • Franz Fuchs, Austrian mailbomber, killed four and injured 15 with mailbombs and improvised explosive devices in the mid-1990s.
  • Singer Björk was sent a letter bomb charged with explosives and hydrochloric acid by fan Ricardo López in 1996. The bomb did not reach Björk, having been randomly intercepted by London Police.
  • In February 2007, a series of mailbombings in the United Kingdom injured nine people, though none of them were critically hurt.
  • In January and February 2007, a bomber calling himself "The Bishop" sent several unassembled bombs to financial firms in the United States, and was arrested in April 2007
  • In August 2007, a Lebanese immigrant was charged in connection with a letter bomb ring in the Toronto-Guelph, ON area; he was responsible for injuring 1 person. He was also responsible for the precautionary closing of a portion of the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto on August 31, 2007


Letter-bombs, along with anti-personnel mines, are typical examples of subject-matter excluded from patentability under the European Patent Convention, because the publication or exploitation of such inventions are contrary to the "ordre public" and/or morality (Article 53(a) EPC).[7]

See also


  1. ^ *(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.
  2. ^ Eiler Nystrøm(ed.) - Luxdorphs Dagbøger, volume I, p. 207 & 209, Copenhagen, 1915
  3. ^ Luxdorphs Dagbøger, volume I, p. 293. The reference Luxdorph mentions is this: Theatrum Europæum, tome XI, p. 745 column 2, fin
  4. ^ "The Times". 1889-07-20. p. 6. 
  5. ^ *[1] (Swedish)
  6. ^ *"Former top Rotorua cop dies" [2]accessed 5 December 2009
  7. ^ Guidelines for Examination in the EPO c.ii.7.2 , Matter contrary to "ordre public" or morality.

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