Like any other morning, 44-year-old Thomas Maloney received the day’s mail on Good Friday 1936.
Unlike others, an unfamiliar cigar box wrapped in brown paper arrived at his home in Wilkes-Barre Township’s Georgetown section.
His daughter Margaret recalled in 1986 that her father thought the package was a gift.
As Maloney pried open the lid, the box exploded.
Maloney and his 4-year-old son, who was standing nearby, later died from injuries they suffered in the blast.
They were two of the three people who died in what was dubbed the Good Friday cigar box bombings at the hands of Michael Fugmann, then 52. A total of six people received similar packages.
In what is called the Wyoming Valley’s largest manhunt, police later arrested Fugmann, who faced a high-profile trial at which he was convicted of the April 10 killings and sentenced to death.
It all began around 9:30 p.m April 9, 1936, after Fugmann purchased cigar boxes at Wilkes-Barre stores.
He mailed the bombs from post offices in Wilkes-Barre and waited for the bombings to begin.
Prosecutors say Fugmann had an ill-will toward the recipients – all had been involved in the mining industry, labor unions or law enforcement – though two of the recipients got the boxes mistakenly because they had the same names as two men in the local mining industry.
After the first bomb exploded, police got out the word to be on the lookout for similar boxes.
Former county sheriff Luther Kniffen, of Wilkes-Barre, escaped injury when his secretary, Vera Franklin, damaged a mechanism of one bomb while trying to open the box.
When Kniffen took the box from Franklin, the bomb fell harmlessly onto the floor and smashed into pieces.
Harry Gouldstone, of Kingston, superintendent of the Buttonwood Colliery of the Glen Alden Coal Co., told his family to keep an eye out for suspicious packages. His family refused to touch the cigar box when it arrived and called authorities.
Two other bombs, mailed to county Judge Benjamin Jones and to James Gorman, a state Anthracite Conciliation Board umpire from Hazleton, were intercepted in Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton post offices before they could be delivered.
A sixth bomb wasn’t found until it exploded around 3:30 p.m., killing recipient Michael Gallagher of Hanover Township.
Soon, the Wyoming Valley was seized by panic. Boxes arriving at homes through the mail made residents anxious; some people doused packages they received with water, ruining Easter presents, or called authorities.
The unexploded bombs were tested for fingerprints and each were found to contain a 1½-inch stick of dynamite.
Within a few days, more than 50 suspects had been taken into custody. Investigators worked diligently, saying little about the probe until several weeks later.
Fugmann’s arrest, trial
On July 1, Fugmann, a former miner and deserter from the German army in World War I, was taken into at a Wilkes-Barre railroad station on his way back from treatment for a mining injury at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton.
The following day, investigators raided his home at 31 Oaklawn Ave., Hanover Township. Fugmann was charged shortly thereafter with 10 counts relating to the bombings.
“My heart is clean, so help me God,” Fugmann said at his arraignment before the magistrate, Judge John S. Fine.
That September, Fugmann’s trial began. Monroe County Judge Samuel Shull presided over the case that was prosecuted by District Attorney Leon Schwartz. Fugmann was defended by attorney Edward McGovern.
Then came the testimony and evidence with all fingers pointing at Fugmann.
A clerk at Schulte’s Cigar Store on East Market Street in Wilkes-Barre identified Fugmann as the man to whom he sold cigar boxes. Investigators found nails in Fugmann’s home, a foreign brand, that were the same type used in the cigar box bombings.
Brown paper matching the type in which the boxes were wrapped also was found at Fugmann’s home.
Then, dynamite was found buried in Fugmann’s cellar.
Fugmann was in downtown Wilkes-Barre the night the boxes were mailed, and his handwriting matched writing on the outside of the boxes, investigators said.
Fugmann testified the cigar boxes were stolen by a man who later committed suicide by using dynamite and that he could not explain how his handwriting ended up on the boxes.
Evidence against Fugmann mounted when investigators pointed out a previously strained relationship with Maloney.
The two men had been allies in forming the United Anthracite Miners of Pennsylvania. Fugmann eventually had quit the group, while Maloney fought for his beliefs and consequently went to jail.
Fugmann’s wife, Cuni, previously had loaned Maloney $505, and when Maloney failed to repay the money, Fugmann began to make insistent demands for it and complain about Maloney to the community.
On Oct. 7, Fugmann was convicted of the killings and sentenced to death by electric chair.
Fugmann exhausted all appeals, with higher courts upholding his conviction.
On July 17, 1938, Fugmann had a last meal of cheese, noodle soup, bread, pumpkin pie and syrup at the Rockview State Penitentiary.
“I’m paying with my life for a crime I did not commit,” Fugmann said before he was executed.