This was before surveillance cameras became ubiquitous across America. It was 1975.
Shortly before midnight on a Saturday night, March 1, a rented Ryder truck carrying 500 pounds of dynamite and 24 55-gallon drums of gasoline parked in front of the Shelton Sponge Rubber Products Plant 4, a massive blocks-long factory complex along the Housatonic River waterfront in downtown Shelton, Conn.
Some seven miles away, to the north in Seymour, another down on its luck mill town straddling the Naugatuck River, Gilda and I were about to fall asleep when the phone rang. It was Don Anderson, my boss, my bureau chief, calling from his home in Ansonia. Having been awakened by an explosion in nearby Shelton, he asked why I was in bed while half of downtown Shelton, my beat as a reporter for The New Haven Register, was ablaze.
Back then, if you slept on a foam mattress it likely was manufactured in Shelton. B.F. Goodrich had built the 475,000 square foot factory, but as consumer bedding tastes changed Goodrich unloaded the facility to an Ohio businessman, Charles Moeller.
Moeller couldn’t turn the business around. Like King Henry II of England back in 1170 venting his frustration with Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, leading to Becket’s assassination by several of Henry’s henchmen, Moeller vented his frustration to his trusted advisor and guru, David N. Bubar.
A Baptist minister and self-proclaimed psychic, Bubar recruited eight others to relieve Moeller of his albatross. They rented a yellow Ryder truck, packed it with explosives and gasoline, drove to Shelton, broke into the factory, tied up the night watchmen, deposited them safely in a nearby woods, and, for good measure, told them they were part of the Weather Underground.
Fire departments from roughly 20 communities battled the blaze, the largest industrial arson to that time in the United States.
It took authorities just days to track down the Ryder truck and the men who rented it. Moeller, Bubar and the perpetrators were arrested, charged and were tried for arson and related crimes. Moeller was found not guilty. Bubar and seven others were found guilty. One was acquitted.
Where the massive plant once stood a waterfront park has been erected. With construction of a more modern Route 8 through its heart Shelton has become a desirable bedroom community and light industrial site in Fairfield County.
Like Shelton I moved on, first to become The Register’s bureau chief for West Haven, Woodbridge Orange and Bethany, later to become the editor and publisher of Chain Store Age.
This tale from my past was prompted by the scary, grotesque smoke and gun attack on subway commuters in Brooklyn Tuesday morning and by the swift work of authorities to find the rented van the alleged assailant, Frank R. James, used to transport his weapons of fear, mayhem and injury. As of this posting James’ whereabouts had not been determined.