The following is a compilation of dozens of news articles on the bombing of Sterling Hall in Madison in 1970. I have tried to cover the lives of the bombers and other people involved, being both detailed and yet still fairly brief to keep the story from dragging on.
If anyone has any sources on this, or if anyone involved wants to make a statement, let me know… this is considered a rough draft until published somewhere.
Karl Armstrong was born October 15, 1947, the same day a dozen Nazis were were hanged in Germany for “crimes against humanity”. Karl’s father, Donald Karl Armstrong, reminded him of this often as a boy, telling him to stand up against fascism wherever he saw it. As a teenager, he was in the Boy Scouts, played basketball and sang in a Lutheran choir.
Born in Darby, Pennsylvania on April 18, 1948 to Howard and Mary Burt, Leo Frederick Burt grew up in an Irish Catholic family in the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown, Pennsylvania. He attended St. Denis Parochial School and Monsignor Bonner High School, an all-boys parochial school, where he was an athlete. As a child, he was an altar boy and his family always had fish or meatless spaghetti on Fridays. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison after being awarded an ROTC scholarship, and became involved in the varsity crew (rowing) team.
Dwight Alan Armstrong, Karl’s younger brother, was born on August 29, 1951, in Madison, Wisconsin. He grew up there as “an ordinary Midwestern boy, fond of playing baseball and bicycling around his exurban community” as described by The New York Times in his obituary. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade and by 1970 he had joined his brother Karl in actively opposing American involvement in the war in Vietnam.
David Sylvan Fine was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on March 19, 1952, and was the second of two children born into a middle-class family. He attended the Wilmington Friends School in Wilmington, Delaware, a private school run by the Quakers. At the age of 13 he became actively involved in activities to oppose the United States’ participation in the Vietnam war. During his high school years, Fine adopted a pacifist belief and participated in anti-war activities with persons who were firmly committed to pacifist and non-violent views. Fine’s involvement in anti-war activities included demonstrations in Wilmington, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. The group to which Fine belonged was the Wilmington Anti-War Committee.
Karl Armstrong enrolled at UW-Madison in 1964. He worked the night shift at a bakery for $2 an hour to pay his way.
Dwight attended Madison East High School from September 6, 1966 to September 12, 1968 and then withdrew. He had a “poor attendance record” and “disrespect for school authority”. His school reports called him a “dreary, disturbed young man” who likely had problems at home because he had tried to run away on more than one occasion.
Karl Armstrong was witness to violence between protesters and police on October 18, 1967 when the Dow Chemical Company arranged for job interviews with students on the Madison campus and many students protested and blocked potential interviewers from the building where the interviews were being held.
As a juvenile, Dwight had a few minor offenses including truancy and firing a BB gun. He was called into juvenile court in December 1967 for truancy and stealing a car. He was palced on probation for a year. At this time, the court found him to be close with his mother but distant from his father.
Leo Burt’s former rowing coach at Wisconsin, Randy Jablonic, said he was one of the hardest working athletes he saw in forty years of coaching, his muscles bulging with strength from doing squats up and down the steps of Camp Randall Stadium. One of his closest friends on the team was Tim Mickelson of Deerfield, Wisconsin. Mickelson spent the summer of 1968 in Philadelphia with Burt’s family, training for the Olympics. Mickelson recalls Burt as never fighting or arguing with anyone, even in the locker room. “Never swore, never told a dirty joke, never had a date, as far as I know,” said Mickelson. “It was rowing and studies. Leo was a good, but not great, student, and he studied a lot.” After being cut from the team for being shorter than the others and refusing to get his hair cut, he became more active in journalism and student politics.
Dwight Armstrong worked at the Morey Airplane Company at Morley Field in Middleton for six months (January-June) in 1969 as a lineman, gofer and grease monkey. He was fired for refusing to cut his long hair.
July 21, 1969 – September 17, 1969, Dwight worked as a switchman for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.
Dwight registered for classes at Madison Area Technical College on September 16, 1969, but withdrew on the same day.
Fine was admitted to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1969. Fine chose the school because of the journalism program and because there was an active anti-war movement at the school. Fine’s grades in his freshman year were above average. His outside activities involved becoming a reporter on the university’s daily newspaper, The Daily Cardinal. In the spring of 1970 he became a night editor for the paper. As a member of the editorial staff, Fine supported editorial opinions which condoned the use of violence. During this time he became acquainted with Leo Burt, another writer for The Daily Cardinal.
Some time during his school years, Leo Burt took a journalism class with instructor Jack Hoelzhueter. In the class, there was a very bright woman that sat in front of Burt, whose writing abilities surpassed his. Burt would repeatedly ask her for advice and tips, as he was seen as an average writer. “He needed practice,” said Holzhueter. “She was very dismissive.” One day she approached Holzhueter and asked to get a new seat because she thought Burt was “a fucking Nazi”, but Holzhueter denied her request.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had a protest march on December 12, 1969 around the Army ROTC lecture building on the UW campus.
On December 28, 1969, Karl Armstrong “firebombed” the ROTC building at the Red Gym on the UW-Madison campus. He walked up to the Quonset hut on the western end of campus, cut a hole in the window, poured in gasoline and lit a match. The fire caused an estimated $900 in damages. He called the Madison underground newspaper, Kaleidoscope, and told editor Mark C. Knops that the perpetrators were “The Vanguard of the Revolution”. Karl considered this act his declaration of war on the US government for being beaten by the police at the1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Karl had supported Eugene McCarthy.
On New Year’s Eve 1969, Karl Armstrong was in his basement, bearded and prematurely balding, mixing chemicals in two cafeteria-sized mayonnaise jars. He then stopped by his sister’s house where Dwight was babysitting and asked Dwight to help him steal a plane. Dwight was hesitant, but eventually agreed — he was a student pilot. According to Karl, between one-third and two-third of the rocket propellant used in Vietnam was manufactured at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant.
That night, Dwight and Karl, with Karl’s girlfriend Lynn Schultz, a 20-year old telephone company clerk, driving the getaway car (her 1965 Chevrolet convertible), stole a Cessna 150 from Morey Field in Middleton. Dwight and Karl dropped homemade explosives on the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, but the explosives failed to detonate. Karl had not given them fuses, hoping they would explode on impact. Also, Dwight refused to fly any lower than 500 feet, making accuracy an issue. Lynn was supposed to call in a warning in Sauk City, but never did, later claiming that one phone booth was busy and another was broken.
They successfully landed the plane at another airport in Sauk City and escaped. New Years Eve was chosen because this is when the plant would have a skeleton crew, and injuries would be minimized. But Karl was not afraid of collateral damage. “There were no innocents working there. If someone had gotten hurt or killed, it would have been like being at war. Their rocket fuel propelled the war over there. I was just bringing it close to home.”
After the failed bombing, Karl confided in his roommate at a local fraternity house, Scott L. Nelson. Nelson was sympathetic, and even introduced Karl to another dissident, the Marxist Leo Burt. Before the Sterling Hall bombing, Karl committed several other acts of terrorism, including arson attacks on the state Selective Service headquarters which instead hit the UW Primate Research Center. Karl also attempted to plant explosives at the Prairie du Sac electric substation which supplied power to the ammunition plant, but was frightened off by the night watchman.
Dwight was at the Nitty Gritty on December 31, 1969 around 10:30pm. He left, but returned after midnight to join in at a party where he played “strip bottle”. The game is played by turning a Coke bottle upside down and passing it from person to person in a circle, holding the side of the bottle with the thumb and bottom of the bottle with the forefinger. If you drop it, you lose an article of clothing. Dwight got upset because he would continually lose, and he went upstairs to go to bed.
New Years Day, 1970, Karl called the Wisconsin State Journal to brag about the bombing, but they thought he was joking. He then called Kaleidoscope, an underground newspaper in Madison, and then wrote the story, calling the bombers the “New Years Gang”.
On January 3, at 5:20am, the Madison Fire Department was called to the Armory building, which housed the basketball court and a swimming pool, as well as the ROTC administrative offices. The southeastern turret was on fire due to some explosive having been thrown in through a window. The fire was contained by 8:15am.
After passing a GED test, Dwight attended the Wisconsin School of Electronics from January 5, 1970 through February 24, 1970. He withdrew, claiming his high school education did not properly prepare him for the work.
Colonel Russell O. Enoch found the failed bombs at 9:59am on January 6 and reported them to the FBI, who were already aware of the bombing. The “bombs” consisted of broken glass and a mustard-colored liquid, but no detonator was found. They were near laundry building #4562, fifty feet south of building #510. The broken glass had come fro ma jar made by the Brockway Glass Company of Pennsylvania, but such jars are common and this evidence would in no way help the FBI.
At 3pm on January 6, a representative of the Cryobiology Research Institute on Buckeye Road received a phone call from someone requesting a brochure on the laboratory. He wished to know about any and all recent developments at the lab. Finding this request odd, the rep reported the call to the FBI.
The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) met on the UW campus on January 8, and claimed no knowledge of the recent terrorist actions. They did, however, voice support for the bombing, saying it represents an “increased level of struggle”. Roughly 170 people showed up for the meeting.
There was a White Panther meeting on January 10. The White Panthers could be identified by a purple button with a panther on it.
On January 13, 1970, a special agent received an anonymous telephone call from a man saying that he had seen a “hippie” flying a Cessna 150 in late August or early September 1969 around the Pardeeville area. The hippie had friends with him and was doing rolls, spins and power dives within 500 feet of the ground. One such power dive blew out the rear window of the plane. The plane, according to the caller, was likely rented from Hartford Flying Service.
On January 15, Special Agent Hobart C. Lovett investigated a suspect from Central High School in LaCrosse. Rumors around the school were that one student was a member of a “revolutionary group” and that he kept several guns in the apartment where he lived. There were also unconfirmed reports that he used and handled various drugs. His parents were divorced.
January 17, 1970 — a special agent contacted the FBI’s “racial informant” (name still classified) in the “ghetto” but came up with no new information.
Special Agent Lovett spoke with a representative of Viking Aviation at LaCrosse Municipal Airport on January 19. Lovett was advised that a UW-LaCrosse student had been flying there, but he was flying a twin engine Aztec, and was probably not the man they were looking for.
An investigator with the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department reported on January 23 that he had spoken with a representative of Wisconsin Finance Company. The rep reported that two days after the BAAP bombing, a man came in to apply for a loan. He had no driver’s license, but used a pilot’s license for identification. The man was also overheard to say “he did not do a very good job on the plant.” The man was turned down for a loan based on his appearance and routine reference checks. A few days later the man, who was temporarily residing in West Baraboo, was arrested for drunkenness. He again offered a pilot’s license as ID.
On February 11, 1970, a special agent followed up on information received from the anonymous caller and spoke to a representative of Zieko Aviation at Hartford. The rep was aware of a plane that had its rear window blown out, but said that the man who rented it was a “clean cut all American individual” who had just gotten out of the Army. He was, however, delinquent in payments to Zieko.
On February 16, a captain of the Madison Police Department informed the FBI that he had received a telephone call from Brigadier General James J. Lison of the Wisconsin National Guard. He had heard stories that a man claimed to be in the plane that flew over BAAP and was, in fact, the person who dropped the glass jars. A check into this person’s activities quickly revealed that he was involved with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) on the UW-Madison campus, though he was not a leader.
The FBI checked up on a suspect in Milwaukee on March 19, 1970. The suspect had recently been paroled from the state prison, and they asked an apartment manager about the man. They were advised that he had moved out, but that he was a “nut”. The man would walk around the property completely nude and “engage himself in a vulgar sexual act” if he saw any females. He would also stand naked in his window and make “hideous” signs to the woman who lived across the alley. The manager did not believe the man was a hippie or politically active, but did believe he associated with homosexuals and might be one himself.
Fine wrote an editorial in or about April 1970 in The Daily Cardinal, entitled “By Any Means Necessary,” which condoned various forms of violence by “revolutionaries,” including kidnapping and murder.
April 22, 1970 — a special agent pretended to be with the University of Wisconsin and made a call to a white female asking if a certain individual had been home over Christmas. She said yes. He asked which dates (“for billing purposes”) but she did not know exactly.
April 24, 1970 — a man from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections met with two individuals from WHA-TV who had a tape of a group named the Revolutionary Vanguard. The tape contained the group talking about the attempted bombing of a building using dynamite. Both WHA-TV and Wisconsin Capitol Times had copies of the tape but refused to use them.
Leo Burt became radicalized after being beaten by a policeman while covering a protest on the Madison campus against the Kent State shootings by the Ohio National Guard that occurred on May 4, 1970, killing four students. Burt had beers at the Nitty Gritty with the Armstrong brothers and Fine, talking about politics and revolution.
In response to the Kent State shootings, the Armstrong brothers conceived of an attack on the Army Mathematics Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, which had been a frequent site of anti-War protests. “My brother and I just looked at each other,” Karl Armstrong said in an interview. “And I just said, ‘Army Math.’” During the Vietnam War, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors of the southern (east-west) wing of Sterling Hall housed the Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC). This was an Army-funded think tank, directed by J. Barkley Rosser, Sr. The staff at the center consisted of about 45 mathematicians, about 30 of them full-time. Rosser was the head of the U.S. ballistics program during World War II and a contributor to research on several missiles used by the U.S. military.
In May 1970, Burt wrote in the Daily Cardinal about a Black Panther rally in New Haven, Connecticut, saying it “served notice on the government that if repression continues, the movement has the organization and the discipline to strike back and literally tear the country apart… it ushered in an era of radical action on a national scene.”
May 10, 1970 — a deputy from the Dane County Sheriff’s Department advised the FBI that he had contacted a representative of Mr. Mack’s Restaurant at the Pure Oil Truck Stop at I-90, I-94 and US 51. This man had heard information regarding the bombing of BAAP and “has associated with persons involved in the use of dangerous drugs”.
May 1970, Dwight was at Chesty’s Bar with a dark-haired man who spoke with an accent. They met with a woman Dwight knew and used to live with, but the woman and the man with the accent were strangers.
On July 1, 1970, a grand jury was convened in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, to investigate the alleged arson of ‘Old Main’ hall on the campus of Wisconsin State University at Whitewater, Wisconsin. During this investigation the grand jury came into possession of certain information, the full significance of which was not apparent until August 24, 1970.
In July 1970, David Fine went from Pittsburgh to Ann Arbor to attend the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, where he met up with colleague Leo Burt.
On July 13, 1970, Leo Burt and David Fine engaged in conversation with Edward H. Bull at 310 Price Place in Madison.
At some point in July 1970, the Madison FBI office was contacted by Terrance Joseph Donley, known as Weasel. Donley had recently been released from federal prison in Sandstone, Minnesota (he had impersonated a Secret Service agent in order to cash a check) and was now living at the Madison YMCA. He told the FBI that he had met some people connected to the Kaleidoscope newspaper and offered his services as a cartoonist. Through this, he “obtained a wealth of information” on counter-culture figures and knew about weapons coming into Madison. A check into Donley’s claims found them to be unreliable.
At the end of July, Donley met a young woman and convinced her he was a cartoonist with a Los Angeles newspaper. They met a few times and he was able to con some money out of her.
Dwight worked for the Waunakee Canning Company from August 3 through 5, 1970. His work history on that application showed his sporadic employment history.
David Fine returned to Madison earlier than the start of school to go to a wedding of a Daily Cardinal staff member, Elliott Silberberg. This was most likely on August 16, 1970. The wedding was at a synagogue in Madison and there was a party at the groom’s house on 947 Spaight Street, where Fine actually had intended to live the following year. While at the house, Leo Burt brought Fine into another room and informed him about the bombing plan. Fine was interested, and was introduced to the Armstrong brothers a few days later.
Around August 14, 1970, Leo Burt approached his journalism instructor, Jack Holzhueter, in the Union near the Rathskeller and thanked him for encouraging him to write for the Daily Cardinal. Burt told Holzhueter that he would be leaving the paper and living underground in Canada for reasons he couldn’t share.
Karl purchased 100 gallons of fuel oil from a local service station. On the 19th, at a farmers’ cooperative, Karl bought about 1,700 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The manager of the cooperative cautioned Karl that if the fertilizer were mixed with fuel oil and used in conjunction with dynamite, a tremendous explosion could result.
The Bombing: August 24, 1970
Around 3:30 a.m. security guard Norbert Sutter stopped by Robert Fassnacht’s lab where the young researcher was at his desk writing in his lab notebook. Sutter chatted briefly with him and reminded him to turn off lights and equipment when he left.
The bombers rolled up in a stolen 1967 Ford Econoline van filled with close to 2,000 pounds of ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil). The van had a “Peterson for Governor” bumper sticker on the left rear bumper (Donald O. Peterson was a Democrat who lost to Patrick Lucey in the 1970 primary). At 3:41 a.m., Fine called the Madison Police Department and made the following statement: “Okay, Pig, listen good. There is a bomb at the Army Math Research Center, University, and it is going up in five minutes. Get everyone out of there and clear the area, warn the hospital. I am not bull-shitting, get everyone out of there now.” It was never the gang’s plan to injure or kill anyone, which is why they delivered the bomb at 3:42 a.m. and called a warning into police. But unfortunately it was too late — the bomb exploded before police could clear the building.
People from 30 miles away were awakened by the big boom and pieces of the stolen truck were found on the roofs of eight story buildings three blocks away.
Sterling Hall was in ruins. The physics department was completely destroyed. The chemistry department was next to ruined. Ironically, the New Year’s Eve Gang’s target, the Army Math Research Center, was only slightly damaged. Years and years of research was gone. Thirty-two other buildings on the campus were damaged.
Fassnacht was a student from South Bend, Indiana who received a Westinghouse scholarship to attend college. He was at the University of Wisconsin–Madison pursuing post-doctoral research in the field of superconductivity, which has potential applications including power distribution and high-speed trains. Fassnacht was in the lab taking care of unfinished work because he and his family were slated to leave for a vacation in San Diego, California. His lab was located in the basement of Sterling Hall. He was in the process of cooling down his dewar with liquid nitrogen when the explosion occurred. Rescuers found him face down in about a foot of water. The cause of death, determined from the autopsy, was internal trauma.
Fassnacht was survived by his wife, Stephanie, and their three children: a three-year-old son, Christopher, and twin daughters, Heidi and Karin who turned one a month after their father’s death. The family continued to live in Madison in relative quiet and anonymity for many decades after the explosion, often crossing paths with the site of their father/husband’s murder. Stephanie Fassnacht completed a long career at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, occupying an office just blocks from the site of her husband’s death. Christopher attended Harvard University and Caltech and is now a physics professor at the University of California at Davis. Heidi and Karin both graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Also injured was David Schuster, a South African graduate student, who suffered fractured ribs and a broken eardrum, amongst other injuries, and had to be dug out of the rubble by firefighters, after his professor, Henry Barschall, had to be physically restrained from going in himself. Barschall’s laboratory was destroyed by the bombing—and the records of 25 years of his research, measuring nuclear cross-sections under neutron bombardment, were destroyed, there having been no off site data storage. Schuster had been conducting an experiment on the particle accelerator in the Sterling Hall basement. Around 3:30 a.m. he walked to his office to fetch a book to read. The explosion knocked him unconscious in his office. As a result of the blast, he is deaf in one ear and has only partial hearing in the other.
Kent Miller was working as a support employee for the FBI in Oklahoma City, when in the early morning hours he received a teletype message from a colleague in Milwaukee that the university had been bombed. By 1988, Miller would coincidentally become the head of this investigation, which would become the search for Leo Burt.
Shortly after the bombing, then-Sauk County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Hiller was patrolling northwest of town and pulled over a light-colored Corvair matching the description of one seen near the blast. The four men inside said they were going camping, and Hiller let them go after a Madison police dispatcher could not send an officer to question them. “It’s one of those things where you had them in your hand, and they slipped away,” Hiller said, recalling Leo Burt wearing round glasses as a passenger in the car.
The four men stopped at Devil’s Lake and sat on a bluff after the bombing, listening to the radio. At first, when they heard that a man had died, Leo Burt allegedly wept. But then, according to Dwight Armstrong, Burt became “cold as steel”, which later writers would interpret as resulting from his absorption of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential philosophy.
The men drove towards New York, but split up in Toledo, Ohio. Fine and Burt were dropped off at a Greyhound station, and all four agreed to meet a week later in Times Square. Fine and Burt did, in fact, head to New York, but planned to get out of the country as soon as possible. Burt wrote a letter to Kaleidoscope, saying, “The destruction of AMRC was not an isolated act by ‘lunatics’ . It was a conscious action taken in solidarity with… all other heroic fighters against U.S. imperialism.” Burt also wrote his parents in Pennsylvania, telling them he was looking for journalism work in New York. “Did you hear about the explosion in Wisconsin? I didn’t get to see it, but you could hear it far away.” Burt and Fine hitched a ride to Boston, and spent a night with Fine’s sister. From there, they went to Canada.
“This I believe is a conspiracy of a small minority who do not believe in our system of government and are set to destroy our present way of life,” said Wisconsin Governor Warren P. Knowles, August 25, 1970.
On August 25, 1970, the Walworth county grand jury reconvened and began investigating the possibility that a conspiracy (to perpetrate the Sterling Hall crime) was committed in Walworth county.
On August 26, 1970, the Madison Kaleidoscope printed a front-page story entitled ‘The Bombers Tell Why and What Next-Exclusive to Kaleidoscope.’
On August 27, 1970, the editor of Kaleidoscope, Mark Knops, was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury on August 28. He did appear; but when asked questions, he asserted his Fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. He was then granted immunity and once again the questions were asked. He refused to answer and was held in contempt and sentenced to the Walworth county jail for six months, or until he answered the questions propounded by the grand jury.
Knops then petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus on the theory that he had a constitutional right under the First amendment to refuse to divulge the source or sources of information acquired by him in his capacity as a journalist. Knops contended that if he breached his promise of confidentiality, his sources would dry up and he would no longer have access to information which the public had a right to know. Consequently, the freedom of the press would be abridged and diminished. His petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied. The court, without ruling on the validity of Knops’ theory, noted that even if it were valid, it was inapplicable because the questions he had been asked (for example, Are you employed by the Madison Kaleidoscope?) did not inquire into the identity of his sources of information for the article entitled,
‘Bombers Tell Why and What Next.’
The Armstrong brothers each picked up $25 from relatives via Western Union in New York City on August 28.
On August 30, Leo Burt and David Fine had taken up room and board at the Headquarters House Hotel (283 King Street) in Peterborough, Ontario, sixty miles north of Toronto. Authorities tracked Burt to the location after he called a high school friend and asked the friend to wire him money under an assumed name. Burt and Fine fled before authorities were able to acquire a warrant on September 4.
On August 31, Terrance Donley met with his female friend and she mentioned being friends with one of the bombing suspects. The next day, he came back with two agents from the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation and had her repeat her story to them.
“In view of seriousness of this case, and possibility this bombing could trigger similar tragic consequences elsewhere, it is imperative that early solution be made in this case,” said a memo sent from the FBI director’s office on August 31. “New Left extremists have previously announced their targets include Federal buildings, FBI offices, and other law enforcement facilities.”
Just a day later, another memo updating the investigation identifies Dwight Armstrong and others, whose names were edited out, as “strong suspects” in the bombing. The memo expresses optimism for a quick resolution. “This matter appears to be drawing to conclusive point and aggressive prosecutive steps appear warranted,” the memo said. The message notes that the FBI special agent in charge, Joseph Sullivan, wanted to act aggressively “bearing in mind the deterrent aspects of a speedy solution … and the need to apprehend guilty parties before they flee the country.”
The memo instructs FBI agents to immediately contact all informants and other sources who could help identify suspects and cautions that informants should be aware the bombers may not be from Wisconsin because “most radical extremists of the New Left have a great deal of mobility.”
On September 1, 1970, the FBI conducted a search around a building in Madison and found an envelope postmarked August 28, 1970 and addressed to Elliot Silberberg. It read, “Eliot, We’re very sorry about all the hassle we’re putting you to, but we really have no other choice. Again about Leo’s room. Just pile everything anywhere and move to your attic. And also please make a short call to the telephone company to stop the service. If Karl or Dwight Armstrong calls or writes, tell them to check with Paul Bracken in Philly. (Area code 215, telephone number CL9-2626) He will get them contacts in NYC. Tell them also, that Leo’s checkbook is in the glove compartment to the car. We (Dave and Leo) are in NY with good contacts ready to head for Canada. Will get a hold of you when we get there, and when you’re in Buffalo.”
A second envelope was inside with a note written on it: “Eliot, do not put fingerprints on the note inside. Wear gloves. Mail to Kaleidoscope in unfingerprinted envelope. Or else put it in some obscure place and call them to tell them where it is. Make sure they get the note (I mean, what it says) to the media.”
A September 2 memo cites FBI sources from Minneapolis who identified the Armstrong brothers as members of the “New Years Gang,” which was also responsible for dropping homemade bombs that did not explode on the Badger Army Ammunition Depot in Baraboo on January 1, 1970. The memo also details how fertilizer was identified inside the van. It ties the Armstrongs to the Corvair seen leaving the scene and describes a letter dated two days before the bombing claiming responsibility.
On September 2, 1970, Leo Burt was indicted federally in Madison, Wisconsin. He was charged with sabotage, destruction of government property, and conspiracy.
Donley met with his female friend again on September 2, bringing with him two men he referred to as “special investigators”. She told these men about her knowledge of the bombing suspects. The next day, it was learned these men were actually reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and were now the first to break the story.
The Armstrongs were stopped on September 3 in Little Falls, New York on a routine traffic check. Dwight, who was driving, used his real drivers license, but the police were unaware of their fugitive status and let them pass. Furthermore, the car they were driving was a 1968 dark blue Pontiac GTO two-door hardtop with license plate number “GEP 37” stolen from a New York resident.
In the Daily Cardinal’s 1970 Fall Registration Issue, then-editor Rena Steinzor wrote a 3,000-word epic in an attempt to justify the bombing. This article would be denounced in the Cardinal forty years later as “immature” and “patently unacceptable”.
September 13, 1970 — an informant believed he saw a blue GTO matching the description of one stolen by the Madison bombers. He saw it on the north side of Pittsburgh near the stadium, and it contained three men.
On September 14-15, Terrance Donley was in Windsor, Ontario and suggested to law enforcement authorities there where the fugitives might be hiding out in Canada. When the information was relayed to the Buffalo FBI office an then on to Milwaukee, the information was put in doubt because of Donley’s unreliability.
September 17, 1970 — the informant called Special Agent John S. Portella to report that he saw the blue GTO again, this time filling up on gasoline at the Sunoco station at the corner of Brighton Road and Jacksonia Street on the north side of Pittsburgh. He saw three men and one woman in the car this time, and the police were able to make contact with negative results. When the FBI called the informant back to say the search was negative, he informed them that the owner of the Sunoco station was “anti-police” and his gas station was “a known hang-out for narcotics peddlers and users.”
On September 23, Knops was again found in contempt of court, and was ordered to jail for five months and seven days unless we was to purge himself from the contempt first.
During an October 1970 interview, Norbert Sutter’s left eye remained blackened and he showed the reporter the unhealed scar on his calf from a burn. His wife displayed his uniform, the pants charred and ripped and his bloody shirt sliced up the back by doctors. “You can’t imagine it,” Sutter said of the explosion.
Terrance Donley was arrested on October 4, 1970 in Ogden, Utah for driving a rental car longer than its lease allowed. He was returned to Milwaukee, but was able to successfully talk himself out of jail time. Instead, authorities had him sent to the NIMH clinic in Lexington, Kentucky in order to undergo treatment for narcotics (heroin and Demerol) abuse.
On November 6, Donley contacted the Omaha, Nebraska FBI office after apparently signing himself out of the narcotics facility. He claimed to be “a key informant” in the WISBOM case, but once Omaha contacted Milwaukee, they were told otherwise.
The police thought they had caught a break on October 31, 1970. A waitress in Cleveland, Ohio called the cop, claiming Leo Burt had eaten at her restaurant that evening. Later that same night, as the man came out of a theater, where he had seen Easy Rider, he was stopped by police with guns drawn. After an hour of questioning, the man turned out to be second-year law student Richard Routman. As of 2005, Routman was an attorney in Kansas.
Knops served three and a half months of his six month sentence before he was released by a federal district judge on Christmas Eve 1970. While in the Walworth County jail, Knops made a statement to the press. “The courts have to give newsmen the right under the First Amendment not to be dragged before investigatory bodies to tell what they know. This is how the government will be able to censor the press and control what goes in the newspapers.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed with Knops and upheld his sentence in February 1971. But, for the first time, the high court ruled that news people do have a right under the Wisconsin constitution to keep sources confidential – unless there is no other way for the authorities to learn the identities of culprits. In the case at hand, the bombers had been named by the FBI. But since they were not captured, the Supreme Court held that their identities were not certain, and the privilege did not apply.
Friday, December 10, 1971, an officer of Ross Township, outside of Pittsburgh, was monitoring traffic from the McDonalds on McKnight Road. He saw a 1970 Dodge with four individuals approach the McDonalds, and two of the men inside looked to him like the Armstrong brothers. The plate was run and came back to a 1971 Plymouth, and the owner was questioned. He admitted that he had been at McDonalds with three friends. When shown photos of the Armstrong brothers, he said that his friends — long-time Pennsylvania residents — looked nothing like the men in the photo.
The FBI tried to reached the “Negro population” in May 1971 by printing stories about the four fugitives in the magazines Bronze Thrills, Jive and Hep.
A search for the fugitives even took place in Hawaii. On May 17, 1971, a source reported to the FBI that he had searched the “jungle area” of Waikiki, a known hippie commune, and declared that such an area would not be likely to contain the suspects. Back issues of the Hawaii Free People’s Press, which went defunct in October 1970, were also scoured for communications in the personal section — none were found.
Throughout June and July 1971 the “jungle area” was repeatedly checked with no one found. On July 11, 1971, photographs were handed out to people who ran concession stands at Sandy Beach, Oahu; Waimanalo Beach; Kailua and Lanikai Beaches; Laie; and Sunset Beach. This canvassing amounted to nothing, nor did further checks in the “jungle area” up though September.
“Sometimes I still think about [the bombing]. It sends a shiver up my spine when I’m working late on Sundays,” said Paul Quin, a physics researcher injured by the bombing on August 23, 1971.
More than a year after the bombing, in a February 10, 1972, memo, the FBI updates the investigation to indicate that it appears the suspects were hiding in Canada and the greatest chance of finding them rested with “penetration of Canadian apparatus furnishing sanctuary to deserter and other so-called political criminals.”
Karl was the first to be caught. On February 16, 1972 he was found in Toronto, Canada living under an alias. (Karl served seven years of a 23-year sentence, and now runs a juice stand (“Loose Juice”) eerily close to Sterling Hall.)
A February 17 memo says an informant notified the FBI that Dwight Armstrong was in Vancouver living under the name of Stephen Scofizs Thompson but no information was available on the other two suspects.
February 18, 1972, special agents canvassed a building at 4800 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, where “various New Left groups” were known to meet. No out-of-state license plates were seen there, not did any of the people resemble the four fugitives.
March 28, 1972 photos were distributed to the Pittsburgh Free Clinic and the Allegheny County Health Department in case the fugitives came in for medical treatment.
December 14, 1972 — a search warrant was used to scour the “Ontario Farm Commune” in Gormley, Ontario. Besides the many Canadians there, some Wisconsin and Michigan residents were found, as well as many drugs.
March 9, 1973, Donald Armstrong was quoted in the Milwaukee Journal saying that neither of his sons could get a fair trial in the United States.
In October 1973, a man reported to the FBI that he had been beat up at the Twin Lakes Bar in Chanute, Kansas and thought the man looked similar to Dwight Armstrong. After being beat up, the man passed out on the ground for two hours and awoke to find his bike stolen.
Two special agents for the FBI canvassed the neighborhood of 33rd and Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee on September 12, 1973. They were specifically concerned about a three-story, gray stone apartment complex at 3200 West Wisconsin Avenue. They spoke with a representative of Real Estate Management and Investment Corporation (REMIC), who believed he had seen Dwight Armstrong recently at one of the buildings he works in. Besides this building, other apartments were at 10307 West Bluemound Road, 6030 West Florist and 6018 North 6th Street. Another representative of REMIC was shown a photograph and said, contrary to the first witness, that he had not rented an apartment to Armstrong.
On September 20, 1973, a special agent interviewed a woman in Madison who was familiar with the Ontario Farm Commune. To her knowledge, no fugitive was ever harbored there.
A December 4, 1973 memo claimed that Dwight “did not have female acquaintances and may have homosexual tendencies.”
On December 6, 1973 a photo of Dwight Armstrong was shown to people at the Tulakes Bar in Chanute, Kansas. Many people there recalled the beating incident but none of them believed that the man in question looked anything like Armstrong.
In June or July 1975, the Berkeley Barb printed a purported interview with Dwight Armstrong alleging that he was back in the United States. Shortly after this, it was reprinted in Madison newspaper Take Over and came to the FBI’s attention.
In November 1975, Dwight sold blood plasma to San Francisco Blood Plasma Center (Consolidated Biologics Corporation of California) on November 11, 14, 20, 24 and 25.
December 12, 1975, Dwight was arrested in San Diego for petty theft (stealing three pounds of cheese from the grocery store) using the name Douglas James Hardy. He was released December 15.
On January 7, 1976 David “Buzzy” Fine was captured in the anti-war enclave of San Rafael, California, in Marin County. He initially identified himself as a William Lewes and denied that he was David Sylvan Fine. He served three years.
On January 10, 1976, the FBI talked with a representative of Starks Record Shop at 211 Pine Street in San Francisco. The rep positively identified a photo of Dwight Armstrong and described him as “very meek and a little stoop-shouldered.” The rep said that Dwight had been passing out handbills for the store on November 19, 1975. Dwight was also believed to be a regular at Bacchus Kirk Bar at 925 Bush Street, but no one there recognized his photo.
The next year, on April 10, 1977, Dwight “Virgo” Armstrong was caught in Toronto, Canada. By then he had been on the run for seven years, and officials say he was so tired of living life underground, that he was almost relieved to be captured. Dwight also served time and was released.
Fine enrolled at the University of Delaware and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1981. During his senior year, Fine surveyed various states regarding bar admission requirements. In each case, Fine stated that his involvement in the bombing was of a “limited nature.” He was accepted to five law schools. Fine entered the University of Oregon School of Law in the fall of 1981. During the next three years he successfully completed his course of studies. He worked for the Public Defenders Services of Lane County, Inc., during his third year in law school and appeared in court on behalf of clients of that office. Fine graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in June of 1984. He sat for the bar examination in July of 1984, achieving a passing score.
In a 1986 interview about the attack, Karl Armstrong said, “I still feel we can’t rationalize someone getting killed, but at that time we felt we should never have done the bombing at all. Now I don’t feel that way. I feel it was justified and should have been done. It just should have been done more responsibly.”
The Milwaukee Journal had an article on May 18, 1986 where they asked various people if the sentences fit the crime. Their answers are as follows:
- Widow Stephanie Fassnacht: “I’d have to say that it was sufficient. If the purpose of confinement is to remove dangerous elements from society — and not to get revenge — they shouldn’t have been held any longer. The three haven’t conducted any of the activities that put them into confinement — and I would think they’re not likely to.”
- Ralph Hanson, UW police chief: “I’ll never forget the sight of that body being brought out of the debris — covered by a blanket. Did the perpetrators get off too easily? Ask ten people in my department and you’ll probably get ten different answers. Myself, I thought the original sentences were adequate. I thought it then, and still think that.”
- Mineral Point attorney William Dyke, Madison mayor from 1969-1973: “I got bounced out of bed by the boom and I’ll never forget walking through the ruins of that building minutes later, shocked and bewildered by the wanton destruction and the horror of death. I remember thinking: whoever did this didn’t give a damn about anything except their message. Such disregard for human life; the hospital was less than fifty yards away.”
- Federal Judge Robert Warren, attorney general from 1968-1974: “My most vivid memory is how appalled and outraged I was by what happened. What irony that young people purporting to be seeking peace would resort to such violence.”
- Norbert Sutter, former night watchman: “I really have no memory of the bombing. There’s a numbness about it; I try to put it out of mind and not think about it.”
- Assistant Attorney General Michael Zaleski: “My personal opinion is that Karleton’s sentence should not have been reduced. He and Burt were the ringleaders. Dwight was a pathetic follower and Fine was something of a Johnny-come-lately, so their involvement didn’t seem as culpable.”
In early 1987, Dwight was arrested and then later convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison for conspiring to distribute amphetamines in Monroe County, Indiana. He had pled guilty. After being released from prison in 1991, he returned to Madison and worked for Union Cab until January 2001. Also while in Madison, he tended to his mother’s health.
In 1987, after passing the Oregon Bar exam, Fine was denied admission to the Bar on the grounds that “he had failed to show good moral character.” Fine appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Oregon which upheld the decision. In the court’s decision it was written, “He has not shown himself to be a credible person and did not establish that he now has the good moral character required to practice law. We base our decision on applicant’s present statements about his past acts. We recognize that persons can and do reform. However, in this case applicant’s deceitful, self-serving conduct persisted at the time of the hearing.”
J. Barkley Rosser, 81, now a professor emeritus of mathematics and computer science at the University of Wisconsin who had served in government and had been active in professional groups, died of an aneurysm September 5, 1989 at his home in Madison, Wisconsin. Also in 1989, according to activist Paul Soglin, Karl Armstrong apologized for what the New Years Gang did to weaken the anti-war movement. What he is referencing exactly is unclear.
In a 1992 interview with The Capital Times of Madison, Dwight Armstrong stated that “My life has not been something to write home about”. He justified the bombing, stating that “We did what we had to do; we did what we felt a lot of other people should have done”, continuing that “I don’t care what public opinion is; we did what was right.” Also, “I mean, something had to be done, something dramatic, something that showed people were willing to escalate this at home as far as they were willing to escalate it in Vietnam.”
Security guard Norbert Sutter never returned to the university. He spent many years as the caretaker for Goodland Park on Lake Waubesa, not far from his home. He died January 4, 1994 at age 80.
In January 2001, Karl Armstrong purchased the Radical Rye sandwich shop at 231 State Street from Greg Frank. Armstrong described how customers will still fill out order slips and have their sandwiches custom-made. “We’re not going to wreck a good thing.” The shop would later be torn down to make room for the Overture Center.
On May 18, 2007 the University of Wisconsin–Madison unveiled a plaque on the side of Sterling Hall commemorating the bombing and Robert Fassnacht’s death. The event was attended by John D. Wiley, then Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an acquaintance of Robert Fassnacht, by current and former members of the Physics department, including chair Susan Coppersmith, and family and friends of Robert, including his daughters Heidi and Karin. The plaque reads:
IN MEMORIAM: This is the site of the Sterling Hall Bombing, which occurred at 3:40 AM on August 24, 1970. An outstanding research scientist, Dr. Robert Fassnacht, was killed in the bombing while working in his laboratory on a physics experiment studying a basic mechanism for superconductivity in metals. Three others were injured. Dr. Fassnacht was 33 years old, married, and had three young children.
On September 29, 2007, Burt was featured on the Fox television series America’s Most Wanted as the “Ghost of Wisconsin”.
Dwight Armstrong died from lung cancer on June 20, 2010 at age 58 at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin. He was survived by a daughter, Drew, and two sisters, Mira and Lorene. On August 24, some of Armstrong’s friends and family dropped his ashes from the cliffs of Devil’s Lake State Park. That would be the bombing’s 40th anniversary.
Joe Brennan Jr., a writer whose father rowed with Leo Burt at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, said he believes he is living under another identity in the St. Catharines area of Canada. He said Burt had traveled there every summer as a youngster to watch a boat race. Brennan, who hopes to publish a manuscript about Burt, said he believes Burt has been able to live underground because “he is quite simply a highly disciplined and driven individual, very unlike the other student radicals you saw from that period.”
One of the leading student activists at the time, Paul Soglin, was first elected mayor in 1973 and went on to serve six terms in two different stints. He was elected again Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Soglin chose to have his victory party at a popular campus bar called The Nitty Gritty — the same place the Sterling Hall bombers frequented as they mapped out their plot.