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HOLMBERG: Bombings in the Richmond area – a short history

Posted at 12:30 AM, Apr 19, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - There’s no question, the bombing in Boston could’ve happened anytime, anywhere.

That sense of randomness – an omnipresent threat – has triggered bomb scares and heightened fear across the land.

It’s natural.

But also not very logical, as Mister Spock on “Star Trek” might say.

Yes, there have been plenty of bombings during the past 100 years in bigger, organized-crime cities like New York and Boston, such as the deliberate Beantown railroad station blast in 1958 that unsuccessfully targeted a train boss.

But smaller towns like Richmond have been largely spared of explosive attacks, outside of the Civil War.

Yes, there have been plenty of horrible explosions here, mostly due to city gas mishaps or accidental ammonia storage tank blasts.

But deliberate acts fill a small file.

A 1936 deadly letter bomb mailed from Richmond was a big story for weeks.

In 1981, a car bombing in Richmond was allegedly set by a competing businessman.

In 1983, another car bomb maimed a Petersburg man. It took weeks for police to make an arrest.

By 1970, President Nixon was warning about acts of terrorism, and any kind of explosive – even those made my kids – became a huge no-no.

That’s why bottle and pipe bombs made by children or teens always bring a huge response. It was front page news here even in the 1950s.

It’s why every area has a bomb squad and explosive sniffing dogs.

One of the more serious bombings here occurred in the Fan, on the northeast corner of Floyd and Harrison, 40 years ago.

Roy Scherer lived right down the street, at 1323 Floyd Avenue, at the time. “About 2, 2:30 in the morning we heard a loud boom and felt the concussion,” he recalled. He and a friend “looked at each other and said that wasn’t a gunshot or a firecracker.”

“Come to find out later that Billy Tuggle, who was an acquaintance . . . had gone into the little basement entrance of what used to be the First Unitarian Church and was at that time, I believe, the First and Merchants Bank and set off a couple of sticks of dynamite,” Scherer said.

The actual type of bomb is somewhat in dispute. Tuggle, who went to prison for it and called himself “the most hated man in Richmond,” died nine summers ago. (His offbeat character was such that the Roundhouse in Byrd Park was filled to capacity for his memorial service, many of those present speaking warmly of his obnoxiousness.)

A family member described it more as a bottle bomb.

Dana Frostick, a former girlfriend, said Tuggle himself said it was C-4 explosive that he used on the bank and, later, to blow up a bus at VCU’s Shafer Court.

“He said some military guy he was trying to sell some weed to traded him for some C-4,” she recalled.

“He didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Frostick said. “He thought it was fun to make a really short fuse and then run away and he’d be close enough to the bomb where it would throw him through the air and it would actually turn him on.”

“After they arrested him they searched his apartment he was in – somewhere in the Fan – and he said it was under a sink and they didn’t find it,” she recalled. If Tuggle wasn’t fudging on the truth – which he was known to do, she said – that C-4 could still be under someone’s sink.

Yes, there could be someone in the area much more diabolical. Clearly, it could happen anywhere.

But it we allow ourselves to live in fear,  the freak – or freaks – behind the Boston Marathon bombings will score another blow.

So keep your eyes open, but also your hearts, And try to keep all this in perspective.