At 7:23 p.m. on Oct. 26, 1935, 2-year-old William Shea was asleep in his crib when a tremendous explosion blew in his bedroom window and peppered his blanket with needle-sharp glass shards. Young William was unhurt, but 12 windows in his family’s house were shattered as were most of the windows in residences up and down the 3900 block of Murray Avenue in Shorewood.
Dust and smoke swirled in the air as neighbors ran from their homes seeking the cause of the intense blast. Dynamite! No mistaking the sweetish smell or the headache-inducing nitroglycerine fumes.
A fire truck emerged from the combined police and fire station across the street from the Shea residence and started sweeping a spotlight across the buildings. As the light swept across the facade of the 1908 village hall, a woman suddenly pointed to a jagged hole in the building’s foundation.
Glass littered the street and glistened like snow. – The Milwaukee Journal, Oct. 27, 1935
The bomb, estimated at five sticks of dynamite, tore a two-feet-wide hole through the concrete veneer finish and the underlying bricks of the foundation, and blew an interior basement door off its hinges. The blast also ripped through a tall white column at the entryway, wrecked an ornate chandelier, shattered all the windows on two sides of the building, and uprooted young pine trees and shrubbery around the foundation.
Authorities had no difficulty guessing where the bomb materials had come from. Earlier that month 150 pounds of dynamite, 300 detonating caps, and 200 feet of fuse cord had been stolen from a Civilian Conservation Corps explosives bunker near the Estabrook Park dam construction project.
It was the first of a series of bombings that terrorized Milwaukee for nine days in the fall of 1935.
The following night, October 27, two branch offices of the First Wisconsin National Bank were targeted. The first bomb tore a large hole through the wall through the branch at 3602 N. Villard Ave. and shattered every window in the building. A half-hour later, a second blast ripped a hole in the parking lot of the branch at the intersection of North Farwell Street and East North Avenue on Milwaukee’s East Side.
The first three attacks struck buildings that had closed for the evening. That pattern changed at 6:45 p.m. on October 31st, Halloween evening, when a garage wall blew in at the Fifth District Police Station at North Third Street and Hadley Avenue. Three vehicles were destroyed by flying bricks and station windows, including those of interior office doors, shattered, as were residential windows up and down the street.
Across the alley, Mrs. Sophia Mitterhausen, 79, was seated by a window in her home. She saw the flash of light, then was hurled to the floor, and, recovering from shock, found the windows and walls of her home wrecked by the explosion. — The Milwaukee Sentinel, Nov. 1, 1935
Eleven minutes later it was turn of the Third District Station at 12th Street and Vine Avenue. Here the bomb had been placed on an exterior window sill of the radio testing room, which was demolished in the ensuing blast.
To cover their tracks, the bombers stopped at a series of fire department call boxes to send false alarms. The numerous alarms had police and fire vehicles racing back and forth across the near North Side for an hour.
The dozen police officers and a total of 10 prisoners inside the two buildings had a narrow escape. The only casualty was a nearby resident cut by a piece of flying glass.
The next blast would be far more deadly.
At 2:40 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3, 1935, 9-year-old Patricia Mylnarek was inside her house at 2117-B West Mitchell St., when the garage next door exploded. Every single building in the block boarded by South 21st Street and South 22nd Street and West Mitchell and West Maple streets was damaged in the blast. Stained-glass windows at the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church at the corner of West Mitchell and South 21st were blown out.
The Mylnarek home partially collapsed. When rescuers arrived at the scene, they found Patricia’s lifeless body in the wreckage. Her mother and 4-year-old sister were severely injured.
Also killed were Hugh Frank “Idzy” Rutkowski, a 21-year-old unemployed mechanic, small-time criminal, and alleged gang leader along with his 16-year-old accomplice, Paul “Shrimp” Chovonec. The two had been at work in the rented garage assembling their most powerful bomb yet when it detonated, literally blowing the men to bits. Police estimated 40 sticks of dynamite exploded.
No clear explanation for Rutkowski’s actions was ever determined. Some said he was angered by his inability to find work as the great depression entered its sixth year, others said he simply lost his mind. Perhaps he was just a thug and a bully who thought fear equaled respect.
A few days later, 1,400 people crowded into St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church for Patricia Mylnarek’s funeral service. Outside, 1,000 more waited, unable to get in. Six girls from the church’s school – where Patricia had been a third grader – served as pallbearers.
As for the two bombers, the Milwaukee Journal reported they were buried in a single coffin, as it was impossible to determine which body parts belonged to which man.
The nine-day Milwaukee bombing spree was over.