30 years later | The saga of the Harvey’s bombing | TahoeDailyTribune.com

30 years later | The saga of the Harvey’s bombing

Phillip Sublett
FBI / Tahoe Douglas Bomb SquadDebris showers the parking lot of Harvey's Resort Hotel following the explosion on Aug. 27, 1980.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – In the summer of 1980, Harvey’s Resort Hotel and Casino, along the California border in Stateline, Nevada, became the site of the largest domestic bombing in U.S. history. It would continue to hold that distinction for more than a decade, until the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

But, unlike later notorious bombings, this was not an act of terrorism, nor an attempt to kill anyone. The bomb was placed in the casino as part of an extortion attempt.

In exchange for $3 million in cash, the bomber promised to give Harvey Gross, the owner of the casino, the instructions to safely disarm and move the bomb out of the casino.

Read the Tribune’s three-part series recounting the events below.

John Birges had all the makings of an arch-villain from a James Bond

movie: He was a brilliant inventor and businessman with a fondness for

betting large sums of money at the blackjack tables; he was a ruthless

perfectionist who would not tolerate weakness in those around him, even

his own family; he even had an authentic Hungarian accent.

And, like an over-the-top movie antagonist, he would construct an

unstoppable doomsday weapon that he planned to use as the centerpiece

in an overly complicated plot to extort $3 million from Harvey’s Resort

Hotel in Stateline.

By the time Special Agent Joe Cook landed his FBI helicopter in the

Heavenly Valley parking lot, around 11 p.m. on Aug. 26, 1980, it had

already been more than 17 hours since a 1,000-pound bomb was found with

an extortion note on the second floor of Harvey’s Resort Hotel in


The assembled bomb experts were running out of options more than 24

hours after the improvised explosive device had been found on the

second floor of Harvey’s Resort Hotel in Stateline.


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