Researcher Killed in Mostly Peaceful Bombing
The University of Wisconsin – Madison was a hotbed of anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam War. The University saw multiple protests that lead to violent clashes with police.
Sterling Hall, the University’s research building was home to the Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC). This center had been sponsored by the US Army since 1959.
By 1970’s several protests had garnered national attention and students had turned their ire towards the Army’s presence on the campus. Students had already protested ROTC being on campus and now they turned their attention to the AMRC. Numerous protests decried the presence of the theoretical mathematics center at the University.
Early in the morning of August 24, 1970, a massive explosion shook the campus. A Ford Econoline Van had been stolen from a professor and used as a bomb. 2,000lbs of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil had been packed into the van and detonated outside of Sterling Hall.
The bomb caused significant damage to the building. Apparently unbeknownst to the bombers, a researcher was in the building’s basement. Robert Fassnacht, who was not affiliated with AMRC, was catching up on some work before going on vacation. He was killed in the blast, dying of massive trauma as the bomb ripped through the building.
The FBI started an immediate investigation. Parts of the van were scattered over blocks and 26 nearby buildings were damaged. A meticulous recovery operation was started in the hopes of gaining information about the perps.
The FBI was able to identify the four people responsible for the bombing. Three of the perps were students at the University. Karleton Armstrong was a radical who had committed earlier acts of violence. He was captured in Toronto in 1972. His brother Dwight Armstrong was also implicated and on the run. After spending time with the SLA he was arrested in 1977. David Fine was a writer for the campus newspaper. He was captured in 1976. These three were convicted and sentenced to between 7 and 23 years in federal prison.
The fourth perp involved in the bombing was Leo Burt. Burt also worked at the campus newspaper. Burt fled to Canada after the bombing and is still on the run. The FBI is still hunting Burt, but so far there has been no leads.
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