Being part of the story: #1

This story, and the next one I post, may be the strangest series of events that I ever encountered as a reporter. Someone planted a bomb in the offices of the Central Maine Power Co. in Augusta, Maine one day in 1976 — not exactly a common situation in rural Maine. The next day my office phone rang, and a voice said: “This is the Fred Hampton Unit of the People’s Forces.” The man, speaking quickly and allowing no opportunity for questions, claimed credit for the CMP bombing and hung up. I stood there with the dead phone in my hand for a minute or so, not knowing what to do. An operator finally came on the line and asked, “Are you through, sir?” I told her not to disconnect the line and that the FBI would be calling her directly. She gave me a number to call, and I called the FBI in Portland and told them what happened. The call was traced to a phone booth in South Portland. The bombers were part of a left-wing cell of radical former prison inmates who spent several months planning and carrying out a number of bombings in New England. When we think of terrorists, we tend to think of the events of 9/11 and thereafter. But terrorism has been with us for many, many years.

 

By ARTHUR FREDERICK

PORTLAND, Maine (UPI) – The composite picture which had been prepared by an FBI artist did the trick.

The new Central Maine Power Co. offices on Edison Drive in Augusta had been rocked by two blasts on May 11.

Injuries were avoided only because the workers were evacuated after a threat had been telephoned to the CMP switchboard just moments before the blast.

Letters left at the a Kennebec Journal and mailed to UPI indicated that the bombings had been carried out by the Fred Hampton Unit of the Peoples Forces, a self-styled revolutionary group which claimed that CMP was singled out because of its efforts to secure a rate increase from the Public Utilities Commission.

The day after the bombing, a person identifying himself as a member of the Fred Hampton Unit called UPI. The call was traced to a telephone booth outside a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in South Portland.

FBI agents from Augusta, Portland and Boston arrived at the CMP offices and began sifting through rubble and interviewing workers. The letters and pieces of the debris from the bombing were sent to the FBI laboratory in Washington.

The FBI agents began interviewing workers at the CMP offices. Some of the workers recalled seeing two young men walking around the new building several hours before the bombs went off.

The agents asked the employees about the two men. The descriptions of one were unclear; the CMP employees couldn’t agree on his appearance.

But the workers did remember the other man. They said he had a thin face, a pointed nose, a moustache and chin stubble.

The FBI artists came up with a drawing of a thin-faced man with a knit cap pulled over his ears. The picture was distributed to Maine newspapers and wire services, and telephone calls began coming in.

The FBI received more than 40 calls.

John Kenoyer, special agent in charge of the FBI office Augusta office, said several callers had identified the same person. At the same time, Kenoyer simply said the investigation was continuing, and while several callers identified the same man, several men were identified by more than one caller.

The FBI sketch, however, never had to be distributed to the newspapers. Agent Harold Jones of the Portland office took a look at the sketch and realized he had seen the face before.

The face, Jones thought, belonged to Richard Piccariello, 27, of Portland, who had recently been released from Maine State Prison after serving part of a term for the armed robbery of a bank in Limerick in 1971.

Piccariello’s photograph was shown to a number of CMP workers who had seen the alleged bombers the day of the blast. A number of them said they were sure that Piccariello was the man in the office building the day of the bombings.

Piccariello was living in an apartment at 46 Cushman St. in Portland. The FBI began watching him and others who frequented the apartment.

“A number of witnesses felt his photos resembled the person in the building,” said Joseph Yablonsky, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office. “”We operated on the theory that Piccariello was a suspect, and that brought close attention to his associates.”

July 3, the eve of the nations’ Bicentennial celebration, would have been a logical time for revolutionary acts. The FBI had two cars out the night of July 3, watching 46 Cushman St.

A black 1971 Plymouth pulled away from the apartment. Headed through Portland and turned south on the Maine Turnpike. The two unmarked FBI cars fell in behind at a discreet distance and followed.

Each car contained FBI agents. Each car also carried one State Police trooper; Al Treadwell, former Gov. Kenneth Curtis’ one-time bodyguard was in one car, and Paul Hooper was in the other.

The black Plymouth moved out of Mane, through New Hampshire and into Massachusetts. A few miles after entering Massachusetts, it turned off the turnpike and headed towards Topsfield. The two FBI cars followed.

“The surveillance was delicate in that we had to be close enough but discreet enough,” Yablonsky said. “When the Plymouth got to Topsfield, it went through a series of evasive tactics, and began pulling u-turns.”

The FBI cars managed to stay out of sight, and in a few moments the Plymouth pulled to the side of Route 1.

Two of the three occupants got out in a wooded area,, which was just a short walk through the woods from the Topsfield barracks of the Massachusetts State Police. The Plymouth pulled away.

The quiet surveillance which had been going on for several hours ended a few moments later. The driver spotted the FBI cars, and bolted away.

Th4e agents in one vehicle stopped to go after the two men who had headed into the woods. The other car took off after the Plymouth

The chase lasted for nearly 15 minutes. Both cars swerved for more than 10 miles along the old road at speeds which exceeded 100 miles per hour.

The chase ended quickly. The car containing the FBI agents swerved and careened into a sign post.

It appeared that Plymouth, traveling at a high rate of speed, had swerved hard to the left.

The car smashed into a 12-inch tree, snapping it off at the base. It then raced through the front door of an old barn, smashed through a cement interior wall, and skidded out the back door before wedging itself between two trees.

Local police found the wrecked Plymouth a few hours later, just a few miles from where the FBI car smashed into the sign post.

(It may seem to you that this story ended pretty abruptly, and you would be right. The newspaper apparently didn’t have room for the final paragraphs I had written, so it simply cut them off. I always wished newspaper editors carried out this chore with more care, perhaps finding paragraphs in the middle of the story that could be excised. At any rate, I don’t have the final paragraphs, but I do know that Joey Aceto was driving the black Plymouth and that he had 48 sticks of dynamite under the driver’s seat when he crashed through the barn, the cement wall and then into the two trees out back. All those collisions probably should have ignited the dynamite and launched Joey into the next county, but somehow they did not and Joey was able to escape.)

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