Before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the extortion attempt that resulted in an explosion at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel in August 1980 was the biggest instance of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
The bomb, created by gambler John Birges after he was kicked out of the high roller suite at the casino.
The explosion resulted in the formation of the Tahoe-Douglas Bomb Squad.
A documentary on the bombing is being streamed on the Hearst Corp. platform “Very Local.”
KCRA Special Projects Producer-Reporter Dave Manoucheri said the documentary features interviews with retired FBI agent Bill Jonkey and retired bomb squad member Danny Daniehl.
Manoucheri and co-director Victor Nieto interviewed many of those involved, including Harvey Gross’ grandson – who had never spoken about the bombing before – and the bomber’s son, Jim Birges.
“As part of (the ‘Very Local’) launch in Sacramento they asked about programs we might want to collaborate on for exclusive content for the streaming platform,” Manoucheri said. “The Harvey’s bombing was certainly one of the craziest and best stories I could imagine.”
Minden resident Jay Aldrich was photographing the scene for The Record-Courier when the explosion occurred.
The 1,000-pound bomb Birges constructed was wheeled into Harvey’s executive offices on Aug. 26, 1980, disguised as an IBM computer, including a logo.
With the bomb, Birges left a note offering instructions on how to dismantle it in exchange for $3 million.
But while Birges’ bomb was proof against efforts to disarm it, his plan to collect the money fell apart for want of a 12-volt car battery.
After the drop failed, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, bomb squad and FBI agents made the decision on Aug. 27, 1980, to try to disarm the device using a shaped charge.
Most of the casino core, crowded with Labor Day vacationers, was evacuated. All the Harveys guests were taken to Whittell High School.
“It is an amazing story, full of characters, with lots of information, funny moments, and fascinating insight into not only what happened but the lessons that continue to be taught by a crazy bombing and extortion plot that, thankfully, saw no one killed or injured,” Manoucheri said.
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