Characters > Historical

Inspector Thomas J. Tunney

Photo Inspector Tunney

The arrest of German spy Paul Koenig by Inspector Thomas J. Tunney is when we first meet the head of the New York City Police Department’s Bomb Squad in Fire on the Hill

Tunney is not very happy with the German military attachés, Captains von Papen and Boy-Ed, and Captain Gaunt of British Intelligence, who were playing deadly games with the neutrality of his country in his own backyard. 

With mysterious fires and bombs of various sizes and makes being found on American and Allied shipping in the New York City Harbour, he and his team of detectives have their hands full.


Inspector Thomas J. Tunney joined the New York City Police Department in 1897, when he was twenty-four. In 1904, he became interested in bomb making due to a number of mysterious explosions in New York that had caused considerable property damage.

Over the next decade he would learn about explosives from a variety of sources such as interviewing Black Handers in prison, studying blasting at DuPont, the Bureau of Mines, and the police department’s Bureau of Combustibles.

He learned about the various kinds of explosives being used, their relative strength, ingredients, how they were detonated, and the various containers being used. Equally important was the handling and disposal of unexploded bombs.

Tunney was an acting captain when Police Commissioner Arthur Woods created the Bomb Squad in August 1914. The squad was created in the aftermath of an accidental explosion in a Lexington Avenue apartment in Harlem. The explosion killed several anarchists who were building a bomb earmarked for the Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown, New York.

The Bomb Squad was intended to investigate and suppress the activities of anarchists and various organized blackmail and extortion gangs who used bombs as their weapons of choice.

As the war in Europe progressed the Bomb Squad’s investigations were expanded to include the activities of German and German-American sympathizers who were attempting to disrupt the flow of Allied shipments of food and war materials through New York City Harbour.

Sources and further reading


The Kaiser Sows Destruction - Central Intelligence Agency

CI Reader: An American Revolution Into the New Millennium, Volumes I, Office of the National Counter Intelligence Agency 


Jones, John Price and Paul Merrick Hollister. The German Secret Service In America, 1914-1918. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company Publishers, 1918.

Tunney, Thomas Joseph and Paul Merrick Hollister. Throttled! The Detection of the German and Anarchist Bomb Plotters. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1919.