N.Y. Today: Another twist in Malcolm X case

What you need to know for Thursday.

It's Thursday. We'll look at a stunning development in one of the most troubling moments of the civil rights era. We'll also look back at a reign of terror in New York City that began 81 years ago today.

Photographs by Associated Press

Almost 57 years after the assassination of the civil rights leader Malcolm X, two men who were convicted are expected to be exonerated on Thursday.

The Manhattan district attorney will file a joint motion to vacate the convictions, amending the official record and confirming longstanding doubts about who had been involved in gunning down Malcolm X in front of several hundred followers. As my colleagues Ashley Southall and Jonah E. Bromwich write, an investigation by the district attorney's office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors, the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had withheld evidence.

If the material had been turned over, the two men — lieutenants in the Nation of Islam's militia who were known at the time as Norman 3X Butler (pictured, left) and Thomas 15X Johnson (pictured, right) — might well have been acquitted at their trial in 1966.

Instead, they spent years behind bars in some of New York's toughest prisons. Both changed their names, Butler to Muhammad Aziz, Johnson to Khalil Islam.

Aziz, 83, was released in 1985, and Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009 at age 74.

"These men did not get the justice that they deserved," Cyrus Vance Jr., the district attorney, said.

Vance's decision to take a fresh look at the convictions coincided with the release of a six-part Netflix documentary, "Who Killed Malcolm X?" Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, who was the host of the program, tweeted on Wednesday that the move to clear the men was "a historic milestone."

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But the review did not identify who prosecutors now believe the assassins were. Those who were implicated in the past but never arrested have died.

Aziz and Islam worked in the Harlem mosque that Malcolm X had presided over before a falling-out with Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam. They were tried along with another man, Talmadge Hayer, who later changed his name to Mujahid Halim.

Halim denied that the two other men were involved in the murder and even signed affidavits for their appeal in the 1970s, saying that four Nation of Islam members from New Jersey had been his co-conspirators. But a judge upheld the convictions.

In the re-examination of the case, investigators found F.B.I. documents that included information implicating other possible suspects. They also interviewed a witness who was still alive, identified only as J.M., who backed up Aziz's alibi. This further suggested that Aziz had not participated in the shooting but had been at home, as he had said at the trial.

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Among experts on the assassination, it is widely believed that the first shotgun blast was fired by William Bradley, who was a member of the same Newark mosque as Halim and once served time in prison on charges that included threatening to kill three people. Halim identified the man with the shotgun as William X. Bradley, who denied any involvement and died in 2018.

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The Mad Bomber Who Held the City in Terror

George Metesky on the way to court in 1957, 16 years after he planted his first bomb.JJL/Associated Press

George Metesky was angry — angry about an on-the-job accident, about the tuberculosis he said it had brought on, angry about being denied workers' compensation.

He channeled his anger into bomb-making and a reign of terror that began 81 years ago today. He kept New York on edge until he was caught 16 years later, thanks to a pioneering use of profiling by a psychiatrist.

The author Michael Cannell wrote that Metesky "embodied everything unnerving" about the period that W.H. Auden called "the age of anxiety," the title of Auden's last long poem, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1948. Cannell said that Metesky was "like a dream distortion of postwar disquiet — unhinged, unrelenting, perpetually hidden in city shadows."

Along the way, Metesky became known as the Mad Bomber. Even before he was apprehended, newspapers used words like "psychotic" and "madman" in headlines about the bombings. Reading about the manhunt brought to mind the exhaustive dragnet for the Son of Sam killer in 1977.

Metesky planted his bombs in transportation hubs, department stores, telephone booths, storage lockers and restrooms, even in the seats at movie theaters. No one was killed in what the police said were 37 incidents, but at least 10 people were hurt. Metesky later said he had planted "more than 37, but not all of them went off."

Among the duds was Metesky's first bomb.

Metesky had been a $37.50-a-week mechanic in a Con Edison power plant when a boiler backfired and he suffered disabling injuries. His workers' compensation claim was denied — according to some accounts, because he waited too long to file it. His three appeals were also rejected.

"I had to tell my side of the story — I was compelled to do something," he said by way of explaining why he began making bombs in the garage of his family's home in Waterbury, Conn., where he lived off money inherited from his father, a night watchman, and an allowance from his two sisters.

He left the first bomb outside a Con Edison power plant on the Upper West Side with a note that said "Con Edison Crooks — this is for you."

Almost a year went by before he planted his second bomb, another dud. He took a hiatus during World War II "because of patriotism," he said, but his anger did not subside.

The police, frustrated at being outwitted, eventually enlisted Dr. James Brussel, a garrulous psychiatrist who was an assistant commissioner of the Department of Mental Hygiene. Cannell writes that Brussel had published psychoanalyses of Charles Dickens, Mary Todd Lincoln and Vincent van Gogh and had composed "reams of crossword puzzles" for The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune.

After reading the case file, Brussel told the police that they were looking for a heavyset man who lived in Connecticut — a middle-aged, foreign born and unmarried Roman Catholic who lived with a female relative. Brussel also said that when the police caught the bomber, "he will be wearing a double-breasted suit and it will be buttoned."

Metesky fit the bill when Con Edison searched its files of ex-employees. And when the police descended on the Meteskys' house in Waterbury, they found a 54-year-old Polish-born Catholic in a bathrobe.

After acknowledging that he was the bomber, Metesky went to his bedroom to change out of the bathrobe for the ride to New York. He put on a double-breasted suit. When he came out of the bedroom, it was buttoned.

As many accounts of the arrest have noted, Brussel was wrong on only one detail. Metesky lived with not one female relative, but two.

Metesky was found unfit to stand trial and sent to a state hospital for the criminally insane without trial. Released in 1973, he returned to Connecticut, where he died in 1994.

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METROPOLITAN DIARY

Crosstown bus

Dear Diary:

One day, I arrived at a client's office at 80th Street and East End Avenue and was shocked to discover that my wallet was missing. I remembered I had put it on my lap to read a phone number while making a call on the M79.

As I tried to reached the M.T.A.'s lost and found, I got a call from the bus driver. Someone had turned in my wallet. We proceeded to spend about two hours trying to schedule a meeting somewhere on his route. Eventually, we agreed to meet at Fifth Ave and 79th Street.

My wife and I arrived just as the bus pulled in. After the passengers boarded, I got on and introduced myself.

The driver handed me the wallet with everything intact. I asked him what I could give him in return. He said he could not accept a reward.

"You're an angel," my wife said as we left.

"That's my name," he said.

Arthur King

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

Melissa Guerrero, Jeffrey Furticella, Rick Martinez and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.

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