Luke Helder

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Luke Helder
Helder's FBI mugshot
Lucas John Helder

(1981-05-05) May 5, 1981 (age 38)
Criminal statusIncompetent to stand trial, committed to Federal Bureau of Prisons mental health center
Criminal chargeMailbox pipe bombing

Lucas John "Luke" Helder (born May 5, 1981) is a former University of Wisconsin–Stout student from Pine Island, Minnesota, who earned notoriety as the Midwest Pipe Bomber in May 2002.


While attending the University of Wisconsin–Stout and living in an apartment in Menomonie, Wisconsin, Helder planned to plant pipe bombs in mailboxes across the United States to create a smiley face shape on the United States map;[1] the bombs, which were packed with BBs and nails, were rigged to explode as the mailboxes were opened. Completed and rigged bombs were found in Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Illinois and Iowa. In Iowa, six people, including four mail carriers, were injured when the bombs detonated.[2] Ultimately, Helder planted 18 bombs and covered 3,200 miles,[3] he was eventually captured in rural Nevada before he managed to complete the full smile. At the time of his arrest, police were looking for an unknown suspect driving a black Honda Accord and newspapers reported that he was wearing a Kurt Cobain T-shirt;[4] the bombings were heavily covered by the United States media.

Writings and theories[edit]

Helder performing with Apathy in his hometown of Pine Island, Minnesota

While Helder was not at the top of his college class, his teachers described him as a reasonably good, quiet and polite student, and at first there was confusion as to what the motivation for the bombings could be.[3] Within the year prior to his arrest, Helder had become passionate about astral projection techniques and came to believe that death of the flesh and body is not the end of existence, as evidenced by the manifesto he sent to The Badger Herald of the University of Wisconsin–Madison at the beginning of the bombing spree;[3] the essay also includes statements such as

"I'm taking very drastic measure in attempt to provide this information to you... I will die/change in the end for this, but that's ok, hahaha paradise awaits! I'm dismissing a few individuals from reality, to change all of you for the better"[5][6]

Notes attached to the bombs went on to denounce government control over daily lives, deny that anyone who had died was really dead, and promised more of the same kind of message.[3]


In April 2004, a federal judge found Helder incompetent to stand trial.[7] While a judge could free Helder if doctors find he is not a threat to society, legal experts doubt this possibility due to the violent nature of his crimes, he has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.[8]

In 2013, a federal judge ordered Helder re-evaluated for competency to stand trial.[9] Helder remains incarcerated in the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota.[10]

Musical background[edit]

Prior to his bombing spree, Helder was a member of Apathy, a Rochester, Minnesota, three-piece grunge band. Although the band was successful only on a local scale, it recorded a CD named Sacks of People at the end of their first summer together, which they funded and released themselves.

When the news broke that Helder was the pipe bomber, the media made significant mention of his status as a musician.[11] Many music critics scrambled to acquire copies of Apathy's CD, some of which were auctioned on eBay for as much as $200.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Who Might Be Behind The Austin Bombings?". Texas Public Radio. March 20, 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  2. ^ "2002 Annual Report of Investigations: Violent Crime". USPS Website. 2002. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
  3. ^ a b c d Reaves, Jessica. "Person of the Week: Lucas Helder." Time May 9, 2002 [1]
  4. ^ "Dad aids son's capture". Leader-Telegram. Eau Claire Press Company. 2002. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
  5. ^ "Pipe Bomb Suspect's Grungy Past". The Smoking Gun. May 7, 2002. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  6. ^ Lagorio, Christine. "News Analysis: Newspapers receipt of shady mail a daily occurrence." The Badger Herald May 10, 2002
  7. ^ Van Hyfte, Vanessa (2004). "Helder not fit to stand trial". WQAD Report. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  8. ^ Foley, Ryan (2013-05-18). "Victim of mailbox bombing hopes suspect gets well". Post Bulletin. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  9. ^ staff (May 15, 2013). "Minnesotan in 2002's 'smiley face bomber' case could finally face trial". Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  10. ^ Vanessa (April 6, 2004). "Experts say mailbox bomb suspect unlikely to be freed soon". WQAD Report. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
  11. ^ Feldman, Charles (May 9, 2002). "Feds: Suspect admitted pipe bomb spree". Archived from the original on November 17, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-17.

External links[edit]