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Who was the Kenora bomber?: W5 digs up clues that could reveal his identity

Emails from viewers remain one of the top avenues for your story ideas to become W5 investigations. That’s exactly what happened in the case of the mysterious Kenora Bomber.

A masked gunman attempted to rob a Kenora bank in 1973. He didn't get far. (Don Dutton/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Almost a year ago, I got an email from Joe Ralko. Joe is a former Canadian Press journalist and an author. And he told me a story that not only floored me, but made we wonder why everyone doesn’t know it. It’s a story he knows well because he saw it unfold with his own eyes and then he wrote a book about it.

It goes something like this:

Back in 1973, a masked man walked into the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (back then they didn’t call it CIBC) in downtown Kenora and told the manager he was robbing the bank. Kenora is a small Ontario city near the Manitoba border. Things like this didn’t happen in Kenora.

The robber ordered the customers out and that caught the attention of folks across the street at the radio station, CJRL. Within minutes, two broadcasters were hanging out their windows and relaying a live play-by-play of what they saw. In 1973, OJ Simpson car chase-style journalism was very rare. And the result was predictably chaotic.

Despite the radio hosts’ pleas to stay away from downtown, it had the opposite effect. Hundreds descended on downtown to watch the robbery. Parents picked up their kids from school to drop them off to watch the robbery.

They may have made a different choice had they known what some police knew: that the bomber was not only armed with two guns, but he had a bag filled with dynamite and – in his mouth a “dead-man’s switch” – a crude detonator that would trigger the bomb if he was to become incapacitated.

Kenora Const. Don Milliard was injured when a robber exploded after an attempted bank heist. He's being comforted by Const. Ken Richardson. (Don Dutton/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

What happened next is seared into the memories of almost everyone at the scene. The robber stepped outside the bank, a police officer shot him and… he exploded. Disintegrated. Pieces of him, mingled with singed money filled the air and landed on the spectators.

That alone is a fascinating story – after all, W5 procured the live radio broadcast tape, the coroner’s jury documents and a slew of witness memories. There is also ample old film and photos from a W5 story produced 40 years ago!

The RCMP unidentified list shows the sparse details known about the Kenora bank robber.

But here’s the twist: to this day – more than 50 years later – nobody knows who the bomber is. He remains unidentified. Somebody disappeared from the face of the earth back in 1973 and to this day, nobody has claimed his body. Why not?

The W5 investigation digs for answers, for DNA and for an answer to the question everyone in Kenora wants to know: who was the Kenora Bomber?

Watch 'The Mystery Bomber', Friday 10/9c on CTV’S W5 Top Stories

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