Charles Renfrew Thomson, a federal firearms and explosives investigator, died on July 3 of cardiovascular collapse. He was 61.
Born in Manhattan and raised in Amesbury, Mass., Thomson was a descendant of Josiah Bartlett, a founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Thomson earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College, then served in the U.S. Army for three years. He attained the rank of captain and was put in charge of a helicopter gunship platoon in Vietnam. After the war, Thomson worked surveillance along the border between East and West Germany to monitor for the possible deployment of nuclear warheads.
In 1971, Thomson joined the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as an undercover field agent in Boston. He worked his way up to a supervisory position in Philadelphia, led the A.T.F.’s first arson task force, solved a string of bombing attacks on 10 abortion clinics and handled money laundering, tax fraud and financial security cases as the bureau’s liaison to Assistant Deputy Treasury Secretary for Law Enforcement William Nickerson.
From 1989 to 1993, Thomson ran the A.T.F.’s New York field office, which was located right across the street from the World Trade Center complex. Just as he was leaving work on Feb. 26, 1993, Thomson heard a massive explosion. Needless to say, he was one of the first investigators on the scene when a bomb planted inside a van exploded in the underground parking garage below Tower One. Six people died in that attack.
Thomson’s A.T.F. team in New York joined forces with local, state and federal law enforcement personnel to search the debris for clues to the bombers’ identities. Their dogged investigation led to the 1994 convictions of Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad Ajaj. All four men received life sentences. In 1995, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a cleric who preached at mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey City, was sentenced to life in prison for masterminding the bombing.
After the World Trade Center attack, Thomson was promoted to associate director for law enforcement at A.T.F. headquarters in Washington D.C., a position that gave him purview over all field officers in five headquarters divisions. Two years later, he assumed oversight of the bureau’s investigation into the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, for which he earned the Presidential Rank Award.
Thomson returned to Massachusetts as director and special agent in charge of the Boston division in 1998, and retired in 1999. His final years were spent working as an antiterrorism, security and crisis management consultant.