Jack Gilbert Graham
|Born||John Gilbert Graham
January 23, 1932
|Died||January 11, 1957
Colorado State Penitentiary
Cañon City, Colorado
|Cause of death||Execution|
|Spouse(s)||Gloria A. Elson|
|Parent(s)||William H. Graham and Daisie E. Walker|
|Motive||Life insurance money|
|Date||November 1, 1955
|Target(s)||Mother and passengers|
John "Jack" Gilbert Graham (January 23, 1932 – January 11, 1957) was a mass murderer who killed his mother and 43 other people by planting a dynamite bomb in his mother's suitcase that was traveling with her aboard United Airlines Flight 629. Graham's apparent motive for the bombing was to claim $37,500 ($331,300 today) worth of life insurance money from policies he purchased in the airport terminal just before the aircraft's departure.
United Airlines Flight 629 was using a Douglas DC-6B airliner (named "Mainliner Denver") on the evening of November 1, 1955. The flight had originated at New York City's LaGuardia Airport, making a stop in Chicago before continuing to Denver; it then took off from Denver, Colorado's Stapleton Airfield (later changed to Stapleton Airport), bound for Portland, Oregon, with continuing service to Seattle, Washington. The pilot was Lee Hall, a World War II veteran.
Minutes after the plane's departure from Denver, the DC-6B exploded and the flaming wreckage fell to earth over tracts of farmland and sugar beet fields near Longmont, Colorado. There were no survivors.
Graham's mother, Daisie King, a passenger on Flight 629, was traveling to Alaska to visit her daughter. Graham's apparent motive for the bombing was to claim $37,500 ($331,300 today) worth of life insurance money from policies he purchased in the airport terminal just before the aircraft's departure. (Flight insurance could be routinely purchased in vending machines at airports into the 1980s.)
Arrest and confessions
Investigators determined that Graham had a criminal record for embezzlement by check forgery and illegal transport of whiskey. They also determined that King's restaurant had been severely damaged by "a suspicious explosion" earlier that year, and that Graham had received the insurance settlement. Locals also suspected Graham of deliberately causing his new pick-up truck to be struck by a train that year, in order to collect the insurance. Based on interviews, contradictory statements, physical evidence found at Graham's house, and a confession, Graham was arrested and charged with sabotage. The charge was later changed to murder.
After Graham's arrest, Denver radio station KDEN owner Gene Amole and Rocky Mountain News photographer Morey Engle arranged to sneak a camera into the old Denver County Jail on West Colfax Avenue for an interview of Graham during a reunion with his wife Gloria. "I loved my mother very much", Graham told Amole. "She meant a lot to me. It's very hard for me to tell exactly how I feel. She left so much of herself behind." When Amole asked him why he had signed a confession, he said the FBI had threatened to point out inconsistencies in statements made by his wife Gloria when she was interviewed by the authorities. "I was not about to let them touch her in any way, shape or form", he said. None of the Denver TV stations would agree to air the film, however. Amole said he believed it was because they feared it "might engender pretrial[clarification needed] sympathy for Graham. The FBI, United Airlines and the district attorney wanted Graham tried, found guilty, and executed promptly as a deterrent to others who might plan copycat murders", Amole wrote in a 1995 column in the Rocky Mountain News. Decades later, the footage was eventually aired on one of Denver's local PBS stations in a documentary called "Murder in Midair", produced by Don Kinney.
However, Graham also confirmed on a number of occasions that he had made and set the bomb. He described the bomb in detail, details that were confirmed by investigators. Graham also told prison doctors that he “realized that there were about 50 or 60 people carried on a DC6, but the number of people to be killed made no difference to me; it could have been a thousand. When their time comes, there is nothing they can do about it.”
Trial and execution
The trial that followed resulted in Colorado becoming the first state to officially sanction the use of television cameras to broadcast criminal trials. There was no federal statute on the books at the time (1955) that made it a crime to blow up an airplane. Therefore, on the day after Graham's confession, the Colorado district attorney moved swiftly to prosecute Graham via the simplest possible route: premeditated murder committed against a single victim - his mother, Mrs King. Thus, despite the number of victims killed on Flight 629 along with Mrs King, Graham was charged with only one count of first degree murder.
As the case progressed, Graham quickly recanted his confession, but at his 1956 trial his defense was unable to counter the massive amount of evidence presented by the prosecution. In February 1956 he attempted suicide in his cell, and was thereafter put under 24-hour surveillance.
He was convicted of the murder of his mother on May 5, 1956, and was executed in the Colorado State Penitentiary gas chamber on January 11, 1957. Before his execution, he said about the bombing, "As far as feeling remorse for these people, I don't. I can't help it. Everybody pays their way and takes their chances. That's just the way it goes."
The story was the basis for Lenny Bruce's 1958 routine "Non Skeddo Flies Again": "I talk about a John Graham. He blew up a plane with forty people and his mother and for that the States sent him to the Gas Chamber proving, actually, that the American people are losing their sense of humor... You just think about it, anybody who blows up a plane with forty people and his mother can't be all bad."
The case was the basis for the 1960 "Fire in the Sky" episode of M Squad.
The book Mainliner Denver: The Bombing of Flight 629 by Andrew J. Field (Johnson Books, 2005) was published on the 50th anniversary of the bombing.
- "Jack Gilbert Graham". Famous Cases & Criminals. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Retrieved January 30, 2015.
- "No. 004: Time Bomb". A Crime to Remember. Discovery Communications. 2013. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
- Gado, Mark. "Sabotage: The Downing of Flight 629". Crime Library.
- Amole, Gene (October 29, 1995). "EXPLOSIVE PRECEDENTS COLORADO AIRLINE BOMBING 40 YEARS AGO RESULTED IN FIRST TV COURTROOM COVERAGE". Rocky Mountain News. Denver, Colorado. (registration required (. ))
- Mainliner Denver: The Bombing of Flight 629 by Andrew J. Field (Johnson Books, 2005)