What's left of a United
Air Lines DC-6B airliner after Jack Gilbert Graham placed a bomb
aboard in his mother's luggage in order to collect a $37,500 life
insurance policy on her. All 44 people aboard were killed. He showed
no remorse for the crime and was executed a year later. (November 1,
John "Jack" Gilbert Graham
(January 23, 1932 – January 11, 1957) was a mass murderer who killed
44 people by planting a dynamite bomb in his mother's suitcase that
was subsequently loaded aboard United Airlines Flight 629.
Flight 629 was utilizing a Douglas DC-6B airliner that took off from
Denver, Colorado's Stapleton Airport, bound for Portland, Oregon with
continuing service to Seattle, Washington, on the evening of November
1, 1955. The flight had originated at New York City's Idlewild Airport,
making a stop in Chicago before continuing to Denver. 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, Mrs. Daisie King,
was a passenger, who was traveling to Alaska to visit her daughter.
Initially, it was believed that Graham's motive for the bombing was to
claim $37,500 worth of life insurance money, from policies Graham had
purchased in the airport terminal just before the aircraft's departure
(flight insurance could be routinely purchased in vending machines at
airports during the 1950s). Graham's true motive was revenge for the
way his mother had treated him as a small child.
Trial and execution
The trial that followed resulted in Colorado becoming the first state
to officially sanction the use of television cameras to broadcast
Jack Gilbert Graham was executed by lethal gas in
the Colorado State Penitentiary gas chamber, at Cañon City, Colorado,
on January 11, 1957.
The story was the basis for Lenny Bruce's 1958 routine "non Skeddo
Flies Again." The act starts with the words "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 can't be all
In 1959, Graham was portrayed by actor Nick Adams
in the Warner Bros. film The FBI Story, starring James Stewart,
Murray Hamilton and Vera Miles.
In 2005, a book about the Graham case was published
on the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing: Mainliner Denver: The
Bombing of Flight 629 by Andrew J. Field (Johnson Books, 2005).
After his initial interview, Jack Graham was released and sent home. But
he unknowingly had supplied a great deal of information to the
investigating officers. The FBI now had a complete version of Graham's
movements during the time immediately before the explosion and details
of his actions afterwards. Agents were dispatched to check out virtually
every detail of Graham's statements. They found many discrepancies in
his story and quickly learned of the simmering animosity between mother
and son. On November 13, Graham was asked to return to
Denver for an additional interview.
At first, the suspect repeated his assertions that he
did not buy his mother the tools in question. He stated that he merely
intended to buy them. He could not explain why his wife told
investigators that he had indeed bought the tools and placed them inside
his mother's luggage. Graham also could not explain the evidence found
at his home and the
Longmont crash site. But investigators
would not relent. Late that afternoon, confronted with the growing
mountain of evidence against him, Graham admitted that he caused the
explosion on flight 629.
According to the FBI, Graham said that he put
together a bomb consisting of 25 sticks of commercial dynamite, two
blaster caps, a timer with a maximum capability of 90 minutes and a
small battery. He said that he wrapped up the device like a Christmas
present and placed it in his mother's luggage just before she left the
house for Stapleton. He had set the timer for 90 minutes. Graham said
that he knew he had to hurry in order to get his mother on the plane and
in flight before the time would expire. After he put his mother on the
Seattle, he went to the airport coffee
shop, where he had coffee and munched on donuts. When he heard the news
that a plane went down outside the City of
Longmont, he knew that his bomb had
Investigators were stunned by Graham's matter-of-fact
recital of how he killed 43 people to cover up the murder of his own
mother. Graham was unapologetic, yet he assisted the FBI with many
details of the plot including where and when he purchased the parts of
the bomb. Guided by his admissions, Graham was later identified by the
clerk in a hardware store where he purchased the dynamite several weeks
November 14, 1955,
Jack Gilbert Graham was arrested and charged with 44 counts of murder.
United Airlines Flight 629,
registration N37559, was a Douglas DC-6B aircraft, named "Mainliner
Denver," which was blown up with a dynamite bomb placed in the checked
luggage. The explosion occurred over Longmont, Colorado while the
airplane was en route from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon, and
Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1955. All 39 passengers and five
crew members on board were killed in the explosion and crash.
Flight and explosion
The flight had originated at New York City's La
Guardia Airport and made a scheduled stop in Chicago before continuing
on to Denver's Stapleton Airfield. At Denver there was a crew change,
and the captain who assumed command of the flight for the segments to
Portland and Seattle, Lee Hall, was a World War II veteran.
The flight took off at 6:52 p.m. Mountain time.
Eleven minutes later, Stapleton Airport tower controllers saw two
bright lights suddenly appear in the sky north-northwest of the
airport. Both lights were observed for thirty to forty-five seconds,
and both fell to the ground at roughly the same speed. The controllers
then saw a very bright flash originating at or near the ground,
intense enough to illuminate the base of the clouds above the source
of the flash. Upon observing the mysterious lights, the controllers
quickly tried to determine if they were indications of an aircraft in
distress and contacted all aircraft flying in the area; all flights
were quickly accounted for except for United Flight 629.
Numerous telephone calls soon began coming in from
farmers and other residents near the town of Longmont, who reported
loud explosions and fiery debris falling from the nighttime sky -- the
remains of Flight 629. Ground searchers who reached the crash site
noted that all 44 people aboard the DC-6B had died instantly. The
debris from the accident was scattered across six square miles of Weld
Investigators determined that the
aircraft began to disintegrate near the empennage, or tail, and that
the aft fuselage had been shattered by a force strong enough to cause
extreme fragmentation of that part of the aircraft. The explosion had
been so intense that investigators thought it unlikely to have been
caused by any aircraft system or component. There was also a strong
smell of explosives on items from the No. 4 baggage compartment.
Suspicions that a bomb had been placed in luggage
loaded aboard the aircraft were fueled by the discovery of four pieces
of an unusual grade of sheet metal, each covered in a gray soot.
Further testing of the luggage from No. 4 compartment showed that each
piece was contaminated with chemicals known to be byproducts of a
The FBI, certain that the aircraft had been brought
down by a bomb, performed background checks on the passengers. Many
had purchased life insurance at the airport just before boarding. One
such insuree was Daisie Eldora King, 53, a Denver businesswoman who
was en route to Alaska to visit her daughter. When agents identified
her handbag they found a number of newspaper clippings containing
information about King's son, John Gilbert Graham, who had been
arrested on a forgery charge in Denver in 1951. Graham, who held a
grudge against his mother as the result of an unhappy childhood, was
the beneficiary of both her insurance policies and her will. Agents
also discovered that one of Mrs. King's restaurants, the Crown-A
Drive-In in Denver, had been badly damaged in an explosion; Graham had
insured the restaurant and then collected on the insurance following
the mysterious blast.
Agents subsequently searched
Graham's house and automobile and found wire and other bomb-making
parts identical to those found in the wreckage. They also found an
additional $40,000 in insurance policies; however, Mrs. King had not
signed either these policies or those purchased at the airport, and
they were therefore worthless. Graham told agents that his mother had
packed her own suitcase, but his wife, Gloria, revealed that Graham
had wrapped a "Christmas present" for his mother on the morning of the
day of Mrs. King's ill-fated flight.
Faced with the mounting evidence and discrepancies
in his story, on November 13, 1955, Graham finally confessed to having
placed the bomb in his mother's suitcase, telling the police:
"I then wrapped about three or four feet of
binding cord around the sack of dynamite to hold the dynamite
sticks in place around the caps. The purpose of the two caps was
in case one of the caps failed to function and ignite the dynamite
... I placed the suitcase in the trunk of my car with another
smaller suitcase...which my mother had packed to take with her on
Authorities were shocked to discover that 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. He was convicted of the murder of his mother and, after a
few short delays, 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."
Graham was reportedly inspired to commit the crime
by hearing of a similar incident, the Albert Guay affair in Quebec in
United still uses the flight number 629 today on
its Washington (National) - Chicago (O'Hare) route.
The bombing of United Flight 629 is depicted in the
opening segment of the 1959 movie The FBI Story, starring James
Stewart and Vera Miles. Actor Nick Adams portrays Jack Graham.
Flight 629 was the second known case of an airliner
being destroyed by a bomb over the mainland United States. The first
proven case of sabotage in the history of commercial aviation occurred
on October 10, 1933 near Chesterton, Indiana, when the empennage (tail)
was blasted from a United Air Lines Boeing 247 by a nitroglycerin bomb
set off with a timing device. The three crew members and four
passengers were killed in the crash. No suspect was ever brought to
trial in the case.
Other crashes in the United States caused by bombs
National Airlines Flight 967 over the Gulf of
Mexico on November 16, 1959, killing 42.
National Airlines Flight 2511 over North Carolina
on January 6, 1960, killing 34.
Continental Airlines Flight 11 over Unionville,
Missouri on May 22, 1962, killing 45.
Jack Gilbert Graham
FBI History - Famous Cases
At 6:52 p.m. on
November 1, 1955 United Air Lines Flight 629, a DC-6B with forty-four
persons aboard, took off from Stapleton Airport, Denver, Colorado, bound
for Seattle, Washington. Eleven minutes later, the thirty-nine
passengers, including an infant and five crew members, were dead --
killed instantly when the luxurious airliner crashed on a sugar beet
farm near Longmont, Colorado.
Upon learning of the
disaster, an official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
immediately offered the services of the Bureau's Identification Division
in identifying the victims of the tragedy. Fingerprint experts were
dispatched from Washington, D.C., by plane, arriving at the scene of the
crash on November 2.
As the bodies were
recovered, they were taken to Greeley, Colorado, and placed in a
temporary morgue set up in the National Guard Armory. Upon the arrival
of the FBI fingerprint experts, they learned that nine of the bodies had
been identified by relatives and friends or by personal effects and had
been removed from the armory. The remaining thirty-five bodies were
fingerprinted and twenty-one, or 60% of those fingerprinted, were
positively identified with fingerprints contained in the vast files of
All of the twenty-one
persons thus identified had been fingerprinted for various reasons
during their lifetime and their fingerprints filed with the more than
109 million other sets in the civil section of the FBI fingerprint
files. A husband and wife from Canada were identified with fingerprints
taken when they had applied for U.S. naturalization in September, 1954.
The crew members were identified with fingerprints forwarded to the FBI
by United Air Lines officials; five passengers were identified with
fingerprints taken during their service in the Air Force, Army, and Navy;
six had been fingerprinted by reason of employment in defense plants
during World War II, two had been U.S. Government employees; and one
victim had been fingerprinted in 1941 and had requested that his
fingerprints be placed in the FBI files for personal identification.
Among the fourteen
victims printed and not identified by fingerprints, two were men and
twelve were women. All of these were subsequently identified by
relatives or personal effects.
While the bodies of the
crash victims were thus being identified on November 2 and 3, Agents of
the Denver Office of the FBI were maintaining close liaison with
personnel of United Air Lines and the Civil Aeronautics Board who were
investigating the tragedy. The Civil Aeronautics Board was advised that
the full facilities of the FBI Laboratory were available if the
investigators desired to use them in the initial stages of their probe.
At the request of the Civil Aeronautics Board, a laboratory expert was
sent to the scene on November 2, and in conjunction with Civil
Aeronautics Board investigators he conducted a visual examination and
collected pieces of wreckage between November 2 and 7. In this manner it
was learned that the tail section of the plane had been cleanly severed
from the rest of the plane as though cut with a knife and had fallen
with only minor damage at a point approximately one and one-half miles
from the place where the engines and nose section of the plane had also
hit the ground in an almost whole condition. Wreckage from the middle
section of the plane was widely scattered over, and behind, the
intervening area between the tail and forward sections. During the
period between November 2 and November 7, a minute and detailed
examination of all parts of the wreckage was also made by engineers of
United Air Lines, the Douglas Aircraft Corporation, and other private
manufacturing concerns, but no possible cause of an explosion due to
malfunction of any part of the plane was located by the examiners.
On November 7, 1955,
the Chief of Investigations of the Civil Aeronautics Board officially
stated that there were indications of sabotage. At the same time, he
asked the FBI to institute an appropriate criminal investigation of the
crime which had taken forty-four lives. An active investigation was
undertaken by the FBI on November 8, the necessary Agents being assigned
to the case on a full-time basis. Specific assignments were made for
these Agents to correlate information from eye witnesses to the crash
and employees handling the plane prior to the crash; to trace all cargo,
mail and baggage on the plane; to initiate and conduct background
investigations of all passengers and crew members on the plane, and to
supervise and conduct searches of the wreckage and recovered baggage or
personal effects for possible evidence and investigative leads.
Between November 2 and
November 5, 1955, four teams of interviewers, each consisting of Civil
Aeronautics Board and United Air Lines officials or employees, had
interviewed approximately 200 individual occupants of a 140-square-mile
area surrounding the scene of the crash. Information furnished by 37 of
these persons was considered of possible value and was reduced to signed
statements. These statements were made available to the FBI upon
initiation of the active investigation, and a complete review disclosed
that an initial explosion had occurred while the plane was operating in
an apparently routine manner. The explosion appeared to have been of
tremendous force, causing fiery streamers to fall from the plane. A
flare, which was normal equipment carried on the plane, had separated
from the plane, ignited, and descended slowly to earth. A second
explosion, probable of one or more fuel tanks, had occurred when the
engines and forward compartment of the plane struck the ground.
An additional witness,
a control tower operator at Stapleton Airport, later said that he had
observed the flash of light and the flare at exactly 7:03 p.m. Civil
Aeronautics Board officials placed the location of the explosion at
approximately eight miles east of Longmont, Colorado, and at a
calculated altitude of 10,800 feet above sea level or 5,782 feet above
In order to properly
organize and record the recovery of the wreckage and possible evidence,
a surveyor had been hired to plot and mark a "base line" through the
scene of the crash and in the approximate direction of the line of
flight. Perpendicular lines had then been established at intervals of
1,000 feet on the base line, extending 1,000 feet from the base line.
This divided the entire area into 1,000-square-foot plats or grids. A
complete and exhaustive search of the area was then conducted, and as
each piece of wreckage or material was recovered and removed, it was
marked for identification and the location in which it was found was
measured and recorded in relation to the boundaries of the plat. All
material possible connected with the plane was recovered from the
platted areas; however, hunters and other persons continued to report
the finding of mail and insulation from the plane, and on November 13,
1955, an additional area extending up to three miles behind the point
where the tail section had fallen was minutely searched by ten FBI
Agents and ten employees of United Air Lines. At the same time, the
wreckage which had been previously collected by United Air Lines
employees was re-examined by Agents for any possible parts or remains of
All recovered wreckage
from the central portion of the plane, as well as all baggage, cargo,
and personal effects, was taken to a large warehouse at Stapleton
Airport and placed under guard. All mail was turned over to postal
inspectors at the time of recovery, but was made available by the
inspectors for further examination where desired. At the warehouse, a
full-size "mock-up" of the central section of the plane was made of wood
and wire netting and all parts of the plane were wired to the "mock-up"
in their proper places, as in the assembly of a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Upon completion of the "mock-up" assembly, the chairman of the Structure
Investigating Committee of the Civil Aeronautics Board and a Douglas
Aircraft Corporation engineer agreed that an explosion had occurred at
station 718 in the rear cargo pit, designated as cargo pit number four.
This point of explosion was further pinpointed as being almost directly
across the cargo compartment from the cargo loading door. These
conclusions were based on the fact that the stringers at this point had
failed in outward bending and pieces of heavy fuselage skin recovered
and fitted into the area had been shattered into small pieces. Pieces of
material from this area of the plane embedded in shoes contained in
luggage and in air freight known to have been carried in cargo pit
number four further indicated an explosion of tremendous force. Near
station 718, gray and black soot-like deposits were noted on several of
the skin fragments adjacent to and within the roughly circular area. The
central portion of the floor beam above the cargo pit contained similar
deposits on the aft side; however, none were noted on the forward side.
Copies of waybills for
all air freight shipments on the plane were obtained from United Air
Lines. By checking these waybills against pieces of the shipments
recovered, the contents, or a portion of the contents, of all such
shipments were identified. Nothing of an explosive or particularly
inflammable nature was determined to have been included in the air
freight shipments on the plane. It was also learned that upon arrival at
Denver, all cargo and freight carried in pit four had been removed to
the forward cargo pit, and at the time of the crash, cargo pit number
four had contained only baggage and cargo loaded other flights as well
as all cargo and baggage which had originated at Denver.
During the terrain and
wreckage search, five small fragments of sheet metal were found which
could not in any way be identified with parts of the plane or known
contents of the cargo. The fragments appeared to be badly burned and
scarred and to be coated with a gray soot-like deposit which might
normally be associated with residue from an explosion. One side of one
of the fragments was red in color and bore the blue letters "HO."
Although it was not known at this time that these fragments were
significant, an extensive effort was made to identify them in the belief
that they might have come from a destructive device of some nature. The
fragment bearing the letters "HO" was eventually identified as a portion
of the metal side of a six-volt battery of the type later determined to
have been used as the detonating device of the bomb which had brought
death to the forty-four persons aboard the plane.
An examination of
fragments and pieces of wreckage recovered from the crash scene by the
FBI Laboratory revealed them to possess foreign deposits ranging in
color from white to very dark gray. These deposits were found to consist
mainly of sodium carbonate, although nitrate and sulfur compounds were
present. FBI Laboratory technicians advised that available dynamite
consist of nitroglycerin with varying amounts of sodium nitrate, sulfur,
and other materials. The only solid residue to be expected from the
explosion of available dynamite is a mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium
nitrate, and sulfur-bearing compounds. The initial summary of this
information indicating the probable use of dynamite was first furnished
to the Denver Office by the FBI Laboratory on November 13, 1955.
As the investigation
progressed, efforts were pursued to develop complete background data on
each of the forty-four individual victims, as well as any possible
motive that anyone might have had for commission of homicide against
them. Similar investigations were initiated on all persons who had
originally held reservations for the flight but had canceled them
shortly before the flight or failed to report for the flight at any of
the stops made earlier.
All offices conducting
background investigations of the passengers were requested to obtain
descriptions of the luggage they carried, as well as the probable
contents of the luggage, in order that the material recovered could be
identified with the individual victims. The purpose of requesting this
information was so that by a process of elimination the owners of the
luggage which was most severely damaged, or coated with the foreign
residue, could be determined. A considerable quantity of personal
effects of passenger victim Daisie E. King was recovered form the
wreckage and closely examined by the Agents. This material included a
number of personal letters, newspaper clippings about her family, a
personalized checkbook, $1,000 in traveler's checks, an address list,
and two keys and a receipt for safety deposit boxes rented by Mrs. King.
These articles revealed considerable information about the background of
Mrs. King. One of the newspaper clippings reflected that her son, Jack
Gilbert Graham, had been charged with forgery by the Denver County
District Attorney and had been placed on the local "most wanted" list by
that office in 1951. From the fact that most of these personal effects
of Mrs. King were found on or near her body, it was apparent that she
had been carrying them in her personal handbags at the time of the crash
rather than in her luggage. Despite careful searching, practically none
of the contents of Mrs. King's luggage was recovered, and only small
bits of the suitcases believed to belong to her were found.
Immediate effort to
determine the identity of passengers on which large amounts of trip
insurance had been obtained revealed that six passengers had a maximum
of $62,500 of such insurance; four had $50,000; two had $37,500; one had
$35,000; two had $12,500; and two had $6,250. Because of a holiday
weekend, however, a complete check of all companies writing such
insurance was not possible at once, and among policies located later
were three on the life of Daisie E. King. During a thorough search of
the home of Jack Gilbert Graham on November 13, 1955, a duplicate travel
insurance policy on the life of his mother, Mrs. King, in the amount of
$37,500, was found hidden in a small cedar chest in a bedroom of the
Graham home. The original of this policy, with designated beneficiary as
Jack G. Graham, was later located and made available by the insuring
company, as well as two additional policies, each in the amount of
$6,250, on the life of Mrs. King, with designated beneficiaries being
her daughter and her one living sister.
investigation into the background of the passengers boarding the plane
at Denver, particular emphasis was placed upon the background of Mrs.
Daisie E. King and her relatives. It was learned that upon the death of
his mother, Jack Graham was to receive a substantial inheritance. It
also became known that Mrs. King and Jack had frequently quarreled over
insignificant differences. During his early life Jack had lived with
relatives on several occasions, and he had actually "left home" when he
was approximately sixteen years old. Another person interviewed, one who
had business associations with Mrs. King and her son through their
operation of a drive-in restaurant in Denver, volunteered the
information that Mrs. King continually had trouble with Jack over
operation of the restaurant; that, in fact, they "fought like cats and
dogs"; that the restaurant building had been damaged by an explosion at
one time; that Jack Graham may have been taking money from the receipts
of the business; that Graham had once told him that he performed
demolition work in the U.S. Navy, and that Graham had recently purchased
a new truck and wrecked it in a possible attempt to collect insurance.
expressed essentially the same suspicions about the past activities of
Jack Graham. This person further advised that the wrecking of Graham's
truck was due to its being stalled on a railroad track where it was hit
by a train sometime in 1955. He also advised that a local supply concern
held a $1,000 note signed by Graham and secured by equipment of the
The extensive records
of the Denver County Probation Department relative to Jack Gilbert
Graham were thoroughly reviewed on November 10, 1955. These records
revealed that Graham had been employed as a payroll clerk at a
manufacturing concern in Denver in March, 1951, at which time he had
stolen a number of blank checks and used a company check protector in
filling out some forty-two of them for $100 each, after which he had
forged the name of the company owner and cashed the checks at various
business in Denver. He had received approximately $4,200 in cash and
immediately spent approximately $2,000 for a late-model convertible
automobile in which he left Denver. The whereabouts of Graham were
unknown until his arrest on September 11, 1951, at Lubbock, Texas, on a
charge of "hauling whiskey in violation of Texas laws." He had served a
sentence of sixty days in the county jail after conviction and had been
released to the Denver County District Attorney's Office to face charges
of forgery in connection with his check-passing activities. According to
the records, the arrest of Graham had been effected only after he had
run a roadblock manned by local officers and shots had been fired into
his car by the officers. At that time it was found that he also had a
gun in his car.
Graham had been
convicted of the forgery charge in State District Court at Denver,
Colorado, on November 3 1951, but sentence was suspended and he had been
placed on probation for a period of five years. The records reflected
that cash restitution in the amount of $2,500 had been made at the time
of the trial and that under the terms of the probation granted, Graham
was to make further restitution in the amount of $1,805.34 at the rate
of $40 per month. Graham had regularly made these payments between
January 2, 1952, and November 3, 1955, reducing the outstanding balance
to $105.34. These records revealed that Jack Graham had served in the
U.S. Coast Guard from April, 1948, to January, 1949, and that he had
received an honorable discharge on the basis of minority; however, a
notation made on the records reflected that he had been AWOL for a
period of sixty-three days during his service. He was last stationed at
the Coast Guard installation at Groton, Connecticut, holding the rank of
Motorman Third Class at the time of his discharge. Graham had completed
the ninth grade in public schools, but he was later granted a high
school diploma upon his passing of entrance examinations at Denver
University and was admitted as a student there. The probation reports
reflected that Graham did not realize the seriousness of the offense at
the time of his arrest on the forgery charges, that his mother had been
"overprotective of her son," and that Graham had led a rather wild life
and had spent most of the money which he realized from his crime on
drinking parties and women. Graham had regularly reported to the
Probation Department on a monthly basis, however, and had held regular
employment as a heavy-duty equipment mechanic the majority of the time
between January, 1953, and December, 1954. Later, he had moved to Denver,
where during the early part of 1955 he was employed by his mother as
manager of her drive-in restaurant.
Jack Graham was
initially interviewed on November 10, 1955, in the company of his half
sister. During this initial interview, Graham furnished the following
background information regarding himself and his family.
Graham stated he was
born on January 23, 1932, at Denver, Colorado; that his father was
William Graham, who died when he was approximately three years of age;
and that his natural mother was Daisie E. King. He stated that Mrs. King
married John Earl King in 1941 and from that time until 1948 they
resided on a ranch near Toponas, Colorado. Most of the ranch was sold in
1948, his mother and stepfather maintaining residence in Yampa,
Colorado, from that time until the death of John Earl King on October
16, 1954. Following the death of Earl King from a heart disease, Daisie
E. King and her daughter went to Goodland, Florida, where Mrs. King
owned and maintained a house on Marco Island. There Mrs. King remained
until February of 1955, when she returned to Denver to assist Mrs. Jack
Graham, who had just given birth to her second baby.
According to Graham,
following Mrs. King's return to Denver, she resided at his home, 2650
West Mississippi Avenue, except for periods which she spent in Steamboat
Springs and Yampa, Colorado, supervising business interests, and
occasional trips out of the state. He said that his mother had purchased
the residence at 2650 West Mississippi Avenue for him in December of
1954 and had considered this residence her home. Graham stated that in
the Spring of 1955 his mother had purchased property, built, equipped,
and opened a drive-in restaurant at 581 South Federal Boulevard, Denver,
which he managed. He said that the drive-in business at Denver was not a
financial success, although he indicated it was successful when he was
able to actually operate the business. Graham volunteered that during
May, 1955, some unknown vandals had caused considerable damage to the
window glass at the drive-in and, further, that in September, 1955, an
explosion and fire had occurred at the drive-in during the early morning
hours. According to Graham, an examination of the drive-in had revealed
that someone had disconnected a gas line connection, allowing the gas to
flow into the room, accumulating until it reached a pilot light on a
water heater, igniting the gas and causing the explosion. According to
Graham, three dollars in small change was missing from the cash register
and some of the furniture of the drive-in had maliciously been broken.
The total damage had amounted to approximately $1,200.
Graham volunteered that
he had suffered some misfortune in connection with a new 1955 Chevrolet
pickup, which had stalled on a railroad track and had been hit by a
At this interview
Graham furnished information about the activities of his mother, Mrs.
Daisie E. King, on November 1, 1955, as well as her intended plans in
connection with her trip to Alaska. He furnished a description of Mrs.
King's luggage, including that which she had shipped on her airline
ticket and that which she had carried with her on the plane. He claimed
virtually no knowledge of the contents of his mother's luggage, saying
that his mother would never allow anyone to actually assist her in
packing, and, further, that he had not helped his mother with any of her
packing or placed anything in her luggage. He stated that Mrs. King had
a considerable quantity of shotgun shells and rifle ammunition with her,
intended for use in hunting caribou in Alaska.
On November 11, 1955,
Mrs. Gloria A. Graham, wife of Jack Graham, advised that she had married
Jack Graham in 1953 and had resided with him since that time. They had
two children, approximately twenty and nine months old. Mrs. Graham
advised that Daisie King had resided with them at 2650 West Mississippi
Avenue periodically from December, 1954, until her death. Mrs. King
traveled a great deal and had spent a considerable part of the Summer of
1955 supervising her business at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Mrs.
Graham furnished information concerning the activities of Daisie E. King
prior to and including November 1, 1955. She furnished a description of
the luggage taken by Mrs. King on her intended trip to Alaska, but she
was unable to furnish any definite information about the contents of the
luggage. She explained that Mrs. King was very particular about packing
her bags or suitcases and did not allow anyone to actually assist her in
Mrs. Graham said that
her husband had given Mrs. King a present on November 1, 1955, before
Mrs. King left for the airport. Mrs. Graham believed the present
consisted of a small set of tools such as drills, files, and cutting
tools used for forming sea shells into art objects. According to Mrs.
Graham, her husband had talked to her earlier about obtaining such a
tool set as a Christmas present for his mother. Mrs. Graham had no
knowledge as to the details of the purchase of this Christmas present;
however, she recalled that during the day of November 1, 1955, Jack
Graham had brought a package into the house and carried it to the
basement where Mrs. King was packing her luggage. She recalled that this
package was wrapped as a gift and was approximately eighteen inches in
length, fourteen inches in width, and three inches in depth. She thought
the package contained the tool set, but she did not know whether Jack
had actually given it to his mother. She assumed that he had.
Further interviews on November 11 and 12, 1955, with relatives and
associates of Daisie E. King and Jack Graham failed to develop any added
information except that given on November 11, 1955, by a neighbor of one
of Jack Graham's relatives. This neighbor advised that she had heard
that prior to Daisie King's intended trip to Alaska, Graham was
extremely interested in purchasing a tool kit which he intended to give
his mother as a Christmas present. It was her understanding that Graham
had searched the town of Denver and finally obtained the type of tool
kit he wanted. She had heard that Graham had the gift wrapped in
Christmas paper and had placed it in his mother's luggage before she
boarded the plane. This neighbor had also heard that shortly after
Daisie King left Denver aboard the plane, Jack Graham became very ill
and his face turned very white. She said Graham and his wife, Gloria,
had apparently heard someone make a statement to the effect that an
airplane had crashed. This neighbor stated she had heard that Graham,
upon hearing this statement, responded, "That is it."
According to this
neighbor, since the crash Jack Graham had not eaten nor had he been able
to sleep, and he had spent most of his time walking up and down both
inside and outside his home.
Inasmuch as a
description of the luggage taken by Daisie King on her trip had been
obtained, several broken and torn fragments of luggage were brought to
the Denver FBI Office on November 12, 1955. This luggage generally
matched the description of Daisie King's luggage.
On November 12, 1955,
Jack Graham and his wife, Gloria, were telephonically contacted and told
of the FBI's possession of these fragments of luggage and were requested,
at their convenience, to come to the FBI Office in an attempt to
identify any of the fragments as being portions of the luggage taken by
Daisie King on her intended flight to Alaska.
Graham and his wife
voluntarily appeared at the Denver FBI Office on the next day and the
fragments of luggage were exhibited to them. They identified some pieces
of a dark brown suitcase as being the smaller suitcase taken on the trip
by Daisie King. They believed that a piece of red and black plaid canvas
bag was possibly a portion of one of the canvas bags which she had taken
with her. At the conclusion of their identification of these pieces of
luggage, Graham was advised that the FBI desired to interview him
further concerning several aspects of the case. Mrs. Graham was told
that if she desired she could return home to her small children, which
Graham was questioned
specifically regarding the reported ammunition and Christmas gift which
his mother took with her on her trip. The information Graham furnished
concerning the ammunition was substantially the same as he had
previously provided. The information about the Christmas present was not
in accord with the information his wife had furnished. Graham stated he
had intended to purchase a tool set for his mother; however, upon
learning that the type he had intended to buy was not suitable for the
purpose for which it was to be used, he had never bought it. In
explanation to his wife's statements, he said it was possible that his
wife was under the impression that he had actually purchased the tools.
Graham was then questioned in detail as to his activities upon his
arrival at the Denver Municipal Airport on November 1, 1955, and he
furnished substantially the same information as before. He could offer
no explanation as to why he had mailed to himself a trip insurance
policy taken out by his mother at the airport, making him the
beneficiary, other than the fact that he had mailed two similar policies
of which his sister and aunt were the beneficiaries. He said he believed
that he had put these insurance policies in a trash can at the airport,
inasmuch as he had not yet received the policy which he had mailed to
himself. He volunteered that upon his mother's leaving on the plane, he
and his wife and son had entered the airport coffee shop to have dinner.
According to Graham, after they had started to eat he became ill and
went to the men's rest room for a short period. He believed his illness
was due to his excitement about his mother's leaving and, further, he
said, the food at the coffee shop was poor.
Inasmuch as the
statements of Graham at this time were not entirely in accord with those
of his wife, Agents of the FBI were sent to the Graham residence to
interview Mrs. Graham and to obtain a signed statement about the part of
her story which was in conflict with her husband's. Inasmuch as these
discrepancies were present, Graham was at this time told that he was
being considered by the FBI as a suspect in the case. He was told that
he did not have to make any statement and that any statement which he
did make could be used against him in a court of law. He was advised of
his right to consult an attorney at any time.
Graham stated that he
had no objection to signing a statement indicating he would voluntarily
submit to a polygraphic examination and, further, would sign any
statements giving his consent to search any or all of his home,
automobiles, and property. He subsequently read and signed such
FBI Agents were sent to
make a search of Graham's home, automobiles, and property. During the
search of Graham's home, a small roll of copper wire with yellow
insulation was located in a shirt pocket of some work clothing belonging
to Graham. This wire appeared to be the type used in detonating primer
caps. Also located was the trip insurance policy of Daisie E. King,
dated November 1, 1955, on which Jack Graham was the beneficiary. The
policy was found hidden in a small cedar chest in one of the bedrooms at
Graham's home. Subsequently, during the interview with Graham, he was
questioned primarily concerning the discrepancies in his statements and
those of his wife and other persons interviewed by the FBI. Agents were
immediately sent to check the validity of Graham's additional statements.
Upon their return, Graham was confronted with their findings, and on
several matters he was unable to explain the results of the Agents'
investigation. Graham was at this time informed of the findings of the
FBI Laboratory and their examination of fragments and pieces of wreckage
recovered from the crash scene. He then admitted causing the explosion
which had occurred at the dairy drive-in which he managed in Denver, as
well as leaving his 1955 Chevrolet on a railroad track and allowing it
to be hit by an oncoming train. He finally admitted his guilt in the
plane crash and described the device he had assembled and used to
perpetrate the crime. He said that he had used a time bomb composed of
twenty-five sticks of dynamite, two electric primer caps, a timer, and a
six-volt battery. A signed statement was obtained from him concerning
these admissions, and on November 14, 1955, a complaint was filed before
a U.S. Commissioner at Denver by a Special Agent of the FBI, charging
Jack Gilbert Graham with sabotage.
appeared before the United States Commissioner, where he was advised of
the charges against him, and afforded an opportunity to make bond,
recommended by the United States Attorney at $100,000. He was committed
to the custody of the United States Marshal in lieu of bond. On November
17, 1955, Graham was charged with murder in the State Court at Denver,
Colorado, and was held without bail for future hearings. He was charged
with the murder of his mother, Mrs. Daisie E. King, age fifty-four.
Subsequent to the
arrest of Graham, investigation was instituted to locate the source of
the items used by him in the making of the time bomb. This investigation
resulted in locating, on November 17, 1955, a supply company in Denver,
Colorado, where Graham was identified as having purchased on October 26,
1955, a sixty-minute "on-type" timing device, which he exchanged a few
days later for a sixty-minute "off-type" timing device.
On November 19, 1955, a
store manager at Kremmling, Colorado, recalled selling twenty or twenty-five
sticks of dynamite and two electric blasting caps to an individual
during October of 1955. This store manager believed that Graham was
identical with the individual to whom he had sold the dynamite and caps.
On November 21, 1955, the manager identified Graham from a line-up as
being identical with the individual who had purchased the dynamite and
blasting caps from him during October.
interest in the investigation of this case was the story of Jack
Graham's background as related by his half sister. She stated that she
had never at any time in recent years felt at ease with Graham; he was
sullen; she knew him to have "pent-up violence" and she simply did not
like to be around him. She said that in the past he had related things
which he thought funny but which she considered violent and warped. For
example, when he was residing with her and her husband in Alaska, he had
been employed as a dragline operator for the CAA and on one occasion had
told them that he had experienced some difficulty in loosening a bolt
from some equipment, so he obtained some dynamite and blew off the bolt.
As a further example, she recalled that since the United Air Lines plane
crash, Graham had stated to her and his wife, Gloria, as if it were a
joke, "Can't you just see those shotgun shells going off in the plane
every which way and the pilots, passengers and `Grandma' jumping around."
His sister stated she had for many years thought Graham was not mentally
sound. She had expressed this opinion to both her husband and another
relative of Graham's. She recalled that on at least two occasions in the
past she had been the object of her brother's violent temper. On one
occasion he had knocked her down and kneed her in the chest so severely
that her ribs were injured. On another, he had threatened to hit her
with a hammer and she had escaped by locking herself in a room. She
recalled that during the summer of 1955, Graham awoke from sleeping and
found his wife gone. He located his wife playing cards with his sister
and his mother and, for no apparent reason, became enraged and cuffed
and backhanded his wife several times. During this occurrence Daisie
King had become extremely frightened, apparently afraid he might hit her.
After two continuances,
Graham was arraigned in Denver District Court on December 9, 1955.
Immediately after his arrest he had transferred most of his property to
his wife, Gloria, declared himself unable to pay for counsel, and
accepted the services of three prominent Denver attorneys appointed by
The State of Colorado
charged Graham with the murder of his mother. His pleas were "innocent"
and "innocent by reason of insanity, before, during and after the
alleged commission of the crime." The court accepted only the pleas, "innocent"
and "innocent by reason of insanity at the time of the alleged crime."
Graham was ordered to
Colorado Psychopathic Hospital for examination by two defense and two
court-appointed psychiatrists. During the course of an interview with
one of the doctors, he made a claim concerning his confession of the
crime. He said that while being interviewed by Denver FBI Agents he had
noticed on the wall of the FBI Office a photograph picturing the
apprehension of the Nazi saboteurs who had landed on the Florida coast
during Word War II. He said he had noticed in the picture Agents digging
up a cache of explosives, and this picture had given him the idea of
confessing that he had used dynamite to blow up the Untied Air Lines
Graham was found
legally sane by all four psychiatrists and returned to the Denver County
Jail. He was a model prisoner; his days in jail were spent quietly
reading and chatting with the guards. After dinner on the evening of
February 10, 1956, about 5:30 p.m., a Deputy Sheriff was attracted to
Graham's cell by the sound of heavy breathing. The prisoner was slumped
on the floor. His socks were twisted tightly around his neck, with a
piece of rolled cardboard used to get added leverage. Quickly the guard
loosened the garrote; a doctor was summoned immediately, and sedatives
were administered. Graham was placed in a strait jacket to subdue him
through the night. The following day he was again returned to the
psychiatric ward, Colorado General Hospital, where he was strapped to a
bed with four guards posted nearby.
No more chances were
going to be taken with him now. Graham was under twenty-four hour
surveillance by watchful attendants. The psychiatrists again began to
talk with him. He was quite communicative and talked freely about
He said his confession
of the murder of the people on the plane was quite true. He said that
after he had decided definitely to murder his mother he had bought a
timer and some dynamite and fashioned a homemade bomb. He had assembled
the bomb, and while his mother was busy with last-minute details of her
trip, he had slipped it into her old battered suitcase and fastened the
suitcase with some extra webbing for security. They had then left for
the airport. His wife and children had gone along to see grandmother off.
Graham had dropped his mother and family off at the door to the terminal
before taking the car to the parking lot. Before removing the suitcase
from the car, he had set the timer on the bomb. He had next taken his
mother's luggage to the weighing counter for weighing before it was
placed on the plane.
The doctors, curious as
to his feelings about the crime, were told by him that he "realized that
there were about fifty or sixty people carried on a DCB, 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."
Graham said it was a great relief to tell the doctor about it because he
had been quite conscience stricken.
On February 24, 1956,
Graham dropped the insanity plea and was returned again to Denver County
Jail. The Judge set April 16, 1956, for his trial.
The Colorado Supreme
Court in December, 1955, had imposed a ban on any photography in
Colorado State courts, in accordance with Canon 35 of the American Bar
Association. Following public hearings, the Supreme Court reversed its
decision. The judge now had prerogative in the matter of the news media.
The judge, who later presided at the trial of Graham, ruled against live
television coverage but in favor of sound-on-film, press photography,
and radio broadcasts. Graham, through his attorneys, requested that
television cameras be banned from his trial. The judges ruled to permit
some and to ban others; however, the judge added that if any witness or
the defendant objected to being photographed, he had only to say so and
his wishes in the matter would be respected. Graham was the only person
who actually made this request during the trail. The judge had a remote
control switch on the bench which enabled him to cut off the camera when
A booth was built in
the back corner of the courtroom for the camera equipment. One local
newspaper installed a direct telephone line from the court to its
editorial room. Representatives of the wire services installed teletype
machines and telephones in specially provided city hall space near the
courtroom. A limited number of photographers, including some
representing national coverage, received written permission to use small
cameras without flash attachments.
The trial set an all-time
record for the State of Colorado in the number of jurors examined. In
all, 231 were called, the two main objections to panel members being
that they held fixed opinions on Graham's guilt or innocence or that
they were opposed to capital punishment.
The final jury
represented a cross section of American life. It included two housewives
(one a former beauty queen), two typists, a movie executive, an engineer,
a truck driver, a saleslady, a telephone man, a lithographer, a
bookkeeper and a salesman. Ladies on the panel asked for a sewing
machine for their dormitory while the men played cards and checkers in
their spare time.
On the first day and
almost throughout the trial, hundreds of people waited for hours in the
halls outside the courtroom, hoping for a chance to get seats. They
brought their lunches, afraid to leave the room for fear of losing their
places. The guard at the door, however, saved a seat for one woman who
arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. each morning. She was an attractive, young-looking
woman, the wife of the United Air Lines pilot of the ill-fated flight.
She sat only a few feet from Graham throughout the trial.
Graham was apparently
supremely calm and unconcerned during the proceedings. He had lost
weight since his arrest, but he still looked healthy and was not thin.
He wore a neat suit each day. He slouched in his chair, chewed gum, and
occasionally conferred with his attorneys. The District Attorney in his
opening statement to the jury said that the State would prove Jack
Graham had planned the murder of his mother, Daisie E. King, "coldly,
carefully, and deliberately."
He said that one of the
items of evidence the prosecution would produce was a piece of yellow
wire, the same type used on electric dynamite caps. This piece of wire
was the one which had been found at Graham's home during the search
conducted by Agents of the FBI. Prosecution witnesses and exhibits would
prove that Graham had bought about twenty-five sticks of dynamite, a
timer, a battery, and the dynamite caps which he placed in his mother's
luggage. The District Attorney said that he would also prove the
explosion which occurred in cargo pit number four of the airliner had
been caused by dynamite and could have been caused by nothing else.
testimony concerned the jurisdiction of the Denver District Court to
hear the case, the flight schedule of the United Air Lines Mainliner,
and identification of Mrs. Daisie E. King's photograph. Testimony
established that Mrs. King and her luggage were on the airplane when it
left Stapleton Air Field, Denver, November 1, 1955.
The ground crew
personnel testified that the airplane was functioning properly when it
took off from Denver.
Six state witnesses
described the explosion of the DC-6B airliner at 7:03 p.m. a few miles
east of Longmont, Colorado.
United Air Lines
employees, Civil Aeronautics Board investigators, and a Douglas Aircraft
Corporation engineer testified, introducing testimony describing the
crash scene, removal of bodies, preservation and identification of
pieces of airplane wreckage and removal of wreckage and debris. Three of
these witnesses testified that the explosion had taken place in cargo
pit number four.
On the ninth day of the
trial, the spotlight shifted to Federal Court for a hearing on a defense
motion to eliminate FBI testimony and evidence. The defense attorneys
contended that the FBI testimony was illegal; that Graham had not been
advised of his rights before he signed his confession, and that it had
been obtained under duress. It was contended that Graham's home had been
searched and evidence obtained without his consent. The Federal Judge
dismissed the motion following testimony by FBI Agents that Graham had
been fully advised of his rights and had not been mistreated during his
questioning before he signed the confession. The Agents also produced
eight waivers of search which Graham had signed. Back in State Court the
An FBI Laboratory
expert identified the gray deposits on the airplane parts from the area
of the cargo pit as the residue left by the explosion of dynamite. He
also identified a number of pieces of metal and carbon which had been
found in the wreckage and debris of the crash as having come from a
particular type of battery. The FBI Agent testified that the wire found
in Graham's shirt pocket during the search of his home was identical in
all examinable respects with wire from an electric dynamite cap.
The owner of an
electric company testified that Graham had come to him early in October,
1955, and offered to work at a nominal wage to "get more experience."
Graham had been hired and had worked for one week. On the final day of
his employment he had asked his employer what timing devices he carried,
saying that he needed a timer which could be used with a battery and
which would not exceed two hours. Graham had been told to go to an
appliance store where he could get a timer operated with a spring.
A salesman for a Denver
electric wholesale house testified he had sold Graham a sixty-minute
timer during the latter part of October; that Graham had represented
himself as an employee of the Colorado-Texas Pump Company in order to
purchase the timer.
A credit manager from a
Denver, Colorado, Chevrolet company testified that Graham had been
unable to pay a $50.00 deductible item on an insurance loss on his 1955
Chevrolet pickup truck which they had repaired as a result of an
accident. Graham had told the manager that his bank account was held
jointly with his mother and was all tied up. Graham had then commented
on how easy it would be to blow up an airplane. He had estimated that it
would take about two gallons of nitroglycerin. He had observed the
manner in which luggage was handled at Stapleton Airport, he said, and
it would be easy for someone to place a bomb on an airplane.
The prosecution rested
its case on the afternoon of the 15th day of the trial. Approximately
eighty different witnesses had testified and had introduced 174 exhibits
during the course of the proceedings. The defense rested its case after
having called eight defense witnesses. During the course of the
prosecution testimony, Graham had made statements to the press saying
that when he took the stand, he would refute their testimony, tell the
truth, and clear himself; however, he refused to testify at all in his
own behalf and none of the eight witnesses called on could offer any
evidence rebutting the testimony and evidence that Graham had placed a
dynamite bomb in his mother's luggage.
On May 5, 1956, after
being out of the courtroom for deliberation for sixty-nine minutes, the
jury found Graham guilty of murder in the first degree and recommended
the penalty of death.
Two of Graham's
attorneys filed a motion for a new trial. On May 15, 1956, the judge
denied the motion. At this time Graham took the stand and said that he
did not wish a new trial nor did he want his case reviewed by the State
Supreme Court; his attorneys had filed this motion without his
permission or consent.
The judge sentenced
Graham to be put to death during the week of August 26, 1956, the day,
the hour, and the minute to be selected by the Warden of the Colorado
State Penitentiary, Canon City, Colorado.
The Colorado Supreme
Court stayed the execution of Graham on August 8, 1956, after two of his
attorneys filed a formal record of appeal, again against his wishes.
On October 22, 1956,
the Colorado Supreme Court confirmed the lower court decision and set
the execution for the week ending January 12, 1957.
Graham was executed in
the gas chamber at the Colorado State Penitentiary on Friday, January
11, 1957, and was pronounced dead at 8:08 p.m.