The True Story Of The Bombing Of United Airlines Flight 629

On November 1, 1955, United Airlines flight 629 departed from the Stapleton Airport in Denver, Colorado shortly before 7 p.m. (via World History Project). According to Legends of America, the two-hour flight was headed to Portland, Oregon. Within 11 minutes, however, the plane crashed, killing all 39 people and five crew members on board. The New York Daily News writes that the bodies gruesomely littered a sugar beet field in Longmont, Colorado. Almost immediately, calls were made to authorities as people reported witnessing a fireball in the sky (per The Denver Channel).

A day after the crash, a United Airlines representative stated that he believed the crash was an accident and nothing more. Eyewitnesses and investigators thought differently. As the Denver Public Library explains, they could smell the nitroglycerin fumes associated with dynamite throughout the site. It became clear to the responding federal agencies that this was no accident; someone had wanted the plane to explode.

The FBI subsequently became involved and as the investigation continued, it was discovered that one passenger's luggage was considerably more damaged than the rest. The luggage in question belonged to 54-year-old Daisie King, a Denver businesswoman. She was on the flight to visit her daughter in Alaska. Inside King's luggage were newspaper clippings about her son, John Gilbert Graham. 

The bombing was an act of revenge

According to the Denver Public Library, Graham was a young husband and father whose life was in disarray. The New York Daily News reports that he had a rough childhood and had previously faced several legal issues. Despite King paying off her son's fines and giving him a fast food restaurant to manage, it was widely known that the mother and son had a tumultuous relationship. Investigators later found that Graham had purchased a life insurance policy on his mother shortly before the fateful flight.

After several days of questioning, Graham confessed to being at fault for the explosion of Flight 629, per The Denver Channel. He admitted to making a bomb using 25 sticks of dynamite, a six-volt battery, blasting caps, and a timer (via Legends of America). He placed the bomb in her luggage under the guise that it was a Christmas gift. Although he recanted his confession, Graham was charged with murder and the case went to court. The trial was sensational, to say the least, and was the first in history to be televised (per History Colorado).

Why did Graham do it? He reportedly abhorred his mother and deeply resented her. As for everyone else on the plane, he stated that "the number of people to be killed made no difference to me." On May 9, 1956, John Gilbert Graham was found guilty and was sentenced to death in August of the year. On January 11, 1957, he was executed at the Colorado State Penitentiary.