Airliner Explodes
over Longmont, Colorado

Suitcase Bomb Destroys Plane

Denver—November 1, 1955

DC-6B aircraft in flight

Manfred Werner, Vienna

Sounds like a headline from the nineties. But this dreadful explosion happened November 1, 1955. A United Airlines DC-6B exploded eleven minutes after takeoff from Denver's Stapleton Airfield. All 44 passengers and crew were killed. The dead included Dr. Harold Sanstead, Deputy Secretary of the U. S. Public Health Service, and two General Motors executives.

John Gilbert Graham

U.S. Federal Bureau of

The crash itself was shocking enough, but Denver and the nation were apalled to learn that the airplane had been deliberately bombed. Over a few weeks, the full story emerged in unimaginable detail. John Gilbert Graham had put a bomb in his mother's luggage—then purchased a $37,500 life insurance policy from an airport vending machine. He'd paid $1.50 for the insurance.

Graham never collected the money. He was arrested on Nov 14, tried, convicted, and on January 12, 1957 was executed in Colorado's gas chamber at Canon City, Colorado.

Several years earlier, Graham had plead guilty to charges of forging over $4,000 in checks. He had been paying restitution for those crimes, and at the time of the bombing, he only owed $105.34 of the restitution.

No other U. S. airliner had ever been successfully bombed, though other attempts had been made. In Canada, twenty-three people had died in the explosion of a Canadian Pacific DC-3, near Quebec, in 1949.

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© J. C. Adamson, 1996