11 Facts About Jack Gilbert Graham, The Mass Murderer Who Blew Up A Plane

On November 1, 1955, 23-year-old husband and father Jack Gilbert Graham placed a homemade dynamite time bomb - disguised as a Christmas present - on United Airlines Flight 629 shortly before it left Stapleton Airfield in Denver, CO, bound for Portland, OR. Approximately 11 minutes after the plane took off, the bomb detonated, killing all of the passengers and crew members onboard the aircraft.

However, he blew up the plane not because he was a domestic terrorist with a vendetta against the United State's government, but because he was a small-time criminal who wanted to end the life of just one of the passengers onboard Flight 629. Graham killed a lot of people just for his own financial gain. Thankfully, Graham was quickly identified as the United Airlines bomber responsible for killing 44 people. The trial of this mass murderer made history and forever changed the way the press covered court proceedings in America.

  • He Blew Up A Plane Using A Homemade Bomb
    Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair use

    He Blew Up A Plane Using A Homemade Bomb

    On November 1, 1955, 23-year-old John Gilbert Graham placed a time bomb in a suitcase belonging to his mother, Daisie King, before she boarded United Airways Flight 629 from Denver, CO, to Portland, OR. At the airport, Graham gained access to his mother's luggage by telling her he wanted to put a surprise gift in her bag for her to open for Christmas.

    Graham made the bomb using 25 sticks of dynamite, a six-volt battery, a timer, and two primer caps. And just minutes after the plane took off from Denver, the bomb detonated, severing the tail section of the aircraft. After exploding, the plane crashed to the ground, and pieces of the aircraft were scattered all over farmland near Longmont, CO.

  • He Only Wanted To Kill His Mother

    The bomb and the ensuing plane crash killed everyone aboard Flight 629, ending the lives of 44 people, including Graham's mother, 38 passengers, and five crew members. His true target was his 53-year-old mother.

    From the time he was a child, Graham and his mother had a contentious relationship. After Graham's father died in 1937, King was unable to care for her five-year-old son without her husband's help, so she placed the young boy in an orphanage. However, when King married her third husband in 1941 - a union that greatly improved her financial situation - she left Graham at the orphanage instead of arranging for the boy to live with her and her new spouse.

  • He Wanted To Collect Insurance Money

    In addition to wanting to kill his mother due to years of anger and resentment, Graham stood to gain thousands of dollars from an insurance policy he purchased on her shortly before Flight 629 took off. In 1955, people could purchase life insurance policies from vending machines located in airports - a practice that continued in the United States until the 1980s - so Graham bought one that would pay him $37,500 in the event of his mother's death.

    In addition to being the life insurance policy's beneficiary, Graham was one of the heirs to his mother's estate worth $150,000, worth well over $1 million today. When an official from United Airlines told Graham his mother was presumed dead in the explosion and crash, instead of pretending to be distraught, he reportedly replied: "Well, that's the way it goes."

  • He Set The Bomb To Explode Over The Rocky Mountains

    The bomb - which Graham had disguised by wrapping it in Christmas paper - nearly didn't make it on Flight 629 because it caused King's suitcase to be overweight, resulting in a $27.82 baggage surcharge. However, Graham convinced his mother to pay the fee, persuading her she would need everything in her suitcase when she reached her final destination, Alaska. 

    Graham set the timer on the bomb to detonate approximately 40 minutes after take off, causing the plane to explode and crash while over the Rocky Mountains, making it harder for officials to recover the wreckage. However, the flight was delayed by more than 30 minutes, so the aircraft fell in farmland located between Platteville and Longmont in Colorado.

  • A Man Blew Up A Plane To Kill His Wife A Few Years Earlier

    While Graham's plot to blow up a plane was extreme and nearly unfathomable, he was not the first person to detonate a bomb on an aircraft to kill just one individual. Six years earlier on September 9, 1949, Albert Guay convinced his sister to put a bomb - which was made for him by a clock maker - in his wife's luggage before she boarded a flight from Quebec City bound for Baie-Comeau, Canada.

    The explosion and crash killed everyone onboard, including Guay's wife Rita, 18 other passengers, and four crew members. Guay killed his wife because he wanted to marry his mistress without getting a divorce, and to benefit from a life insurance policy. Guay was executed on January 12, 1951, for his horrific crimes.

  • Law Enforcement Initially Thought The Explosion May Have Caused By A Malfunction

    Initially, officials believed the explosion was the result of a mechanical malfunction. However, after the wreckage was examined by engineers from the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and United Airlines, they determined it was probably something more nefarious.

    Suspecting foul play, the FBI investigated the backgrounds of the flight's passengers. They looked at who aboard the plane had significant amounts of trip insurance, believing someone may have detonated the bomb to collect money from a policy. While many of the other passengers had policies worth significantly more than Graham's mother, investigators became suspicious when they discovered a duplicate policy on King hidden at Graham's house. When they learned about their contentious relationship, things got even more suspect.