Man Hated His Mother So Much He Blew Up Her Flight With Dynamite

On 1 November, 1955, the United States recorded one of its first attacks on a commercial airliner after a man packed 25 sticks of dynamite into his mother’s suitcase.

Daisie E. King, a 54-year-old woman from Denver, boarded the plane that day to fly to Alaska with plans to visit her daughter. Her 23-year-old son, John ‘Jack’ Gilbert Graham, told police afterwards he didn’t know what his mother had packed in her luggage other than shotgun shells and other ammunition for hunting.

In reality, he had spent the day of the flight searching for what he described as an ‘early Christmas present’ for his mother before taking the package to the basement, where King had been packing.

The family then headed to Denver’s Stapleton Airport, from which the plane took off at 6:52pm local time. It was only 11 minutes later that an employee in the Stapleton control tower reported seeing a bright flash of white and a flare in the sky, according to an accident report cited by The Denver Channel.

The explosion marked the deadliest act of mass murder in Colorado history, resulting in the deaths of all 44 people on board, including a 13-month old boy.

Investigators working on the case began searching through the remains of the luggage to look for the most badly-damaged items or those which were coated in foreign residue. The search led them to King’s case and consequently to her son, with who she was found to have a tumultuous relationship.

Graham was set to receive an inheritance from his mother, but the pair had fought ‘like cats and dogs’ for years, the FBI said.

Graham had packed the dynamite into his mother's suitcase. Credit: FBI Denver
Graham had packed the dynamite into his mother’s suitcase. Credit: FBI Denver

The son had lived with various family members through the years and left home at 16, before returning to work in his mother’s restaurant which, two months before the flight, was damaged by an explosion Graham blamed on a disconnected gas line. 

During questioning, the FBI asked Graham about the gift, first thought to be a toolset, he had bought for his mother, and about why he purchased a trip insurance policy of $37,500 in his mother’s name, with himself as the beneficiary, at the airport. A search also revealed a small roll of copper wire similar to the type found on a detonating primer cap in one of Graham’s shirts.

Agents began to find holes in Graham’s story, and the son admitted to causing the explosion at his mother’s restaurant months earlier. He then admitted to causing the explosion on board the plane, saying he had built a time bomb using 25 sticks of dynamite.

All 44 people on board the plane died. Credit: Denver District Attorney's Office
All 44 people on board the plane died. Credit: Denver District Attorney’s Office

Speaking later with psychiatrists, Graham described having put the bomb into his mother’s suitcase before dropping his family off at the airport door and driving to a car park. He set the timer on the bomb to 90 minutes, then took the bag to the baggage drop, where he paid a fee due to it being overweight.

“The number of people to be killed made no difference to me,” Graham told psychiatrists, saying: “It could have been a thousand. When their time comes, there is nothing they can do about it.”

Graham was sentenced to death for murder, and he was executed in a gas chamber on 11 January, 1957.

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