Airport employees were scratching their heads on November 1, 1955, as United Airlines Flight 629 exploded minutes after leaving the tarmac. The plane was in perfect condition and had successfully gone on two flights earlier in the day. Investigations turned up fruitless. When the plane crash appeared fated to remain unsolved, investigators suddenly found a victim’s handbag — which would contain some very strange leads involving someone very close to her.
Business As Usual
November 1, 1955 was set to be a busy day for United Airlines Flight 629. It had taken off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, headed for a brief layover in Chicago, and then pushed along to Denver’s Stapleton International Airport. The plane arrived at 6:11 PM.
The original flight crew disembarked from the plane and left the job to a fresh batch of individuals, not realizing they were taking their last steps on land. Despite taking off and landing twice over, Flight 629 wasn’t looked over for any issues. It would take off a third time at 6:52 PM, this time headed for Portland, Oregon. Sadly, the commercial plane was fated to never reach its destination.
A Spontaneous Burst of Light
Initially, nothing seemed out of the ordinary aboard the flight. Four minutes into the voyage, the captain radioed a message over to the airport’s control tower to let the ground crew know that things were going just as planned. However, the control tower workers, the flight crew, and the passengers onboard would be in for for a horrific surprise.
At 7:03 PM, only seven minutes after the flight personnel had radioed in that everything had been running smoothly, Stapleton International Airport’s air traffic controllers suddenly witnessed two bright flashes of light in the Colorado sky. Then after the flashes came something that made their stomachs turn.
The Demise Of Flight 629
About a minute after seeing the initial bright flashes, many people realized those two lights were beginning to tumble through the air and fall to the ground. No doubt, staff members overlooking Flight 629 were suspecting the worst, and they weren’t wrong for doing so. That freefall through the air was followed by a massive explosion on the ground.
It soon became clear that Flight 629 had crashed. The local authorities immediately hopped into their squad cars and began searching for the plane, desperately hoping that a few of those passengers had survived. However, for starters, no one had a clue about where the aircraft actually was.
Metallic Rain Over Longmont
The mystery surrounding the doomed aircraft’s whereabouts would soon be solved. Phone calls from the town of Longmont, about 30 miles from the Stapleton International Airport, soon began to flood the local police station. The town’s residents were reporting having heard a loud explosion, and now metal debris was raining down on them.
Authorities had no doubts that they were talking about whatever was left of Flight 629. The plane that somehow had evaded a cross-inspection was now scattered across six square miles of Weld County. Sadly, when authorities arrived on the scene, they didn’t find what they were hoping for.
The Search For Survivors
Despite the odds, authorities held a shred of hope that they might be able to find some of the passengers from the flight. In a heartbreaking discovery, they would quickly learn this wasn’t the case. First responders were quick to report that the flight’s five crew members and its 39 passengers were all killed instantly in the explosion.
With the oldest victim aged 81 years old and the youngest being just 13 months old, it was a tragedy that rocked the entire nation and stole headlines far away from Colorado. The authorities were quick to start an investigation on the crash, as things looked quite suspicious.
The Stench of Something Explosive
Once the pieces of the debris from the plane crash were all gathered together, investigators were quick to make some strange discoveries about the nature of the crash itself. Firstly, almost every single piece had an overwhelming stench that is often found on explosive materials. It quickly became clear to the Civil Aeronautics Board that this was no mere accident.
While they didn’t know how, investigators were able to determine that Flight 629 had blown up with a tremendous force. Suspicions heightened even further after investigators were able to discern that the plane hadn’t malfunctioned mid-flight, nor did it have any defects. This left them with one very terrifying conclusion about the crash.
This Was No Accident
Once the notion of a malfunction was off the table, investigators could only see the crash as having happened as the result of a deliberately planned attack. Authorities were guessing that someone had smuggled a bomb onboard, but they couldn’t put their finger on a reason as to why someone would want to do that.
Someone simply wouldn’t take 44 lives without some kind of personal grudge or at least something to gain from this wanton act of cruelty. That being said, investigators didn’t want to jump to any wild conclusions without anything concrete. However, they would soon find some evidence to solidify their suspicions.
To begin with, investigators weren’t coming across any clues at the site of the plane crash which could break new ground for the case. However, as every piece of the plane was being meticulously looked over, one chilling discovery made the notion of a planned attack a practically inescapable truth.
It was discovered that four shards of sheet metal were tainted with traces of chemicals used when creating dynamite. The severity of the case had hit a new level. Now, local investigators would need to call on some more professional help: the FBI. They would start their detailed examination of the case by getting up close and personal with some very unlikely individuals.
Investigating The Dead
The first suspects on the FBI’s list were the very same flight passengers who had perished in the plane crash. They needed to know if there was someone on that plane who had a past record demented enough to indicate they could have been willing to blow themselves up along with a handful of innocent individuals.
If there had been such a person on the flight, the FBI were determined to find out. As they rifled through the information about the deceased individuals and their belongings, the FBI decided to put their focus on people who were actually from Colorado. After some thought, they realized that there was little chance that the blast could have come from someone who wasn’t native to the state.
Looking At Colorado Natives
Looking back at the flight’s log until its crash, United Airlines Flight 629 had already been on a couple trips that day and there had been zero problems. The explosion had only happened after leaving Denver, so the FBI thought anyone who had boarded the flight there was under far more suspicion.
While looking at the background of the passengers, they found that there were a number of individuals who had recently taken out life insurance policies. For the FBI, that was definitely an action that raised some red flags. After looking over the remains of the deceased passengers, one of them, a middle-aged woman, stood out from the rest.
Meet Daisie King
During the investigation, one passenger stood out from the rest: 53-year-old Denver resident Daisie King. On paper, she looked far from being able to raise any eyebrows. In fact, one might even point her out as one of the least likely individuals to bomb a plane full of people. Daisie was a widow and a business owner; she was someone who had something to lose.
The woman was even on the flight in the first place because she had been heading to Alaska to visit her daughter. However, there was one detail about Daisie that caught the attention of the FBI. While most of the luggage had been blown to bits, they found something near and dear to Daisie that managed to survive both the explosion and the subsequent plane crash.
Discovering Their Prime Suspect
As investigators combed through some of the items found among the wreckage, they managed to locate Daisie King’s handbag. Upon opening it, they found themselves in for the surprise of their lives. In her purse were several newspaper clippings featuring her son, a small-time criminal by the name of John Gilbert Graham.
Her relation to such a person seemed highly out of the ordinary, and immediately seized the FBI’s attention. John wasn’t what could be described as a first-time offender by any sense of the word. In fact, much of his troubled past could be chalked up to his highly abnormal upbringing.
A Troubled Childhood
Daisie had given birth to her son John back in the winter of 1932. He was her only child in her second marriage. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get the love and support that a child needs. Not long after he was born, his father passed away. Without means to support him, Daisie felt her only option would be to put her child in an orphanage.
She made the decision to surrender him, and began looking for a way to get herself back on her feet. While it would logically follow that a mother with the means to do so would pull their child out of the orphanage as soon as they could, Daisie did something that would leave most mothers in a state of shock.
Cutting All Contact
Despite leaving little John behind with the promises of returning, Daisie quickly moved on with her life. She married for a third time and was seemingly swept away by the stability her new reality brought her. With life setting her in a new direction, she never retrieved her son from that orphanage.
Eventually, Daisie’s third husband passed on, leaving her with an impressive inheritance. Daisie used the money to open up her own restaurant, called the Crown-A Drive-In Diner. It was a local hit and garnered a fair share of loyal consumers. Although it seemed they’d been separated forever, twenty years later, mother and son would cross paths again.
Becoming Reacquainted With His Mother
By 1954, Daisie didn’t quite know what to do with herself. With her third marriage over and her daughter living in Alaska, Daisie couldn’t think of a better moment to at last track down her long-lost son and pick things up where she had left off 22 years earlier. Their reunion would take place only a year before the plane crash.
While most wouldn’t rush into paying back their abandoned child, Daisie must have felt a great deal of guilt. She’d put him in the hands of strangers, and now her own flesh and blood had turned to a life of crime. His arrest record was sporting offenses like embezzlement, forgery, and even bootlegging. No doubt things could have been different if she were there to guide him. With this, she did something that many would regard as foolish.
As FBI agents explored further, they discovered that not long before the plane crash, Daisie had made John the beneficiary of her life insurance policy. Even more peculiar, it had been recently reported that her restaurant had sustained some damages in a recent explosion. When all was said and done, John and Daisie found themselves standing to receive some sizable insurance payoffs.
It was evidence that couldn’t be ignored. With that, John suddenly became the FBI’s prime suspect. They left the plane debris and bodies behind, and headed for John’s residence. Any mystery surrounding the crash would be sure to fall more into place once they paid him a visit.
Looking For The Right Kind of Evidence
Knowing that he was coming into some big money, John was probably flying high in the days after the crash. The crime was done so slyly that he couldn’t have suspected that a few newspaper clippings in his mom’s purse would lead the FBI to his door.
When the FBI came knocking on John’s door, he was quick to say that he had nothing to do with the plane explosion. However, evidence all over his home told a markedly different tale. As investigators scoured the home, they came across a great deal of life insurance policies. What’s more, there was something huge in the garage.
When FBI agents entered John’s garage, they found all the materials that it would take to create a bomb big enough to blow up a commercial plane. He had the perfect alibi, saying that his mother had packed her own luggage. Despite this, no one on the scene actually believed that Daisie would have thought to blow up a plane.
John even went on to say that he loved his mother dearly and would never hurt her. Witnesses, on the other hand, wouldn’t describe their relationship as having been loving, and they recalled having seen the only recently-reunited pair fight often. It seems that there was some heavy resentment between the two. With one more swift blow to his credibility, John’s alibi fell apart.
The Mystery Of Daisie’s Bag
John swore up and down that his mom had packed her own luggage. He stated that if there was a stick of dynamite in that bag, then she had put it there herself. Unfortunately for him, his lie wouldn’t stick, as his wife Gloria broke and admitted to having seen her husband pack Daisie’s bags for her.
With a mountain of hard evidence resting upon his shoulders, John found himself unable to find an angle that would work in his favor. The FBI had the young man pinned under their thumb and he knew it. Now, there was only one more path open for him to go down.
John at last broke and admitted he had done it all. He had helped his mom pack her suitcase and had slipped a stick of dynamite inside. He was put on trial and given the death penalty. Before stepping into the gas chamber on January 11, 1957, he said something that would cause more than a few jaws to drop.
The young man chillingly declared before his execution: “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.” Due to a baffling lack of laws regarding bombing commercial planes at the time, Graham was only charged with killing his mother. This controversy led to new laws being passed regarding attacks on commercial flights and other forms of domestic terrorism.
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