A Crime to Remember (2013–…): Season 1, Episode 4 - Time Bomb - full transcript

Denver, CO, 1955. When United Airlines Flight 629 bound for Seattle explodes in mid-air, killing everyone aboard, the new-to-air travel nation grieves over the terrible tragedy. But when crash investigators find a few strange inconsistencies in the wreckage they start to wonder if it was an accident at all. What follows is the discovery of the first-ever act of commercial airline sabotage in the United States...the motive? Money.

That was almost 60 years ago,

and I remember it
like it was yesterday.

At first, I didn't understand
what I was looking at.

I'd never seen an airplane seat
up close before.

But that fiery thing that came
hurling out of the evening sky,

that was the first sign
of something terrible to come.

We wouldn't have described
ourselves as innocent then,

but looking back,

we were as trusting
as newborn babes.

In 1955, in Longmont, Colorado,

an airplane fell from the sky.

It was nighttime before
anyone could get there.

It seemed like
all of the men in town

had turned out to help.

Some of these men had stormed
the beaches at Normandy,

but none of them had seen
the likes of this.

There was not a single person
for miles and miles

who was not aware
of this explosion

because of the fact
that it was so massive.

People had debris cascading
onto their property.

Seats with people in them
were falling from the sky,

huge pieces of metal, luggage.

It was very, very dark,

and the primary illumination was
as the pieces hit the ground,

big, huge pits filled
with fire from the engines.

Those fires burned
for hours and hours.

It became very evident early on

that there were not gonna be
any survivors.

As they would find bodies,

they would station a man
with a flashlight

to indicate where a body was.

And pretty soon,

this entire field was filled
with little points of light.

The flight
had 44 people on board.

It had 39 passengers and 5 crew.

Everyone was killed,
all 44 were killed.

United Airlines, at that time,

was running a series
of commercials that said,

"Compare the fare,
you'll go by air!"

And they were trying to lure
people away from train travel.

And United Flight 629
had several people on it

for whom this was
their very first flight.

Some of the passengers
were stewardesses

who were traveling for pleasure
on their own.

One of them, Sally Scofield,

was a young stewardess
from here in Denver.

There was also Don White,

who was a co-pilot brought in
at the last minute

because there had been
a union dispute.

Eisenhower's Deputy Secretary
for the Public Health

was on that flight.

Many of the passengers
were traveling

to visit friends and family.

There was a woman on board
the aircraft named Daisie King,

and she was traveling to Alaska

to spend Thanksgiving
with her daughter

and to see her grandchildren.

The list of names in
the newspaper seemed endless.

There were husbands and wives,

businessmen and students...

Patricia Lipke, from Pittsburgh,

she was on a vacation trip
to Portland.

Thomas Crouch --

he was about to start
a brand-new job in Seattle.

There was a woman with
a young son who was traveling,

the only child
who died on the aircraft,

James Fitzpatrick II.

That little boy's mother,
Helen Fitzpatrick,

she was taking him to meet
his father for the first time.

He was stationed in Okinawa.

In 1955,
most people who traveled

essentially wore what we would
describe at that time

as your Sunday best.

And you always traveled
to look your best,

not to be comfortable.

Ladies and gentlemen,
629 is about to depart.

It was a very special occasion.

The grim task
of removing the dead,

all on board, 44, perished.

Wreckage was scattered
over a wide area,

mute testimony to the horror

that plunged out of a night sky.

The Weld County Coroner

had to relocate his morgue
over to Greeley Armory

to handle all the dead.

The last time I'd been there
was for the USO dances.

My husband was out all night

helping the firemen
and policemen.

He said he didn't
want to stop moving

because then he'd have to start
thinking about what he'd seen.

If a plane loses its power,

it's going to crash
into the ground intact.

Now, the crash itself obviously
will scatter the debris,

but it will be
a relatively tight area,

whereas when a plane
explodes in air,

then the debris is going to be
scattered over a broader area.

The primary debris field was
approximately 6 square miles.

The distribution
of the debris on the ground

really conforms to that
of an explosion in the air.

It's 6 miles.
Everything's gonna be gridded.

Everything out there filmed,

and it'll be tagged.

The Civil Aeronautics Board

used a method of reconstruction
of the aircraft,

which at that time was very new.

And they divided the crash site

into 1,000-foot
by 1,000-foot squares,

and they assigned
each square a number

and would gather the debris
from each square.

It would be loaded
onto a flatbed truck,

and they used
a large airplane hangar

to reconstruct the aircraft.

So, then you begin to
look for causes inside the plane.

Was the explosion caused
by a fuel tank?

At the time, aircraft were
powered by aviation gasoline,

which was a much more volatile
type of fuel.

An explosion will rend metal,

rip metal outward,

and by close examination
of the metal...

...can we begin

to gradually narrow the origins
so that we can say,

"This explosion occurred

precisely in this portion
of the aircraft?"

So, they realized
after six or seven days

of examining the debris

that this was not something
that was caused by fuel,

that the explosion occurred
in the number-4 cargo hold.

Now the question becomes,
is this an accident?

Investigators hypothesized

there could have been
a volatile substance

that had been
negligently packed.

There was no examination
of luggage at all.

It was only evaluated
for weight.

There had been an incident
in the 1930s

where a United Plane
had exploded

because a sharpshooter
who was traveling

liked to make
his own ammunition,

and he used Nitroglycerin.



And so they gathered
all the pieces

of that luggage compartment
for examination.

What about...

Do you smell that?

Smells like sulfur.

A lot of people described it
as a firecracker-like smell

that they could detect
on the metal.

The FBI forensic chemists

that it had to be dynamite.

They also found
bits of copper wire

that were not part
of the airplane.

This was the ignition source
to set off the dynamite.

The plane had been
purposely bombed.

This was not an accident.

This was an act of sabotage.

A commercial airliner
had been bombed,

blown up,
and killed everybody on board.

People just couldn't believe

that anyone would do
such a thing.

It was completely unheard of.

It was the first time it had
happened in the United States.

There was
no apparent reason for this.

It was a commercial airline
with normal people.

There wasn't anybody
particularly special on board,

except to their own families,

and they're all killed.

It was beyond anything
anyone could imagine.

Everyone out here at the farms,
everyone in town,

and every newspaper I saw

kept asking the same question...

Who could deliberately
set out to kill not one person,

but scores of people randomly?

Who can do that?

That's in a different category.

That is the incarnation of evil.

Do you have
any reason to believe

that he had any negative
feelings toward the airline?

Everyone was in shock.

I mean, we were
no strangers to loss.

It was 1955, after all.

The Korean War had just ended,

and World War II
just before that.

But this kind of thing
happening in peacetime,

it made no sense.

Once they had determined
that the plane had been bombed,

you next would go to determining
why would it be bombed.

The first thing that occurred
to everyone was the unions.

There had been
a lot in the papers

about strikes lately.

Colorado, sadly,

has a very long history
of extraordinary union violence.

Could it be the possibility
of an inside job?

Do we have somebody

that is getting even
with the airline itself?

The union had been making
some rather provocative statements

about having scabs
cross the line.

On this particular night,
the flight engineer was a pilot

who had crossed the picket line
at Stapleton Airport.

So, while considering the union
as the source of the problem,

at the same time,
almost simultaneously...


Hi. Special Agent Roy Moore
with the FBI.

Sorry for your loss, sir.

Thank you.

We just have a few questions
about your wife.

...they'd have to investigate

whether somebody wanted to kill
somebody on board the aircraft.

And so, to do that,
you investigate the background

of all 44 people
who were killed.

I'm sorry about the loss
of your mother.

I appreciate that.

Just bear with us.

They're just routine questions
we have to ask.

FBI Field Agents were dispatched
from literally every state

to interview relatives,

anybody who knew
people on the aircraft.

So, how well did you know
your cousin?

Not that well.

They asked
all sorts of questions

about marital difficulties,
suicidal tendencies,

business failures.

Did they have criminal records,

or would they potentially
have enemies?

Were they in a business
where it was highly competitive

that you'd have somebody
want to kill you?

Were they in difficult
family relationships?

One looks at each passenger.

Who would benefit?

Who would benefit materially?

Financial gain
by the death of this person

or by this plane coming down.

Are there an unusual number
of purchases of insurance?

Did somebody have
a huge policy taken out

that became effective
on the very day of the crash?

And so, one of the first
things that the FBI did

was contact
the insurance companies

that ran the kiosks
in the airport

and asked them to pull
all of the policies

that had issued on the day.

In those days, you could buy
a life-insurance policy

from a vending machine
in the airport.

I always thought it sounded
a little like a wishing well.

If you toss in your coins,
down here on the ground,

you might just buy yourself
a little extra luck

up in the air.

The way it would work is,

you would put your quarter
in the machine,

you would get
your insurance documents,

sign the documents,

and then there was a place
to deposit the signed documents.

Because, if the plane
were to go down,

the policy
couldn't be recovered.

In 1955,
for many people, flying was new,

and there was a lack of trust
that flying was safe.

Many of the passengers
on this plane

had bought
flight-insurance policies.

But when they looked through
all those policies

deposited in the kiosk,

they didn't find anything
that stood out.

There was the minimum
for individuals,

and larger amounts
for couples with children.

I don't mean to be grim,

but if there was no way to tell
which passenger was the target,

well, then they were
going to have to figure out

who put that bomb on the plane
in the first place.

So, if we think that the
device was in an individual's luggage,

can we determine
who owns that suitcase?

The FBI interviewed

all the airline employees
who handled luggage,

and not a one seemed suspicious.

But they did discover
the most amazing coincidence

involving a set of keys
in Chicago.

The FBI caught a lucky break.

The baggage handlers in Denver
were able to tell them

precisely what had been loaded
in cargo pit number 4

because the flight came in
from Chicago,

and one of
the baggage handlers there

had lost his keys inside there.

So, when the plane landed
in Denver,

they unloaded all of the luggage
from the number-4 cargo hold,

moved it into other areas
of the plane.

They never did find the keys.

But, as a consequence,

only items originating
from Denver

were loaded
into the number-4 cargo hold.

The FBI learned

that only three passengers
in Denver checked luggage,

and only one of those
checked the bag

that was very heavy

and capable
of having a bomb inside

that would blow up an airplane,

and that was a woman
by the name of Daisie King.

Daisie King,

the woman on her way
to see her grandkids.

Well, why would she blow up
her own plane?

Some towns get hit by tornadoes.

Some get flooded.

In Longmont, Colorado,

44 people had taken off
in an airplane,

and then 20 minutes later,

they had all fallen
out of the sky.

It was a disaster, certainly,
but it wasn't natural.

Once the FBI realized
that only one Denver passenger

had checked luggage
in that cargo hold

with the capability
to blow up an airplane,

they started to focus
on Daisie King.

Three, two, one!

The FBI agents learned

that the family had
a drive-in restaurant business

on South Federal Boulevard.

Hamburgers, hot dogs,
that type of thing,

initially with car hops.

This was the 1950s.

Cruising was
a very popular activity.

Going to the drive-in.

You were all living
together now, Mr. Graham,

in this house, with your mother,
is that right?

Yeah, that's right.

The FBI dispatched two agents

to interview Jack Graham
and Helen Hablutzel.

These were
Daisie King's two children

from different marriages.

The daughter had come to Denver
after the accident, from Alaska.

Could you just tell me
a little bit more

about what things were like
growing up with Daisie?

Well, it was hard.

Jack and Helen talk about

the difficult
financial circumstances

that they were brought up with
as children.

At the time,
her husband had died.

In the 1930s,

it was during the depths
of the depression,

and she had no means
to support her children.

And so, she had put her daughter

in what was essentially
a religious prep school.

And Daisie had placed her son
in an orphanage in Denver

so that she was able to work,

and he spent his childhood
in the orphanage.

It was a terrible time.

It tore families apart,

forced people to do things
they didn't want to do.

I mean, send your kids away
or have them starve?

That's not much of a choice.

Some people
could never get over it.

And then Earl King,

he was Daisie's third husband,
and he died a few years ago.

After Daisie King's third
husband died in the mid 1950s,

she was now in a good situation.

And she decided
to buy a house for Jack,

who now has his own family.

And create a basement apartment
for herself,

perhaps she was trying
to undo something from the past

that would make her feel better.

Is that when you started,
what is it, the, -

the Crown-A.
The Crown-A.

Yeah, that's right.

Daisie thought
that it might be a good idea

to open a restaurant,
and I'd manage it.

When Daisie came into money,

she was trying
to make reparations.

She was in a position to be able
to put the family together

in a way she was never able
to do before.

But she was in a bad place,

like really struggling,
you know?

When Helen is talking to the FBI
about her mother,

she's describing a woman

who really could never be happy
with things in life,

even when things
were going well.

She couldn't take enjoyment
from those moments,

and Helen's mother is a woman
who you could never hug.

You couldn't really
call her "Mom."

She always wanted
to be called "Daisie."

And Helen, at that point,
shocked the FBI

and says that her mother was
a woman who had mood swings,

and that on one occasion
she had attempted suicide.

All right, I want to hear
everything Daisie did that day.

Daisie came upstairs
with her bag.

Jack told the FBI agents
that his mother was very quirky

when it came
to packing her case.

Only she was to pack her items.

She didn't want any help
from anyone.

I wanted to loan her a sweater,

but I had to give it
straight to her.

And Gloria chimed in and said,

"Yeah, that's the way she was.

She packed her own luggage."

And had you seen
what she was packing?

Well, ammunition.

She was real excited
about the caribou season.

The sister confirmed
that her mother intended to hunt

when she was in Alaska.

Jack, we're going to be late!

I know, I know,
I'm going as fast as I can!

At this point,

Daisie was starting
to get irritated with him

because he was running late.

They then walked
towards the departure area,

and Daisie wants
to buy flight insurance.

So she gives Jack
several quarters,

and he buys
three life-insurance policies.

One is listed in his name,
the other policy is for Helen,

and the third policy
is for Daisie's sister.

Each was for
the lowest amount possible.

Then she goes
to the ticketing agent.

Hello, there.


And what
is our destination today?

Seattle, then Anchorage.

And are you checking any bags?


Ooph, that is a heavy one!

Would this person
have reason for suicide?

From the investigator's

things begin to converge.

In the case of Daisie,

they knew
that she had volatile moods.

They knew that she had
previously attempted suicide.

She also had talked
about the idea

that there could be
a flight disaster.

She talked about the fact
that this plane may just blow up

and she may be killed.

We have a number of cases that
were suicide insurance scams.

They may have wanted to provide

for the surviving members
of their family.

And she had insisted
on taking out life insurance

on her life
just before the flight.

At that point,

exploration really becomes
case construction.

And, these are the last two.

That's it?

So the FBI looked deeper,

and it turned out
this wasn't the first time

a bomb had exploded
around Daisie King.

In September of 1955,

the Crown-A drive-in
had a large fire.

Glass had blown out
into the street.

That restaurant had

had an explosion occur inside
from a gas leak,

and they had received
an insurance settlement

for that damage.

When the FBI got wind of
this explosion happening

just two months
before the plane blew up,

they knew it was time
to take a closer look

at what was going on
at that drive-in.

Was Daisie behind it all, or
was someone trying to hurt her?


What are we gonna do about this?

Don't worry about it.

The business was losing
money and she blamed Jack,

and she started making noises

about wanting
to sell the business.

You've got to learn.

Daisie controlled
all the financial aspects

of the business.

If the restaurant was sold,

Jack Graham would've been
out of a job,

and all of the money
would've gone to his mother.

So, the FBI looked
with greater scrutiny

at the financial effect
of Daisie's death on that plane.

The approximate value of
Daisie's estate in today's money

would be nearly
a million dollars.

Who would that go to?

Daisie's children,
Helen and Jack.

Well, now it seemed like
maybe Jack had reason

to want
to get rid of his mother.

Jack, can you get these?

Those FBI men took a closer
look at that Jack Graham.

The FBI discovered that Jack
Graham previously had, in fact,

himself worked
at the same insurance company

that had been insuring
the drive-in restaurant.

Three, two, one!

It was an incredibly
mercurial relationship

between Jack and Daisie.

They would often
be screaming at each other

in front of the employees.

Different people reached out
to the FBI

and said,
"You oughta look at Jack Graham."

"He had something to do
with this explosion

at the Crown-A drive-in."

It fit?

Let's see what we got.


At that point,

they identified a few personal
effects of Daisie King's.

What is it?


And the FBI found a faded
newspaper clipping from 1951

that indicated that Jack Graham
had been involved

in a check-forging scheme.

Daisie helped pay
some of the restitution

to try to persuade the judge
to go easy on him,

and ultimately,
he was placed on probation.

Mr. Graham.

How are you?

I'm well.

We, we recovered
some personal effects

that may have been
your mother's.

But writing bad checks
is a far cry

from blowing up an airplane
and killing 44 people.

Besides, it seems like Daisie

was cleaning up
after Jack's messes.

Why would he cut
the apron strings?

Yeah, I'd love to have them.

I'm sorry, can I trouble you
for a glass of water?

Yeah, my wife's inside.

Here's another one.

Yeah, th-this.

Is Jack coming in?

They'll just be
a few more minutes.

Do you mind
if I just ask you one thing?

There must be some little part
of that day that you remember

that slipped Jack's mind.


When the FBI agents
interviewed Gloria Graham,

she corroborated
Jack's timeline of the day.

You know, there was one thing.

And it's sad

because Jack was doing
something nice for his mother

and she'll never know.

She saw Jack
carrying a wrapped present.

And this, she thought,
was the present

that he had talked to her about
giving to his mother.

Thank you very much,
Mrs. Graham.

A few days later,
FBI agents searched his house.

And the agents found, hidden
behind a piece of furniture,

a insurance policy
that had issued

from one of the insurance kiosks
at the airport

for over $30,000 with
Jack Graham as the beneficiary,

which was far in excess
of Jack Graham's claim

that he had just bought
the minimal policy.


They found spools of copper wire

similar to the wire that
was recovered at the crash site.

And they located
a hardware store

in the town
of Kremmling, Colorado,

and the owner
of the hardware store,

and he picked Graham out

as the person he'd sold
the dynamite to.

Jack, we just wanted
to ask you a few more questions.

We searched your house,
and we found a few items in it

that don't match up
with what you told us.


Yeah, whatever I can do to help.

We found an insurance policy,

but it wasn't the
insurance policy that you said.

It was for $37,000.

I -- I don't know
what to tell you about that.

That doesn't sound quite right.

And we found some copper wire
down in the garage.

Well, we -- we use copper wiring
at the restaurant, um...

It's the same copper wire

that matched the detonating
device on the aircraft.

And what Jack Graham told
the FBI -- it was unbelievable.

We couldn't have imagined it
in our wildest nightmares.

What do you have to say, Jack?

44 people died when
United 629 exploded in the sky

over Longmont, Colorado.

Just 12 days later, the FBI
got Jack Graham to talk.

Well, it all started
at the restaurant.

Daisie was raising hell again.

And I'd had enough.

It's pretty simple.

Used a six-volt battery
and electric caps

to explode the dynamite,

and he had to find a timer
that would give him enough time

to get the bag onboard
and blow up.

Now, different than
in this digital age,

back then, you would just
have had an analog timer.

He used an appliance timer,
had 60 minutes on it.

Jack, we're going to be late!

Don't worry about it, Daisie.

So that's why he took his mother
to the airport

at the last moment
to get her on the aircraft.

And are you checking any bags?


Ooph, that is a heavy one!

I'm afraid it's about
30 pounds overweight.

You'll have to pay $27.82,

or you can unpack some things
and send it by freight.

We have a freight office
in the airport.

Jack, come here!


My bag's overweight.

It's $27, and the girl says
I can unpack it

and then ship some of it
by freight.

What should I do?

You don't want to do that.

I mean, the last thing
you want to do

is get all the way there

and realize
that the one thing you need,

you left here.

Who knows how long
the freight's gonna take?

There are four people
having a conversation

about whether or not
to open this suitcase

while there's a bomb inside
with a timer ticking down,

and he knows that that bomb

is the first thing
that they're gonna see

when they open that bag,
and he is very insistent --

pay the extra,
don't open the bag.

Yeah, you're right.

I'll pay.

Will that be cash
or personal check?

And so, she paid extra

to take the 30-something
extra pounds of luggage.

If Daisie
had been a little cheaper,

if she'd been
a little more inquisitive,

this never would've happened

because they came very close
to opening that suitcase.

It turned out
Jack hated his mother

more than anyone had imagined.

Why did Jack do this?

At the age of 10,

when his mother remarried
in the 1940s,

he thought, "This is it.

"I'm going to be free
of the foster home."

But no, Jack is sent back.

He has a mother who can now
afford to have him in the home,

but she just doesn't want him.

A few years after that,

this woman who had abandoned him
now comes back into his life,

and now his mother
is his landlord

because she helps him
buy the house

and she's living
down in the basement.

And she also builds a restaurant
and has him manage it.

So now she's his boss
and his landlord

and his downstairs tenant --

just a very smothering presence
in his life.

There's two
contrasting options here.

On the one hand,
if Daisie lives,

then the business
is going to be sold,

Jack is without a job,

and he has a wife
and two children to look after.

On the other hand,
if Daisie were to die,

then Jack
inherits the restaurant.

He gains the life insurance.

So given these two choices,
Jack decides on the latter.

He decides to kill his mother.

Put your hands
on the desk, please.

At the time of the explosion,

there were no federal laws
on the books

that said blowing up
a commercial airline is a crime.

No one had done it before.

No one had even envisioned it.

The District Attorney
for Denver at that time

made a decision
that he would file

a single charge of intentional
and deliberate murder,

with Daisie King as the victim.

At the end,

Jack Graham was found guilty
of murder in the first degree.

He was sentenced
to death in a gas chamber.

He was executed
in January of 1957,

so only 14 months passed
between the time of the crime

and the resolution
with the execution of Graham.

Just a few weeks after
Jack Graham was found guilty,

on July 14, 1956,
Dwight D. Eisenhower,

President of the United States
at that time,

signed a bill into law

prohibiting the intentional
bombing of a commercial airline.

Jack Graham became
the stuff of nightmares,

someone unimaginable
before all of this.

What kind of monster
could wait in that room

and lay eyes
on all those people,

a life ahead of each
and every one of them,

knowing he was about
to kill them all?

He has a personality
which is psychopathic.

He lacks a sense of guilt.

Getting that money
mattered far more to him

than the lives

of those 44 innocent men,
women, and children.

This man really changed
the psychological mentality

of people in the mid-1950s.

It's almost like technology
meeting evil.

Ladies and gentlemen,

629 is about to depart.

Daisie King curiously
somehow arouses less sympathy.

We're not saying
the woman deserved to die,

but we can connect her as
the target with the perpetrator.

The other people
are random victims,

and the randomness
affects us differently.

It causes greater fear
because we more easily

can put ourselves
into the seats on that airplane.

America lost
its innocence to some extent.

It shook the country
to its core.

For the first time, people were
vulnerable in the sky

in a way they had never been before.

I was so sad for those
people and their families.

So much loss.

But I was also sad
for myself and my husband

and for my two children
because the world was changing,

things I couldn't even
imagine yet.

And I thought about how much
we have to trust each other,

and I thought about

how when just one person
breaks that faith,

no one is safe.