On November 1,1955, at 6:52 pm, United Air Lines Flight #629 departed from Stapleton Airfield in Denver. Eleven minutes later the plane exploded, killing all 44 people onboard and scattering debris over Longmont, Colorado farmland. This fragment, held by the Denver Police Department and preserved by the Denver Police Museum, displays what is thought to be a shrapnel hole from the cargo hold explosion beneath the passenger cabin of the plane. It was used in the subsequent murder trial and stands as a symbol of the first confirmed case of sabotage against a U.S. commercial airliner.
The Colorado Supreme Court, by making the unprecedented decision to allow television cameras in the courtroom during the Graham trial, influenced the role of media and the press nationwide for decades to come. The bombing also led to an early example of the successful cooperation of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as each supported the other in the investigation of this crime. Colorado judiciary decisions in this case broke new legal ground in the areas of air travel insurance fraud, media access to court trials, and laws pertaining to criminal sabotage of U.S. commercial airliners.
Commercial air travel in the mid-20th century had very few passenger security restrictions. The bombing of United Flight 629 was among the earliest in a continuum of airline violence and air piracy that led to calls for baggage screening and placement of air marshals on flights. Furthermore, this incident led to the creation of a federal law, signed by President Eisenhower in 1956, authorizing capital punishment for an act of aircraft sabotage resulting in death. In addition, the trial of John Gilbert Graham was the first televised trial ever, and was described as “the O.J. Simpson trial of its day.”
Denver Police Museum
1331 Cherokee St
Denver, CO 80204