January 11 1957 - Man Who Blew Up Plane to Kill Mom is Executed

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On November 1st, 1955, United Airlines flight 629 boarded, a flight from Denver to Portland. 44 people got on board: 39 passengers and 5 crew members. After a few minutes in the air, the plane exploded. Nobody survived.

After initially thinking the explosion was a mechanical error, when investigating the debris, a bomb was found.

After looking into each deceased passenger to determine who may have something to gain from bombing a plane, eyes fell to Daisie King, and more specifically, her check-forging, embezzling, insurance-money loving son Jack Gilbert Graham.

He was charged, convicted and sentenced to death for his crimes.


Born John Gilbert Graham, Jack was born in Denver, Colorado during the Great Depression. His father died of pneumonia and, unable to support him alone, his mother Daisie sent him to live in an orphanage.

Daisie remarried, but he died shortly after they married. However, she received a lot of money after his death and opened a successful restaurant. Unfortunately for Jack, even once she had made enough money and built a good enough life to care for her child again, she didn't come collect him from the orphanage.

Their relationship was non-existent until he was 22, and once they reconnected, it was rocky at best. They didn't get along at all and were often seen arguing.

Shortly before the plane bombing, Daisie's restaurant went under because of a mysterious gas explosion causing severe damage.


Daisie was going to Alaska to visit her daughter, Jack's half sister. (1) He put the bomb in his mom's suitcase, claiming it was a Christmas gift he wanted to surprise her with once she reached her destination. Apparently, the bomb made the bag too heavy and it incurred an additional nearly $30 charge, but Jack convinced his mom to pay it and keep everything in her suitcase because she would need it. (2)

In 1955, and through the 1980s, you were able to purchase life insurance policies from vending machines in the airport. Before the plane took off, Jack took out a policy stating that he would receive $37,500 (nearly $350,000 in 2020 money) in the event of his mother's death. (1)

Shortly after takeoff, the plane exploded. When Jack created the bomb, it was intended to detonate 40 minutes into the flight when they'd be over the rocky mountains, making it difficult to collect all of the debris from the plane. However, because of a flight delay, it ended up detonating only a few minutes into the flight, exploding over nearby farmland. (2)


After learning of Jack's fraudulent history of embezzlement and check forgery, he became a prime suspect. Their hunch was further solidified by the life insurance policy taken out right before the plane took off. Investigators also saw that he had received the settlement for the restaurant explosion, and that earlier that year his car had been hit by a train, likely in a ploy for insurance money.

Based on physical evidence at his home, interviews, and ultimately a confession, Jack was charged initially with sabotage, and then with murder.

Though in an originally unaired interview he recanted his confession, saying he only did so to protect his wife from the police threatening to call out inconsistencies in her statement and he loved his mother, he said on several occasions that he made and set the bomb.

He told a prison doctor that he did realize that there could be between 50-60 people on that type of plane, but, "the number of people to be killed made no difference to me; it could have been a thousand. When their tome comes, there is nothing they can do about it."

At the time, there wasn't actually any federal statute outlawing blowing up planes, though it does seem like most citizens can easily abide by not doing that. Because of this, and because the pressure on the district attorney for a quick, simple prosecution, he was ultimately charged only with first degree murder for the death of his mother, even though 43 other innocent people died that day.

He was convicted and sentenced to death by gas chamber. Before his execution, he attempted suicide in his cell but did not succeed. He was executed on January 11, 1957, 63 years ago today. He never expressed any remorse for his crime.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Gilbert_Graham

2. https://www.ranker.com/list/jack-gilbert-graham-united-plane/cat-mcauliffe

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