20 Years Ago Today: Killdozer Smash

Viiticus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

20 years ago today — June 4, 2004 — the tiny Colorado town of Granby suffered the worst terrorist attack in its 120-year history. OK, the only terrorist attack. It was on this day that Marvin Heemeyer rampaged through town in his customized Killdozer.


Heemeyer, a 52-year-old small business owner, seemed at first like a good neighbor. An Air Force vet and a South Dakota native, he moved to neighboring Grand Lake, Colo., in 1989 after his USAF stint and seems to have been generally well-liked. 

Nevertheless, Heemeyer would spend the last 18 months of his life holed up in an otherwise unused part of his old muffler shop, modifying a Komatsu D355A bulldozer into an impenetrable battering ram. Calling it Marv's Komatsu Tank (or MK Tank), Heemeyer armored the tank with concrete and steel plates. There were external video cameras — shrouded with ballistic glass and complete with compressed air nozzles to clear away dust — so he could remain inside, fully protected.

There was an A/C unit and fans. Steel-plated gun ports. Ballistic plastic. And enough food and water for a week.

At about 2:15 pm, Heemeyer busted Killdozer out of its hiding place and right into Mountain Park Concrete, owned by the rival Docheff family.

The city quickly took up arms, with civilians and police firing more than 200 rounds into KIlldozer to no avail. Undersheriff Glenn Trainer even climbed on top with his pistol, looking for a way to shoot inside.

Killdozer made its way through more than a dozen buildings and various streetlamps and roadsigns. Attempts to stop it with a front-end loader and two tractor-scrapers were brushed aside. 


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Heemeyer didn't just smash things. He opened the steel plates protecting the gun ports to fire on power transmitters and the tanks at a propane storage yard, apparently trying to start a blaze. Residents were alerted via reverse 911 calls to evacuate and, somehow, no one was killed or injured.

Some think Heemeyer is a folk hero, a man who'd had to up to here — with the bossy town government, meddlesome neighbors, and even the local press — and decided to take spectacular action. 

I tend towards some sympathy for the folk hero view but I've never been convinced. 

For starters, Heemeyer's behavior became increasingly erratic. A 1992 fight with the city over a sewer line devolved into a years-long battle, including him pumping his muffler shop's sewage into an irrigation ditch. Later, when he tried to sell the property, he kept demanding more money from the buyer, claiming at least twice to have had it reappraised higher. There were fights over legalized gambling, the construction of a cement plant, and more. Throughout it all, Heemeyer would accept various remedies before suddenly changing his mind.

After losing a zoning battle with the town, he even demanded a refund from his attorney — and that's just nuts. At the time, he was overheard saying to himself, "I'm just gonna bulldozer this whole place to the ground."


Mission: accomplished.

From the reports I've read over the years, it looks to me like something misfired in Heemeyer's mind. "It is interesting to observe that I was never caught," Heemeyer wrote in his journal. When he had several visitors to his shed a few months before Killdozer Day, he was surprised they failed to notice his heavily modified bulldozer. "Somehow their vision was clouded."

That's the kind of thing someone writes when they've come under the delusion that the awful thing they've decided on has been weirdly ordained from above. 

We'll never know the truth. Heemeyer took his own life with a .357 after Killdozer got hung up with a track stuck in the basement of the Gambles hardware store. The owner was one of the people he'd had issues with.

Still, who among us hasn't dreamed of getting back at the busybodies of the world in some sensational way?

Marvin Heemeyer made his dream all too real, and the video is spectacular. 


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