“We might need a SWAT team.”
Marvin Heemeyer’s actions on June 4, 2005 have been described in many terms, ranging from deranged to heroic. It all depends on who you ask.
An Ordinary Life
Everything about Marvin John Heemeyer’s first forty years of life was what you’d call ordinary. He was born in 1951 in South Dakota. He joined the Air Force in 1971, during which time he had his first introduction to the state of Colorado while stationed there. Some time after military service, he returned to Colorado where he ran a chain of successful muffler shops in the Denver area. About 1991 or ’92, he moved near Granby, Colorado where he purchased two acres of land for $42,000. Though not his original plan, he eventually built another muffler shop on his new property. Heemeyer never married.
Not long after settling into his new property, Heemeyer was approached by Cody Docheff with an offer of $250,000 to buy his acreage as part of the future home of Mountain Park Concrete. Heemeyer initially agreed to the sale, but then upped the price to $375,000. Again an agreement was met, but he changed his terms again, asking for $1 million. Due to the steep price-hike, Mountain Park Concrete back out of the deal. Tired of dealing with Heemeyer, they began instead negotiating with the Granby, CO zoning commission to rezone land next to Heemeyer’s muffler shop to allow them to continue with their plans for a concrete plant.
Heemeyer disapproved of the rezoning and for the next nine years, he vehemently fought everyone from city hall to the mayor’s office to prevent the rezoning. However in 2001, the rezoning was approved and construction on Mountain Park Concrete began. This sparked another battle between Heemeyer and the city of Granby — he claimed that the newly approved plans for the concrete plant would block his only street access, requiring his customers to pass through Mount Park Concrete’s property to get to his muffler shop. It’s unclear whether this complaint was true or not. He ultimately lost his appeal.
About the same time, the city cited Heemeyer for two infractions: not being connected to the city sewer line and for unsightly junk cars strewn about his property. Connecting to the sewer would cost him an estimated $80,000, plus require him to bring the sewer line through eight feet of Mount Park Concrete’s property. Embittered by this time against both the city and the concrete plant, Heemeyer balked. Granby slapped him with $2500 in fines. He paid the fine, writing the word “cowards” on the memo line of his check.
In early 2003, Heemeyer sold his property for $400,000 to a trash company, and put everything up for auction. Reportedly, the only thing that did not sell was a very large bulldozer. About this time, Heemeyer began having religious delusions that God was preparing him for a mission. He took it as a sign from God that his bulldozer didn’t sell. This was later detailed in a series of tape recordings made the following year.
Heemeyer subsequently leased a shed on his former property back from the new owner, drove his bulldozer through the door and parked it inside. According to Heemeyer, the bulldozer fit through the door with just one inch of clearance — another sign from God. For the next eighteen months, he retrofitted the bulldozer with steel plates as well as homemade armor consisting of both concrete and steel sheets to make what he called his “MK Tank” – though it is remembered today as “Killdozer.”
He installed a cooling system, cameras to allow him to see where he was going, and three gun ports. To these gun ports, he mounted a .50 caliber and two 5.56mm rifles. Over the cameras he installed three inch thick bulletproof Lexan complete with air jets to blow away any debris that might obstruct his view.
Perhaps the most unique feature of his Killdozer was its lack of an entrance/exit. Instead of building the armor plating entirely onto his bulldozer, he fashioned the top piece separately to be lifted by crane onto the bulldozer once he was inside. This meant that once he was in the Killdozer, there was no getting out, but more importantly, it meant there was no hatch that could be breached by law enforcement.
In the final weeks leading up to June 2004, Heemeyer made seven recordings, totaling 2 hours and 45 minutes of audio. They begin with various ramblings about how he came to Granby and his past work experiences at muffler shops he formerly owned. The frustration and downright malice is evident in his voice (and coarse language) every time he talks about people he has a grievance with. *Side note: he annoyingly says the word “anyways” quite frequently.
By Tape 3, Heemeyer is in full-blown rage as he continues to rant about his grievances and need for revenge. He feels that the entire community is against him — that they had a resentment towards outsiders. He calls Granby a bunch of backstabbers.
Heemeyer also speaks frequently about God — that God prepared him for this task; that perhaps even God planned it before he was born. He opines that God made him stay single and be successful so that he wouldn’t have family to worry about and he’d have the finances to carry out his task. He says that he was never caught was a sign that God wanted him to go through with his plan. Heemeyer also mentioned playing the lottery — and the fact that he never won as a sign from God to go forward with his intentions. More than once he referred to his past grievances and now his current plan of mayhem as a cross he carried in God’s name. “I’ve taken all I can take. That’s how God built me. It’s not my fault. It’s in God’s hands. God’s will be done through me.”
The final tape is unintelligible due to very poor audio quality.
At approximately 2:00 p.m. on June 4, 2004, Marvin Heemeyer completed his Killdozer. His final step was to mail his tape recordings to his brother and climb inside his tank. He even supposedly greased the exterior to make it harder to climb. Using a remote controlled crane to lift the final piece of armor on, he sealed himself inside for the rest of his life. With him, he brought two handguns. His Killdozer, that had once been 49 tons, now weighed 61.5 tons and would no longer fit through the bay door — so he drove it through the side of the garage.
His first target for revenge was Mountain Park Concrete plant that he blamed for so many of his troubles. Equipped with a 410hp engine, Heemeyer, sometimes moving as fast as 7mph, smashed over and over into the concrete plant. Not realizing Heemeyer’s rage and determination, one of the concrete plant’s heavy equipment operators tried to block the road to Heemeyer’s escape. As Heemeyer barreled down on him, the driver tried to run, but Heemeyer slammed into his grader, easily pushing him out of the way.
Heemeyer then headed for town. On his list of targets were: the bank, the electric company, the newspaper, a construction company, the police station, the former mayor’s home, the town hall, the library, and the hardware store. Over a period of 90 minutes, police watched helplessly as Heemeyer proved unstoppable. None of their ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds, penetrated the Killdozer. At one point, a SWAT team member dropped a flash-bang grenade down the exhaust pipe of the Killdozer to no effect. C4 explosives did nothing.
Though it’s disputed by the military and the governor’s office, several law enforcement officials confirmed that they were so desperate to stop Heemeyer that they requested either an Apache attack helicopter with a hellfire missile or a hand-held anti-tank launcher. However there were concerns about collateral damage from either military weapon. At one point, the the sheriff climbed atop the still-moving Killdozer to gain entry, only to discover Heemeyer had sealed himself inside.
Not only did Heemeyer level buildings and crush cars, but he fired indiscriminately at police — thankfully missing. He also fired upon power transformers and propane tanks trying to cause explosions. Again, thankfully, he was unsuccessful in this endeavor. All told, 13 buildings and dozens of cars were decimated before Heemeyer was stopped.
Turns out the very same heavy equipment operator who had been defeated by Heemeyer back at the concrete plant, ended up being instrumental in stopping the rampage. As Heemeyer smashed into the hardware store, the heavy equipment operator quickly moved his grader behind the Killdozer. With no distance to gain speed to push the grader aside as before, Heemeyer was forced to plow ahead. As luck would have it, the hardware store had a basement and the Killdozer fell inside becoming hopelessly stuck.
As law enforcement swarmed the Killdozer, a single gunshot rang out. It would be nearly 10 hours later before police would finally breach the Killdozer’s hull and discover the fate of Marvin Heemeyer: dead from a single self-inflicted gunshot wound from a .357 handgun. It was estimated that Heemeyer caused $7 million in damages during his 90 minute spree. Much of Heemeyer’s rampage was televised nationally (LINK), and he was almost immediately hailed as patriot and hero by far-right anti-government groups. To prevent Granby from becoming a Mecca to these groups, the Killdozer was cut up and its parts scattered at several different scrap yards.
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As I said in the opening line, depending on who you ask, Marvin Heemeyer is either a folk hero and patriot or he’s a deranged lunatic and domestic terrorist. And for those who know who Heemeyer is, that divide is pretty polarizing. Let’s examine the two sides.
Among anti-government types, he is seen as an inspiration – even sparking a robust merch business. There were calls for the Killdozer to be set up as a tourist attraction (they were dismissed) and in various libertarian and right-wing circles, June 4th is known as Killdozer Day. Though he caused millions in damage, Heemeyer’s fans point out that the only person who died that day was Marvin Heemeyer. And they claim that was intentional on his part — that he only meant to send a message, not hurt anyone. And conspiracy theories abound, including that he didn’t commit suicide but was executed inside his “MK Tank.” In these circles, Heemeyer is a martyr to their anti-government cause and a victim of petty government interference and oppression.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Heemeyer has been called a petulant 5 year old throwing a tantrum and a maniac carrying out an act of terrorism. This is most assuredly how law enforcement and the great majority of Granby, CO residents saw him. Granby PD initiated a “reverse 911” distress call warning residents of Heemeyer’s attack. This sparked terror among the community’s 1500 residents. One mother recalled speeding away with the sound of gunshots ringing out, while her kids huddled crying in the floorboard of their car.1 And 11 out of the 13 buildings Heemeyer plowed through were occupied at the time — including the library that was full of children. He fired dozens of rifle rounds, some aimed at law enforcement, others attempting to ignite large explosions. It’s a literal miracle that no one was injured or killed by Heemeyer. Also on his hit-list was a Catholic church as well as several named individuals. Police, concerned for the safety of innocent folks, considered extreme military weapons to stop him. Until his unexpected and fortunate end, Heemeyer seemed hell-bent on destroying the entire town.
The Truth as I See It
For anyone who has read much of my blog, you can perhaps guess where I fall — decidedly in the second camp of Heemeyer being a deranged, vengeful terrorist. Regardless of whatever perceived or real grievances he may have had, he went way over any kind of reasonable or acceptable line to protest his cause.
He seemed to be very much a “my way or the highway” kind of man. The most famous phrase attributed to Heemeyer is, “I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable. Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things.” One of my favorite youtubers psychologist Dr. Grande countered his statement by saying, “Sometimes an unreasonable man must make up reasons to do unreasonable things.”
While some described him as cheerful, polite, and a wonderful man, others had a much different opinion of Heemeyer — remembering him as argumentative, antagonistic, and combative. It all boiled down to whether you agreed with him or not. An anonymous friend of his stated that, “If Marv was your friend, he was your best friend, but if he decided that he was your enemy, then he was your worst and most dangerous enemy.”2 His rampage demonstrated this observation: one of his targets was the newspaper office, destroyed for merely printing opinions different than his on everything from legalized gambling to zoning. Heemeyer held grudges for years that were irreconcilable.
Maybe Heemeyer wasn’t specifically out to kill anyone, though he seemed ready and willing to kill if it became necessary.
I think he was largely delusional. The saying goes that there are always two sides of every story. Heemeyer’s side of the story seemed to be predominantly a creation of his own mind. I endured the roughly 2 1/2 hours of his recorded ramblings. And I picked up on a number of important items. First, he seemed to have a poor recollection of past events. He attempted to tell events chronologically leading up to 2004, but he often jumped around in his storytelling as he remembered or failed to remember key events of his tale. He would frequently admit “I don’t even remember anymore.” His own story was such a convoluted twisting of reality that even he couldn’t keep it straight.
He also verged on conspiratorial and paranoid. He frequently used the phrases “I believe with all my heart” and “I’m convinced” as he talked about conclusions he had reached. He was convinced judges and attorneys were “in cahoots.” He believed that the citizens of Granby were distrusting and malicious towards outsiders, himself included. In his tapes, he suggested that the city allowed the concrete plant to be built near a hotel so that the dust from the concrete would blow towards the hotel and drive visitors away. Heemeyer believed the townsfolk were angry with him for buying his property because he had acquired it during an FDIC auction of foreclosed properties. He suggested that the townsfolk were jealous of his money and success. He believed that the conspiracy against him would continue after his death — that even once “everything came out” the media embark on a coverup to make him look crazy and evil.
Then there was all the “God” stuff. Heemeyer, in his delusional ramblings, seemed to legitimately believe that he was on a mission from God to teach a lesson to and punish the “unneighborly” citizens of Granby. Heemeyer took care to hide his activities, and then took it as divine approval on his plan that the Killdozer wasn’t discovered. He saw himself as a martyr, sacrificing himself for God and his cause. It all sounded like any number of ramblings I’ve read or listened to by religious zealots and nutjobs.
I believe Heemeyer was also depressed and suicidal. He spoke of himself as worthless and unwanted. He gave away all his money and possessions to include his beloved snowmobiles and his home. He said he wasn’t afraid of death and resigned himself to his fate.
He perpetually saw himself as a victim and as the townsfolk of being deserving of his revenge: “Basically what all this is going to prove when it’s all over with is that meddling in your neighbor’s business is destructive…it’s going to come back to haunt you. And the only person you have to blame is yourself.” He hoped future generations of Granby residents would be wiser and and more loving because of his attack.
The Real Motive?
Another item that stood out to me in Heemeyer’s taped manifesto was dozens of references to his money. He accused the city of costing him money. He also told a strange story of confronting the brother of one of his deceased neighbors and demanding $300,000 as restitution for a perceived grievance. And when the brother naturally refused, Heemeyer threatened that one day he would collect on this made-up debt. At times he fancied himself as wealthy, and other times as poor because of missed income due to being “mistreated.” Many if not all of Heemeyer’s grievances with people centered around money. Really money was the most frequent topic of his ramblings. And as the saying goes the love of money is the root of all evil.3
The only thing that Marvin Heemeyer was a victim of was his own greed and vengeful bitterness.
In His Own Words
Nothing ever gets better unless something drastic happens.
You meddled in my business and took what I deserved away.
You took advantage of my good nature.
Boy I think there’s something you should learn here:
For as good as a man can be, also can he be as bad.
And another thing you should learn:
When you visit evil upon someone, be assured it will revisit you.
And that is what is happening.
I’m not going to get even. I’m going to get ahead.
Or maybe I’m just going to put you down.
It’s going to cost you millions.
They did this to me.
I’ve been beaten to a point where I’m not going to take it anymore.
I wish it could be done another way, but there is no other way to make this right.
I am at peace with what I’m about to do.
– the Heemeyer tapes