Twelve years ago today, Marvin Heemeyer and his Killdozer made history by showing what happens when you push a man too far, and when his legal recourse is tainted with corruption.
Killdozer was a Komatsu D355A bulldozer fitted with makeshift armor plating covering the cabin, engine and parts of the tracks.
In places this armor was over 1 foot (30 cm) thick, consisting of 5000-psi Quikrete concrete mix sandwiched between sheets of tool steel (acquired from an automotive dealer in Denver), to make ad-hoc composite armor. This made the machine impervious to small arms fire and resistant to explosives: indeed three external explosions and more than 200 rounds of ammunition fired at the bulldozer had no effect on it.
In the late 1990s the Docheff family approached Heemeyer to buy his one remaining muffler shop in order to build a concrete batch plant on the land. It was a matter of public record that Heemeyer had bought the land for $42,000. Docheff reported that they agreed to buy the land for $250,000, but the deal fell apart when Heemeyer raised the price to $375,000 and reportedly once even mentioned a million. Having grown weary of Heemeyer’s indecisiveness, the Docheffs went to the Granby City Council and sought to re-zone the land surrounding Heemeyer’s muffler shop. Heemeyer was involved in the re-zoning process from the outset, attending town meetings to ensure that his interests were protected. Nevertheless, in 2001 the town zoning commission and trustees approved the rezoning request. Adding apparent insult to injury, the plan for the concrete plant cut off the only route to his muffler shop. The city also fined Heemeyer $2,500 for “junk cars” on his property, and for failing to have his shop hooked up to the sewer line. Hindered but not yet defeated, Heemeyer set out to remedy the situation using community action, legal maneuvering, and elbow grease. He appealed the zoning commission’s decision, and gathered signatures from the townsfolk to petition against the plant. He attempted to obtain permission to install a sewer line under eight feet of land owned by Mountain Park Concrete, but the new owners refused. He even went so far as to buy a bulldozer to build a new road that would allow customer access to his muffler shop, but the city council declined to approve his plan. Many people suspected there were some shady dealings between the concrete plant and the members of the city council, but no actual evidence of such illegal goings-on has ever been found. Having no recourse, Heemeyer sent the city a $2,500 check to cover the fines, with the word “cowards” written ominously on the memo line. He then sold the muffler shop property to a trash company, and was given six months to vacate. eemeyer set to work on his new project almost immediately. The Komatsu D335A bulldozer that was meant to save his business was instead moved into the muffler shop, and Heemeyer began to make some modifications. He started by adding home-made composite armor—cement sandwiched between thick sheets of steel—to protect the cab, engine, and parts of the tracks. He installed front and rear cameras to feed images to monitors in the cab, and several gun ports were set around the control center. A stockpile of food and water was stored inside, as well as an air tank to help provide air circulation. Throughout the one-and-a-half years of construction, Heemeyer documented his progress though notes and audio tapes. “Because of your anger, because of your malice, because of your hate, you would not work with me,” he stated in his tape recordings. “I am going to sacrifice my life, my miserable future that you gave me, to show you that what you did is wrong.” He received several visitors at his shop while working on his armored vehicle of vengeance, and none of them seemed alarmed at the weaponized armor shell atop his earth-mover. In his notes Heemeyer credited a higher power with “clouding their vision.” On one occasion he wrote, “I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable. Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things.” 2004 was a tough year for Heemeyer. His father passed away in March, and he broke off his engagement when he caught his betrothed with another man. The morning of Friday, the 4th of June was gray and drizzly. Heemeyer mailed his audio tapes to his brother, went to his shop, and climbed into his bulldozer with a handwritten list of targets. He used the winch controls to lower the concrete and steel shell onto the top of his vehicle. Nothing short of a crane would be able to lift the thirty-ton armor shell off the vehicle once it was in place. With that fateful metal clap, Heemeyer was sealed in a concrete and steel box that he could never escape.
At just after 3:00 PM, the makeshift tank tore through the side of his shed, and smashed into the Mountain Park Concrete plant.
Shortly thereafter, the phones at the 911 response center began ringing incessantly. A man named Cody Docheff witnessed the destruction-in-progress and attempted to use a front-end loader to intercept the rampaging bulldozer, but withdrew when he was fired upon from the gun ports of this “Killdozer.” Within minutes two buildings and multiple vehicles were eviscerated, and the Killdozer rumbled towards the highway into town. The slow-moving bulldozer picked up a parade of emergency vehicle escorts as it approached the city limits. One police SUV was crushed when it strayed too near. Undersheriff Glen Trainor managed to climb atop the moving bulldozer, and used 37 rounds from his service pistol to try and shoot his way in. “I think the thing that drove me,” he later reported, “is that I knew that killing him behind the wheel was the only way we were going to be able to stop this thing.” When Heemeyer and his Killdozer arrived in town, the Granby police were waiting for him. Against the armored behemoth, however, the lawmen were powerless. When it became clear that the armor was impervious to bullets the police tried explosives, but they too were without effect. Lawmen kept to the sides and tried to vacate anyone from the Killdozer’s path, and the local police utilized the reverse 911 system to call residents and warn them of the approaching danger. News helicopters filmed the unfolding violence from above. The overencumbered vehicle was obviously difficult to control, and swerved widely through the streets, but Heemeyer was still able to seek out and and hit his specific targets. The bulldozer effortlessly demolished cars and buildings, including the home of a former mayor, the office of a newspaper that had sided against him in an editorial, the businesses of a former city councilman, and the city hall. Despite the destruction of property, no people had been injured or killed.
The Granby Police requisitioned an industrial scraper to pit heavy equipment against heavy equipment,
but the Killdozer merely shoved the lighter adversary aside.
In about an hour of mayhem, the bulldozer had demolished thirteen structures and was en route to its next target: Gamble’s Hardware. The damage from small arms and the extra weight of the armor were taking a toll on the vehicle, however. The radiator had sprung a leak, and the Killdozer was losing horsepower. As the fatigued machine crashed through the wall of the hardware store the floor beneath the beast broke, and the front end of the bulldozer fell into a shallow basement. The engine struggled, but it could not power itself out of the pit. As SWAT teams surrounded the wounded Killdozer, one of the members reported hearing a single, muffled gunshot from within the cab. The vehicle didn’t move again, ending a rampage that had lasted 2 hours 7 minutes, and caused about $7 million in damage. In order to prevent rampage admirers from collecting Killdozer memorabilia, the dozer was dismantled, and its parts were scattered among many separate scrapyards. Anyone who has tried and failed to influence an uncaring government cannot help but feel a twinge of admiration for the extreme measures taken by Marvin Heemeyer. Happy Killdozer Day