On April 17, 1950, H.A. Mayer, a cargo loader for United Airlines, was just heaving the last piece of luggage, a 47-pound suitcase, into the rear cargo hatch of a DC-3 when a corner of the bag snagged on the hatchway, and as it did a puff of smoke curled into the air. Mayer threw the suitcase to the ground and grabbed a fire extinguisher. As he was pouring chemicals onto the smoking case a wild-eyed man, huffing, puffing and sweating profusely, ran up and gasped:
“Thank God you didn’t get it aboard!”
Then the man lunged for the bag. The baggage handler and the stranger engaged in a fierce tug-of-war over the case and the stranger emerged victorious. He dashed out of the terminal clutching the still-smoking bag, but just as he was about to get into a parked car he was seized by Richard Clarke, ramp supervisor, and Jim Moore, another UAL employee, who threw the bag into a parking lot across the street and held the stranger for the cops.
The man collapsed to the curb beside his blue sedan and sobbed:
I couldn’t do it! I just couldn’t do it!”
Thirteen passengers and a crew of three — Capt. Dick Bechtel, pilot; E.L. Keck, co-pilot, and Mary Kubichi, stewardess, were removed from the plane which had been less than five minutes from take-off before the odd incident took place.
What the hell had just happened, and who was the wild-eyed stranger anyway?
One of the passengers, twenty-six year old Betty Grant and her two children, Marie Ann (6) and Robert (5) immediately recognized the sobbing man as thirty-two year old John Henry Grant, husband and father. Betty and the kids watched as John was led away for questioning by the cops.
C.H. Colley, Venice Police (L) and John Henry Grant (R)
During his interrogation Grant blurted out:
“I wanted to end it…this was the only way I knew…but I lost my nerve…my wife and youngsters–it’s not their fault…I’m a sick man…”
It was becoming uncomfortably clear to everyone that John Grant was indeed a very sick man who, until his eleventh hour attack of conscience, had been willing to kill a plane load of people, his wife and two young children among them. It sounded too diabolical to be true; but was it?