The Collateral Damage Divorce, Conclusion

betty grant

Betty Grant

Betty Grant and her two young children watched as husband and father, John Henry Grant, was led away by the cops to be questioned in an alleged bomb plot.

If Grant hadn’t, at the very last minute, tussled with the baggage handler and snatched the bag with an incendiary device in it it would have been loaded on to the same plane that his wife and two children were taking from LAX to San Diego!

After examining the gasoline soaked bag, police technician Ray Pinker declared the home made explosive device to be a “clever job”. Pinker continued:

“There’s a clock inside connected to batteries and a high-resistance bridge. At 2:30 p.m. the clock would have started the mechanism, shooting juice through the bridge to a can of matches.”

“These would flame and ignite an inner tube filled with high-octane gasoline crammed in the bag–and in the closed quarters of the cargo compartment.”

“Thus, if the time bomb had gone aloft in the twin-engine transport, a flaming explosion would have torn the after end of the ship as it was approaching San Diego with 16 persons aboard.”

grant2_resizeThat a man could plot the cold-blooded murder of his wife and children is horrifying, but for a man to be willing to take the lives of thirteen strangers at the same time defies understanding — the other passengers and the three person crew would have been collateral damage.


If you’re wondering if Grant was contemplating mass murder for a multi-million dollar insurance pay-out, he wasn’t — the idiot had purchased a total of $25,000 ($242,267.63 in current USD) in life insurance on his family in one of the airport life insurance vending machines! If you’re of a certain age you may recall the insurance vending machines — they were ubiquitous in airports all across the country. Grant later said he needed money to get himself out of debt. He claimed to owe over $9,000 — but his wife said she thought the amount was closer to $400.tlp965764

But of course Grant wasn’t plotting murder for money alone — cherchez la femme (look for the woman). There was a woman waiting for Grant — a pretty, red-haired airline stewardess named Betty Suomela. Betty had been dating John for three years — she met him shortly after arriving in L.A. from New York. He told her that he was separated from his wife and that he had no children. Suomela admitted to detectives that she was in love with John and that she had believed he was appearing in court for a final settlement of a divorce action — she had no clue that he was actually planting a time bomb designed
to destroy his entire family.

john grant_no loveWhile cooling his heels in a Venice jail cell, the 31 year old aviation engineer was asked about his feelings for his mistress. Without hesitation he said that he’d been stringing her along and that he had told her “a pack of romantic lies’. He said:

“I lied to her so many times I can’t even remember my stories. I told her I was separated…I told her I was getting a divorce…I told her I loved her…”

Maybe the enormity of what he’d planned dawned on Grant for a moment because officers found a crudely fashioned noose of mattress strips hidden in his cell, even though he’d only been left alone for less than 30 minutes.

Suomela wasn’t the only “other woman” in Grant’s life. Three years earlier he had been convicted in New York for a paternity case involving a baby girl born to 22 year old divorcee, Helen Hansen, an American Airlines employee. He was ordered to pay $10 a week toward the little girl’s support, but he quit making payments after a year and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was traced to L.A. but authorities refused to extradite him to New York on the grounds that he hadn’t been charged with a crime.noose_pic

Grant’s problems had gone way beyond being a deadbeat dad to his out of wedlock daughter — he was looking at a possible sentence of 20 years on each of 16 counts of attempted murder. At first Grant said he didn’t want a lawyer, that he wanted to plead guilty and be done with everything. Ultimately John Grant was charged with six counts of attempted murder, and a Health and Safety Code violation for taking explosives aboard a public conveyance.

Not surprisingly, Grant decided not to hurl himself under the judicial bus after all and he entered a plea of innocent and innocent by reason of insanity at his arraignment. Bail for Grant was set at $50,000 — but nobody stepped up to pay it. After being examined by several psychiatrists, and found to be sane, Grant changed his plea to not guilty, and an attorney was appointed to handle his case.

Betty Suomela

Betty Suomela

While Grant was awaiting trial his wife, Betty, filed for and was granted a divorce from her homicidally inclined husband. She was also awarded full custody of their two children — in fact John would not be permitted to ever set eyes on his son or daughter again and Betty was given the right to return to her maiden name.

During Grant’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Mervyn Aggeler described the bomb plot as “Satanic…”. The jury agreed. It took the jury of ten women and two men in Santa Monica Superior Court only twenty-five minutes to convict John Henry Grant on six counts of attempted murder. Grant showed no trace of emotion as the verdict was read. Superior Judge Oriando V. Rhodes sentenced Grant to from one to twenty years in prison.

Grant was mentioned briefly in a 1956 article on airplane bombers and he was still in prison at that time.

The Collateral Damage Divorce, Part 1

halts bombOn 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.

plotters remorse

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?