In 1944, a celebrated writer of science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon, wrote a short story titled Killdozer! in which a spirit-possessed bulldozer turns against a group of construction workers.
In 2004, a man went berserk after a long conflict with the local authorities in Granby, Colorado, and used his bulldozer, after plating it in armor, to destroy 13 buildings, all of which were somehow related to his case. The improvised armored vehicle was soon dubbed “the Killdozer” by reporters.
The man’s name was Martin Heemeyer. He was an automobile-repair shop owner who decided to put his plan into action on June 4, 2004, after several appeals to the city council concerning the disputed Mountain Park Concrete batch plant, which had been built so that the entrance to his shop was blocked.
The background of Heemeyer’s story goes back to 1992, when he purchased the land in Granby on which he intended to build his auto-muffler shop. Heemeyer subsequently agreed to sell his property for $250,000 to the Mountain Park Concrete Company, but soon decided to pump up the price to $1 million.
This was interpreted by the company as an act of rejection of the initial deal, in order to stop the sale. The Docheff family, who were behind the concrete company interested in Heemeyer’s property, turned to city officials, requesting a re-zoning of the land that surrounded the muffler shop.
The city council issued a permit for the concrete batch plant, despite Heemeyer’s multiple protests and appeals. Soon, the plant was built and Heemeyer’s shop was completely cut off. His business went sour, so he finally decided to sell the shop, with six months’ leave notice.
In the meantime, he had acquired a Komatsu D355A bulldozer, requesting once more from the city government that a road be built, leading to his shop. The reason he bought the bulldozer was to offer himself as the contractor for building the road, free of charge.
Heemeyer was once again denied. When he was fined $2,500 by the Granby town council for various violations, which included not being hooked to the town’s sewage system and leaving junk cars on the property of Mountain Park Concrete, he was once again defeated in his fight against the authorities and the corporation.
Heemeyer paid the fine, leaving a note with his bill which stated, “Cowards,” addressed to the town’s council. This sparked a small incident, but no one expected the rampage that followed.
The muffler-shop owner modified his bulldozer, using metal and concrete to create a plate armor impregnable to small arms ammunition. As his makeshift tank was completely covered in armor, Heemeyer relied for vision on several video cameras linked to two monitors mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard, which too were protected by 3-inch shields of bulletproof plastic.
The vehicle was also fitted with gun ports from which Heemeyer was able to fire his .50 caliber sniper rifle, a .308 semi-automatic, and a .22 long rifle. All of the weapons were attached to steel plates with handles adapted for shooting from inside the tank.
During the process of building his destruction vehicle, its creator left numerous notes which were later used in the investigation. Most of them reflected his mental state at the time:
“I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable. Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things.”
Some other notes left by the perpetrator included ones which expressed his surprise at the fact that no one who visited him noticed the project he was working on:
“It is interesting to observe that I was never caught. This was a part-time project over a 1½ year time period. Somehow their vision was clouded.”
On the fatal day, the engine of the armored beast was ignited, and a terror ride began―one that left a row of buildings completely demolished.
Heemeyer first drove through the batch plant, penetrating its walls and causing it to collapse on the inside. Cody Docheff, who was one of the owners of the plant, tried to combat the Killdozer using his wheel tractor-scraper, but failed to do so and was pushed aside.
The Killdozer continued towards the town’s center, where it damaged the Town Hall and the office of the local newspaper which reported against him during the zoning dispute. Heemeyer then concentrated on a number of houses, including the one owned by the widow of the judge who had taken part in the case.
One of the buildings that were badly damaged was also the town library, which contained a group of children at the moment the Killdozer crashed through its wall. Luckily, no children were harmed.
Heemeyer fired several shots at the police officers who tried to stop his rampage, after which the police fired back, but with no result. One officer climbed on the bulldozer’s armored superstructure and managed to throw a flash-bang grenade into its exhaust pipe, but this too left no damage to the vehicle.
Heemeyer fired more shots into power transformers and propane tanks, apparently trying to cause an explosion. Somehow the fire didn’t catch and a potential disaster that could have claimed many lives was avoided.
The rampage entered its second hour, with no signs of stopping. The Killdozer was simply indestructible. Despite the attempts of the SWAT team and the local police to figure out its weaknesses―it appeared to have none. Allegedly, the then-governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, authorized the National Guard to attack the vehicle using either an Apache assault helicopter or a Javelin anti-tank missile, but the decision was halted, as it would potentially cause civilian casualties.
Besides, a rumor was circulating, after two hours and 13 minutes of pure terror, that the vehicle appeared to be stuck. During the demolishment of a hardware store, Heemeyer’s tank dropped one tread into the basement of the store and was unable to pull out. Meanwhile, his engine was failing. The Killdozer was leaking various fluids due to damage sustained during the firefight and the constant blows it took as it rammed through 12 different buildings.
No more than a minute after Heemeyer realized he was stuck, he decided to end his life. One fatal shot was heard from the inside of the Killdozer, marking the only human casualty of the incident.
When the case was later examined in court, various versions of Heemeyer’s story were told. To some, he became sort of a folk hero―a desperate man who lost his nerves fighting a much stronger enemy. To others, he was just a tragic figure.
One of the most heated debates of the case was the question of whether or not Heemeyer intended to hurt anyone during his rampage, as some claimed his goal was explicitly to damage the buildings.
Concidering the fact that he fired shots on the propane tanks and that he rammed into a library full of children, the court concluded that it was a miracle no one except Heemeyer was hurt during the event.
Included in the case as evidence were tapes addressed to the perpetrator’s brother in which he partially explains his motives and a list of people who were involved in his zoning dispute with the Docheff family.
The eerie recordings include a number of statements by Heemeyer in which he considers his action as an order from God:
“God blessed me in advance for the task that I am about to undertake. It is my duty. God has asked me to do this. It’s a cross that I am going to carry and I’m carrying it in God’s name.”