Ask anyone who runs a small business and they’ll tell you that it’s not easy. On top of the difficult task of drumming up enough business to stay afloat and hopefully turn a profit, you’ve sometimes got to deal with the ins and outs of city hall.
The frustration has caused plenty of business owners to go grey, curse like a sailor, and exhibit less than graceful behavior, as they grapple with bureaucracy. But when one man wrestled with city hall, his frustration would lead him far beyond the pale…
Marvin was a small business owner who’d lived in the town of Grand Lake, Colorado for more than a decade. The 52-year-old worked as a welder and owned a muffler repair shop. His brother Ken described him as the kind of person who “would bend over backwards for anyone.”
He wasn’t the only one who thought so. He had a number of friends around town, all of whom described him as an affable, friendly guy. But there were others in the town who described Marvin as a guy with an aggressive and volatile temperament…
Heavily involved in local politics, that temperament was usually riled up when his opinions were challenged. He was a strong proponent of legalized gambling, going so far as to publish 2 newsletters to spread his ideas. When a local reporter interviewed him for an editorial opposed to gambling, the interview nearly ended in a fistfight.
Good Friend, Bad Enemy
There was also a time when Marvin threatened to kill a customer’s husband after she refused to pay for what she called a faulty muffler repair. “If Marv was your friend,” said one close friend, “he was your best friend. But if he decided that he was your enemy, then he was your worst and most dangerous enemy.”…
Despite his contentious ways, Marvin made a decent living with the muffler shop he’d built on a small plot of land he’d bought back in 1992. Then in the late ‘90s, Mountain Park Concrete, a company owned by the Docheff family, expressed interest in buying Marvin’s land to build a concrete batch plant. It seemed like they’d come to an agreement when the concrete company offered Marvin $250,000 for the land he’d payed $42,000 for.
But negotiations for the sale fell apart after Marvin raised his asking price to $375,000, then raised it again. Tired of dealing with Marvin, the Docheff’s decided to go to the Granby City Council to rezone the land around Marvin’s muffler shop. It would mean that they could build their plant in a vacant property next to his shop.
Worse than losing out on the potential sale of his land, Marvin had used the vacant lot adjacent to his as a way to get to his shop, which the new concrete plant would block. Marvin fought the rezoning tooth and nail but, eventually, the Docheff’s won the right to build the shop. Marvin purchased a bulldozer with the intention of building an alternate route to his shop but city officials rejected his request to build it.
Insult to Injury
To add insult to injury, the city fined him $2,500 for junk cars on his property and for failing to have his shop hooked up to a sewer line. Marvin Heemeyer believed there were shady dealings between the Docheff’s and members of the council but he couldn’t prove anything. So he began plotting his revenge…
Marvin sent a check for the fine with the word “cowards” written on the memo line, then sold the muffler shop property to a trash company and was given 6 months to vacate. Then the bitter man set about the task of modifying his bulldozer. He was going to make it into a weapon of war.
Marvin moved the bulldozer into the muffler shop and started outfitting it with a homemade composite armor made of cement sandwiched between half inch thick sheets of tool steel, in some places over a foot thick. The armor protected the cab, engine, and parts of the track transforming the construction vehicle into an ad hoc tank…
Preparing for War
He also installed front and rear cameras with monitors inside the cab, an air tank to help with circulation, and a stockpile of food and water. If there were any doubts about what Marvin’s intentions were, he set up several gun ports around the control center.
Over the course of 18 months, Marvin took notes and made audio tapes to document his vengeful work. “Because of your anger, because of your malice, because of your hate, you would not work with me,” he said in one recording. “I am going to sacrifice my life, my miserable future that you gave me, to show you what you did is wrong.”…
“I was always willing to be reasonably until I had to be unreasonable. Sometimes reasonable men do unreasonable things,” he wrote in his notes. On a Friday morning in the beginning of June, Marvin Heemeyer turned his back on reason for good. He mailed his audio tapes to his brother and climbed into his “killdozer” with a handwritten list of targets.
Once inside, he used winch controls to lower the concrete and steel armor shell onto the top of the vehicle, sealing him inside for good. In the warm summer afternoon air, Marvin’s war machine smashed through the side of his shed and into the Mountain Park Concrete plant…
Cody Docheff was at the plant that day and tried to use a bulldozer to block the path of the “tank” but abandoned the vehicle and fled when Marvin started firing on him from a gun port. Within minutes, the concrete plant and several vehicles were obliterated. As he slowly rolled the armored vehicle toward its next target, Marvin picked up a an escort of emergency vehicles.
Police gunfire was unable to penetrate the vehicles thick armor and when one police SUV got too close , it was crushed by the seemingly unstoppable machine. At one point, Undersheriff Glen Trainor managed to climb on top of the bulldozer and unloaded his pistol into the vehicle…
“I think the thing that drove me,” he would later say, “is that I knew that killing him behind the wheel was the only way we were going to be able to stop this thing.” But the 37 bullets he fired did nothing to stop the rampage. As Marvin and his ‘killdozer’ arrived in town, Granby police were waiting with more extreme measures.
Blow It Up
The police tried to use explosives to disable or blast their way into the machine but that too proved ineffective. They also requisitioned another construction vehicle to block his path but Marvin simply pushed the smaller vehicle out of the way. Police had no options but to establish a moving perimeter around the slow moving vehicle and evacuate people in its path…
Over the course of 2 hours Marvin Heemeyer’s slow rampage continued as he targeted the homes and businesses of those he felt had wronged him, severely damaging 13 buildings, knocking out gas service to City Hall, and destroying part of a utility service center on top of destroying the concrete plant. Eventually, the armored hulk was brought down by its own weight as the floor of a hardware store he was destroying collapsed, trapping the vehicle in the basement.
As SWAT teams surrounded the vehicle, police heard a single muffled gunshot from inside the killdozer. After 12 hours of work with a flame torch and a crane, police got inside, where they found Marvin Heemeyer dead from a self inflicted gun wound. Amazingly, thanks to police efforts in rapidly evacuating people in his path, Marvin was the only casualty of the rampage.