The Killdozer legacy: an interview with Patrick Brower

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photo by Mister V Patrick Brower with his book, Killdozer.
photo by Mister V Patrick Brower with his book, Killdozer.

by Mister V

There may not be a more polarizing name in Grand County’s history than that of Marvin Heemeyer. No one understands this better than Patrick Brower, longtime editor of The Sky- Hi News, and one of the victims of Heemeyer’s 2004 rampage through the t own o f G ranby. I n l ate January I sat down with Brower to discuss his book Killdozer: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage…

MRV: There are a couple rumors that I wanted to clarify before we get into it. The first one was that you had moved out of the Grand County area to write this book?

PB: No. I moved here in ’79, and haven’t moved. People might not have seen me around. There was a period there where I was pretty busy in Granby. No, I never moved.

MRV: I hear rumors that you are involved in producing a documentary?

PB: Yeah, I’ve been hired as an associate producer for a documentary that’s being made about the incident, but my book is the basis of it. That’s why they hired me. It’s being made right now. They’re going to be back here the end of January, early February to do their second batch of filming.

MRV: Any release date?

PB: I haven’t heard that yet.

MRV: Seems a little premature. Just thought I’d ask.

PB: Yeah, but it’s the real thing. It’s not like a graduate student trying to get their doctorate by doing some off-beat thing. This is a production company that has complete funding and all that stuff. Some day there will be a real film out there on release. Documentary, not a drama.

MRV: I’d prefer a documentary over some sort of fictionalized thing. So, how’s the book been received in Grand County so far?

PB: Generally really well. There’s been a few people that say it’s a pack of lies and all that stuff, but generally it’s been great. Sales are going well. People that have bought it and bothered to read it have been saying positive things. So generally well.

MRV: At what point did you realize you were going to write this book?

PB: I probably realized I was going to write something about it maybe six months after the incident. I thought, “You know, something has to be written about this.” But it took me a full year of working double-time just to get the business back on its feet after Marv destroyed it, so I didn’t have time then. Then we were working just getting our business back in shape the next year, so two years right there I didn’t have time to write a book. Then we sold the newspaper in 2007, and I started doing consulting work so I didn’t have time to do that then either, ’cause I was working full time. Then when the recession hit hard here in 2009 my consulting work dried up and I had time. So that’s when I started working on the book.

MRV: So pretty close to a decade you were working on this book?

PB: Eight years. But the book evolved as I went. Initially, just writing a book about the event seemed like enough, but after two years a true crime like this is no longer sellable. It’s old news after six months, really, as far as just writing about the event. So I began to see that another curious thing was happening in relation to the event. Other people were sort of taking the event and co-opting it, making it sound like it was, you know, they didn’t have all the real facts about what had happened and imagined that Marv was somehow a justified folk here. This happened to me after the event. It was already happening here. It was obvious. But then it sort of took on a life of its own on the internet, and it just kept growing and growing online. I think there’s four different Marv Heemeyer that have been out there on Facebook since I started doing this. What interested me was how it was that people could take this event, with really no factual understanding of it, and turn him into a hero. That was when I got more interested in getting the book written.

MRV: I was surprised by how expository the book was. It seems like it wouldn’t be a hard argument to make that this was a lone wolf terrorist, essentially. So I was really surprised that you have to make the case for that in your book. How did that feel?

PB: First of all, there’s a group of friends and acquaintances up here who really like Marv. He was their friend. I can understand that, and I talk about that in the book. He had a large group of friends. A lot of people like him. I can see where they’re just not going to accept any narrative that says maybe Marv kind of did some of this stuff himself, or maybe the town wasn’t that hard on him. Maybe a lot of the things that Marv blames on everybody else were really initiated by himself. The only way you really know that is if you sat there and watched it all happen, which is what happened to me. I covered all the meetings relating to the batch plant hearings for four years there. I was at every one of them. We covered extensively the hearings in Grand Lake over the gambling. I dealt personally with Marv on several things. I was in the unique position, kind of seeing how all these events, where to Marv it sounded like people were picking on him and cheating and breaking the law, I saw them happen first hand, and that’s not what I saw. In fact, that’s not what happened. After the fact, people kind of thought “Well gee, the town must have really done something wrong to Marv to make him react this way. “Wow, Patrick Brower at the newspaper must have really gone out to get Marv,” in order to justify his reaction. But really, the facts are pretty clear that, yeah, Marv didn’t get his way, but not everybody gets their way when they take on town hall. Like, there’s one narrative poem out there that the town took away his easement, and the town didn’t take away his easement ever. Marv had a chance to get a sewer easement many times, he just chose not to do it because it was extremely expensive. That’s not really the town’s fault. It’s not the sewer district’s fault. In fact the town and the sewer district were pretty darn lenient with Heemeyer over all that stuff. So it just was galling to me that somehow, yeah Marv got screwed and he’s justified in getting back at the town when really, he didn’t really get screwed. He wasn’t really justified in what he did. At all. And then there’s the whole false narrative that he was out just to damage property. He wasn’t out to hurt anybody. He didn’t want to kill anybody. I think the facts of the rampage demonstrate pretty clearly that Marv didn’t kill anybody, but I guarantee he didn’t care if he did.

MRV: It was not for lack of trying.

PB: Right, he shot at four people for sure. He tried to blow up the propane tanks. God knows how many people that would have killed if they had exploded. He did destroy all those buildings. How did he know if there wasn’t somebody sitting in the building, that he could have killed when he did it? I just think the idea that somehow he was a gentle giant just trying to get back at people that hurt his livelihood is a myth. I think Marv was out to cause as much harm and damage as he could.

MRV: I was going to say that no one’s going to refute that–

PB: Well no, they will.

MRV: Most reasonable people don’t refute that. Your account of the rampage is incredibly harrowing. How did it feel to have to relive all that?

PB: I’ve relived it so many times that it’s not difficult. The difficult part is having to convey to people that Marv wasn’t justified. You hear it all the time. “The town must have really screwed Marv.” No, the town didn’t really screw Marv at all. This is an invented story. “Boy Patrick, you must have really done something to make Marv angry at you.” I dealt with Marv I thought pretty well over the years. I must have sat in my office and talked to him, just like you’re talking to me now, five, six, seven times over the course of the whole batch plant thing, where he would bring his letters to the editor. We would sit down and talk about ’em. I did business with Marv down at his shop. From where I stood it seemed like I had a fairly business-like, normal relationship with Marv. Marv clearly didn’t see it that way. I think I made his list twice. Perhaps Marv was involved in some “shoot the messenger” stuff because yeah, we did report on the fact that gambling did not get approved for Grand Lake. He was a pro-gambling advocate at the time. He even came out with his own newspaper. He also put up a fight against the batch plant, but I don’t think the batch plant was the real reason he fought it. I think he was upset that he couldn’t make a land deal on selling his property.

MRV: You make a very strong case for that in your book.

PB: Well other people knew it. He writes it down. He states it in his tapes. It’s not like I had to make that up, that Marv had definite bad feelings about not being able to sell his property at the high price he wanted. The irony in that is that he DID sell his property for a very high price, finally. But the case that the book makes is that by then, Marv had already decided he was going to do something, that he was going to get back at the town, that he was going to get back at his neighbors. It didn’t matter to him at that point. photo by Mister V Patrick Brower with his book, Killdozer.. Page 17 GRAND GAZETTE www.grandgazette.net March 1, 2018

MRV: One thing that’s surprising to me in this discussion is that mental health doesn’t come up as often.

PB: I probably wasted a good six months in researching the book, trying to get a psychological angle on what was the state of Marv’s mind. What was he thinking? What was he feeling? What was he doing? I actually sent transcripts, and the actual recordings that he left behind, to two different psychotherapists, to have them just review it and tell me what they thought. None of them were willing to venture a judgment, mainly because they’re not going to do that if they can’t meet the person in person. Knowing that I really couldn’t make any real assessment other than just an opinion, I just steered clear of it.M RV: You do say towards the end of your book that you try not to speculate. There are a couple scenes, two scenes specifically, the hot tub scene and the manifesto scene, where it does seem speculative as to his mental health. PB: I invented the scenes, because nobody knew what really happened there. But Marv did refer in his tapes to sitting in his hot tub and having a revelation. So all the verbiage I put in Marv’s mouth, like during the hot tub scene, those were all his words. I didn’t make any of those words up, but they’re taken from those tapes that he left behind. So I created a scene there, just to get across the idea of what Marv was feeling at that moment. Nobody knows when the hot tub scene actually happened. I think it happened January or February of 2001, just based on the timing of when Marv started talking about bulldozing the town. The manifesto is all stuff that he actually wrote down. I didn’t make any of that up. What I did is I created a setting to where he was writing it while he was finishing up the dozer. So I created the setting, but all that’s his verbiage. It’s not mine. It’s easily verifiable. You can go and look at photographs or the actual manifesto that he was writing and actually see it.

MRV: The title of your book… “Killdozer” is a term I generally see being used by sympathizers. Why did you choose that as your title?

PB: For three reasons. When you read the book, you’ll see the machine is called a bulldozer until the day of the rampage. As soon as word started to spread on international and national media about what was going on, and on the internet, people just suddenly adopted the term Killdozer. It’s very obvious that people just said “Oh, that’s Killdozer.” I didn’t invent the title for it. It just kind of cropped up out of the sky. That’s the first reason. That kind of became its identity, at least certainly in the online community out there, just in terms of conversation among people. They just started calling it Killdozer. The book talks about it, but the origins of the name Killdozer come from a great B-movie from ’72 or ’73. The plot of the movie is that an alien strike from space hits a bulldozer sitting on a beach somewhere, and the bulldozer becomes possessed of a malign alien spirit, and starts to attack people. That’s the basic plot line of the movie called Killdozer. Because the movie is so campy and poor quality, long before the rampage, I know there was satirical rock band in Wisconsin that actually called themselves Killdozer. The second reason is that, while people claim that Marv didn’t try to kill anybody, and in fact he didn’t kill anybody, I think he didn’t care if he killed anybody. I think we need to make that clear. One of the things that glosses over the real impact of this rampage, which I think cost $10 million total, is that because Marv didn’t kill anybody it was actually kind of a good thing. It was urban renewal for Granby, and everybody got something good out of it. Having been a victim, having been there that day, it really isn’t all that light hearted. He did shoot at people. He did destroy buildings in which people could have been located. He did try to blow up propane tanks next to a senior housing project. If that doesn’t fit under the name Killdozer then I don’t know what does. The third reason I picked Killdozer is ’cause I just think it’s a darn good name for a book.

MRV: So… this is a tough one. In your book, you talk about Granby’s struggle with the Dozer Days concept. You document that struggle, and it’s almost like a struggle for the soul of the town. Do we make a profit off of this, or do we just leave it alone and try to maintain our dignity? I can see some parallels between that and releasing a book…

PB: Oh, you mean like capitalizing on the event?

MRV: Essentially, yes.

PB: Well, when I make a million bucks I’ll let you know.

MRV: Good answer.

PB: If I just wrote a book that just sensationalized the incident, or maybe even praised Heemeyer, or took a route that I think was not an honest evaluation of what happened, I think that would be one thing. But I think the book, when you read it, you see that it actually pokes holes in the whole idea of glorifying the event at all. Really, one of the main points of the book is that the glorification of the event in a positive slant is really inappropriate. But it IS a sensational event that people are going to remember. It’s good to remember it in light of the facts of the situation, rather than just this glorified notion of what happened. My feelings aside, many people in town were just revolted at the thought of the idea that somehow they’re going to be celebrating this rampage. That’s essentially what the Dozer Days concept was, a celebration of an evil event. If they had lost all the money that, say, Casey had lost, or we lost, or that the Docheffs lost, they watched their livelihood destroyed. I think those people would feel really differently about celebrating him. To parallel it with Dead Man Days, the event that they have over on the east side, is it in Nederland? That parallel was made. That’s a guy that, by his own volition, tried to preserve his body cryogenically, that he’s in a shed in the town and people celebrate it, that’s a lot different than a guy that builds a tank out of a bulldozer, puts guns in it, and destroys the town. It’s just a different concept. Plus, I’ve waited thirteen years since the event to publish the book. It’s almost… it’s really old news, like I said.

MRV: Your book is very centered around what it means to be a hero in America today. From everything that you’ve learned and studied about Marv, what does that tell you about the current state of our country, and our town?

PB: I think that America suffers under a confusing super-hero/anti-hero myth, which prevails in our media, our movies, comic books at times, literature, and it’s basically the paradigm that started mainly in Westerns. There’s all kinds of academic books that have been written about this, but basically a hero of a lot of our movies, they’re a victim. A sad, loner victim, usually suffering severe loss, usually a beloved one, a wife, a child, a fortune, at the hands of evil forces. The attempts of traditional law enforcement or society to right the wrong of that evil fail, so the righteous victim, anonymously and with great super-powers, above and beyond normal powers, takes the law into his or her hands in an attempt to, like a vigilante, right the wrong that traditional society can’t, doesn’t, or wants to correct in the eyes of the hero. The hero goes out and with these super-powers, usually anonymously, usually under a disguise that people don’t recognize, goes out and fights back against this perceived evil, and tries to bring society back to its endemic or purified state that existed before the initial loss or tragedy. Marv fits that, in his thinking, very well. That’s why I think this is so appealing to people. I think you can point to any number of politicians, or cultural heroes we have, the hero of Breaking Bad comes to mind for instance, he’s one of many of the antiheroes that we have in America today, that are perceived as good despite the bad things that they do. It’s a confusing moral message, I think. It frequently anti-societal, and anti-governmental. America was formed on the basis of essentially an anti-governmental stance. The Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, some of those take a little bit of a dim view about the existing government at the time, which was the British government, but we’ve carried that sort of anti-government bias with us all the way through our history. The reason they wanted to have a free press was so that the free press could attack the British government. They wanted to have firearms so that people so could carry guns so that they could defend themselves against government–the British government. At least for the first ten articles, you could see how they were really reacting against government, but it happened to be against the British government. They wanted to make sure that the U.S. government wasn’t going to fall into that, but this sort of subtle anti-governmental, anti-ruling slant has persisted. If you put that over the way people perceive people today, I think people sort of have a knee-jerk anti-governmental reaction if somebody says “Boy that guy got mad and threw a rock through the window at city hall,” I think people are immediately going to think that somehow the town wronged that guy. I can tell you, I’ve covered a lot of those things, usually it’s just that the guy’s a sore loser. I hate to say it, but I think that’s what Marv was. And some of his friends, who he then made into enemies, will tell you that.

MRV: So if we extend this to the whole of American society, it seems like this is an inherent problem. Is it?

PB: I think it’s an inherent struggle.

MRV: Do you think it’s fixable?

PB: I think it goes in waves, depending on the economy, depending on how people are happy or not happy with government at the time. It either expresses itself strongly or maybe not so strongly. Killdozer: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage can be purchased at The Kremmling Mercantile, The Kremmling Chamber of Commerce, and fine retailers throughout the county. For more information visit killdozerbook.com

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