Grand Lakers remember Marvin Heeymer as a neighbor
(Originally published June 10, 2004 in the Sky-Hi News)
As the initial shock subsides, and debris and dust settles in Granby, residents of Grand Lake reflect on the man with whom they shared a town.
Marvin Heemeyer, who owned a home nestled among the trees on Woodpecker Hill, befriended many, yet harbored enemies. He frequently dined at the Chuckhole Café for breakfasts and adventures on local terrain with a group of snowmobile enthusiasts every Thursday, reliably meeting up with his group for après-ride food and drinks.
Most thought they knew this man, unaware he was inflated with revenge, about to perform a course of action that would devastate businesses, alter lives and ultimately end his life.
Many do not doubt he was capable of the intense labor necessitated by the act; many regarded him a very accomplished welder, an intelligent and strong individual. While defending his Granby muffler business that was once visible from Highway 34 — until a concrete batch plant came into view — the town’s government became a source of angst, betrayal and obsession.
Acquaintances of Heemeyer often heard how he loathed the town and its government. What many wonder, however, is how this man with whom they socially interacted could have been all along calculating such a deed of destruction.
Up until a year ago, Lori Crane owned the local Polaris snowmobile shop downhill from Heemeyer’s home. She said Marv was in her store almost every winter day at 7:30 a.m. sharp. He just wanted to talk, she said. He mostly chatted about snowmobiling. Heemeyer was an extreme snowmobile rider who was in it for the adrenaline, always jumping in and taking chances.
“He was really confident, a really nice guy,” she said, “I’d heard he had a temper, but I never saw it.”
Heemeyer sometimes talked to her about his tangle with the concrete plant in Granby. Even after his defeat, she recognized it went on and on, “He just couldn’t let it go,” she said.
“Months ago, he told me he bought a bulldozer,” Crane confided, “I joked with him and said ‘well that won’t go very fast, what are you going to do with a bulldozer?’ ‘I’m just going to tinker with it,’ he simply responded.”
For years, Crane had been witness to Heemeyer’s pursuit of high-speed snowmobiling. Each year she had sold him a new snowmobile, better and faster than the one before. A bulldozer seemed out of sorts for this man. “I don’t think he told anybody about what he was doing,” Crane guessed.
Perhaps he didn’t.
Those who knew him say he was a nice guy who was pushed over the edge; he experienced the death of his father recently, an alleged cancer diagnosis reported two years ago, a fire that destroyed his shed and prized snowmobile last winter, and then split from a long-time girlfriend approximately one year ago.
Others are saddened, feeling this man held so much inside, never to find freedom from strife.
There are even a few who chose to empathize with Heemeyer, perhaps secretly admiring his twisted conviction. Some feel he took on with vengeance what he believed was an “enemy,” restoring back to a simplistic mentality of “an eye for an eye” when a man directly challenged those who allegedly wronged him.
Of course, today’s society leaves little room for such a vindictive mentality.
Many acknowledge that to condone what he did leaves all property vulnerable. They realize people can’t go around settling their scores by tearing down their neighbor’s walls, “to drive around with bricks on top of their bulldozer like trophies on a mantel.”
Many people in Grand Lake still find it hard to believe that Heemeyer out a town in shambles, leaving damage exceeding many millions of dollars, all to make the point that he felt he was unduly misrepresented by the powers that be.
“He created the most dramatic of exists, to make the most demonstrative of statements,” one person said.
The consensus of some locals is that Heemeyer originally went through the channels of trying to accomplish what he wanted in regards to his muffler shop and its neighboring areas. To his own misfortune, he did not achieve what he wanted. No lawsuit or petition would gain him the outcome he sought.
The town of Granby proceeded in a zoning issue that favored the bath concrete plant, germinating a grudge in Heemeyer’s being, a grudge that would never dissipate.
For him, it became personal.
And as irrational as the outcome proved to be, he devised a plan that insisted upon an eerie rational state of mind, involving meticulous engineering and preparation, machine guns, bulletproof steel plates, camera scopes and navigational screens.
Grand Lakers are still stunned.
It is still to be proven whether anyone knew of Marv’s master plan beforehand.
Bruno Schroder, a close friend of Heemeyer for three years, often rode snowmobiles with him. When he found out about his friend’s demise, Schroder immediately came from Michigan to Grand Lake and Heemeyer’s home.
Schroder and another mutual friend recalled the time he purchased the mammoth bulldozing machine. Two years ago, he tried to sell it but had no bites. They never speculated this friend would resort to bulldozing buildings in a final one-last-hurrah retaliation on the town of Granby.
They said Heemeyer was the type of guy who would give the shirt off his back. “I just hope they investigate the people who drove him to do this,” Schroder said, referring to those who served on the Granby board during the time of his zoning battle.
“He was a gentle giant,” said a member of the Grand Lake snowmobile posse with whom Heemeyer rode every Thursday afternoon. This snowmobile companion knew Heemeyer more than 10 years, yet neither did he see the driven-over-the-edge side of him.
“I knew he was not happy (having his business) in Granby anymore, I heard about his problems with the town council,” he said.
One month ago, this friend ran into Heemeyer while each was getting their boat ready for summer. He gained an impression that no way gave a clue Heemeyer planned not to return to Grand Lake following June 4.
Alan Bender, a current partner of Spirit Lake Polaris, said last winter Heemeyer was in their store an average of three to four times a week. He would often come in to talk about equipment. On rare occasions, he expressed anger, mentioning the problems he was having with his muffler shops. Bender said Heemeyer owned another muffler shop in Boulder, Colo., and a partner had skipped out on him forcing him to foreclose.
Three weeks ago, Heemeyer told Bender he was fed up with everything that was going on and was planning to leave town. He also mentioned that he and Bender had never gotten the chance to ride snowmobiles together. When Bender promised they would ride together next winter, Heemeyer just laughed.
“He was intelligent,” Bender commented.
He had witnessed him rebuilding and fixing snowmobiles and knew he had messed with cars and other vehicles. “With the level he took his mechanics, he had to be intelligent,” he said.
If was no secret he liked guns too.
In the one instance bender was in Heemeyer’s home, he noticed Marv was an avid reader, he had all kinds of books and magazines around, everything from learning about guns to mechanics.
And Heemeyer was intuitive, Bender said: “If he noticed you were having a bad day, he would find a way to cheer you up.”
One acquaintance said Heemeyer was very well versed when it came to topics of government and world matters, and he always had an opinion based on his research. Former Grand Lake Mayor Stover recalls, in retrospect, Heemeyer’s position against local government during the heightened gambling issue that swept over their quiet lake village in 1992. Heemeyer was strongly in favor of gambling and video taped proceedings at heated meetings.
Heemeyer also attended a few Grand Lake zoning hearings and voiced his opinions.
But Stover said cautiously, “He may have had a problem with any kind of governmental authority.”
Nevertheless, Stover did not see anything coming.
“He was wound a little bit tight, but I never anticipated anything like this. Something pushed him off the edge,” he said.
Stover said Heemeyer would have a smile on his face when he saw you, even if he didn’t like you. He continued to visit the Lariat saloon, owned by the former mayor, even when he was in disagreement with Grand Lake’s politics.
Mikeleen Reed, mother of Matt Reed who often rode snowmobiles with Heemeyer, held Heemeyer as a trusted individual. “I trusted my son with him every Thursday. He would never hurt a kid,” she said.
Heemeyer’s assault on Granby took Grand Lake’s Mayor Judy Burke by surprise.
She remembers having discussions with Marv about his zoning problems in Granby, but lately thought he was getting over that issue.
“I always thought he was okay,” she said. “To think about somebody so alone, with no one to talk to, to the point he had to do something like this. But he didn’t plan to hurt anyone. He had it planned so everyone saw him coming and could get out of the way in time. The only one he ended up hurting, besides financially, was himself.”
The most recent woman with whom Heemeyer had a relationship, until the couple called it quits a year ago, declined from commenting. “It has been a harrowing time,” she said, “I’d rather not talk.”
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