The name Marvin Heemeyer may not ring a bell in the minds of many. For the first 52 years of his life, Heemeyer went by his given name. He made a living as a welder and muffler repairman. But early in 2003, something changed that pushed Heemeyer into a new life. A life that would garner him a more ominous (and melodramatic) name familiar to anyone with a YouTube account. And that name was “Killdozer.”

Websites, social media groups, and online forums have, in the years since the Killdozer’s 2004 rampage, depicted Heemeyer as a blue-collar folk hero. A man who rose up against the wealthy and the powerful. A modern David who built his own Goliath. These believers tout claims that Heemeyer’s armored rampage claimed no lives because the man sought only retribution against the property of those who had wronged him. But police tell a very different story. According to law enforcement, it was sheer luck that saved lives during the Killdozer’s rampage who tore through town in a specially modified bulldozer that destroyed more than a dozen buildings.

Marvin Heemeyer’s Background

A photograph of a carefree Marvin Heemeyer after he moved to Grand Lake, Colorado.
Marvin Heemeyer after he moved to Colorado.

Heemeyer was born in 1951 in South Dakota. In the early 1990s, he moved into Grand Lake, Colorado, bought a few acres of land for $42,000 in 1992, and opened his own muffler repair shop. People widely regarded him as a fairly jovial, blue-collar guy, working on the land he had bought to make a living with his own two hands as people in rural Colorado communities tend to do. That is until he ran into a zoning dispute with the town government.

For 10 years, Heemeyer operated his business on the two-acre patch of land he had purchased. But then, plans were approved to build a massive concrete plant just at the edge of his property. This plan proved to be a serious issue for Heemeyer, as the only access road to his business crossed directly through the planned concrete factory. This meant that neither he nor any customers would have street access to his business.

This is where the legend of the Killdozer tends to part ways with reality in some accounts. Those who prefer to paint Heemeyer purely as the wronged party jump directly to the town zoning commission’s 2001 decision to authorize the concrete plant’s construction. Heemeyer appealed that decision, claiming it would block access to his existing business, but his appeal was denied. Soon after that interaction, Heemeyer was hit with a series of fines totaling around $2,500. The fines were levied for violations that included “junk cars on the property and not being hooked up to the sewer line.” The sewer line infraction was particularly offensive to Heemeyer as he apparently could not get access to sewer lines without crossing over eight feet of the concrete plant’s property.

Killdozer’s Dispute with City Hall

This all sounds like a small business owner getting muscled out by a town zoning commission and big business (and there may be some truth to that narrative). But Heemeyer also found himself trapped on that two-acre plot of land through his own lack of foresight and, some could argue, due to his greed. Prior to that zoning decision, Heemeyer had entered into an agreement with the company that owned the land for the proposed concrete plant: they would pay him $250,000 for his two acres of land, allowing him a tidy profit over his $42,000 purchase and enough money to set up shop somewhere new.

However, Heemeyer soon backed out of that deal, upping his demand to $375,000, based, one can assume, on the idea that the concrete plant would have to agree to his demands. Heemeyer soon upped the ante again, reportedly demanding a deal worth as much as a million dollars to get him to leave his two-acre plot. At that point, many contend, the concrete plant opted to simply pursue its zoning rights and stop trying to deal with Heemeyer.

“I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable,” Heemeyer wrote. “Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things.”