Edmonton·In Depth

Edmonton 1965 airport bombing: the untold story

Who was Harry Hubach and exactly why did he bomb three American warplanes and kill a security guard in the winter of 1965?
ARCHIVE: Edmonton airport bombing of 1965 2:33

Eldon Hoflin still remembers the January day, almost 49 years ago, that his family's farmhand travelled to Edmonton, killed a security guard and blew up three US warplanes.

“When I pulled into the yard at home, it was just filled with RCMP cars, and I was panicking because I was only 13 and didn't have a licence or anything,” Hoflin said.

Harry Hubach, 36, had been living and working on the Hoflin farm near Kingman, about an hour southeast of Edmonton, for the months leading up to Jan. 28, 1965. That was the night that Hubach, fiercely opposed to the Vietnam war, sneaked on to the tarmac at Edmonton's municipal airport and blew up three American F-84s with packages full of dynamite. He tried to detonate a fourth explosive, but was unable to light it when his matches became soaked by the snow. 

During the bombing, Hubach fought with a security guard, 48-year-old Threnton Richardson, before fatally shooting him.

The dynamite that Hubach used came from the family's barn. Eldon Hoflin says his whole family was shocked at what Hubach had done, with his father particularly upset by the bombing. 

“I was pretty young and this was 50 years ago but I can remember him talking to neighbours and he was really upset and how he betrayed the family,” he said. 

"Kind of raised the hair on my neck"

Eldon Hoflin first met Hubach a few years earlier, when the boy's father rented some pasture land from the Hubach family, who had arrived from Germany in 1957. Around 1963, Hubach just vanished, deserting his land, as well as his wife and four daughters. 

Police later discovered that Hubach spent a year in Japan, trying unsuccessfully to find a way to enter north Vietnam. 

When Hubach reappeared in the fall of 1964, he was broke and looking for work. So Hoflin's father hired him to help out on the farm.

Hoflin remembers Hubach had a violent temper, particularly around the farm animals. He would beat the farm's horses when they did not behave as he wished. He also used to rant at the television news when it mentioned the United State's involvement in Vietnam.

“Going to bed at night, he slept across from me and he had this briefcase. He would open it up and put it beside his bed every night. I took a peek into the briefcase and here was a big, long hunting knife in there, which kind of raised the hair on my neck a little bit."

"This man was mentally ill..." ​

Elizabeth Schwab remembers the Hubach case well. It was her late husband, Vern Schwab, who served as Hubach's lawyer during the trial.

Schwab, now in her 80s, says her husband took the case on because he was fluent in German, Hubach's mother tongue.

He was also concerned with making sure that Hubach received a fair trial. Just two decades after the close of the Second World War, Elizabeth Schwab says many in the area were prejudiced against a German immigrant like Hubach. 

"That was always his nature. He loved the practice of law," she said. "He always took the part of the underdog and he always loved a challenge. That was just Vern Schwab."

While authorities and Hubach himself said the bombings were part of Hubach's opposition to America's actions in Vietnam, his lawyer and several medical experts were convinced that the man was mentally unstable. Elizabeth Schwab, a former doctor and a retired psychiatrist, agreed.

“This man was mentally ill and it had nothing to do with communism, or a plot or politics. I mean, it was discovered after he went into mental hospital that he was diabetic — which may have contributed to some of the confusion which the poor man exhibited at the time of the crime,” she said.

At Hubach's trial, the Crown's experts argued Hubach knew full well what he was doing. He was found guilty of non-capital murder and sentenced to hang.

Vern Schwab lawyer appealed the conviction, winning a new trial. In the end, Hubach pleaded guilty to non-capital murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

A persistent mystery

It is difficult to pin down what Hubach did with the rest of his life. Canada's National Parole Board will not release details of his case or his time in prison, as the case predates legislation that allows the board to share information on inmates.

However, Elizabeth Schwab says Hubach was eventually released from prison and was able to turn his life around.

“Hubach did serve out his time; I think it was in Kingston. He got out, he got married started a successful cabinet-making business.

He came back to Alberta and thanked my husband, I'm not sure when that was. Probably 20 years ago.”

Public records suggest that Harry Hubach died in Kingston in 2005 and is now buried there.

And with him are buried the true motive for the actions that left one man dead and three planes damaged on a snowy Edmonton morning in 1965.