Real Name: Arizona Amtrak Derailment
Case: Murder, Attempted Murder, Terrorism
Location: Palo Verde, Arizona
Date: October 9, 1995
Details: On the night of October 9, 1995, four cars of an Amtrak train called the "Sunset Limited" derailed in Palo Verde, sixty miles south of Phoenix, Arizona. The incident left many injured and forty-one-year-old train car attendant Mitchell Bates dead. Police later determined that sabotage had caused the crash; specifically, thirty-nine spikes had been purposefully removed. In a typical section of track, the rails are connected at a joint. With the spikes removed, one rail was shifted a mere four inches. This was just enough to cause the crash. Despite the break in the rails, the signal circuits remained intact. As a result, the train crew had no warning. It is believed that the portion of the track was specifically chosen because it would cause the most injury or death.
The investigation into the crime found parallels to an unsolved 1939 train derailment in Nevada; twenty-four people were killed in that incident. In both cases, the sabotage was done ahead of a bridge in a remote, desert area. Also, there was a great amount of premeditation in both cases. A book that covered the similar 1939 Nevada train derailment was published not long before the Arizona Amtrak derailment which led investigators to suspect that the book might have inspired someone to commit the same heinous act. Despite their theory, investigators never concluded whether or not there was a link between the 1939 Nevada crash and the 1995 Arizona crash.
Suspects: Because the area where the crash occurred was so remote, investigators believe that the assailant(s) were familiar with the area and may have lived nearby. Investigators suspect that the crash was either an act of terrorism or an act of revenge by a disgruntled railroad worker. They believe that the assailant(s) were also familiar with railroads.
The only clues found near the crash were several identical copies of a printed letter that attacked the Federal Government and mentioned a group called "The Sons of the Gestapo". The note was titled "Indictment of the ATF and the FBI" and mentioned the sieges at Waco and Ruby Ridge. One specific reference made was about the shooting of a police officer's wife who "knew too much about drug kickbacks". However, investigators never found any further evidence that the group even existed.
One possible suspect in the case was John Olin. He was a contractor who had done cleanup work for Southern Pacific Lines in the years prior to the derailment. He previously had disputes with two railroads. He was also known as "hot-tempered", "belligerent", and "abrasive". Two people had even asked for restraining orders against him. Allegedly, he bragged that he "could've done the derailment - and had the means to do it". He also had lived in Hyder (a town near the derailment site) for about a year and previously worked there. He had previously served time for burglary and had also faced murder and robbery charges in the past. His house was searched by the FBI in December of 1995. It is not known if anything of significance was found.
Extra Notes: This case ran on the May 10, 1996 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Results: Unsolved. In 2015, the FBI announced a reward of $310,000 for anyone with information leading to the apprehension of those responsible for the crash. However, no one has come forward.
- Amtrak Crash at Unsolved.com
- Amtrak Derailment at Wikipedia
- Sabotage Derails Arizona Train; One Is Killed and 100 Are Hurt
- Train crash linked to terrorists
- Sabotage suspected in 'terrorist' derailment
- Grudge Studied as Motive for Derailing Train
- Amtrak offers reward for saboteur
- FBI still searching for Amtrak saboteur
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- FBI Raids Rural Home in Probe of Fatal Arizona Derailment
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- A year later, Amtrak probe plods along
- Fatal derailment: A year later, FBI still on manhunt
- 20 Years Later, Sabotage Of Amtrak's Sunset Limited Still A Mystery
- Unsolved Arizona mystery: Who derailed the Sunset Limited?
- Amtrak Derailment on Unresolved Podcast