On October 9, 1995, 60 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona, Amtrak's "Sunset Limited" passenger train jumped the track going 50 mph. Four cars plunged more than 30 feet off a trestle into a dry riverbed. One person was killed and scores injured. The cause of the wreck: sabotage.
According to Bruce Gebhardt, special agent in charge with the F.B.I., agents on the scene found rails that had been tampered with:
"The investigation determined that 29 spikes were removed, purposely removed. And not only were the spikes removed, but someone had pushed the rail inside so that the two rails were not connected."
Additional evidence convinced authorities that the saboteurs knew a lot about railroads. The signal circuits, the electrical wires that run through the track, had been kept intact. According to Agent Gebhardt, that meant the train crew had no warning that there was a problem with the rails:
"The FBI believes that they picked that particular spot in order to create the most damage and possibly cause the most injuries or death. The train was going about 50 miles per hour. It's on a curve and it occurred right before a trestle."
Investigators soon discovered many similarities to another act of sabotage, more than a half century before. According to historian Kevin Bunker, in 1939, 24 people were killed and 117 injured in another suspicious train wreck in the Nevada desert:
"The most mysterious connection between the accidents is the fact that the sabotage was done ahead of a bridge in a desert country of remote location. There was definitely care in advance, you know, that the wires were intact at all times. Merely moving one piece of metal, in this case, one rail, a matter of less than four inches, allowed both trains to careen off on the curve as they crossed the river and the damage occurred."
Curiously, the story of the 1939 crash had been published in a journal for train buffs shortly before the Amtrak accident. Federal agents questioned many of the readers, but came up empty-handed.
Investigators have just one other concrete clue. Near the accident site, FBI agents found four copies of a computer-printed letter attacking the federal government. It was signed, "Sons of the Gestapo." FBI Agent Bruce Gebhardt said the group's existence has never been verified:
"We're still trying to investigate to determine whether or not that is a red herring to try to throw us off the investigation or whether or not that particular group exists."
The one person killed in the crash was a sleeping car attendant named Mitchell Bates. Whoever is responsible for the wreck will be charged with murder, as well as sabotage.