On Oct. 17, 1958, an out-of-work aircraft engineer from Tulsa landed at Wichita Municipal Airport after a flight from Kansas City. Briefcase in hand, he stopped at a rental car desk and requested a quarter to telephone his wife.
When the engineer returned from the phone booth, he laid a foot-long, brown-paper-wrapped package on the counter. It was 6 inches wide and 2 inches thick, according to The Wichita Eagles archives.
The engineer asked for directions to the terminals lost-and-found area.
The airport didnt have a designated lost-and-found desk, answered the rental car clerk, Joan Embree. She touched the package. Such things usually are taken to the managers office, she said.
Embree offered to complete the chore. The engineer declined and walked away with the package.
Moments later, a bomb wrapped in brown paper exploded in a glassed-in passageway linking the terminal to the airport tower, killing the out-of-work aircraft engineer.
Newspaper reports would later say 36-year-old Forrest Don McCuiston planned to detonate the bomb on that October day possibly distraught from a bid for an aircraft job that went nowhere, possibly over the federal tax-evasion case he was embroiled in, possibly over failing eyesight and heart trouble.
It was called a suicide bombing much like an alleged attempt made on the same airport, now known as Wichita Mid-Continent, 55 years later by a Wichita avionics technician named Terry Lee Loewen. (Loewen, charged in the Dec. 13 bombing plot, is scheduled for a status hearing in federal court on March 24. His Feb. 18 trial has been canceled, with no new trial date set.)
But unlike in the case of Loewen whom federal authorities watched for months, sold inert bomb-making materials to and foiled as he tried to access the gated tarmac with a van full of inert explosives on Dec. 13 no one had advance warning of the 1958 destruction.
Build-up to bombing
McCuiston arrived in Wichita by bus two days before the 1958 bombing, according to accounts published in The Eagle. He applied for work at Boeing Aircraft Co. that day. Bespectacled and balding, he was a tool designer, married with a young daughter living in his Tulsa home.
Later, he phoned his wife from the 4-year-old, $10 million airport to say he wouldnt get the job.
McCuiston then left Wichita on a plane bound for Las Vegas via Denver and Salt Lake City. The round-trip ticket cost $164.
He bought a $25,000 life insurance policy, payable to his wife, in the Wichita airport terminal building before departing. A clause voided coverage in cases of suicide.
McCuiston would return Friday after gambling in Sin Citys swank hotel center. His flights traveled through Phoenix and Kansas City.
Shortly before 9 a.m., he was said to have detonated the bomb, a crude device investigators determined was manually ignited using a dry-cell battery wired to a blasting cap. He was alone in the airport corridor.
A front-page article from the evening edition of The Eagle dated Oct. 17, 1958, describes the aftermath: All of the large panes of plate glass in the passageway (of the airport) were shattered and double glass doors at both ends of the hallway also were blown out.
Light fixtures were torn loose and hung grotesquely from the ceiling where bits of flesh and pieces of the victims clothing were stuck.
When the bomb went off, McCuiston apparently was immediately before the double glass door at the tower end of the passageway.
His right arm was blown off between the wrist and the elbow. Most of his clothing was blown off and shreds of flesh were found outside the passageway in the patio where aircraft displays are set up.
In the devastation, authorities found McCuistons leather briefcase, intact. It was sitting on a corridor shelf when Clyde Bevis says he grabbed it.
Dumb thing to do
Bevis answered his telephone at his Wichita home one evening last month. His voice polite yet stern wavered with age.
While telling tales of his younger years, he spoke of the 1958 bombing.
Bevis is 88 now old as dirt, he says, laughing and is mildly apologetic he doesnt recall more.
Asked about 1958, he says, Things that far away are a little foggy for this old bird.
I just figure Im lucky to be here. Ive never had a broken bone I cant believe all of the things Ive done.
Bevis spent 17 years commanding the Wichita Police Departments crime lab until his retirement in 1974, investigating some of the citys biggest crimes, including BTK serial killer Dennis Raders first slayings. He joined the force in 1950 and said he was instrumental in starting the agencys bomb squad.
On that fateful Friday, he was called to Wichita Municipal Airport to collect evidence after the bomb went off.
He remembers McCuistons briefcase best. Authorities, Bevis explained, feared it held a second bomb.
It was in a passageway that went from the airport to the tower. And the dummy he was referring to McCuiston had taken it off the airplane and set it on the walkway, the railway there.
He continued: I just picked it up and took it out in the field so that if it went off, it wouldnt damage the airport.
Or anyone else.
A photograph published in that evenings Eagle shows Bevis fedora atop his head calmly crossing the paths of unconcerned pedestrians and cars parked in front of Wichita Municipal Airport. He cradles the briefcase in both of his palms.
Another image shows Bevis on his hands and knees in a grassy patch, inspecting McCuistons briefcase at eye level.
Bevis face is inches away.
According to newspaper accounts, only business papers and folders were tucked inside.
Asked whether he felt nervous holding the briefcase, Bevis chuckles. Back then he was young and mostly fearless. And probably not smart enough to worry about things like that, he jokes.
Later he explains that, in his line of work, you do what you have to do to keep the public safe. Its part of the program.
It was there and we wanted to move it, so that was my job, he said.
He added: That was a dumb thing to do. They (police) dont do that now.
After that day, Bevis didnt either. At least, not that he recalls.
Bomb on board
In the days after the 1958 blast, investigators learned the bomb had been McCuistons companion on as many as five planes, according to The Eagles news archives.
Theories spread that he initially intended to set off the explosive in flight but abandoned the idea.
Authorities believe McCuiston discarded any plans of exploding the bomb in the plane in favor of a deserted corridor in the terminal building, according to an Oct. 18, 1958, report in The Eagle.
They believe he first made sure that no one else was in the long corridor connecting the main terminal building with the control tower.
No one but McCuiston was hurt in the blast. But damage to the airport cost an estimated $5,000 to $7,000 to fix. (Factoring for inflation, thats between $40,000 and $56,000 in todays dollars.)
Most went toward replacing the large panes of broken window glass.
There are a few doors to be replaced, then-Wichita Park Department director Emory Cox told an Eagle reporter in 1958, but the majority of damage was to glass.
The day of the bombing, Wichita police canceled a bank robbery training scenario because most officers had been called to the airport.
A few hours later, five policemen went to East High School to investigate a bomb report that turned out to be a hoax.
Newspaper accounts say travelers were shaky but calm after the airport explosion. Several bought maximum coverage insurance policies before boarding their flights.
For Bevis, news of the December airport bombing plot allegedly orchestrated by Loewen sparked no memories of the 1958 explosion, he said.
Details of the older case became more clear once he was prompted.
Hes led a long life, filled with other memories: serving in the Marine Corps (his cat is named Semper Fi); fighting in World War II and Korea; a wife; 10 children; and careers with the Wichita Police Department, Sheriff's Office and the Department of Justice.
He called the 1958 bombing very sad but refuses to dwell on it.
People think Im a little cold. But I just dont let things bother me, Bevis said.
Any loss of life, you always think that (its sad) when you lose anybody. But of course he (McCuiston) did that to himself. And to be honest with you, I really dont remember much about it. You do those things, and then you move on. You dont worry about it because you dont have any control over it.