My blog post this week highlights one of the crucial witnesses I interviewed for my book: Officer Chuck Swanberg was one of the three officers in a Grants PD patrol car who first spotted Greenberg in the town of Grants on the evening of February 5, 1971, and he is most likely the one who fired the fatal shot that put an end to this crazy cross-country murderous rampage. Chuck is pictured on page 126 of my book (Page 122 in the First Edition – prior to the Feb 2022 revision) posing with two other officers by his police car in front of the Franciscan Motel in Grants. He is the officer on the far left in that book photo, standing next to Officers Keith Sweet and Tobey McCrea. The photograph included with this post was taken from a recent Facebook video produced by New Mexico Aero Service of Moriarty, NM. That maintenance facility was highlighting one of their A&P mechanics and they interviewed Chuck Swanberg for the video.
During the early days of research for my book (in 2007), I read a newspaper account about the three officers who first spotted Greenberg, and while searching for their names, I found Swanberg on the Internet. We eventually talked by phone on at least two occasions, and he allowed me to tape record our interviews. It was amazing that even though 36 years has passed since the incident, Chuck remembered the finite details with great clarity. He dispelled the rumor that I had heard about Greenberg running through a state police roadblock and being pursued by dozens of police cars, including an ambulance they requested in case an officer was injured during the pursuit. It turned out the fleeing murderer never passed through any roadblocks and the state police were not involved in the final chase at all. It was also through my interview with Chuck, that I learned about Ken Riedemann, who was driving the ambulance that night and who assisted with the chase. I covered Ken in a previous blog post. Swanberg also told me about the second police car that caught up with the chase on Highway 117, and the actions of its occupants, Sergeant Neil Combs and Officer Robert Peña.
I learned from our two interviews, that the police officers who first spotted Greenberg had been at the Grants municipal court building on old Route 66 (which has now been replaced by a drive-through Route 66 neon arch) when they first were told he was likely heading their way. Chuck was driving the police car that night and he described the pursuit that took the three officers out of town to the east, starting on Route 66 (which was the main street in Grants), and then back onto Interstate 40 east of town. He told me how the chase left the freeway and then went south onto Highway 117 at the exit where the Stuckeys store once stood. The chase ended almost two miles south of I-40 on Highway 117 (a gravel road at that time) with the fleeing Volkswagen high-centered on a lava flow.
Of all of the bullets that were fired that night (at least 27 struck the car and several more were fired at Greenberg once he exited the car), only four struck the fleeing murderer. No autopsy was performed, and no ballistics were run on the officers’ weapons that had been fired that night, so there is no way to know positively which of the officers’ bullets struck Greenberg. But even without ballistic evidence to determine the origin of the fatal shot, the state police investigator reported that Greenberg’s body had four bullet wounds; three to the right shoulder and a large caliber bullet that stuck him just below the left eye and exited out the back of his head. The investigator opined that the bullet to the suspect’s face was the fatal shot, and because Swanberg was the only one at the scene that night with a large caliber weapon (Smith and Wesson 44 magnum revolver), it is very likely he fired the fatal round. His marksmanship: hitting a target at night, with a handgun, after an adrenalin-pumping car chase, and from almost 100 yards away, was the amazing feat that ended Greenberg’s crime spree.
I learned from Chuck’s recent interview for NM Aero Service (https://www.facebook.com/newmexicoaeroservice/videos/meet-one-of-our-great-ap-mechanics-on-staff-chuck-swanberg-thank-you-careers2com/1174273863105571/), that he was only with the Grant’s PD for one year, and then he went to work as a police officer for the City of Albuquerque. He retired from Albuquerque PD after 23 years of service, and then was later asked by the mayor of Edgewood, NM (east of Albuquerque) to fill in as the acting Chief of Police. After Chuck retired from police work, he put his existing pilot’s license to use, and bought an airplane. He then went back to school to earn a degree in aviation maintenance technology, and he was credentialed by the FAA as an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic. He now works for NM Aero Service at the airport in Moriarty, NM, which coincidentally happens to be a town on Route 66. It never ceases to amaze me how Route 66 played such an integral role in this story from beginning to end. I am very pleased that I was able to talk to Chuck Swanberg, the information he provided me added great clarity to the details surrounding the end of the crime spree in Grants.