The blog post this week is about the sources of information from Grants that I used as I researched my book – Rampage along Route 66. I feature Ken Riedemann, who was from Grants and his picture is published in Chapter 10 in my book standing next to the ambulance he was driving the night of the incident. His boss at the time, E. S. “Bud” Rouse, who owned the ambulance company and also was the publisher of the weekly newspaper from Milan named the Uranium Empire Reporter, posed Ken next to the 1966 International Harvester Travelall ambulance that he had been driving during the chase. Rouse sold that picture to some magazines, along with several other pictures of the people who were involved from Grants that night.
When this cross-country crime spree came to an end, a rumor spread throughout Arizona, where the two highway patrolmen had been shot, that the wild lunatic who committed these murders had run through a state police roadblock, been chased by over a dozen police cars, and that the authorities even called in an ambulance to join the chase in case any of the officers were wounded during the capture. It turned out that the crime spree didn’t end that way at all. There were only two police cars involved in the chase, both from the Grants Police Department, a total of five police officers (three in one car and two in the second) and the ambulance was there because the driver (Mr. Riedemann) provided mobile surveillance to the pursuing officers.
Ken grew up in Grants and attended Grants High School. He was a former Grants Police Department officer, and on the night of the crime spree, in February 1971, he was in his ambulance and monitoring a police radio. When he heard the three rookie officers had spotted the fugitive in the stolen yellow Volkswagen, he radioed the officers to see if he could be of any help. They asked him if he could drive past the Volkswagen which was traveling east on the main street (Route 66) and get a close look without the driver getting spooked by the presence of a police car. Once Ken caught up and passed the car, he confirmed it was a yellow VW with Missouri license plates and that the driver perfectly matched the description of the wanted fugitive from the murder in Gallup. After relaying this information to the pursuing officers, Riedemann remained just ahead of the VW as the chase started, and he ended up on Highway 117 south of I-40 as the chase came to an end in a blaze of gunfire. Ken also later transported the fugitive’s remains to the Grants Mortuary at 1100 E. High Street. While at the mortuary, his newspaper editor boss had him hold the cadaver’s left arm vertical so that a picture could be taken showing the slash to the left wrist. That photograph appears at the end of Chapter 13 in my book.
Ken was a very helpful witness. He later retired from a 25-year career with the New Mexico State Police and he had kept all of the articles from that night, including two true detective magazine stories with pictures provided by his boss, Bud Rouse and the February 13, 1971 edition of the Uranium Empire Reporter where the story was featured on the front page of that weekly newspaper. In addition to the articles, he had obtained a copy of the state police investigator’s report which detailed all of the events during this crime spree from Gallup to Grants. The NMSP investigator, Fred Garcia, was in Grants that night after completing his initial investigation in Gallup, and there he went to the scene of the final shooting where he used his car’s odometer to mark off the distance to the crash site (1.9 miles south of I-40 on Highway 117). Investigator Garcia also went to the fire department where the stolen VW had been towed and counted 27 bullet holes in the car, and at the Grants Police Department he interviewed the four police officers and one sergeant who were involved in the final pursuit.
I also located a second witness, Chuck Swanberg, who was one of the rookie police officers who was driving the police car, whose occupants first spotted the stolen Volkswagen pulling out of a Phillips 66 gas station in Grants. Even after 36 years (I interviewed him in 2007), he was able to give me a very detailed description of everything that happened that night from when they learned the wild cop killer was heading their way while they attended evening municipal court to the point when the chase came to an end in a hail of gunfire on that lonely stretch of Highway 117, south of the Stuckey’s Store on I-40 (Exit 89).
Between the three witness accounts (Riedemann, Swanberg and the Investigator’s report) I was able to dispel the rumor about the wild vehicle chase involving over a dozen police cars, and I learned that most of the bullet holes in the stolen VW occurred during the short chase as they fired into the rear of the fleeing Volkswagen in an attempt to disable the motor. Although the state police did set up roadblocks west of Grants where I-40 necked down to Route 66, and another east of Grants near the Acomita exit on I-40, the escaped criminal never passed through either roadblock. He apparently slipped by the first one before it had been fully established, and he never made it to the second, exiting the freeway instead onto Highway 117.
Ken should be proud of the role he played in helping to bring this wild killing rampage to an end and I am very appreciative of his assistance with my story.