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Capt. Robert Trippeer, a New Mexico state trooper who knew Rosenbloom, says now that stopping rented cars for checks was routine at the time. "The men were in a rental car. A lot of rental cars came through there and we checked their papers because people were renting cars and not returning them. It was part of the routine duties to stop them and ask for license and ID, which at the time we didn't need probable cause to do," he says.
At 11:11 p.m. the radio dispatcher received a call on Officer Rosenbloom's car radio: "One of your policeman has been injured - send an ambulance." The call came from a Colorado motorist who later told police that he had passed Rosenbloom's car and the green Ford just off the interstate as he headed east toward Albuquerque. As he drove past, he saw what looked like "a body flying through the air." Moments later the green Ford sped past him. Suspicious, he turned around and returned to the patrol car.
When police arrived at the scene, the passenger door of Officer Rosenbloom's car was open. His revolver lay on the ground, out of its holster. Rosenbloom, who was clutching a flashlight in his left hand, had been shot once in the throat. His hat had rolled down an embankment.
A "Wanted" flyer distributed by the FBI at the time adds a few more details to the picture: "The suspects fled the murder scene in a 1972 Hertz rental car which was later abandoned and recovered in the South Valley area of Albuquerque, along with the suspects' clothing, personal belongings, guns, and explosives."
"I made the death notification to Bob Rosenbloom's wife," recalls Capt. Trippeer. "He had two children, one two years old and one three years old, who grew up without even knowing their father. As far as I'm concerned they are murderers. Killers."
The FBI's "suspects" were Ralph Goodwin, Charles Hill, and Michael Finney. During the three-week manhunt that ensued, rewards were offered, routes out of Albuquerque were sealed with roadblocks, and helicopters combed the search area. "We were on the run, house to house. We used to sit in different hide-outs and watch ourselves on TV," Finney recalls. "At one point I put on pink pants, a wig, and make-up and left the house in drag. They got to that house six hours later, after we had left."
A local radical organization that sympathized with their plight tried to find a route out of Albuquerque for the fugitives, but to no avail. "By the time we ran out of hide-outs and money, it was obvious we had to catch a plane out or go down," says Finney. "And we had never planned on trying to hijack a plane that whole time."
On November 26, their last day in the United States, a sympathizer dropped off the three men in the desert outside Albuquerque, promising to return. He never came back; Finney says the police caught up with him and he spent a year in jail for helping them. That night, Finney says, he and his companions buried themselves in the desert sand. "We had to dig in with just our heads sticking out. We were in the desert for eighteen hours. Then we hiked to the outskirts of town at midnight. We had ten dollars between the three of us. We hadn't eaten or drank."
The three walked to a gas station and called for a tow truck, saying their car had broken down and they were stranded. When the wrecker arrived, they greeted the driver with their guns drawn. "He said, `I know who you guys are,'" says Finney. "He didn't lose his cool."
At 1:30 a.m. they ordered the tow truck driver to take them to the airport, where TWA Flight 106 was waiting on the tarmac. "We got out and ran up the stairs, one by one," Finney recalls. The crew said, `Don't be nervous, the plane is yours. There are no heroes here. Just tell us where you want to go.' We closed the airplane door, unsure of what was happening."
Once the plane was in the air, a few hippie passengers passed the hijackers a poem they had written in honor of the occasion, celebrating "three black warriors taking over the belly of a silver bird." When the crew of Flight 106 landed in Miami later that morning, a flight attendant describing the ordeal told reporters that some of the hippies even offered to accompany the trio to Cuba. "They told us the youngest one, Michael, had killed the officer in New Mexico," she added. "They said [the trooper] was the enemy."
The plane made a stop in Tampa, where all 43 passengers were released, and then flew on to Havana, landing at Jose Marti International Airport at 8:49 a.m. In Cuba, the hijackers had giddily anticipated a heroes' welcome - the triumphant revolutionaries who had made their daring escape - but they were in for a more low-key reception. "There were no red carpets, no limousines, no interviews with Fidel Castro," Finney says with a wry grin. Instead a uniformed agent from Cuba's Department of State Security boarded the jet and asked the three, in English, what they wanted in Cuba. "Political exile," they answered. After surrendering their weapons, they were led to the terminal, searched and interrogated, then taken to the State Security detention center in Havana. "They put us in a cell that night, together," Finney recalls. "It wasn't an iron-bar dungeon, it was like a room, with a porthole to pass food. We played chess and cards and got taken out to a back patio. We wrote a lot of letters. We sang Motown tunes, and when the Cuban guards told us to be quiet, we didn't understand.