One of the most bizarre events ever to occur at the caverns unfolded on July 10, 1979 when four men made their way to the Underground Lunchroom with weapons, taking and holding it for approximately 5 and one-half hours. Thankfully, although a number of rounds were discharged in the lunchroom area, no one was hurt. The following is the information that appeared in the Superintendent's Monthly Report:
July --1979 At about 3:20 p.m., July 10, four armed men slipped into the Cavern and, after taking seasonal Park Technician Linda Phillips as hostage, barricaded themselves in the underground lunchroom. They ordered all visitors and other employees out of the cave and demanded $1 million cash, an airplane to fly them to Brazil, and a reporter to talk to. The FBI, Eddy County Sheriff’s Department, and New Mexico State Police were called in to assist with negotiations. Carlsbad Current-Argus newspaper publisher Ned Cantwell also agreed to assist by talking with the gunmen. Ms. Phillips and Mr. Cantwell were returned to the surface after Linda’s release about 7 p.m. Park and FBI negotiators were successful in getting the gunmen to surrender at about 8:50 p.m. Although from 50 to 100 rounds of ammo (12-gauge shotgun, 30-30 rifle, and .22 caliber pistol and rifle) out of the approximate 500 rounds carried into the Cavern were discharged in the lunchroom area, damage to facilities and cave features was relatively minor. The four gunmen were held in the Eddy County jail in lieu of $250,000 bond and were charged with kidnapping and two counts of aggravated assault each. A preliminary hearing was set for Monday, July 23. On July 20 the attorneys defending the four gunmen filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus before Judge Walker. A hearing was held on the 20th and was continued until July 27, at which time Judge Walker was to make a decision on whether the state had jurisdiction at the park. The preliminary hearing to be held July 23 was also continued until July 31, pending the outcome of Judge Walker’s decision. On July 30 Judge Walker ruled that the state had no jurisdiction, and the men were transferred to Albuquerque to face Federal misdemeanor charges on July 31. The four gunmen pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges before U. S. Magistrate Robert McCoy in Albuquerque on August 2 and were sentenced to one year in prison, with no opportunity for parole.
Some notes about the incident:
As you can tell from the above, the State and Federal governments did contend about who had jurisdiction in the case with the Federal government prevailing.
Some information surfaced in the investigation at the time that the four men had only known each other for a couple days.
Carlsbad-Current Argus publisher Ned Cantwell, who helped negotiate with the gunmen, was at a Washington D.C. publishers' function on July 29th when President Jimmy Carter recognized "Carlsbad" on his name tag and asked him if he was the publisher involved in the incident.
The National Park Service employees on duty that day received a Unit Citation for their courage and behavior under the challenging conditions of July 10, 1979.
Today many Carlsbad residents personally remember the events of July 10, 1979 when they were working at the caverns.
© Bob Hoff, 2007