Kilgore's arrest closes book on SLA

Nov. 8, 2002 at 8:52 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- The final fugitive member of one of the most notorious radical organizations of the Vietnam era was being held in a South African jail cell Friday pending his extradition to the United States to face bomb-possession and murder charges.

James Kilgore, 55, the last of the soldiers from the Symbionese Liberation Army to remain at large 27 years after an alleged violent crime spree, was arrested Friday in Cape Town where he had been quietly teaching college level English under an assumed name after fleeing the United States in 1975.

Kilgore was indicted in 1976 on federal charges involving possession of a pipe bomb. He also faces a California state murder charge for his alleged role in a bank robbery that left a customer shot to death.

"James Kilgore will face justice in the United States for crimes committed more than 25 years ago," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement issued at a news conference in San Francisco. "Today's arrest shows that the Justice Department will pursue cases against terrorists and violent criminal offenders, no matter how long it takes. Terrorists can run and they can try to hide overseas, but in the end, we will find them and bring them to justice."

The SLA's violent binge in California captured national headlines, particularly after they kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst in 1974 from her Berkeley apartment and held her captive until she emerged in stunning fashion months later wielding a rifle during a bank robbery, sporting a black beret and military garb, calling herself "Tanya."

Formed in the San Francisco Bay Area after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the SLA carried out a hit-and-run campaign of robberies aimed at fomenting a revolution in the United States.

Hearst earlier this year described the SLA members as determined and disciplined revolutionaries whose dedication gave rise to a collective vicious streak that led to tragedy in the spring of 1975 when a customer was shot to death during a robbery at the Crocker National Bank branch in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael.

"When I was kidnapped, they published all of their statements about their war that they declared on the United States and what they wanted to accomplish, and their purpose," Hearst, now middle-aged, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" last January. "This was considered a revolutionary action. It was an ex-appropriation of funds. Everything they said was in rhetoric and they wanted to include everyone on what was considered a combat operation."

Hearst, who had taken part in the robbery but was not inside the bank, was arrested in September 1975, more than a year after the core of the SLA was killed in a fiery shootout with Los Angeles police.

Four graying former SLA members pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the robbery and slaying of Myrna Opshal during a hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court on Thursday. Under the plea agreement, the defendants -- Emily Montague, Richard Harris, Sarah Jane Olson and Michael Bortin -- were given sentences ranging from six to eight years.

Formerly known as "Emily Harris" in the 1970s, Montague, who received an eight-year prison sentence, had fired the shotgun blast that killed the 42-year-old church secretary inside the Crocker National Bank branch outside Sacramento.

The Sacramento Bee said Friday that, according to sources, Kilgore had already commenced negotiations to surrender to U.S. authorities when he was picked up. He was scheduled to appear before a South African judge Monday morning local time and will be held pending extradition to the United States, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Kilgore was on the faculty of the University of Cape Town when he was arrested Friday morning.

He was living in the South African city under the name Charles William Pape with his wife and two children. He had not been seen since Sept. 18, 1975 when the FBI arrested Hearst and SLA members Wendy Yoshimura, William and Emily Harris and Steven Soliah in San Francisco.

The whereabouts of Kilgore and another SLA member, Kathleen Soliah, were unknown until 1999 when Soliah was found in Minnesota living as a housewife and soccer mom under the name of "Sarah Jane Olson."

Soliah had been wanted in Los Angeles for taking part in a plot to plant pipe bombs under police patrol cars, allegedly with the assistance of Kilgore, her longtime boyfriend.

Federal authorities told reporters Friday that the four who pleaded guilty in Sacramento had not led them to the elusive Kilgore.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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