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SLA Robs Bank, Kills Woman

By Patrick Mondout

The remaining and new members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) robbed the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California getting away with over $16,000. During the robbery, bank customer Myrna Opsahl was shot to death.

Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heiress who was eventually granted immunity from prosecution for this crime, stated that Emily Harris, Kathleen Soliah, Michael Bortin, and James Kilgore actually committed the robbery, while she and Wendy Yoshimura (who was also later granted immunity, along with Steven Soliah) were getaway drivers and William Harris and Steven Soliah acted as lookouts. Kathleen Soliah reportedly kicked a pregnant woman who had been ordered to lie down. The woman eventually had a miscarriage.

According to Hearst and other witnesses, Emily Harris fired the shot that killed Myrna Opsahl. Hearst's memoirs reveal Harris attempting to justify her actions, "Oh, she's dead, but it doesn't really matter. She was a bourgeois pig anyway. Her husband is a doctor."

Not only was her husband a doctor, but Dr. Trygve Opsahl was the surgeon on duty when she was rushed to the Eskaton American River Hospital. She was already dead when he was called to the operating room.

Hearst also claims that Bill Harris boasted about the shooting shortly thereafter:

"This is the murder round," he bragged as he extracted from his pocket the brass base of a shotgun shell, its plastic jacket cut away. He joked about it, but no one laughed. "If it hadn't been for good ol' Myrna, one of our comrades would be dead now. Good old Myrna, she took all the buckshot."

The "one of our comrades" lines refers to the fact that James Kilgore was walking right behind Opsahl at the time and was fortunate to have not been hit by the trigger-happy Emily and her sawed-off shotgun. The shotgun, it was revealed in Hearst's memoirs, was purchased at a Sacramento gun show.

Makin' it easy...

(Above) A coupon for the gun show from the Sacramento Bee.
(Below) Myrna's bullet-ridden dress.

Courtesy of the Police Department.


This was not the SLA's first bank robbery nor was Myrna Opsahl the first person they had murdered. Opsahl, a 42 year old mother of four, was unlucky enough to have been dropping off church funds at the local bank with a pair of friends when the terrorists entered. Unlike when the SLA terrorists died in a shootout with police, there was no memorial rally in Berkeley for Myrna Opsahl. Nor were there any fund-raising cookbooks, like the Soliah/Olson team produced for her legal defense fund.

Steven Soliah was the only one charged with the crime during the 20th Century. He was put on trial in 1976 but prosecutors, who didn't believe Patricia Hearst's version of the events nor view her as a credible witness, did not use her as a witness. Steven also had a alleged former girlfriend, Emily Tobach, as an alibi. Tobach, who happened to be Kathleen Soliah's roomate from a few years earlier, used to visit prisoners quite often - just as SLA members had. In fact she was at such a prison visit during the robbery - when she said she had been with Soliah. Unfortunately, this evidence was revealed the day after the jury got the case. With little else to go on, the jury acquitted him.

Her death and the lack of prosecutions led to a lengthy campaign for justice by her son Jon, who demanded for years that Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully file charges. A break came when ammunition found in a former SLA safehouse matched up with that taken from Myrna Opsahl. This led to the January 2002 arrests of Emily Harris, William Harris, and Kathleen Soliah, and Michael Bortin. James Kilgore was later extradited from South Africa for his role in the murder. After years of denying it and claiming the police were on a witch-hunt, Emily Harris admitted to firing the fatal shotgun blast, but claimed it was an accident.

Not until they had all pleaded guilty and were looking for leniency from the judge did any of them acknowledge the Opsahl family or attempt to apologize. (The Hearst family quietly gave $200,000 more than two decades ago.)




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