SLA: Kathleen Soliah
Kathleen Ann Soliah (born January 16, 1947) was a member of the
terrorist group Symbionese
Liberation Army (SLA) in the Super70s. She has lived most of her post-SLA
life as a soccer mom under the alias Sara Jane Olson.
After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara,
Soliah moved to Berkeley, California with her boyfriend, Jim
Kilgore. There, she met Angela Atwood
at an audition where they both won lead roles in a production of Ibsen's Hedda
Gabler. They became inseparable during the play's run. Atwood tried to
sponsor Soliah into the SLA, but the other members thought her too
"flaky." Regardless, Soliah and Jim Kilgore, along with her
brother Steve and sister Josephine (who later married SLA member Michael
Bortin) followed the SLA closely.
When Atwood and other core members of the SLA were killed in Watts,
California, the Soliahs helped organize memorial rallies in Berkeley. She
gave a passionate speech about 'pigs' (the domesticated, law-enforcement
variety) at Ho Chi Minh park. It was at the this rally that Emily
Harris made contact with Kathleen.
On April 21, 1975, SLA
members robbed a Bank in Carmichael, California, killing Myrna
Opsahl, a bank customer, in the process. Patty
Hearst, who admitted to being a getaway driver, stated that Soliah was
one of the actual robbers and it was later revealed that she kicked a
pregnant woman who had been ordered to lie down. The woman later had a
On August 21, 1975, bombs that had failed to detonate were discovered
under several Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars. Soliah was
accused of planting the bombs in an attempt to avenge the slain SLA
In February 1976, a grand jury indicted in the bombing case. Soliah
went underground and became a fugitive for 23 years. She returned with her
husband and three daughters from Zimbabwe eventually to St. Paul,
Minnesota, having assumed the alias Sara Jane Olson. (Sara Jane
Moore, an SLA-wannabe who attempted to assassinate President Ford, worked
as a bookkeeper for the People In Need food distribution program created
by the Hearst family as a result of Patty's kidnapping. It is not known if
that was why she chose the name "Sara Jane.")
She was active in community issues and human rights campaigns. She also
continued to perform in the theatre, appearing in local productions of
Shakespeare's King Lear and All's Well that End's Well.
On March 3, 1999 and again on May 15, 1999, Soliah was profiled on the
"America's Most Wanted" television program; after a tip, she was
arrested on June 16ht of that year and was extradited to California where
she was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, possession of
explosives, explosion and attempt to ignite an explosive with intent to
Her husband claimed to be in the dark regarding her previous life, but
her mother claimed otherwise, "She told him about the situation when
they got serious. He understood."
Shortly after her arrest, she legally changed her name to the alias.
Her fans raised a substantial amount of money to post bond for her, and
her defense fund published a cookbook entitled Serving Time: America's
Most Wanted Recipes.
Like most defense lawyers with a losing case, her team managed to get
the trial delayed time and time again until it was eventually scheduled
for September 4, 2001. This backfired when the events of 9/11 unfolded and
the Super70s terrorist who tried to hide as a soccer mom could no longer
play the charade to a nostalgic public. Who knows what kind of deal she
might haven received a year earlier.
On October 31, 2001, she accepted a plea bargain, and pled guilty to
two counts of possessing explosives with intent to murder. The other
charges were dropped.
Immediately after entering the plea, however, Olson told reporters that
she was innocent and that her plea bargain was a lie forced on her by the
September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. "It became clear to me that the
incident would have a remarkable effect on the outcome of this trial ...
the effect was probably going to be negative," she said. "That's
really what governed this decision, not the truth or honesty, but what was
probably in my best interests and the interests of my family."
Angered by Olson's announcement that she had lied in court, Superior
Court Judge Larry Fidler ordered another hearing on November 6, at which
he asked her several times if she was indeed guilty of the charges. Olson,
rolling her eyes and sighing theatrically, replied "I want to make it
clear, Your Honor, that I did not make that bomb. I did not possess that
bomb. I did not plant that bomb. But under the concept of aiding and
abetting, I plead guilty."
Then, on November 13, Olson filed a motion requesting to withdraw her
guilty plea because "I realize I cannot plead guilty when I know I am
not." She acknowledged that she did not misunderstand the judge when
he read the charges against her. Rather, she said "Cowardice
prevented me from doing what I knew I should: Throw caution aside and move
forward to trial. ... I am not second-guessing my decision as much as I
have found the courage to take what I know is the honest course. Please,
Judge Fidler, grant my request to go to trial."
On December 3, Fidler offered to let Olson testify under oath about her
role in the case. She refused. He then wondered "I took those pleas
twice ... were you lying to me then or are you lying to me now?" --
and denied her request to withdraw her plea. Observers expected her to
serve only three to five years, but on January 18, she was sentenced to
two consecutive 10-years-to-life terms. She was to be eligible for parole
in five years.
On January 16, 2002, first-degree murder charges for the killing of Myrna
Opsahl were filed against five SLA members including Olson. Olson
pleaded not guilty to that charge at the time, but on November 7, changed
her mind and pled guilty. She was sentenced on February 14, 2003 for the
maximum term allowed under her plea bargain, which added six years to the
14-year sentence she is already serving.
Olson is serving her time at the Central California Women's
Correctional Facility in Chowchilla.
- Shana Alexander, Anyone's
Daughter: The Times and Trials of Patricia Hearst,
- Carolyn Anspacher & the San Francisco Chronicle, The
Trial of Patty Hearst, Great Fidelity Press, 1976.
- Marilyn Baker, Exclusive!:
the inside story of Patricia Hearst and the SLA, Macmillan
- Mary F. Beal, Safe
House: A Casebook Study of Revolutionary Feminism in the 1970's,
Northwest Matrix, 1976.
- Jerry Belcher & Don West, Patty/Tania,
Pyramid Books, 1975
- David Boulton, The
Making Of Tania Hearst, Bergenfield, N.J., U.S.A.: New American
- John Bryan, This
Soldier Still At War, (on Joe Remiro) Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
- Patty Hearst with Alvin Moscow, Patty
Hearst: Her Own Story, New York: Avon, 1982. This was the title
after the movie came out. Original title: Every Secret Thing.
- Sharon D. Hendry, Soliah:
The Sara Jane Olson Story, Cable Publishing, 2002.
- Janey Jimenez (U.S. Marshal who escorted Hearst between prison and the
court during the trial) with Ted Berkman, My
Prisoner, Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1977.
- Jean Brown Kinney, An
American journey: The short life of Willy Wolfe, Simon and Schuster,
- Vin McLellan, Paul Avery, The
voices of guns: The definitive and dramatic story of the twenty-two-month
career of the Symbionese Liberation Army, one of the most bizarre chapters
in the history of the American Left, Putnam, 1977.
- John Pascal, The
Strange Case of Patty Hearst, New American Library, 1974.
- Findley & Craven Payne, Life
and Death of the SLA, Ballantine, 1976.
- Robert Brainard Pearsall, Symbionese
Liberation Army: Documents and Communications, Rodopi, 1974
- Fred Soltysik, In
Search of a Sister 1976.
- Steven Weed, with Scott Swanton. My
Search for Patty Hearst, New York: Warner, 1976. Weed was Hearst's
boyfriend at the time of the kidnapping. That was the end of their
- Video: Patty
Hearst, based on Every Secret Thing, directed by Paul
- Video: The Ordeal of Patty Hearst (1979) (TV)
- Video: Patty Hearst: The E! True Hollywood Story (2000) (TV)
- Video: Neverland:
The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army aka Guerrilla:
The Taking of Patty Hearst, Directed by Robert Stone, 2004,