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SLA: Emily & Bill Harris

By Patrick Mondout

Emily & Bill Harris were members of the early-Super70s American terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). They and Patty Hearst, who had earlier been kidnapped by the group but who was now a full-fledged member, were practically the only active members left after a May 17, 1974 shootout with police.

Emily Schwartz was born to upper-middle class parents in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She graduated from the Indiana University with a degree in English and later went on to teach junior high French and English classes in Bloomington, Indiana. 

Bill Harris was born in 1945 in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He gave college a try but was in the Marines by 1966. His time in Vietnam apparently changes his politics and when he returned, he joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He also gave college a second try, this time enrolling at the University of Indiana. He majored in acting and soon met both his future wife Emily Schwartz as well as Angela Atwood.

Atwood moved to the Bay area and married. The Harris's would later move to the Bay area and, after Atwood's marriage fell apart, would allow Angela to stay with them.

On the afternoon of May 16, 1974, Patty Hearst drove the Harris's in a red Volkswagen bus to a Mel's Sporting Goods in Inglewood, California to shoplift ammunition. The plan was to snatch the ammunition at the same time but purchase some goods ($31 worth of clothes) to cover their tracks. When Emily & Bill got into an altercation outside with a security guard and store owner Bill Huett, Hearst emerged from the van and fired an semi-automatic weapon taking out the storefront window and allowing all three to escape.

As Huett described the trio to the LAPD, they realized the SLA were in the area and led the shootout the next day. Hearst and the Harris's watched those events unfold in a motel room near Disneyland. The three headed back to the Bay area and, with the help of Kathleen Soliah, reformed the SLA minus their six fallen comrades.

According to Patty Hearst and other witnesses, Emily Harris fired the shot that killed Myrna Opsahl during the SLA's April 15, 1975 bank robbery. Patty Hearst 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." 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."

They would remain on the run until all three were captured in September of 1975.

When Patty Hearst was convicted, the Harrises attorney Leonard Weinglass stated that "Patty had turned her back on the people and chose to go the route of wealth and power and deception. She wrongfully accused her friends and slandered her dead lover Cinque and vilified the political organization she chose to join." Had the Harrises collectively had a ounce of decency, they might have better used their expensive mouthpiece to issue an apology for kidnapping her in the first place - or for killing Myrna Opsahl.

The Harrises plead guilty in September of 1979 to the kidnapping charges and spend a total of 8 years in jail. Emily divorced Bill in 1984.

Emily Harris, who learned how to use a computer while in prison, worked as a computer consultant in Southern California under the name Emily Montague while living with her partner, Noreen Lenay. Bill Harris worked as an investigator for a private detective.

They were finally brought to justice for their roles in Opsahl's murder in January of 2002. On February 14, 2003 Emily Harris received eight years for second degree murder while her ex-husband Bill received seven years.

Through the years...

Here are the mug shots of William & Emily Harris superimposed on one of their many FBI wanted posters.

Courtesy of the FBI, Sacramento Sheriff's Department.

References/Bibliography

 

 

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SLA: YOLANDA & TEKO

One of a number of FBI wanted posters featuring Emily & Bill with Patty along with their respective mugshots.

FBI


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