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