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Soliah: The Sara Jane Olson Story
By Sharon D. Hendry


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  • Member of the Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist group in the 1970s
  • Participated in a 1975 bank robbery in which one innocent person was killed
  • Participated in several 1975 bombing attempts
  • Was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison

Kathleen Soliah (a.k.a. Sara Jane Olson) is a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a Marxist-Leninist terror cult that sought to overthrow the U.S. government in the 1970s by means of guerrilla warfare. 

In the 1960s Soliah attended UC Santa Barbara, where she became the girlfriend of campus radical James Kilgore. The couple moved to a commune in Monterey in 1969, and subsequently relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area where they made acquaintance with local radicals like Angela Atwood, who in the early '70s was a founding member of the SLA. Soliah and Atwood quickly became best friends.

Soliah was outraged when, on May 17, 1974, Atwood and five other SLA members -- Donald DeFreeze, Camilla Hall, Nancy Ling Perry, Patricia Soltysik, and William Wolfe -- were killed in a two-hour shootout with police at their hideout in South Central Los Angeles. The following month, Soliah organized a memorial rally at “Ho Chi Minh Park” in Berkeley, where she accused the police of having murdered Atwood.

When the surviving members of the SLA came to offer Soliah comfort and support, she decided to join their movement. According to CourtTV.com, Soliah stole wallets to make fake IDs, helped plan and carry out bank robberies, and participated in several bombing attempts in 1975.

On April 21, 1975, Soliah -- along with Emily Harris, Michael Bortin, and James Kilgore -- held up the Crocker Bank in Carmichael, California. William Harris and Steven Soliah served as their lookouts, while Wendy Yoshimura and Patricia Hearst drove the getaway cars. During the robbery, Emily Harris shot and killed a 42-year-old bystander named Myrna Opsahl, who was a church secretary and the mother of four children. After that, Soliah went underground. 

n August 1975 the Los Angeles Police Department found unexploded pipe bombs beneath two of its patrol cars, and evidence indicated that Soliah and James Kilgore were responsible. Their whereabouts remained unknown, however. (By this time, they had split up and were no longer a couple.)

Soliah ultimately ended up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where in 1977 she started a new life under the alias "Sara Jane Olson." She met Fred Peterson in 1979, married him the following year, and went on to have three daughters with him. Olson (Soliah) became the quintessential “soccer mom,” running her children to school activities and participating in many community-service projects and leftist causes.

When Soliah was finally found by the FBI in 1999, she was arrested and brought to trial for her long-ago crimes of explosives possession and attempted murder. Patricia Hearst’s testimony helped convict Soliah, who was sentenced to serve 20-years-to-life in prison (a sentence that was later reduced to 14 years).

On November 7, 2002, Olson and three other former SLA members -- William Harris, Emily Harris, and Michael Bortin -- pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges vis-a-vis the death of Myrna Opsahl. The court added six more years to Soliah's sentence.

On March 17, 2003, Soliah granted early release based on good-behavior credits she had earned by doing jobs at the prison. Four days later, however, she was re-arrested at the Los Angeles Airport after California correctional authorities realized that she had been mistakenly released due to an administrative error. It was determined that Soliah would not be eligible for release until March 17, 2009.


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