I’ve been impressed with this documentary so far. It’s doing what it set out to do — to bring executive producer Jeffrey Toobin’s American Heiress to the screen. Both American Heiress and “The Radical Story of Patty Hearst” make it clear that this is a story about Patty Hearst. I do think the larger SLA deserves more investigation, but that can come at another time.
I just don’t want people to equate the SLA with Patty Hearst. She was part of a larger whole — she wasn’t the whole thing.
These two episodes focus on the SLA post-Hearst conversion to “Tania,” a woman purportedly leaving behind her bourgeois life to fight for revolution. Episode 3 covered the April 15, 1974, Hibernia bank robbery and the shootout with L.A. police that occurred a month later, killing six SLA members. Episode 4 focused on Patty on the run to New York, then Scranton, then to Sacramento. The episode ended with the Crocker bank robbery in 1975 that left one woman, Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four, dead.
I’ve mentioned the “gets” of Steven Weed and Bill Harris, who have been largely silent about this time in recent years. The producers continue to secure rare interview subjects in these episodes. Interviews included Tom Matthews, the young man whom Bill, Emily, and Patty took with them for a day when they hijacked his car; Micki Scott, who along with her husband, Jack, found shelter for the SLA shortly after the shootout; and Mike Bortin, who became affiliated with the SLA after the shootout.
I thought it was interesting that Bill Harris said the SLA was killed in the shootout and after that, there was no SLA. He and Emily and Patty were survivors, and the others who came along (Kathy Soliah, Josephine Soliah, Wendy Yoshimura, Steve Soliah, Bortin, and Jim Kilgore) merely helped the SLA, they weren’t members. That’s a fine line, Bill.
Bill also said that when the SLA decided to go to Los Angeles to hide, they went because Donald DeFreeze (Cinque) had lived there and was the only SLA member to have lived there before. That’s wrong. Camilla Hall lived there for about two years. She left Minnesota for L.A., where two friends lived, in 1969. She moved to the Bay Area in 1971, where she met Patricia Soltysik (Mizmoon). I know Camilla was the odd one out in the SLA cell, and this makes me wonder if other SLA members even tried to get to know her. If not, that makes me sad.
There’s so much more to this story that this docu-series and American Heiress cannot cover. Both are a great starting point for people who are further intrigued by the SLA. Here are some suggestions for further reading based on these episodes.
Sara Jane Olson (Kathy Soliah) and James Kilgore.
- “The Life and Times of Sara Jane Olson.” Minneapolis StarTribune. Olson was the name Kathy Soliah assumed when she went on the run in 1975. She was taken into custody in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1999.
- “California Family Has Waited for Justice for 27 Years.” New York Times. Jon Opsahl was a vocal critic of the four SLA members put on trial in the early 2000s for their role in his mother’s death.
- “U. of I.” Clears Way for Convicted Radical to Teach Again.” Chicago Tribune. James Kilgore was fired from his faculty job after it was discovered he had been a member of the SLA. That wasn’t exactly secret knowledge — he hadn’t changed his name. I’m a little surprised no one noticed in the first place.