Final Suspect in 1975 S.L.A. Killing Arrested in South Africa

New York Times/November 9, 2002
By Dean E. Murphy

San Francisco -- Federal authorities announced today that the police in South Africa had arrested James W. Kilgore, the last fugitive from the Symbionese Liberation Army wanted in the shotgun killing of a woman 27 years ago. The authorities said Mr. Kilgore, 55, was arrested without incident at his home in Cape Town, where he had been living with his wife and two children under the name Charles William Pape. He had been working as a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, apparently teaching English.

"We will now have closure concerning a well-known domestic terrorist group whose crimes allegedly include murder, bombings, kidnappings and bank robbery," said Mark Mershon, the F.B.I. special agent in San Francisco.

Mr. Kilgore's surprise arrest came a day after four other former members of the S.L.A. pleaded guilty in Sacramento to murder in the same case. Mr. Kilgore and the others had been charged in the shooting death of Myrna Opsahl during a holdup at a bank in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, on April 21, 1975.

Kevin V. Ryan, the United States attorney in San Francisco, said the arrest today and the four guilty pleas on Thursday were not related.

"It is just one of those coincidences in life," Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Ryan would not say what information had finally prompted the capture of Mr. Kilgore, who had been on the run since Sept. 18, 1975. But he suggested Mr. Kilgore might have tripped himself up.

"It is rare for any fugitive to live in a vacuum and not reach out to the world somehow," Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Mershon said Mr. Kilgore's apprehension resulted from "good old-fashioned leg work." The authorities said it was known since the early 1980's that Mr. Kilgore had fled to Africa. About 10 days ago, they received additional information on his exact whereabouts.

A lawyer for one of the four former S.L.A. members who pleaded guilty on Thursday said that none of them had provided information to the authorities about Mr. Kilgore as part of their plea agreements.

"Nobody in the group even knew where he was," said Stuart Hanlon, the lawyer, who represented Emily Montague, one of the defendants.

Mr. Hanlon said that Mr. Kilgore had been in negotiations with the federal authorities about surrendering, apparently with the idea of receiving the same kind of plea bargain deal from prosecutors as the other four. The authorities, however, would not confirm there were negotiations and they said that no deal had been struck.

Mr. Kilgore was arrested on a federal warrant issued in 1976 for possessing a pipe bomb in an S.L.A. "safe house" in Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Once he is returned to the United States, the authorities said, he will also face the additional charge of murder.

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