SLA fugitive led secret life for decades

An unassuming academic is uncovered as former member of 1970s terror group

The Globe/November 11, 2002
By Karen MacGregor

Durban, South Africa -- After nearly three decades on the run, Charles William (John) Pape was good at concealing his life as a fugitive. But his extraordinary secret has burst into the open since police plucked the quiet left-wing academic from his Cape Town home and accused him of being one of the world's most-wanted terrorists. Friends and colleagues were stunned by the arrest of Mr. Pape, 55 -- a friend of the poor and a published scholar from the prestigious University of Cape Town.

But police alleged, and the academic acknowledged, that his real identity is James Kilgore, a man wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and alleged to have been the last unaccounted-for member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the hippie-era U.S. terror group that kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst in 1974.

Last Friday night, responding to an Interpol request, Cape Town's violent- crimes unit swooped on a modest, one-storey home in the leafy, middle-class Cape Town suburb of Claremont and seized the suspect, who did not resist arrest.

His wife -- historian Terri Barnes from the University of the Western Cape -- and their two boys, 8 and 11, have since fled the house.

Others who knew Mr. Kilgore as Mr. Pape have been left struggling to imagine him as a dangerous radical wanted for murder, armed robbery and illegal possession of homemade bombs. Acquaintances describe him as a thoughtful, reserved and mild-mannered family man who played sports with his sons in the yard and held down a respectable job.

"He's a very pleasant person, entirely sensible, with quite a good radical analysis of our social and economic issues," freelance journalist Waltan Paltland told the national Sunday Times. "He's not in any way irrational."

Neighbour Eric Atmore said the Papes "were a normal, happy family. It's weird -- I wouldn't have expected it."

But police said fingerprints prove that the man in question is Mr. Kilgore, and hours after Friday's arrest, photographs of the fugitive on the FBI's Web site were crossed off in red and marked as "captured."

The greying, balding fugitive is to appear in court today for an extradition hearing. The process will likely take a few weeks unless Mr. Kilgore appeals.

Senior Superintendent Mike Barkhuizen, the case's South African investigator, said the suspect is in good health, but nervous. He said that he believes Ms. Barnes knew of her husband's past, but that there is no evidence she committed any crime.

FBI special agent Mark Mershon told reporters that there were indications that Mr. Kilgore has been in Africa since the early 1980s, and that the couple entered South Africa from Zimbabwe with illegal papers in 1995.

They headed for Johannesburg, where Mr. Kilgore taught at a college. They moved to Cape Town around 1997, and the following January, Mr. Kilgore went to work for the University of Cape Town as a senior researcher for the International Labour Resource and Information Group, which studies labour issues.

He became involved in community groups, such as Workers World Radio Productions. Colleagues described him as a reserved man who cared about the poor and became a prominent left-wing critic. He published books and articles opposed to globalization, and recently he targeted South Africa's inflation-targeting policies.

University spokeswoman Shireen Sedres said he was "highly regarded as an academic. He is viewed as an outstanding researcher and a respected colleague."

She said colleagues were "in a state of disbelief" over the allegations.

"He's an incredibly quiet guy, that's why it's such a shock," community activist Peter van Heusden said. "He's not what I would call a raging firebrand."

How authorities tracked down Mr. Kilgore was still unclear yesterday. Mr. Mershon of the FBI said one key was an unspecified tip that surfaced less than two weeks ago -- "through good, old-fashioned legwork" rather than electronic surveillance.

Coincidentally, the day before Mr. Kilgore's arrest, four of his former SLA colleagues pleaded guilty in a California court to the second-degree murder of Myrna Opsahl, a customer who was shot dead at a bank the group tried to rob in 1975.

The four had negotiated their sentences beforehand, and Mr. Kilgore's American lawyer was also in the process of seeking a plea deal. The suspect faces murder and robbery charges arising from the same bank robbery, plus a bomb charge related to a device found at his home that year.

The SLA shot to notoriety for a string of robberies aimed at funding revolution, and for kidnapping Ms. Hearst, then 19. The newspaper heiress joined the cause and shocked Americans when she was photographed toting a gun during an SLA bank heist. She was jailed and later pardoned.

After disbanding, several group members vanished and rebuilt their lives, becoming parents, professionals and civic volunteers.

Mr. Kilgore, who was a popular honours student, athlete and economics graduate of the University of California, vanished much in the same way as Sarah Jane Olson, one of his colleagues.

Ms. Olson changed her name to Kathleen Soliah, married a doctor and settled down in Minnesota before being caught. She now faces a jail term of six to eight years for the bank heist, and is already serving a 14-year sentence for placing a bomb under a Los Angeles police car in 1975.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.