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Murder charge adds impetus to search for elusive SLA fugitive

SHARE Murder charge adds impetus to search for elusive SLA fugitive

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — He's likely still out there, somewhere. He is probably gray as middle age settles in and he escapes his radical past.

James William Kilgore hasn't been seen since he fled federal charges in 1976 as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group perhaps best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.

"He's been in the wind for over 20 years, and we have no solid leads on his whereabouts," said Sacramento County Sheriff's Sgt. James Lewis. "We don't even know where to start."

Kilgore, 54, was charged last week with murder in connection with a deadly bank holdup in 1975 that was blamed on the SLA. Four alleged accomplices were charged and taken into custody.

But investigators say Kilgore is nowhere to be found. They say he has done a remarkable job eluding authorities — with not a single confirmed sighting in more than two decades.

He allegedly met up with Hearst in a cheap Las Vegas motel room in late September 1974, a .38 caliber revolver shoved in his waistband in case they were recognized.

Kilgore and the most hunted woman in America hopped a bus to Sacramento to rendezvous with other members of the SLA who had escaped a Los Angeles police shootout that spring.

They were joined at a rundown "safe house" by Steven and Kathleen Soliah, Emily and Bill Harris, and intermittently by Michael Bortin, Hearst told investigators after her eventual capture.

There, they began elaborately plotting the bank robbery that would result in the death of 42-year-old Myrna Opsahl, Sacramento County prosecutors alleged in court filings last week.

The Harrises, Bortin, Kathleen Soliah and Kilgore were charged with Opsahl's murder Wednesday, after prosecutors said they developed new evidence corroborating Hearst's account.

Bortin is fighting extradition to California from Oregon, while Kathleen Soliah, now known as Sara Jane Olson, pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday. The Harrises will plead not guilty, their attorneys said.

All are in custody except Kilgore, an intellectual and calm voice of reason in those frantic days, Hearst recounted in her 1982 book, "Every Secret Thing."

"He's clearly more intelligent than the average criminal, to sever any ties in the Bay area that might lead us to him," said Andrew Black, a spokesman for the San Francisco FBI office that is leading the search. "He's smart enough, we feel, to establish a new identity, to establish credit."

Profilers have said Kilgore probably lives in North America. He was a sports fanatic with an undergraduate degree in economics who worked as a cook and house painter during his radical years.

Investigators have no reason to believe Kilgore is dead — but he could be. He hasn't been arrested even on a petty charge, because his fingerprints haven't turned up.

The FBI stepped up the search after Olson was arrested in June 1999 in St. Paul, Minn. She was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison Friday for trying to blow up Los Angeles police cars in 1974.

The FBI recently offered a $20,000 reward and unveiled a bust and computer-enhanced photographs of what a clean-shaven, gray-haired Kilgore might look like now.

He was featured on TV's "America's Most Wanted," and tips poured in — more than 200 in the last two years. They yielded no success.

"It appears he's able to blend into society," Black said. "He's probably somebody's neighbor and very likely could be living quietly, as Kathleen Soliah was."

Kilgore was born in Portland, Ore., and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area town of San Rafael. The 5-foot, 10-inch Kilgore was athletically inclined and the FBI said he may play basketball and golf.

Kilgore was originally charged with having a pipe bomb at his San Francisco residence in September 1975, just as the group's remaining members fled for life underground.

Now they hope adding a murder charge might prompt someone, somewhere, to turn him in.

"Hopefully, someone will recognize him," Black said. "It's been a long time, though."

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