On this day in 1999, Kathleen Ann Soliah, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), is arrested near her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Soliah, who now calls herself Sara Jane Olsen, had been evading authorities for more than 20 years.
In the mid-1970s, the SLA, a small, radical American paramilitary group, made a name for itself with a series of murders, robberies and other violent acts. They were most well-known for the 1974 kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst, who became a member of the group. In April 1975, members of the SLA robbed a bank in Carmichael, California, and, in the process, killed one of the bank’s customers, Myrna Opsahl. According to Patty Hearst, who served as the group’s getaway driver that day, Soliah took part in the robbery.
Four months later, in August 1975, Lost Angeles policemen discovered a bomb where one of their patrol cars had earlier been parked. Though police believe it had been designed to explode when the car moved, it had failed to detonate. Soliah was indicted for the crime in 1976 but by then she had already left town, and did not return, becoming a fugitive for nearly 23 years. Soliah eventually settled with her husband, a doctor, and three children in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she continued to advocate for various causes under the assumed name Sara Jane Olsen.
In the spring of 1999, however, Soliah’s case was featured on an episode of television’s America’s Most Wanted; she was arrested several weeks later. In 2002, as part of a plea bargain, she pled guilty to two counts of planting bombs and was sentenced to five years and four months in jail. The Board of Prison Terms then changed her sentence to 14 years. After pleading guilty to the attempted bombings, she was arraigned for the Opsahl killing and was later convicted and sentenced to another six years.
In 2004, a judge threw out the adjusted 14-year term, saying the board “abused its discretion” in changing the sentence. She was released from a California prison in March 2009.