Terror in the Suburbs


“Even today, the 1975 murder of Myrna Opsahl and Carmichael bank robbery by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army stands out as one of Sacramento County’s most violent crimes and one of the earliest known acts of domestic terrorism, states Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully.

On April 21, 1975, just as Carmichael’s Crocker National Bank (now defunct) opened its doors, four armed and masked individuals rushed inside. Lookouts with automatic weapons waited outside. Two more accomplices waited a short distance away in stolen switch vehicles. One of the drivers was allegedly Patty Hearst.

The SLA, a paramilitary group, had become infamous for the Feb. 4, 1974 abduction of 19-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst from her Berkeley apartment.

In the ensuing months, the SLA converted her to their radical ways. The public next saw her in photos, brandishing a gun during an April 1974 robbery of a San Francisco bank.

Hearst stayed with the SLA, eluding FBI agents until she was captured on Sept. 18, 1975 in San Francisco.
A longtime resident of the region, Robert Keagy, remembers the brouhaha that happened right outside his home the morning of the Crocker Bank robbery. One of the cars they’d stolen sat steps from our home.

They apparently drove from the scene to the car, switched into the car by my house and got away. To learn later that it was Patty Hearst and the SLA violently robbing the bank where I banked was terrifying.

According to the DA’s office, weapons were pointed at customers and employees. Threats and demands loomed. Myrna Lee Opsahl, a 42-year-old doctor’s wife and mother of four young children, came to the bank that morning to deposit collections from her church. She looked at the robbers and was hit in her left side with a blast from a shotgun. The robbers then fled with about $15,000. Opsahl died later that day.

Although Hearst later divulged key details about the day, prosecutors ran across stumbling blocks ranging from problem alibis to bad memories. SLA member Steven Soliah, whom Hearst had identified, was acquitted in 1976. Throughout the years, district attorneys continued to review the case, but criminal charges were not brought for various legal reasons.

When SLA member Kathleen Ann Soliah, aka Sara Jane Olson, was arrested in June 1999, the DA decided that justice could be served&emdash;even after more than two decades.

After the introduction of new forensic evidence linking the lead pellets that killed Opsahl to shotgun shells found in an SLA hideout in San Francisco, murder charges were filed against Emily Montague Harris (the alleged shooter), William Taylor Harris, Kathleen Ann Soliah, Michael Alexander Bortin and James William Kilgore. On Nov. 7, 2002, Montague, Harris, Soliah and Bortin plead guilty to second-degree murder. Kilgore plead guilty later.

I guess the worst part of all this was that [brutal robberies] just didn’t happen in Carmichael, says Keagy.
And to learn it was the SLA. I don’t want to say we all felt terrorized, but it did bring home the fact that we didn’t live in the perfect little suburb.