In Plain Sight

katherinepowerYou might recognize the name Katherine Ann Power. 20 years ago, she was on the FBI’s most wanted list when Willamette Valley resident Ann Metzinger turned herself into authorities, admitting that she was, in fact, the fugitive Power.

After years of relative quiet on the matter, Power is back with a memoir in the works. She spoke at OSU on October 31st.

First, it might help to be familiar with what transpired that made her a household name.

Walter Schroeder was a 19-year veteran of the Boston Police Department. He was a decorated hero who had saved lives. He had a wife and nine children.

Katherine Ann Power was raised in a middle class home in Denver. She was a strong student, earning a scholarship to Brandeis University in Boston in addition to accolades for her cooking skills. During the Vietnam War, she was an activist and protester against the war, eventually becoming, as she puts it, a “revolutionary.”

In 1970 she joined a plot that could at best be described as not that well-thought-out: to rob banks to fund the Black Panthers and stop the Viet Nam War. In fairness to them, this type of muddled revolutionary clumping of unrelated causes was pretty common at the time, and still is today.

“It wasn’t as harebrained an idea as it sounds…” insisted Power at her recent talk.

“It wasn’t that we were psychotic, we were just wrong,” she continued to the laughter of the rapt audience at the Memorial Union where she was reading excerpts from her upcoming memoir, Surrender.

Power and her four partners: a friend from school, a furloughed convict taking classes at the university, and two other former convicts, robbed a National Guard armory, stealing weapons and burning it down.

“Our motivation was rage,” says Power. “We had elected, the whole nation, elected Richard Nixon on the promise he’d end the war. And he expanded the war.”

On Sept. 23, 1970, the five “revolutionaries” focused their rage on a bank. They made off with a little over $26,000 ($158,000 in inflation adjusted 2013 dollars). Nothing to sniff at, but not quite the scratch needed to buy US troops out of Vietnam, or buy enough guns for the Black Panthers to take on the FBI on equal ground, or whatever the plan was.
One from the group, the lookout stationed outside, William Gilday, shot a police officer that arrived on the scene. The officer got it in the back, as he ran toward the bank, and died of his wounds.

The gunman was chased down through multiple gunfights, in a similar cross-Boston police manhunt as the Tsarnaev brothers led Boston PD on earlier this year. The other two men in the gang were also apprehended shortly thereafter, one of them accidentally dying in custody during an escape attempt with a bomb.

William Gilday, the shooter, died in prison in 2011, denying until the end that he had pulled the trigger.

The two young women, Power and Susan Saxe, went on the run. They were both added to the FBI’s most wanted list.

Saxe made it until April 1975 when she was arrested in Philadelphia. Power did a little better. She became Alice Metzinger, the name of an infant that died the same year she was born.

Metzinger lived on the lam for nine years before settling in Oregon under the new identity. She returned to the cooking that she had been so known for before the bank robbery.

According to her talk at OSU, she worked steadily in the restaurant business, doing side consulting for a fast food company, even owning her own restaurant.

She met a man, Ron; they had a son, Jamie. She lived in relative obscurity, right here in the Willamette Valley, getting a Master’s degree at OSU and teaching at Linn Benton Community College among other activities of a law abiding member of society. Eventually depression, stemming either from her fear of capture, her guilt or some mixture of the two, pushed her into joining a support group for depressed people. This led to her admitting that she was Katherine Ann Power, fugitive “revolutionary.”

Then she sought an attorney and worked out her surrender. Even in her memoirs she notes that she intended to scout how severely she would be punished, and make her decision to come in from the cold based on that. She decided the climate was right and turned herself in. She was sentenced to 8 to 12 years for the death of that police officer.

Remember him? His name was Walter Schroeder, and he was a hero to the people of Boston that he served. He lost his life to, as Power describes it, ”romantic gun-toting violence.” But even while “taking responsibility,” she phrases it thusly:

“In the process of this robbery to liberate funds, this romantic gun-toting violence, officer Walter Schroeder was killed.”

As if this thing just happened to both of them. As if she’s a victim as much as he is.

She describes his murder as “…the inevitable end point of the politics of rage… I think it’s an unacceptable outcome, the same as it’s unacceptable that grandmothers and children are exploded by drones in Afghanistan.”

See how that works? They killed Walter Schroeder so innocents wouldn’t have to die in Vietnam, and she still sort of believes that to this day. But that’s not why he died. He died so they could have their great hippie college adventure. And when it was over, they wanted to go back to regular lives. They got a taste of revolution, and it tasted less like Che Guevara’s cigar than it did like Walter Schroeder’s blood.

After five years in prison, Power went up before a parole board.

“I don’t want parole for myself,” she says she told them, but instead she needed to be released to take care of her son, then just a teenager. She says they immediately pointed out the irony to her of asking for early release to take care of her child when she was in prison for depriving nine children of their father.

Still reading from her memoir, Power describes how Sgt. Claire Schroeder of Boston PD, daughter of Walter, didn’t buy her shtick and asked the parole board to deny her.

Power reads from her memoir, “I knew what I had to do.”

And this is really the essence of Power’s tour of prostration and self reverence. She knew what she had to do. Not what had to be done because it was the right thing, but what had to be done to ensure the legend of Katherine Power would continue on. She knew what she had to do, because even 43 years after the death of Walter Schroeder, it’s all about Katherine.

So she made a strategic call.

Rather than take the parole denial, which was surely coming after the entirety of the Schroeder family pointed out the hollowness of her words in the face of only serving five years, after being free for 23 years, for murdering their father, Power opted to withdraw her parole request. There would be other opportunities for parole, but there would never be a better opportunity to forever put to bed the clearly lingering question of whether or not she was truly repentant for what she had done, and whether she truly “took responsibility.”

She was released 18 months after that parole hearing, two years before she would have completed the low end of 8 to 12.

katpowerPart of Power’s probation prevents her from profiting off the case in any way. She challenged that part in court after her release and lost. This would seem to preclude her from making any money from her memoir, unless her lawyer’s found a way around that. Perhaps the money will go to charity or somehow her website, (a scatterbrained sparsely updated blog about how she’s found a method to spread peace… practically), will get the money to do its good work, and she won’t technically be profiting.

Either way, it’s hard to get past the bottom line. She served six years after getting a hero policeman, a father of nine, killed, and then going on the run for 23 years.

What about all the Black Panthers who are still rotting in prison cells for their crimes? I mean, aside from her being white, they are no different. Deluded bank robbers and “revolutionaries.” Of course the likes of Power and Saxe, who with the help of a brilliant lawyer was also able to get off with a mere fraction of the jail time the Panthers got, never seem to be aware of the perverse irony of their crime and punishment: they were Marxist crusaders for equality, but when the time came to live the ideal, to actually forgo rational self-interest, they fell somewhat short.

To be fair, Power doesn’t necessarily belong in jail, nor does she even deserve scorn. She’s an imperfect person who made a terrible mistake in judgment that resulted in a tragic occurrence. In the eyes of the law she has paid her debt, and as a society we should all respect that and let her lead her life as she chooses.

But perhaps the very least she owes the family of Walter Schroeder is to not force them to see her face smiling from a book cover, telling her story of sacrifice and struggle while he can’t tell his.

As Power described the parole hearing, the audience laughs at times at her description of just how much the parole board couldn’t wait to let her out, how she had done so much good in prison despite the best efforts of “the man” to keep her down.

“Finally,” Power reads from her memoir, “Claire [Schroeder] noted the eloquence of my acceptance of responsibility for my crime in the statement I had written, and found it wanting in sincerity.”

Claire’s not alone in that opinion.

Katherine Ann Power declined to be interviewed for this piece. You can watch a video of her talk at OSU at the History, Philosophy, and Religion Department YouTube page:

by Ygal Kaufman