An articulate young woman with short dark hair who had joined the Weathermen after getting involved with the antiwar movement at Michigan State University, Latimer wore a tan pantsuit on the day she met with San Francisco detectives in a Financial District hotel room. According to the investigator with knowledge of the case, she had come forward to betray her former comrades in the revolution to have a federal hold on her passport lifted so she could travel abroad, and was delivered to San Francisco police by FBI agents. She was willing to testify in court if granted personal immunity from prosecution.

Listening to Latimer calmly narrate the planning of the Park Station attack, step by step, the local detectives knew they finally had a break. In fact, they believed she could make their whole case. Latimer claimed to have personally cased the station, and could describe the package that had held the explosive device before it had gone off. "It was just too detailed," the investigator familiar with the case said. "It was A to Z without leaving out L and M. I was convinced."

The day after interviewing Latimer, the investigator said, the detectives hastily convened a conference with San Francisco District Attorney John Jay Ferdon and a federal prosecutor. At that meeting, the police officers and federal prosecutor argued for granting Latimer immunity and proceeding to file charges. (It is unclear which Weather Underground members would have been named as defendants, or whether the D.A. and U.S. Attorney were aware of Steen's earlier statement to police.)

Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers, pictured in a law-enforcement identification kit from the 1970s.
Courtesy of Max Noel
Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers, pictured in a law-enforcement identification kit from the 1970s.
Former Weather Underground member Mark Rudd has denied that the group was involved in the bombing of Park Police Station.
courtesy of Max Noel
Former Weather Underground member Mark Rudd has denied that the group was involved in the bombing of Park Police Station.

Ferdon opposed this plan, arguing that Latimer's sudden appearance could be a ploy. Once she was granted immunity, he feared she would simply change her story and confess to planning and executing the bombing alone, clearing herself and her former comrades of criminal liability. He won the argument, and local detectives renewed their efforts to find more evidence or informants to support a prosecution.

Caution in filing charges based solely on Latimer's statements may have been warranted for other reasons. Testimony from criminally implicated informants is notoriously problematic for prosecutors, who must explain to a jury why their witnesses aren't merely lying to avoid more severe punishment. Hence the need, in an ideal world, for more extensive corroboration of what happened the night of the bombing, or physical evidence — in the form of fingerprints or ballistics — to back up Steen's and Latimer's stories.

Such evidence has never been uncovered in the McDonnell murder case. After the launch of the Phoenix Task Force, a forensics expert at the California Department of Justice was able to develop a latent fingerprint on a fragment of the Park Station bomb using new scientific techniques, according to an affidavit filed by Engler in another of the task force's cold cases. But the print was still too undefined to be used for identification.

The FBI's witness statements are also less comprehensive than investigators would like. For instance, neither Steen nor Latimer said they had been present for the construction of the bomb (though Reagan said at least one of them reported seeing bomb-making materials, such as detonator cord, at the planning session), and neither had seen who placed the device on the station's window ledge.

And then there is the most vexing obstacle to a successful prosecution of the Weathermen based on former collaborators' confessions — the inconvenient fact that an entirely different set of militant activists has also claimed credit for the bombing.


On August 28, 1971, Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington, cadres of the violent Black Panthers splinter group known as the Black Liberation Army, pulled up in a car alongside the patrol cruiser of San Francisco police Sergeant George Kowalski at an intersection in the Mission and leveled a submachine gun at him. The BLA was suspected or convicted of multiple attacks on police officers in the 1970s, including the 1971 shotgun killing of Sergeant John Young at San Francisco's Ingleside Police Station. On this occasion, however, they were unsuccessful. The gun, loaded with the wrong type of ammunition, jammed. Bottom and Washington were arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Over the next month, Bottom, while in police custody, made an extraordinary series of statements, according to investigators familiar with his case. He reportedly told SFPD homicide inspectors Frank McCoy and Eddy Erdelatz that he had personally planted the bomb that killed McDonnell at Park Station, and said he had helped plan the Ingleside attack, which took place while he was in jail. He also claimed involvement in the bombing of St. Brendan's Church in the Forest Hill district of San Francisco during a police funeral in October 1970, and in a plot to plant sticks of dynamite on the roof of the Mission District police station.

When he made his far-ranging confession, Bottom was already destined for prison. A revolver found with him at the time of his arrest had been traced to New York City police officer Waverly Jones, who was gunned down with his partner, Joseph Piagentini, by BLA members in a Manhattan housing project that May. Today, Bottom is serving a life sentence for his conviction in their murders at Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

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6 comments
Ted McKim
Ted McKim

I loved this article. I think that last statement shows where the article gets its sources, from one-sided speculation! I especially enjoyed the last statement, "...she disappeared..." Cut to man's face not blinking.... Cut to: woman's back as she hurrriedly moves away from view...fading into dark smoke.

Hey, she disappeared to Chicago where she lives!

Ted McKim
Ted McKim

Having lived through that time I wouldn't trust an FBI agent's word for anything that they said about then. Not sure I trust what they say about people now!

Joe Curwen
Joe Curwen

Emil's comments are quite perceptive. One thing to bear in mind foremost in my opinion, is the operations of COINTELPRO at the time. Their activities continually muddied the waters concerning who was who and who did what.

During that time I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to the White Panther Party (among other groups). I recall that then several of the WPP people were either incarcerated or wanted for various radical activities, including a small bombing alleged to have been perpetrated by them. They always asserted that COINTELPRO was behind a lot of it. Many people wrote their stories off as counter-culture paranoia.

Decades later, though, the truth came out. COINTELPRO had been behind a lot of the grief that came their way. Paranoid or not, they had been correct about that much.

I never cared much for the SDS or the Weathermen. They were (aside from the violence) a bunch of jerks and party poopers. The SDS always rambled on about Marxism and who wanted to hear that crap? The WPP were a lot more fun. Still, at the time, the government provoked people toward unreasonable measures, and sometimes the government aided and abetted the radicals with entrapment and fabrication of evidence.

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

(1) The article cites former Weatherman Mark Rudd's "memoir" in describing the group's "charismatic leader", a woman, as "praising the acolytes of cult leader Charles Manson for stabbing pregnant actress Sharon Tate in the stomach with a fork" -- scarcely an act of revolutionary violence. Is it possible that Mr. Rudd, like so many authors of scandalous "tell-all" biographies, added this and other shocking details to increase the notoriety (hence salability) of his book at a time when the group had been out of the spotlight? (2) The article states that the Weathermen "decided to alter their bombing campaign, targeting only empty government facilities" in March, 1970. Yet it also states that a 1971 search of "one of the group's principal safe-houses" by FBI and SFPD inspectors discovered "voice activated bomb switches", and quotes FBI Special Agent Noel in explaining that " 'voice activated switch' means the bomb goes off when a person comes in and talks". So, did the group "alter their bombing campaign" or not? Also note that in 1971 there was no such thing as a "voice activated switch": there were sound activated switches, but these would be very dangerous for anyone planting a bomb since, once the bomb was activated, any sufficiently loud noise would set it off, like a sneeze, or (depending on the sensitivity of the microphone) such random sounds as a door or window slamming nearby, honking car horns, slamming car doors, or the rumble of a passing truck. One possible use for a sound-activated switch would be to function as a killswitch to (permanently) deactivate the bomb, if anyone (such as an office cleaning crew) came in during the night when the bomb's timer would otherwise detonate it. This would be consistent with attempts to prevent injuries or deaths. (3) The article is surprisingly mute on the issue of forensic evidence, specifically on the design and materials used in the Park Station bomb. While it is always possible that this particular bomb could have been specially made to throw investigators off the track, it is more common for bomb makers to have a modus operandi in which certain elements of design and certain materials are used over and over, despite other variations. Parts must be purchased somewhere (the Unibomber notwithstanding) and they can be traced to manufacturers. Microscopic examination of bits of wire can reveal characteristic tool-marks (e.g., wirecutters and strippers). The authorities had numerous examples of Weatherman bombs and even some seized materials and tools. Was there a match to the Park Station bombing? Presumably not, since that kind of forensic evidence would allow a case to be built on the basis of independent corroborative evidence. (4) The article quotes FBI Special Agent Reagan as saying, of the Weathermen's culpability in the Park Station murder, that "...common sense tells you something. Who else could it be?" Yet, the article elsewhere characterizes America's major cities at the time as being "in something close to a guerrilla war" with "the spectacle so many revolutionary groups competing to blow up or kill sworn peace officers". The article notes that a different group, the BLA, actually took credit for the Park Station bombing: a group actually known to have committed, and attempted to commit more, murders of police officers. The two choices offered to the reader in connection with this admission, is that it was either empty bragging and the Weathermen are the real culprits, or else that the two groups were "working in tandem". But two other possibilities exist: (a) the BLA alone was responsible; (b) the bombing was the work of neither group. (5) The FBI was equally sure (perhaps on the basis of "common sense") that security guard Richard Jewell was responsible for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. After having his career ruined, Jewell was exonerated and successfully sued various media sources, including NBS News for Tom Brokaw's statement (apparently made on the basis of leaked information) that "The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case". (6) The article cites FBI Special Agent Reagan, paraphrasing informant Karen Latimer (now dead) as saying in 2000 that she was "looking for a form a justice" and that she was "deeply disappointed that there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute" other former members of the Weathermen. Yet the article also states that Latimer did not come forward until the mid-1970s, years after the Park Station murder, and quotes an investigator as saying that she did so "to have a federal hold on her passport lifted so that she could travel abroad". (7) Informant Matthew Steen was not described by the article as a current or former member of the group at the time he told investigators, more than two years after the Park Station bombing, that he had attended a planning meeting at which the group discussed plans to bomb Park Station. But it isn't clear why a non-member, even if sympathetic, would be admitted to a planning meeting at which a police station is the intended target of a murderous bomb packed with industrial staples; particularly in an age when undercover police agents and informants were common and every radical group knew it. Steen might well have attended a Weathermen meeting or two, but this? Also omitted from the article is any mention of the circumstances of Steen's interview: was he being investigated on unrelated criminal charges or did he come forward voluntarily; and if the latter, why did he wait two and a half years? The Weathermen were publicly mentioned in the press as suspects in the heated, high-profile coverage following the murder. Investigators coming across any known or suspected associates or sympathizers of the group would question them about it, and anyone seeking a quid pro quo from the authorities wouldn't need much prompting to know that an identification of those responsible for the Park Station murder constituted a kind of golden ticket. (8) The most damning evidence presented in the article is twofold: (a) FBI Special Agent Reagan asserting that the descriptions of the Park Station planning sessions held by the Weathermen (as given by informants Steen and Latimer) were "consistent with each other and strikingly similar to other Weather Underground planning sessions he had personally attended as an undercover agent", a characterization backed up by FBI Special Agent Noel; and (b) the detail of informant Latimer's narration of the supposed planning of the Park Station bombing, as recounted by an unnamed "another inspector familiar with the case". Well, the descriptions given by Steen and Latimer couldn't be too similar to what was observed by SA Reagan in an undercover capacity, since he would then have had grounds to arrange some arrests. As a member, Latimer would have been familiar with the general layout and process, and if Steen attended some meetings he would be too. Aside from the fact that the reader isn't told whether "another inspector familiar with the case" was personally involved at the time or had acquired this familiarity second or third hand in reviewing the (cold) case files, it's a shame that New Times went to press before obtaining the (no doubt heavily redacted) primary documents in the case. That's because anyone who has seen enough original case notes understands that what investigators characterize one way in statements to the press (or other verbal testimony) may be less impressive when evaluated by third parties with different attitudes and goals. Ask any criminal defense attorney about the discrepancies between investigators' verbal characterizations and the casefile materials they've acquired through the discovery process. Note that none of these observations and counter-arguments exonerates the Weathermen of the Park Station murder: but the matter may be less clear-cut than suggested by the article.

Jack Swift
Jack Swift

libertyinjeopardy, you're an effen racist moron.

libertynjeopardy
libertynjeopardy

Wow the New Times uncovers a great story! The only problem you leftists have is that Drudge had this story 9 months ago. We warned you fools about Odumba way back when but of course liberalism is a mental disease.

 
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