A time when ideals turned deadly Power's return recalls '60s tumult

October 03, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Early on the morning of Sept. 15, Katherine Ann Power was back in Boston.

Almost 23 years before, as a college student and would-be revolutionary, she had helped rob a Boston bank.

A police officer was killed, and Kathy Power went underground.

Now, at 44, she had surfaced to cut a deal. At 6:50 a.m., the 4-foot-11, stocky woman with a strong chin, shoulder-length brown hair and wire-rimmed glasses surrendered to authorities on a Boston College parking lot.

Power -- the fugitive who had become Alice Louise Metzinger, raised a 14-year-old son, opened an Oregon restaurant, married a bookkeeper and suffered from depression -- agreed to plead guilty to state manslaughter and armed robbery charges.

She faces the likelihood of spending five years in prison in order to put her revolutionary past behind her. Sentencing is set for Wednesday.

In closing the book on her crime, Kathy Power reopened old wounds for two big, close Catholic families -- hers and that of Officer Walter A. Schroeder, the slain patrolman.

The families might have had much in common were it not for the brutal events of Sept. 23, 1970.

Power's surrender lifted the lid anew on 1970, the most politically polarized year of the Vietnam era.

It revived a lingering question: How could the youthful idealism of a straight-A student at Brandeis University turn to violence?

Those who know me now,and those who reflect on my two decades of life as an apparently exemplary citizen will wonder how someone such as myself could commit such outrageously illegal acts," Power said in a statement issued the day of her

surrender.

"The answer lies in the deep and violent crisis that the Vietnam War created in our land."

*

The submachine-gun bullet tore into Walter Schroeder's left lower back, ripped through his body and exited at mid-abdomen. The impact slammed the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Boston policeman to the pavement of the bank parking lot, fracturing his skull. He never had a chance.

Twenty-four hours and 77 futile blood transfusions later, Officer Schroeder was dead at 42.

Flags flew at half-staff all over Boston. He was a police hero, decorated for bravery. Two years before, he had single-handedly captured three armed robbers of this same Brighton bank. He was also the father of nine children, from 11 months to 17 years old.

The morning that Officer Schroeder died, Boston's police commissioner announced this was no ordinary bank robbery. There were "revolutionary undertones."

The Bonnie and Clyde-style gang of five that escaped from the bank with $26,585 in a hail of 18 bullets included two young women from nearby Brandeis University and three paroled convicts, one of them a special student at Brandeis.

News of the sensational shootout angered Boston and shook Brandeis. Thousands mourned Walter Schroeder. The university's acting president immediately offered the policeman's children full scholarships. The Boston Herald Traveler demanded: "Who has been taking these bright kids from middle-class families and turning them into revolutionaries?"

By the time of Officer Schroeder's funeral, the three parolees were captured. One was sentenced to life for shooting the patrolman. Another turned state's evidence and got 25 years. The third, Stanley R. Bond, the ringleader, was reported killed in a Massachusetts prison 18 months later when a bomb he was making exploded, blowing his arms off.

By 1975, when Susan E. Saxe, one of the Brandeis women, was caught in Philadelphia, the bank robbery had become an asterisk in the annals of radical politics, a sour note in the largely peaceful movement against the Vietnam War.

It was remembered mainly because Kathy Power, the second Brandeis student and getaway driver, a fixture on the FBI's "most wanted" list, continued to elude capture.

Kathy Power, achiever

Kathy Power grew up in a modest stucco house in an integrated Denver neighborhood. She was the third of seven children born to a credit manager and a registered nurse.

Like all the Power children, Kathy went to a nearby Catholic elementary school. But she alone had the grades to qualify for the selective Marycrest High, a small girls' school run by the Sisters of St. Francis.

The Power family was in awe of Kathy's abilities.

"I think she would have been brilliant at anything she put her mind to," said her oldest brother, John. "She would get the textbook the first week of class and read it from cover to cover. She could read almost as fast as President Kennedy, and she had a photographic memory with total recall. Nobody in the family knows where she got that ability."

Kathy excelled at Marycrest. She was named valedictorian of the Class of 1967 and a National Merit scholar. She racked up awards in math, science, history and Latin, and wrote the blue-ribbon essay in a statewide United Nations contest. A student columnist for the Denver Post, she tutored underprivileged youth and even won the Betty Crocker homemaker award.

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