To his neighbours, he was a brilliant academic with a passion for cricket. To the FBI, he was a ruthless terrorist and one of its 10 most wanted men. For 27 years, James Kilgore kept his double life a secret. But then came the knock on the door...
You learn to expect that final reckoning. The knock knock knock on your door. The tap tap on the shoulder. The bullet. Push it out of mind, but it always comes back. Dream about it, dread it, wait for it. Sometimes you almost welcome it.
That's how it is for outlaws, and for the quiet bespectacled 55-year-old American who called himself John Pape, that's how it was for 27 years: a life as somebody else, but always on guard, never sure where the danger lay. In the week before 8 November 2002, John was particularly jumpy because he knew his days of freedom were numbered. He had two scares: one real, another phantom, as it turned out.
First, there was the woman with the bottle. She trotted up the path towards the modest, red-roofed Cape Town bungalow that was home to Pape, his partner Terri and their two sons, and announced: 'I'm doing a survey on wine.' As she handed him a bottle, he thought to himself: 'So, you're finally on to me. The FBI put you up to it. And now you want a fingerprint.' And as his captors later confirmed, he got it right.
Second, next day in fact, there was the cricket match. Pape was at his usual Saturday post, scoring for his son's team, when a man approached, saying, 'Hi, I'm sure I know you from somewhere. Zimbabwe, perhaps?' Pape thought: 'OK, here we go again,' and tried to change the subject. And this time he got it wrong. The man in question, Chris Giffard, recalls: 'He'd been talkative about the cricket, but he clearly didn't want to continue the conversation and became terribly cagey when I said I recognised him, which seemed odd. When I went home I said to my wife, "I've just met this American called John Pape who seemed like he had something to hide.'
'John Pape' did have something to hide, but at that moment he wasn't ready to disclose it. Nearly, but not quite. He'd seen so many fictionalised versions of his activist-on-the run story - Sidney Lumet's Oscar-nominated movie Running on Empty , Philip Roth's novel American Pastoral , even The Simpsons - and he too could have vanished once more. Instead he was preparing to end this chapter by handing himself in. He would return to America on Thanksgiving Day. He would buy his one-way ticket as soon as he got a chance. Saturday, probably.
But then the moment of reckoning finally arrived: a day too soon, as it happened. On Friday, Pape returned from work at sundown on this warm spring evening, hoping for a quick game of cricket with his boys before supper. Instead, as he pulled up outside his house, he heard a knock knock knock on his car window. 'Are you and James Kilgore the same person?' a uniformed cop from South Africa's Violent Crimes Unit asked as his colleagues moved into position. 'Yes, that's me,' the balding American replied, feeling something closer to relief than fear. It was over, at last.
James Kilgore had been on the run half his life, wanted by the state of California for his part in a bank robbery and by the American government for allegedly possessing a pipe bomb - all in the service of the Symbionese Liberation Army (otherwise known as the Patty Hearst gang, after the heiress they kidnapped in February 1974).
One of the many intriguing dimensions of his case is the astonishing incompetence shown by the American lawmen during these years. Kilgore slipped the FBI net in July 1975. More than a quarter of a century later, FBI spokesman Andrew Black admitted they lost his trail in Seattle soon after his escape and had no clue of how to find him. 'He just went off the radar screen. We feel he may have left the country - likely to Canada - and returned with a different identity, but we don't know, to be honest.'
The bureau even named Kilgore as a suspect in the notorious Unabomber case in 1995, before giving up on that idea. It later offered a $20,000 reward, listed 13 aliases on their website (none containing the names John or Pape), published a physical description and produced a revolving bust of his head, together with computer-enhanced photographs to show what he might look like. Somehow they managed to get just about every important detail wrong, despite the fact that their quarry never bothered to disguise himself. The FBI vision was lean and hard-eyed with a full head of white hair. The real 'John' is a little portly, balding with brown-grey hair and bright eyes behind rimless spectacles. Hearst took one look at these FBI images and shook her head in despair: 'This is part of the reason I think the government is not serious about ever catching these people,' she complained, 10 months before that knock knock knock on the car window.
James Kilgore, who is now awaiting trial in a San Francisco cell, was once the picture of rich Californian promise. A curly-haired lad with a wide awe-shucks smile, this businessman's son was good at everything: top of his class, basketball ace, scratch golfer. But by the mid-60s he was questioning the values encapsulated in this trajectory of success. The civil rights movement was making way for the War at Home, which in turn gave impetus to the countercultural wave. But James wasn't feeling frivolous. He thought about the priesthood before opting for economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he absorbed a radical critique of the system that funded his upbringing.
There he met Kathleen Soliah, an education major with a similar background: honours student, pep club president, amateur actor, Young Republican. With James's help she changed her views on politics and moved into a commune with him. After graduating in 1969 the young lovers relocated to Berkeley, where James worked as a cook and Kathy as a waitress.
By the start of the new decade, the politics of the far left was taking on a shriller edge. In Europe, it was the Bader Meinhof and the Red Brigade; in the Bay Area, it was the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground. And then there was Donald DeFreeze, or Field Marshal Cinque Mtume as he preferred - an escaped prisoner who entertained the fond idea that he could inspire revolution in America. In 1973 he launched the Symbionese Liberation Army (Symbionese for symbiotic, apparently) with the slogan: 'Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people.'
Fresh from assassinating Oakland's first black school's superintendent, they made their name by kidnapping Hearst, or 'Comrade Tanya' as she became. But soon after, DeFreeze and nine others were killed in a firefight with police and Kathy Soliah - once dubbed by Hearst as 'too flaky to be trusted' - was finally recruited. She promptly gave away all her money and persuaded Kilgore, along with her brother and one of her sisters, to join her in the SLA's mission to 'unite all oppressed people to destroy the system of the capitalist state'.
The 27-year-old Kilgore was a 'calm, reasonable, level-headed' force within a group of egocentric hotheads, according to Hearst - less enamoured with firearms than the rest, and particularly opposed to using a favoured hair-trigger shotgun. Still, he was part of the ski-masked quartet who burst through the front door of the Crocker National Bank in Sacramento, California on 21 April 1975. In the ensuing confusion, SLA stalwart Emily Harris accidentally discharged the shotgun, killing 42-year-old Myrna Opsahl, who was depositing her church's collection money. Kilgore was directly in the line of fire, standing behind Mrs Opsahl. 'My mother, in effect, saved Kilgore's life,' said her son, Jon Opsahl.
Three months on, the police swooped, arresting Hearst and five others, but James and Kathy escaped, heading for Minneapolis before splitting up. James - using the alias John Robinson - made it to Seattle, where he acquired the birth certificate of a dead 10-month-old infant called Charles William Pape and used it to apply for a US passport, feeling he would be safer abroad - beyond the FBI's range.
His first stop was La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, where as 'John Pape' he re-launched his academic career, majoring in African history. Explaining his age (29) by referring to a spell in the American Peace Corps, he made a sharp impression with his intellectual brilliance and his maturity. 'He was very bright and seemed to have independent means - probably gained from robbing banks,' quips one of his professors, John Salmon, who says he once ordered Pape to leave his office after a row about American politics.
To the surprise of his lecturers, Pape suddenly left Melbourne in 1980, pausing in Victoria to register for a Deakin University social sciences honours degree, before hotfooting it to Zimbabwe. Aside from the fact that Soliah was living there (leaving later that year, together with her doctor husband), it had a self-styled socialist government that might just resist extradition requests from the US.
By then Pape had discovered the pitfalls of appearing too exceptional. His lecturers in Melbourne had noticed he was far too sophisticated, accomplished and well-dressed for an undergraduate. One of them, Dr David Dorward, says Pape's work was so advanced that they began to suspect he might be a CIA agent. 'He was also very articulate, intelligent and friendly, and the young ladies liked him,' he adds.
The Zimbabwe version of Pape had a clearer idea of the persona he wanted to portray: as close as possible to the real thing. 'I thought of him as a quiet but friendly activist and academic who was interested in lots of things outside his work - especially sport,' says Mike Haddad, a South African war resister. 'I got to know him well in Harare. He was the sort of guy you'd phone on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? because he had this photographic memory and a fantastic general knowledge.'
Not only did this make perverse sense in terms of security (who could possibly sus pect an openly radical American of being a fugitive radical American?) but it also helped in terms of peace of mind. Create too much of a gap and you're in danger of developing the personality of a spy - where the new identity sometimes seems more real than the old; merge them a bit, and at least you feel more at ease. It was as though he wanted his two selves to resemble each other in all but a few crucial historical details.
So Comrade Pape became a lefty educationalist (teaching at a polytechnic, a domestic workers' night school and a township secondary school, writing state educational materials, publishing academic articles on his host country while completing his Deakin University doctorate): not too far from where Comrade Kilgore might have been without a price on his head. His close friends included members of South Africa's banned African National Congress, but he did not seem to attract the attention of the intelligence agents monitoring this group and, in contrast to his Melbourne experience, escaped the suspicions of the other exiles.
After two years in Harare he met 25-year-old Theresa Barnes, an African-American feminist who shared his political perspectives and academic interests - she was a Brown University graduate, then researching a PhD on Zimbabwean women while lecturing in history at the University of Zimbabwe. 'Terri's warm and witty, with this razor-sharp mind,' says Rick de Satge, who first met them 20 years ago, 'and she's an accomplished poet who plays banjo and clarinet and has this singing voice that would melt your heart. Like John, she's got this encyclopaedic knowledge about sport.' After a few years of friendship, the couple moved in together and had their first of two sons in 1990. 'They really wanted to be part of Zimbabwe,' says De Satge. 'John became fluent in Shona very quickly and they made lots of close friends.'
However, they also became increasingly critical of the Mugabe regime and in 1991 moved into a small house in the bohemian suburb of Yeoville in Johannesburg. John became principal at a school called Khanya College, where he built a reputation for understated service. For instance, when one of his teachers was assassinated in 1993, he 'went out of his way' to help the man's friends and family, according to colleagues. 'He ensured that the fiancée and child were left financially secure,' says fellow teacher Trevor Ngwane. 'That's the John I know.'
Pape's stratagem for avoiding detection went no further than blending in with the left community. When pressed about his past he would offer a version as close to reality as possible. Oupa Lehulere, another Khanya colleague, says they would talk about their 'common histories' as 60s student activists in America and South Africa - without John giving any hint that he was on the run.
'The strange psychology is that we accepted him as part of us because others accepted him,' Martin Jansen, another friend, explains. 'If he came across as suspicious we would have pried, but he was sincere and dedicated and didn't antagonise anyone.'
John passed through a rigorous credentials check at the University of Cape Town to become co-director of its International Labour Resource and Information Group in 1998. Feeling ever more confident, he raised his political profile - writing a book attacking globalisation and privatisation, contributing to labour and academic journals, penning pro-worker letters to the newspapers, assisting South African trades unions and educational forums and writing a school textbook on 'world civilisation'.
He joined the ANC and emerged as a prominent critic of Thabo Mbeki's supply-side policies. Yet he was no rabble-rouser and made a point of avoiding the didacticism of his millenarian past. As another friend, Ulrike Kistner, puts it: 'He always took the initiative in a quiet, unassuming, humble way, allowing others a voice, while subduing his own.' Or as John himself expressed it: 'It is destructive to use our views as a sledgehammer to hit people over the head. Sledgehammer tactics silence different opinions.'
He worked long hours and seemed to have little interest in home comforts. Terri - by then working as a senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape - sometimes joked he'd forget to change his underpants if she didn't remind him. However, his friend Mike Haddad says it would be wrong to see him as just an activist. 'He's certainly one of the brightest and hardest-working people I'd ever met, but there was much more to him. He was a very involved father. I liked that about him. Our children used to play a lot of sport together and sometimes John and I would join in. For an American, he was amazingly good at soccer and not bad at cricket.'
This was certainly the impression made in the quiet cul-de-sac in lower-middle-class Claremont, where they lived for five years. Terri made a point of introducing herself to the neighbourhood, while John could sometimes be seen taking his racing bike out for a weekend spin or tossing tennis balls in the direction of his 'cricket fanatic' oldest son (now 12), or kicking a football with his eight-year-old younger son. 'They were such a normal family,' says one neighbour, Eric Atmore.
He might have continued with this normality had it not been for Kathy Soliah's arrest in 1999 - which prompted her to join three of her former SLA comrades in cutting a plea-bargained deal with Californian prosecutors. John then retained a Cape Town solicitor and later a New York lawyer who made contact with a defence attorney for the Californian group, and ultimately with the Californian state prosecutor. This communication led the FBI to switch its search to South Africa, but it still took them six months to find their man - remarkable when you consider that 55-year-old American lefties are hardly dime-a-dozen in Cape Town.
And so we come to the other side of John Pape's final white-knuckle days of freedom in the first week of November, with the wine bottle and the nervous over-the-shoulder glances. It seems it was also a bit edgy for the FBI agents, eager to please the politicians back home. They painstakingly began to line their ducks in a row - tipping off the South Africans, obtaining their fingerprints, watching and listening, until suddenly it all went wobbly. The Californian plea-bargaining deal was formalised on 7 November, and they learnt that their quarry was about to hand himself in.
This simply wouldn't do at a time when the War on Terror required hunting, catching or killing. The South African police were therefore 'persuaded' to swoop, and when it was done, the FBI took the credit, claiming they had relied on 'good old-fashioned legwork'. John Ashcroft, the hawkish US attorney general, congratulated them, adding for good measure: 'Terrorists can run and they can try to hide overseas, but in the end we will find them and bring them to justice.'
Yet even in their moment of glory, the Feds floundered. In their haste, they neglected the procedural necessity of submitting a formal extradition request prior to arrest. A Cape Town magistrate released Kilgore, noting that she found it 'shocking and strange' that there was no American documentation. The South Africans then had to come up with another charge - giving a false name when he crossed the border - which allowed them to re-arrest him as he walked out of court.
The Americans also seemed perplexed by the South African public response. When the former John Pape first appeared in court as James Kilgore he smiled, gave the thumbs up to his weeping wife and was cheered by a large crowd of fans. His friends then organised a benefit evening and more than 1,000 people turned up to raise money for his legal fees. Strangers sent gifts (such as Chris Giffard, the man from the cricket match, who sent a cricket book for John to read in prison, after discovering who he really was). Trades unions, community groups and educational bodies lined up to declare their support. Typical of their response was a statement from the National Union of Metalworkers, which said it would be 'a waste for humanity at large' if he was jailed.
When I interviewed his colleagues and friends, I expected some to be a bit put out that he had deceived them about his identity, but if anything, they seemed even more impressed. Trevor Ngwane, for example, says: 'Strangely, I feel more respect for him because everything he did showed he'd broken with terrorism as a method of struggle.' To which Martin Jansen adds: 'Look, lots of us were idealistic youths and did questionable things in the name of the struggle, but Patty Hearst was pardoned years ago, so why is John being singled out?'
South Africa does not allow extradition for crimes committed with a political motive, so Kilgore could easily have rebuffed America's fumbling extradition demands and remained in South Africa. Instead, he waived his option of applying for bail and when the Americans finally submitted their extradition request a month after his arrest, he declined to contest it and asked to be sent back 'as soon as possible'.
The FBI's search of his Cape Town home produced the birth certificate of the infant Charles William Pape, together with three passports, indicating that he had made return trips to the United States at least three times during his spell in exile - in 1981, 1996 and 1997.
He made his last trip on 18 December 2002, but this time as James Kilgore and in the company of a pair of US air marshals. Shortly before boarding the plane, he announced he would return to South Africa once his sentence was served. He then waved goodbye to his tearful South African friends. 'I'll be in touch, I'm easy to contact. My diary is empty,' he told them.
Two days later, wearing regulation green prison trousers and shirt and a brown prison jacket, he appeared in court in San Francisco and pleaded not guilty to two federal charges (possession of a pipe bomb found in his flat in 1975 and making a false passport application). He will appear in the state court in Sacramento in February and has agreed to plead guilty to charges of bank robbery and second-degree murder in return for a six-year jail sentence (although in terms of California probation rules he will serve no more than four).
No doubt part of his motivation for going home is the terms of this deal, but there is more to it. His children were reaching the age when they might have to live with hiding a difficult truth, he has an 89-year-old mother he had not seen since 1975, and there was also that residue of guilt that just wouldn't go away.
Jon Opsahl says he was pleased to hear that Kilgore had 'changed his methods' in the direction of non-violence, but added that wasn't enough. 'Good behaviour does not absolve him from his debt to society.' It would seem that the former John Pape agrees - 27 years late, perhaps, but there are a number of southern Africans who will tell you his time wasn't wasted. Now he has undertaken that any profit from his story will go to the Opsahl family. He will also make a public apology for his role in a crime that caused the death of an innocent woman. Then he will go to jail.
Not, you would think, an inviting prospect after all that cricket and comradely affirmation in the shade of Table Mountain, but his friends and lawyers say he has seldom stopped smiling since that knock on his car window on 8 November. Already he appreciates the tremendous relief of no longer having to look over his shoulder, and once it is over, he will be free for the first time in more than 30 years.