On September 23, 1970, Walter Schroeder, a 42-year-old Boston policeman, was shot in the back as he responded to a bank robbery. Officer Schroeder, a patrolman highly decorated for having singlehandedly caught a gang of armed robbers at the same bank two years earlier, left a wife and nine children, aged, 17, 15, 13, 10, 9, 7, 6, 2, and 11 months. On October 6, 1993, 23 years later, the case was closed with the plea-bargained surrender and conviction of long-time fugitive Katherine Anne Power for armed robbery and manslaughter. (Her four accomplices had long before been apprehended and convicted.)
Newsweek magazine concluded its recent story on this sad affair with the following observation: “After all these years, it’s hard to know whom to feel the most sympathy for: the children who lost a father [or] the young woman who lost her way in the tumult of the 1960’s.”
Perplexed by Newsweek’s moral impasse, I place before the reader certain facts relevant to forming a judgement in the Power case. Please let me know if you too find your sympathies divided.
Ms. Power graduated as valedictorian of the finest parochial school in Denver. While in school, she wrote a regular column in the Denver Post, won the Betty Crocker Homemaker award for her recipes and sewing, and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist.
Offered full scholarships to four colleges, Power entered the respected Brandeis University in 1967 and turned to radical politics in her first year. By the spring of 1970, she had become the leader of the campus anti-war movement and an organizer, along with her lover Stanley Bond, of the National Student Strike Force which promoted student strikes across the country.
Bond was an ex-con who had arrived as a student at Brandeis in February 1970 as part of a government program for parolees. He counted among his friends in prison Albert DeSalvo, better known as the Boston Strangler. In his first stroll around his new campus, Bond remarked to the Dean of Students, “It’s such a beautiful day. It makes you want to kill someone.” To the Dean it was obvious that Bond was a “borderline psychotic.” To Power, however, Bond was “messianic, charismatic, skillful.” A few months later, Power lost her race for Student Council President. Bond forced the classmate who defeated her to withdraw from college by threatening to kill him.
According to one of her professors, Power shared in the campus’s “pervasive sense of hysteria that was a mixture of ideology and pathology.” Power began to preach violent revolution and, at a debate at a local high school in May 1970, called on students to murder police officers and other persons in authority, shouting, “Many will die!”
Then on Sept 20, 1970, Power, her college roommate and co-revolutionary Susan Sax, Bond, and two ex-cons Bond had met in prison torched a Massachusetts National Guard Armory and robbed it of a truck and ammunition in order to supply the Black Panthers.
Three days later, the same gang, armed with semi-automatic weapons, robbed the Brighton bank and murdered Officer Schroeder, hoping to use the $26,000 they stole to fund a revolutionary army. (Bond eventually blew himself up while constructing a bomb in his prison cell.)
Power fled the scene where officer Schroeder took a bullet in his back, and she became a fugitive on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. She lived for a few years in a feminist commune in Connecticut with her fellow fugitive Susan Sax. The feminist underground provided her with a new identity, that of Mae Kelly. Then, in 1977, she obtained the birth certificate of a deceased infant, born one year earlier than she, and she became Alice Metzinger. Amidst her years of drifting, Power gave birth in 1979 to a child. She is unsure who the father is.
Power settled down with Ron Duncan, a bookkeeper who, bored with his life, joined her in what Newsweek called “a wildly itinerant life.” By the mid-’80’s, they had settled in Corvallis, Oregon. They bought a house and neglected their property so badly as to inspire their next door neighbors to become the unpaid caretakers of their property, a service their neighbors still provide.
Power devoted her time in Corvallis to raising her son and starting restaurants with volunteer help from the town’s active lesbian community. The discomfort of living a lie began to get the best of her. In May 1992, Power attended a presentation on depression by Linda Carroll, who considers herself a “facilitator of healing.” Seeing that Power was visibly upset, Carroll invited her into private therapy. Power revealed her true identity after only two sessions. Carroll immediately put her in touch with a flamboyant defense attorney in Corvallis names Steven Black, a man who had eleven complaints filed against him with the Oregon State Bar and who has a peculiar attachment to wearing fish ties, a kind of protest against the dresscode of the court profession.
Black says that becoming Power’s attorney was just what he needed. He had been feeling bad about having done his soldierly duty as a fighter pilot in Vietnam and saw in Power a client who could help him expunge his own psychological demons. Power entered into “hundreds of hours” of conversation with Black and threw herself into Carroll’s various therapies, including something called “holotropic breathing.” A therapy that only a student of the ’60s could appreciate, it was meant to develop an LSD high without the use of drugs. According to Carroll’s partner, the technique helps patients to experience prebirth and past lives, and to visit other times and cultures.
In the fall of 1992, Black invited Power to serve as his defense attorney in a mock trial in which he could be tried for murder and other war crimes during his tour of duty in Vietnam. Black explained to the many friends and acquaintances who attended the trial at the Benton County Courthouse that its purpose was “therapy” for him and an unnamed fugitive client. The trial was presided over by an Oregon District Judge in front of 50 people, including Power’s therapist and psychiatrists who had prescribed anti-depressant medications for her. Power argued in Black’s defense that he had merely been “following orders.” The mock jury found him innocent by Vietnam standards, but guilty by today’s standards. Black sentenced himself to community service. Of the trial, Black said, “I don’t know what it did for her, [but] for me it was a big load off my back.”
As Power began to move with Black’s assistance toward a negotiated surrender, she married Duncan last year and he adopted her son. She sold her share in a Eugene restaurant and, bypassing the needs of her financially pressed family, donated the proceeds to a Boston-based hunger-relief agency. The night before she appeared in federal court in September, Power visited with her parents and one of her sisters. Since Power’s flight from Boston, her father, a Catholic deacon and a banker, had suffered a stroke and a heart attack. He never stopped praying that he would hear from his daughter again. It took her 23 years to consent to see him.
What follow are excerpts from the statement of Sgt. Claire Schroeder, eldest daughter of slain police officer Walter Schroeder, at the sentencing of Katherine Ann Power on October 6, 1993.
“When Katherine Power and her friends robbed the State Street Bank in Brighton with semiautomatic weapons, my father responded to the call. One of her friends shot my father in the back and left him to die in a pool of his own blood. Katherine Power was waiting in the getaway car, and she drove the trigger man and her other friends away to safety.
“Twenty-three years later, Katherine Power stands before you as a media celebrity. Her smiling photograph has appeared on the cover of Newsweek. She has been portrayed as a hero from coast to coast. Her attorney had appeared on the Phil Donahue show. [She] is receiving book and movie offers worth millions of dollars on a daily basis.
“For reasons that I will never comprehend, the press and public seem more far more interested in the difficulties that Katherine Power has inflicted upon herself than in the very real and horrible suffering she inflicted upon my family. Her crimes, her flight from justice and her decision to turn herself in have been romanticized utterly beyond belief.
“One of the news articles about this case described it as a double tragedy–a tragedy for Katherine Power and a tragedy for my father and my family. I will never comprehend, as long as I live, how anyone can equate the struggle and pain forced upon my family by my father’s murder with the difficulty of the life Katherine Power chose to live as a fugitive.
“Some of the press accounts of this case have ignored my father completely. Others have referred to him anonymously as a Boston police officer. Almost none of the stories has made any effort to portray him in any way as a real human being. It is unfair and unfortunate that such a warm and likeable person who died so heroically should be remembered that way.
“One of the most vivid pictures I have of my father as a police officer is a photograph showing him giving a young child CPR and saving that child’s life. I remember being so proud of my father, seeing him on the front page of the old Record American, saving someone’s life. Years later, when I was a 17-year-old girl at my father’s wake, a woman introduced herself to me as that child’s mother. I was very proud of my dead father.
“More than anything, my father was a good and decent and honorable person. He was a good police officer who gave his life to protect us from people like Katherine Power. I do not doubt for a moment that he would have given his life again to protect people from harm. He was also a good husband and he was a good father. I have been proud of my father every single day of my life. I became a police officer because of him. So did my brother Paul, my brother Edward and, most recently, my sister Ellen.
“My father had so many friends that we could not have the funeral at the parish where we lived because it was too small. On the way to the church the streets were lined with people. As we approached the church, the entire length of the street looked like a sea of blue–all uniformed officers who had come to say goodbye to my father. I saw from the uniforms that the officers had towns and cities all across the United States and Canada. I felt so proud but so hollow. I remember thinking that my father should have been there to enjoy their presence.
“When my father died he left behind my mother, who was then 41 years old, and nine children. He wasn’t there to teach my brothers how to throw a football or change a tire. He wasn’t there for our high school or college graduations. He wasn’t there to give away my sisters at their weddings. He could not comfort us and support us at my brother’s funeral. He never had a chance to say goodbye. We never got a last hug or kiss, or pat on the head.
“Murdering a police officer in Boston to bring peace to Southeast Asia was utterly senseless then and it is just as senseless now. The tragedy in this case is not that Katherine Power lived for 23 years while looking over her shoulder. The tragedy is that my father’s life was cut short for no reason, shot in the back with a bullet of a coward while Ms. Power waited to drive that coward to safety.”
Bradford P. Wilson is Professor of Political Science at Ashland University and Deputy Director of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.