The Radical Odyssey of Terrorist Kathy Boudin Ends with a Bang, Then a Whimper
11/09/1981 at 01:00 AM EST
Among the angry soldiers of the radical left who made the strife-ridden '60s their battleground, most had negotiated a strained separate peace. One by one they had drifted in from the cold, usually to face criminal charges, after tiring of their stunted lives on the run. But some, like the obstinate handful of Japanese jungle fighters who hid out on the islands of the Pacific for decades, would not concede that their war had ended. One such holdout was Katherine Boudin, 38, who was arrested last month during a bloody shootout following an armored-car robbery in suburban Nanuet, N. Y. Eleven years earlier Boudin had run naked into a Greenwich Village street after an explosion at a town house where she and other would-be revolutionaries were storing and manufacturing bombs. She had not been seen publicly since. Below, pieces of the Kathy Boudin puzzle are laid out, and on the following pages former terrorist Jane Alpert, who once lived underground, recounts that existence, which she ultimately rejected.
According to Jean Boudin, Kathy's mother, her daughter came home unexpectedly on that icy-cold March day in 1970 after the explosion that killed three of her friends. Mrs. Boudin didn't know what had happened or that Kathy had been involved; Kathy apparently volunteered nothing. "Sleep well," Jean Boudin later remembered calling to her daughter. "Will I see you in the morning?" "Not sure," replied Kathy evasively. She was gone before her parents awoke the next day.
Although the Boudins—Jean, a poet, and Leonard, a well-known left-wing lawyer—say they did not talk with their daughter again until her recent arrest on murder and robbery charges, they did see the obscure 1976 film in which Kathy read the poem at right. Filmmaker Emile de Antonio, who shot the documentary during three days with the Weather Underground in L.A., suspected that all was not well with the fugitives. "It was clear," he says, "they had agreed in advance to present a coherent, rational line. But I sensed this was really a chaotic group on the verge of disbanding."
In fact, Boudin's fellow radical Cathy Wilkerson, another survivor of the Greenwich Village explosion, surrendered to authorities in 1980, followed by Weatherpeople Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. All three had reportedly clashed with Boudin about the future direction of the movement. Eventually Kathy joined the May 19 Coalition—named for the birthdate she shares with Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh. The group evidently links feminism and black liberation, and considers violence a desirable tactic.
From earliest childhood, Boudin was exposed to radical politics. Her father once defended the Rev. Philip Berrigan and other activists, and house-guests included liberal celebrities such as I.F. Stone, Noam Chomsky, Pete Seeger and Dr. Benjamin Spock. Athletically and academically gifted, Kathy majored in Russian literature at Bryn Mawr, graduating in absentia with high honors in 1965, while studying in the Soviet Union. The turning point in her life, she told de Antonio, came the following year, when she saw a young minister killed by a bulldozer during a civil rights demonstration in Cleveland. Rejecting conventional activism, she joined the Weathermen, later traveling to Cuba to meet with Vietcong representatives and co-authoring The Bust BOOK, a guide for young radicals on what to do when arrested.
While her movements as a fugitive remain largely a mystery, Boudin, with her year-old son, Chesa (probably named for Black Liberation Army leader Joanne Chesimard), has lived in Manhattan for the past year and a half. Although she was on welfare, Boudin shared a five-room Morningside Drive flat with newspaper reporter Rita Jensen (who says she knew Kathy only as Lynn Adams). A militant feminist, Boudin preferred not to live with the boy's father, believed to be David Gilbert, 37, a co-defendant in the Nanuet robbery that resulted in the murder of a Brink's guard and two policemen. Two weeks ago, Jensen remembers, Boudin went to a flea market to buy a snowsuit for Chesa. Three days later she struggled briefly, then pleaded "Please don't shoot," as she was captured at gunpoint by an off-duty corrections officer. Why, finally, had it come to this for Boudin, while most of her onetime radical comrades had settled for more conventional lives? "I don't have the answer, but I suspect Kathy is made of sterner stuff," says one family friend. "Also, I expect she couldn't admit failure. She couldn't go home and say, guess there isn t going to be a revolution after all.' "