Willie Wolfe

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William Lawton Wolfe (February 17, 1951 – May 17, 1974) was one of the founding members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). While in the group, he adopted the name "Kahjoh", though the media misspelled as "Cujo".

Early life[edit]

Wolfe was raised in Connecticut.[1] His father was Dr L.S. Wolfe Jr, a prominent anesthesiologist.[2] His parents divorced when he was 15. Wolfe boarded at Northfield Mount Hermon School, a Massachusetts prep school, but his father said he did not thrive there. After graduating from Mount Hermon, Willie chose to delay college, and took a year-long trek to the Arctic Circle. "He asked me for $200 when he left," his father recalled with pride, "and that kid came back with $60 change."[2]

Move to California and political involvement[edit]

In 1971 he moved to San Francisco, where he enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley and studied anthropology. One of the classes he took was African-American Linguistics through the Department of Afro-American Studies, and taught by Colston Westbrook.[3] Through this class, Wolfe became involved in prisoners' rights. A small group of Berkeley students became involved in the Venceremos prison outreach project and started visiting the prisons to discuss politics and social justice issues with the prisoners, particularly at Vacaville prison. In 1972, prisoner Donald DeFreeze (Cinque), invited Wolfe and Russ Little to join his separate study group, Unisight. A former Black Panther, an inmate by the name of Thero Wheeler, was also in the clique.[4]

In Robert Stone's 2005 documentary, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, Russ Little said of Willie:

It's funny how these things happen, but that's where [Little's political film nights] we met Bill, Emily and Joe, was at one of these films. Willie was kind of like the catalyst. Willie was the one that all these different people met. Willie was like the common denominator. Willie studied anthropology at Berkeley, and it was actually through Berkeley that he got into going to prisons. Through some class, some anthropology class.

Willie dropped out of college in 1972 as he became more involved in radical activism.

Private investigation by Willie's father[edit]

When Willie's father, Dr Wolfe, learned of his son's involvement in the SLA, he hired private detective Lake Headley to provide him with more information. On May 4, 1974, thirteen days before the younger Wolfe's death in a shootout and fire, Headley concluded his investigation and filed a sworn affidavit of his findings. These included:

That Patricia Campbell Hearst and her parents disagreed bitterly over Patricia's political and personal relations. That a love affair between a black man and Patricia Hearst did take place prior to her relationship with her fiancé Steven Weed. That Mrs. Randolph A. Hearst subjected her daughter to extreme pressure to change her personal and political relationships.[5]

On May 4, 1974, Headley, along with freelance writer Donald Freed, held a press conference in San Francisco. They presented 400 pages of documentation of their findings, some of which included:

  • a year before the kidnapping Patty Hearst had visited black convict Donald DeFreeze, who later became the SLA's figurehead.[6]
  • DeFreeze's arrest records;[7]
  • the work of Colston Westbrook with Los Angeles Police Department's CCS (Criminal Conspiracy Section) and the State of California's Sacramento-based CII (Criminal Identification and Investigation) unit.;[8] and
  • evidence of links of the CIA to Police Departments.[3][9]

On May 17, 1974, The New York Times ran the story of DeFreeze and the Los Angeles Police Department.[7] However, the story was largely overlooked due to this being the day of the shootout and conflagration that killed DeFreeze and five other members of the SLA.

In a book Lake Headley co-wrote with freelance writer William Hoffman, Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective, he presented well-documented evidence that Donald DeFreeze was a police informant and an agent provocateur.[10]


Wolfe was burned to death after a gunfight with the Los Angeles Police Department and an ensuing house fire in south-central Los Angeles. His charred remains were found in the crawl space of the house, along with those of DeFreeze and Mizmoon, their gas masks melted to their faces. Wolfe, who was not wearing a gas mask, had died from smoke inhalation during the fire, and was the first fatality during the shootout.[1]

Not long after, Patty Hearst released another of the group's tape recordings. On it, she said of him:

Cujo was the gentlest, most beautiful man I've ever known. We loved each other so much, and his love for people was so deep that he was willing to give his life for them.[11] Neither Cujo nor I had ever loved an individual the way we loved each other. Probably this was because our relationship wasn't based on bourgeois ... values."[4]

When Hearst was captured and charged, she alleged that Willie, along with others, had raped her in the early days of her kidnapping.

After the conflagration in LA, three FBI agents knocked on the door of Willie's father, Dr. Wolfe, at midnight. Although they could not confirm if Willie had been in the house at the time of the siege, they asked for Willie's dental records. Two days later, Dr. Wolfe got a call from the Los Angeles County Coroner's office telling him that his son was dead.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

Stephen King gave Wolfe's nickname of Cujo to the title character (a mad dog) of the novel Cujo.


  1. ^ a b Burrough, Bryan, "Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence", Penguin, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "The Man Patty Hearst Loved", People, June 24, 1974,
  3. ^ a b Brussell, Mae http://www.maebrussell.com/Mae%20Brussell%20Articles/Why%20Was%20Hearst%20Kidnapped%201.html
  4. ^ a b McLellan, "The Man and the Mystery Behind the SLA Terror", People, April 29, 1974
  5. ^ http://xdell.blogspot.com.au/2006/05/mary-alice-doesnt-lay-here-anymore.html
  6. ^ Langley, W, "Patty Hearst - urban guerrilla brought to heel", The Telegraph, 17 Feb, 2008
  7. ^ a b Kifner, John (May 17, 1974). "Cinque: A Dropout Who Has Been in Constant Trouble; School Dropout On Welfare Wanted to Sell Bombs Recommendation Ignored Cooperation Indicated Charges Dropped". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  8. ^ Churchill, Ward & Vander Wall, Jim, "Agents of Repression: The FBI's secret wars against the Black Panther Party", 2002
  9. ^ Russell, Dick, "Who Ran the Sla?", Argosy, Ann Arbor Sun, January 22, 1976, http://freeingjohnsinclair.aadl.org/node/200649
  10. ^ "Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective, Thunder's Mouth, 1993
  11. ^ a b Richard K. Brunner, "News of old revolutionaries reopens heartbreak", The Morning Call, February 10, 2002,