Minnesota's Most Wanted

When law enforcement officials descended on the St. Paul residence of 52-year-old wife, mother, actress, social-justice worker, and alleged terrorist Sara Jane Olson (a.k.a. Kathleen Ann Soliah) two weeks ago, the Twin Cities were abuzz with news of the hotdish-baking, minivan-driving mom accused of conspiring to kill two California police officers back in 1975 while a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Olson was apprehended thanks to the popular Fox television show America's Most Wanted, whose mid-May profile of Soliah prompted a flurry of phoned-in tips that led authorities to Olson's ivy-covered Hillcrest Avenue home.

In a stunning development, City Pages has learned that more arrests will almost certainly be making local headlines in the coming weeks and months, if not days.

Though officials have offered no clue as to identity of the tipster or tipsters who stand to collect the U.S. government's $20,000 reward for information leading to Soliah's capture, a confidential FBI source tells City Pages that in the wake of the arrest the bureau's Minneapolis office has been deluged with phone calls from residents asserting that other notorious fugitives are at large in the metro area.

Some of the tips have been investigated and found to be bogus. The majority, however, are being taken seriously. Indeed, as of press time, FBI officials suspect that a half-dozen or more murderers, embezzlers, burglars, and other scalawags wanted by the bureau might be living under assumed identities in the Twin Cities, including suspected Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Although it's not uncommon for a local office of the FBI to be flooded with tips following a high-profile arrest, the current response--and its potential for closing the books on long-unresolved crimes--is unprecedented. "I can tell you that we often see this sort of scenario," says our FBI source, adding that the apprehension of a suspect in the Katie Poirier abduction almost immediately after Soliah's capture undoubtedly fueled the rash of disclosures. "People hear about it and they go to the post office or log on to the World Wide Web and check out our Most Wanted list. And of course, there was Cunanan only a couple of years ago--your average Minneapolis citizen is probably pretty darn aware this type of thing can happen. But I've talked to a lot of the fellows here, and no one's ever seen anything like what we've been getting. Not to this degree."

One expert, who requested anonymity, believes the plethora of tips points to a unique local phenomenon. "This is very exciting news, and it squares with my research," says the expert, a University of Minnesota psychology professor who has applied for federal grant money to delve into what he sees as a disproportionate tendency among locals to be suspicious of their fellow citizens. "It's the flip side of 'Minnesota Nice': As a society, we're outwardly courteous to one another. But we've always got an eye on our neighbor."

Following is an annotated list of the fugitives whose names have cropped up in connection with tips logged by the Minneapolis office of the FBI since Sara Jane Olson's June 16 arrest.

Osama bin Laden

The FBI believes that bin Laden (a.k.a. "The Prince," "The Emir," "The Director," and "The Terrorist Formerly Known as Prince"), who is being sought in connection with the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, may be employed as a baggage handler at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Federal authorities were initially skeptical of this tip, which was first called in by Northwest Airlines spokesman Jon Austin. After subsequent calls and a preliminary investigation, however, the bureau has discounted the possibility that the tip may have been a publicity stunt designed to divert public attention from the recently settled union negotiations involving Northwest's baggage handlers, ticket agents, security guards, and skycaps. The FBI suspects that the exiled Saudi millionaire may indeed have been hired during the pilots' strike that threw the airline temporarily into disarray last fall. As to why it took so long for him to spot the man who heads the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list and whose capture may carry with it a five-million-dollar reward, the Northwest flack is said to have told agents, "Who knew? The guy was enthusiastic. He was efficient. Criminy, he sure knew his way around a luggage rack."

Eleanor Fransen

Fransen, a Canadian national, is wanted for allegedly operating a fake Make-A-Wish-type charity for terminally ill adults in Littleton, Colorado, and diverting at least $65,000 in donations to her private bank accounts from 1987 to 1990. She has also worked as an Amway distributor, and in 1995 made enough sales to earn her way to the multilevel marketing company's annual convention. A Minnesota Reform Party official called the FBI last week to say she had been employed by that organization for a time last year. According to our FBI source, Fransen came to the attention of the party while hawking her self-published booklet, called "Never Pay Taxes Again," during a function at Canterbury Downs. For a brief time before Gov. Jesse Ventura took office, she worked as a personal financial adviser to him, but the two soon parted ways. In fact, Fransen barely avoided capture in April, when Ventura phoned federal agents to complain that he believed she was planning to produce and market counterfeit Mae Schunk Beanie Babies.

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