Open Letter to Dean Neil Henry - by David Weir

It’s time to open an investigation into who killed Betty Van Patter.


[Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on David Weir’s blog at]

Peter Richardson's book about Ramparts magazine, A Bomb in Every Issue, brought the early seventies in the Bay Area back to life for me as I finished reading it recently.

Ramparts had enormous influence over those us at the University of Michigan in the late 1960s, with its combination of investigative reporting and idealistic left-wing politics.

Some of those who wrote for the magazine, including Tom Hayden and Robert Scheer, were important influences on me, as a younger journalist and activist, as I developed my own reasons for opposition to the war in Vietnam.

After I moved to San Francisco, Scheer wrote for us at SunDance magazine, and I edited his pieces, there and elsewhere during the '70s.

Hayden I got to know through his then wife Jane Fonda, when we worked on movies together. I had interactions with the famously eye-patched drinker Warren Hinckle, as well as writer Hunter Thompson, in my Rolling Stone days, but no friendships sparked with them.

Others from that era whom I worked with closely include Adam Hochschild, Richard Parker, and David Horowitz, Lowell Bergman, Kathleen Cleaver, Mark Dowie, Eve Pell, Stanley Sheinbaum, and Jann Wenner.

People I got to know through interviews included a host of others, like Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and Elaine Brown.

But, for me, the most satisfying part of Richardson's book was his unblinking analysis of the support roles Betty Van Patter and her daughter Tamara Baltar played for many of the key organizations that made up a decade's worth of journalism gone wild, from Ramparts to SunDance to the Center for Investigative Reporting to Mother Jones to the dubious outcome of the Black Panther Party.

These two remarkable women were idealists but pragmatists, who used their talents to keep these mostly wild, out-of-control organizations as grounded as possible. For her contributions, Van Patter was murdered, and as Richardson's careful analysis clearly documents, the only credible killers with both motive and means were the Panthers, for whom she was loyally working as accountant at the time -- a time that even Brown has acknowledged that the Party was breaking all sorts of laws by its financial shenanigans.

That happened 35 years ago now, and still no one has been charged with the crime. This has marked the life of Baltar, who has been on a long, lonely quest to bring the killers of her mother to justice.

Many cold cases have been solved in recent years, most via DNA and/or the concerted efforts of groups of journalism students led by committed professors in various venues.

May I on this occasion gently suggest that the well-endowed Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, which has attracted all sorts of funders in recent years, and now has more resources on the ground than most traditional Bay Area media companies, should open an investigation into who killed Betty Van Patter.

Peter Richardson's excellent work includes as definitive a version of this tragedy as has ever appeared in a book. Now it's time for someone with the resources to solve the case to get involved.

Thus, I am addressing this post to the man who can make it happen: Dean Neil Henry.

P.S. I would be happy to help.