There was a tiny witness that day in 1972 when Allen Sims and a woman companion boarded a PSA jetliner in San Francisco: a 5-month-old baby, swathed in blankets, sleeping quietly atop a 12-gauge shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver.
Five minutes away from landing in Los Angeles, the guns came out. Terrified crew members were held at bay for nearly 24 hours, while the local commuter flight was diverted to Havana.
Sims was arrested a few years later in Jamaica and sentenced to 50 years in prison. But the woman remained a fugitive, leaving an open case file at the FBI office in Los Angeles in what had become the first successful hijacking in the city's history.
Then, last week, a San Francisco teen-ager telephoned police and told them his parents had threatened to kill him. He also told them he was the sleeping infant on that PSA flight 15 years ago.
For Ida McCray Robinson, now a clerical worker and mother of five, 15 years of hiding ended last Sunday when police arrived at her quiet, middle-class home in Sacramento and served her with an 11-year-old indictment accusing her of air piracy.
She arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday for arraignment, and San Francisco police announced that they have filed additional felony charges of child abuse against Robinson, who now goes by her maiden name of McCray, and her boyfriend, Nevil Kimbrell.
"We've always been looking for her," said FBI spokesman Dennis Joyce, who attributed the arrest to "good police work" on the part of local authorities and a national law enforcement warrants computer "that has a long memory."
Family members this week said McCray had spent her time as a fugitive waiting for the day when someone would learn about her past.
"She worried about it. I worried about it, all the time," said her mother, Lucille McCray. "So many thoughts run through your mind . . . but if I could talk to the judge right now, I'd say, she has done her time. Even though she was out of jail, she suffered as if she was there."
Ida McCray, 36, had slipped quietly back into the United States in 1975 and held a variety of jobs to support herself and her children, her mother said.
"She just walked through Customs, and they let her through," the mother said. "She looked so bad and so ragged, she didn't have any money or anything. She had two babies, and she went outside and just started crying."
Ida McCray went to New York to look for work. She sent Atiba, the baby she had carried on the plane, and Tomica, his younger sister, to live with her mother in San Francisco. Only last fall, McCray moved to Sacramento, took a word-processing job with a local temporary service and invited Atiba to join her.
'I've Known About It'
"Ever since I can remember, I've known about it," Atiba said of the hijacking. "When I was little, my sister tried to tell the police on her, and she got a whippin'. But she was pretty sure she wouldn't get caught."
Atiba said in an interview at his grandmother's house that the beginning of the end came last Saturday, when he stole away from home to stay with a friend. When he returned, he said, McCray and Kimbrell were furious.
'Tried to Smother Me'
"They were talking about killing me and stuff," he said. "She even put a plastic bag over my face and tried to smother me, And then they was talking about taking me up to the woods, late at night. . . . I was tied up on the floor and everything, and they was taking turns watching me."
Atiba said he managed to free himself and flee to the friend's house in San Francisco, where he called the police. "I told them everything that had happened. At first they didn't believe me, because they couldn't find it (the arrest warrant) on the record, they only had a warrant for assault with a deadly weapon. But I guess they found out somehow.
"I'm real sorry that I turned her in, but she tried to kill me."
San Francisco Police Inspector Randy Krings confirmed that it was a child abuse report that prompted the original call to the McCray home in Sacramento, resulting in the subsequent felony charges against McCray and Kimbrell.
But Krings said he was not certain whether law enforcement officers first learned of the hijacking warrant from Atiba or from a routine warrants check, as Sacramento police and the FBI have reported.
According to family members and federal prosecutors, McCray, then a 21-year-old student at Golden Gate College in San Francisco, met Sims at a bookstore a few months before the hijacking. Sims was involved with the radical Third World Liberation Front at the University of California, Berkeley. McCray, her father said at the time, was "somewhat bookish, not really political."
In an interview with FBI agents after his arrest in Jamaica in 1978, Sims said McCray did not know of his plans to hijack the aircraft when they boarded it on Jan. 7, 1972.
Passengers Let Off Plane
Sims drew the shotgun out of Atiba's cradle and trained it on the cockpit crew. He threatened to kill a stewardess after landing in Los Angeles if the plane was not quickly refueled. McCray allegedly held the 138 passengers at bay with the handgun in the back of the cabin until they were allowed to get off the aircraft in Los Angeles.
After refueling, the plane traveled with its 11 crew members to Tampa, Fla., then on to Havana.
Lucille McCray said it was her husband, Leroy, now dead, who identified his daughter as one of the hijackers when he saw a photograph. "He was hurt, very hurt," she said.
Sims pleaded insanity during two trials in Los Angeles, but was convicted both times and eventually sentenced to 50 years in prison.
McCray, meanwhile, got married when she arrived in New York, and had three children, now 6, 3 and 4. She left her husband when she returned to California and reunited with Kimbrell, the father of Atiba, her first child, her mother said. Tomica, 14, was Sims' child, born in Cuba, she said.
Cleared Up Place
Neighbors said McCray moved into the run-down rental house in south Sacramento and immediately began clearing away debris and pulling weeds.
"She introduced herself as Jerry," recalled Helen Raya, who befriended her. "When they first moved in, they were really gung-ho, cleaning the house and everything. One time her kids were kind of messing up my yard, and I went over and she said, 'Oh yeah, no problem, I'll take care of it."
On one occasion, Raya said, McCray made a point of asking her to watch the house. "She said, 'there's only me and my husband and my three kids. If you ever see anyone else over here, you call the cops.' My husband thought that was kind of strange for her to say that."
Concerning the child abuse charges, Lucille McCray said the couple never would have intentionally harmed Atiba.
"She loves those kids," she said. "I went to see her over at the jail. She wanted to see the children, and she wanted to tell them that she loved them and everything, you know.
"The middle one, the boy, he talked a lot, but he stutters, and you don't know what he's saying. And the baby just cried. He just cried."