Friday, February 6, 2009

The Patty Hearst Kidnapping

by Jean Henry Mead

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 35 years since newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California, apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

For those too young to remember, the 19-year-old was abducted February 4, 1974 from her apartment after the left-wing guerrlla group assaulted her fiancé Steven Weed. At least four shots were fired at people on the street as the screaming teen was blindfolded by two men and tossed into the trunk of their car.

Patty was reportedly brainwashed by the SLA and came to identify with the group. In April of 1974, she took part in a bank robbery, later claiming that the gun she held was empty, and that her apparent complicity with the group was a ruse to ensure her safety. She was, however, arrested the following year and eventually convicted of the crime. Her seven-year prison sentence was later commuted by President Jimmy Carter and she was fully pardoned by Bill Clinton on his last day in office.

The granddaughter of publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst and great-granddaughter of millionaire George Hearst, Patricia was the third of five daughters born to Randollph Hearst and Catherine Campbell. She grew up in the wealthy San Francisco suburb of Hillborough and attended girls schools in San Francisco as well as Monterey. Among her friends was Patricia Tobin, whose family founded the Hibernia Bank, a branch which Patty later helped to rob.

The SLA demanded the release of jailed SLA members for Patty’s return. When that failed, they demanded that the Hearst family donate $400 million worth of food for California's less fortunate residents. Randolph Hearst immediately donated $6 million worth of food to the Bay Area poor, but the SLA refused to release his daughter. In a subsequent recording sent to the press, Patty said that her father could have done better. She also said that she had joined the guerrilla group and taken the name of Tania.

Two months later, on April 15, Patty was photographed holding an M1 Carbine during the robbery of the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. Newspapers later printed alleged reports from “Tania” that she was committed to the SLA goals. Warrants were subsequently issued for her arrest in September of 1975. The folowing year she was arrested in a San Francisco apartment with other members of the group and imprisoned. Listing her occupation as “Urban Guerilla,” she asked her attorney to “Tell everybody that I’m smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings to all the sisters and brothers out there.”

F. Lee Bailey defended Patty Hearst during her trial, which began on January 15, 1976. Bailey said that his client had been blindfolded and kept in a closet, and that she had been physically and sexually abused. Her defense was that she had been the victim of concerted brainwashing which contributed to the Stockholm syndrome, when hostages sympathize with their captors.

Bailey argued that Patty had been coerced or intimidated into taking part in the bank robbery, but she refused to give evidence against the other captured SLA members, which was seen as complicity by the prosecution. The jury obviously felt the same way for Patty was sentenced to 35 years in prison, later commuted to seven. Legal analysts later said that Bailey had done a poor job defending her because he gave a short, incompetent closing argument, but Patty Hearst served less than two years of her sentence when pardoned by Jimmy Carter on February 1, 1979.


Ben Small said...

Small world. I knew Angela Atwood and Bill and Emily Harris. Went to school with them, dated Angela, the daughter of a Jersey union leader -- she had an armed bodyguard on dates, I swear. Emily Harris, nee Schwartz was my sister's sorority chairwoman, and she dated one of my fraternity brothers. Her college roommate married my college roommate. Angela Atwood went on to marry Gary Atwood, a leftist activist at Indiana University, where all of us went to school. Angela Atwood was in a sorority musical with Jane Pauley, who dated another of my roommates. Jane once interviewed me, and we had lunch at McDonald's, right before Jane left Indianapolis for the big time.

You can imagine how horrified I was at the Patty Hearst kidnapping. To know these individuals, you'd never have guessed how they'd turn out.

Funny thing, my college roommate who married Emily's roommate came home from his job as high school principal and parked in his garage. A few minutes later, his wife came home from her job as vice principal at another high school near Ann Arbor, Mi. My roommate said FBI agents popped up from his wood pile and dropped out of trees. He said he hadn't seen one of them. They wanted to know if his wife had heard from Emily or Bill. They gave my friend's wife quite a grilling.

Some time later, my roommate happened to be in downtown Detroit and stopped at the federal building to see if there'd been any developments on the location of Emily or Bill. He said as soon as he indentified himself, agents swarmed him, demanding to know if there'd been any word. You remember those days... finding Bill and Emily Harris was about like finding Osama bin Laden now. They had just vanished.

Again, small world...


Jean Henry Mead said...

My gosh, Ben. I'm surprised that you haven't written about this sooner, or have you? What a book that would make!

Beth Terrell said...

I remember when this happened. I was in Junior High School. None of could believe it.

Ben, it must have been frightening to be so close to it all.