Patty Hearst Kidnapping
Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Fourty-six years ago, Patty Hearst, granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst was the victim of the most bizarre kidnapping in American History. She became internationally known for events following her 1974 kidnapping by the left-wing terrorist Symbionese Liberation Army. On February 4, 1974, 19-year-old Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment. She was beaten and lost consciousness during the abduction. Shots were fired from a machine gun during the incident. An urban guerrilla group, called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), claimed responsibility for the abduction.
Hearst's kidnapping was partly opportunistic, as she happened to live near the SLA hideout. According to testimony, the group's main intention was to leverage the Hearst family's political influence to free two SLA members who had been arrested for Marcus Foster's killing. Faced with the failure to free the imprisoned men, the SLA demanded that the captive's family distribute $70 worth of food to every needy Californian – an operation that would cost an estimated $400 million. In response, Hearst's father took out a loan and arranged the immediate donation of $2 million worth of food to the poor of the Bay Area, in an operation called "People in Need." After the distribution descended into chaos, the SLA refused to release Hearst.
According to Hearst's later testimony, she was held for a week in a closet, blindfolded and with her hands tied, during which time SLA founder and leader Cinque (Donald DeFreeze) repeatedly threatened her with death. She was let out for meals and, blindfolded, began to join in the political discussions. She was given a flashlight for reading and SLA political tracts to memorize. Hearst was confined in the closet for weeks, after which she said, "DeFreeze told me that the war council had decided or was thinking about killing me or me staying with them, and that I better start thinking about that as a possibility." Hearst said, "I accommodated my thoughts to coincide with theirs."
When asked for her decision, Hearst said she wanted to stay and fight with the SLA. The blindfold was removed, allowing her to see her captors for the first time. After this she was given daily lessons on her duties, especially weapons drills. Angela Atwood told Hearst that the others thought she should know what sexual freedom was like in the unit; According to her lawyer, Hearst was allegedly raped by William "Willie" Wolfe and later by DeFreeze.
On April 3, 1974, two months after she was abducted, Hearst announced on an audiotape that she had joined the SLA and taken the name "Tania"
On April 15, 1974, Hearst was recorded on surveillance video wielding an M1 carbine machine gun while robbing the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. Two men entered the bank while the robbery was occurring and were shot and wounded. According to testimony at her trial, a witness thought that Hearst had been several paces behind the others when running to the getaway car.
Finally, on September 18, 1975, nineteen months after being abducted, Hearst, or “Tania” as she called herself, was found in a San Francisco apartment. By this time, she was a fugitive wanted for serious crimes committed with members of the group and was arrested for armed robbery. She was held in custody, and there was speculation before trial that her family's resources would enable her to avoid time in jail.
Despite her claim that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, she was convicted on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. President Jimmy Carter commuted Hearst's federal sentence to the 22 months served, freeing her eight months before she was eligible for her first parole hearing. Two decades, later on January 20, 2001, she recovered full civil rights when President Bill Clinton granted her a pardon on his last day in office.
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