She sat alone in the small, dark cell, the grimly-painted walls casting a feeling of oppression upon the young woman. She was a prisoner, a propaganda tool, a victim that her captors were using to further push their political agenda. And as she awaited trial, she couldn’t help but feel that this is how it all began; trapped in a confined space, being lectured on how to think, how to feel, and who she should be. She had been a hostage once before, taken from her home and locked inside a closet, where she was force fed subversive rhetoric, ordered to consume the philosophies and morals of her charges for fear of punishment. She had eventually succumbed to their influence, and for the next year-and-a-half had been a willing participant in their cause, and now here she was once again; held against her will, being judged for the life she had led, while those that hold her question if this was an existence that she had willingly chosen. She was tired of having to justify who she was, as all she had ever done was adjust to the situation, evolve as a means to survive, and all that these people have done in return is debate whether she should be punished for her actions. Whereas once she had been held by the revolution, now she was a slave of the state, but a prisoner all the same. She had merely exchanged one cell for another. And here she was, once again, standing trial, merely for being the infamous Patty Hearst.
‘Heiress kidnapped,’ ran the headlines on the morning of 5 February, 1974. Less than twelve hours earlier, the nineteen-year-old college student had been abducted from her modest apartment by a group of unknown assailants, but within a few short days a revolutionary army previously linked to a political assassination had claimed responsibility. ‘Our unified purpose is to liberate the oppressed people of this nation, and to aid other oppressed people around the world, in their struggle against fascism, imperialism, and the robbery of their freedom and homeland,’ claimed a communiqué submitted to a local news station soon after she was seized. Hearst was a political prisoner, and the goal of her captors was to influence her father, an infamous newspaper publisher, to cast his influence in order to free the American people from a life of media manipulation, corruption, and poverty. ‘This network of propaganda and confusion has succeeded in hiding the truth from the people.’ Barely nineteen months later, Hearst had turned from victim to fugitive and, following one of the largest F.B.I. manhunts in American history, she was apprehended and brought to trial for her actions.
‘Patty still revolutionary,’ declared one newspaper following her apprehension. During her flight from justice, she had participated in a bank robbery, had served as a getaway driver, watched in horror as her comrades perished in a gunfight live on television, and had opened fire on civilians in an attempt to free her fellow radicals from captivity. Now, after becoming one of the most notorious figures in the country, she had surrendered peacefully to the authorities. ‘She said she wanted to go home,’ announced her tearful mother the following day, but her crime wave across California had become an embarrassment to the government, and the powers-that-be wanted to use this young woman as a message to others that wished to revolt: an insurrection will not be tolerated. And with Hearst being the daughter of what was ostensibly American royalty, both the security services and the public demanded that her family not cast their political power to win her freedom. Patty Hearst was emblematic of the times; a young radical fighting back against the system, but her wealth and social status alienated her from the people that had followed the story for almost two years. And now she prepared to face the wrath of the courts, the controversy of her story having already left an impression on everyone present during her trial. Patty seemed destined for a life of captivity.
It is easy to sit in judgement on the decisions that Hearst would make during her time as a prisoner, but these circumstances were so unprecedented in American culture that hers is such a unique case, the most extreme example of Stockholm Syndrome imaginable. Not only did she come to sympathise with the cause of her captors, but within just a few short weeks she had joined their revolution. Hearst came from a life of privilege and opportunity, but she chose to sacrifice this life of luxury to become a guerilla soldier fighting against the bourgeois state. She was not brainwashed in a sense that denotes hypnotism, or any way of hijacking one’s consciousness, but her insecurities and paranoias were exploited to the point that she came to trust those who had taken her over the agency that was attempting to negotiate her release. She came to believe that she had not been abducted, but in fact rescued, saved from the lie that was her life: the Capitalist dream. And while during the subsequent trial she claimed she had been coerced into joining their crusade, the recordings that she would make during her time as a terrorist painted a very different story. She was a true believer, and along with her comrades she would instigate the coming revolution. ‘Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!’
As Patty sat trembling within the walls of the United States District Court, awaiting to be summoned before the presiding judge, she could not help but think of how two years earlier, to this very day, she had been violently taken from her home. She had spent her twentieth birthday locked in a closet, a political prisoner held under the rules of the Geneva Convention, and her twenty-first as a fugitive from the F.B.I. In just over two weeks she would turn twenty-two, and she was starting to face the reality that she could spend every birthday from this moment on behind bars. And despite everything that she had been through, she was not allowed to suffer in silence, as she was a celebrity, and her crimes and capture had kept the American public enthralled enough to distract them from the resignation of a disgraced President, and the attempted assassination of his successor just weeks before her arrest. ‘The media was having an orgy of news and speculation every day, the Patty Hearst Show, as my family and I came to call it,’ she recalled a few years later. ‘Even the crusty old judge assigned to my trial was caught up on the passion of the moment. Nor could he resist the publicity.’
Sharing the Phillip Burton Federal Building with the field office for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California was located close to San Francisco Bay, where Interstate 80 led through Hearst’s former neighbourhoods of Berkeley and Oakland. Having relocated from the nearby James R. Browning United States Courthouse twelve years earlier, this court housed the legal cases that encompassed crimes committed on the West Coast from as north as Del Norte down to Monterey. And on 4 February, 1976, the United States of American vs. Patricia Campbell Hearst would commence, a media spectacle that would only be rivalled by that of O.J. Simpson two decades later. A little over two months earlier, on a Monday morning in late January, the Honourable Judge Oliver J. Carter had been presented with two charges levelled against the young defendant: the first was her involvement in an armed robbery of the Hibernia Bank in the Theatre District of San Francisco on 15 April, 1974; the second was the use of a firearm in a felony, when she had attempted to free a brother-in-arms during a getaway from the Mel’s Sporting Goods store in Oakland on 16 May of the same year. If convicted, each charge carried the sentence of a possible twenty-five years.
Gliding across the courthouse floor with a cocky swagger that could rival the most flamboyant of rock stars, F. Lee Bailey was as much of a media magnet as his infamous client. He was boisterous, obnoxious, and had a tendency to irritate both his opponents and his own clients, but his reputation was such that he was a presence to be feared. He craved publicity, and had already immortalised many of his earlier cases in a bestselling paperback, but her father had believed that he was the best chance that Patty had from becoming a convicted felon. Thank God her grandfather could not see her now. She had come from a life of wealth, one that he had built for his dynasty, but now she had seemingly thrown this all away in order to rebel against her parents, the establishment, or just her own privilege. But how did it come to this? She had shown such promise. She was a college student, engaged to a respectable young lecturer, and had every opportunity at her disposal. Yet once all this was taken away from her, she saw the chance to become someone else, a soldier fighting for a cause greater than herself; but all these misguided good intentions came crashing down in the wake of the chaos that her comrades would cause as they struck out against the system that they felt had betrayed them.
Sitting in the Ceremonial Courtroom, Patty watched as her freedom was played out in front of her, like some kind of pantomime whose plot she only half-understood, as two men with separate agendas competed for supremacy; one intending on saving her from incarceration, the other determined to see her convicted for her crimes. Just weeks after she announced that she had joined her captors, Hearst was branded a common criminal by the Attorney General, while James Browning Jr., the man now serving as the prosecutor, had told the press that she was acting ‘freely and voluntarily.’ There had been debate during that time whether or not Hearst was in fact a victim, as she had initially been portrayed, or if she had now become a terrorist of her own free will. ‘For weeks, that question was the subject of only timid speculation,’ wrote the Washington Post on 21 April, 1974, less than three months after her abduction. ‘The grand jury were asked to decide whether Miss Hearst was indeed a willing participant in the robbery. U.S. Attorney James L. Browning Jr. conceded that it ‘is clear from the photographs that she may have been acting under duress.’ Still, he said, if the jury finds that her participation was voluntary, ‘We’re going to charge her as a bank robber.’’
As the events unfolded before her, Patty’s mind was overwhelmed with an array of different memories from throughout her life: the domestic bliss with her fiancé that she had later claimed was a façade; the way she had been dragged from her home and thrown into the back of a car; her rebirth as Tania, the revolutionary, and her fight against the fascist government; and now this moment right here, where she felt that everything good in her life was slowly slipping away. But she was not the first to take such drastic action against the America that she felt had failed its citizens, for the sixties and seventies were littered with voices that spoke out against the hypocrisies of Capitalism, the failure of democracy, and the corruptive forces that ruled the government. Yet they had all come from either poor or working class backgrounds, and so had not angered the public or embarrassed the authorities in the way that Hearst had. And so it was clear that she was going to be used as a lesson, a warning for others who dared to following in her footsteps. But the only way the legal system can work fairly in a court of law is when the jury, those twelve who ultimately give the final verdict, approach the case with no prior knowledge, personal feelings, or biasness against the defendant. But how could anyone not have an opinion on Patty Hearst, as by this point she had become the most notorious figure in America?
It took only eight weeks for the prosecution and defence to make their cases, before Judge Carter instructed the seven women and five men of the jury to deliberate over their decision and return to the courtroom with a verdict against Patricia Hearst. So much had happened over the last two years that the emaciated young woman was barely able to hold a thought during her time in court, with her mother sobbing close-by, and the constant flashing of the media’s cameras leaving her somewhat delirious. ‘She wondered whether she had a chance,’ Bailey had told the waiting press, and on the morning of Wednesday, 10 March, 1976, she stood before the judge and jury as she awaited her sentencing. But Hearst had started this journey as a victim, and before she had committed a single crime, she had been locked inside a closet, threatened with violence and death, forced to bathe blindfolded under the watchful eye of a guard, and had been fed political propaganda by the very people who had taken her freedom.
The spectators began to fill the courtroom the moment the large doors opened, and as members of the press took their positions in a jury box overlooking the witness stand, family and friends of the defendant gathered together in an audience that mostly consists of law students a desperate for a taste of a trial. The twelve men and women that were to serve on the jury remained stoic as Judge Carter dictated the rules that they were to abide throughout the proceedings. Each one of these were ordered not to discuss the case outside the courtroom, and one-by-one they declared an understanding of these instructions. As 10 o’clock approached a feeling of apprehension filled the air, and finally, four-and-a-half months after her arrest, the United States of America vs. Patricia Campbell Hearst commenced. Both legal teams were required to present their opening statements to the court; one which would depict a young woman coerced into a life of crime, and the other determined to prove that she should take responsibility for her own actions. She had begun this story as a victim, there was no doubt about that, but in just a few short weeks she had become radicalised. With the city still mourning the loss of life claimed by the Manson Family five years earlier, the decision of the kidnapped heiress to join her captors in their revolution had sent shockwaves through the heart of America. It was time to draw a line in the sand before other young bohemians declared war on the country.
There was something inherently dislikeable about F. Lee Bailey, but when he took to the floor he dominated the courthouse. James Browning had already stated his case for the benefit of the jury, and now it was Bailey’s opportunity to offer his rebuttal. Bailey had four concerns that the prosecution would pursue. The first was the robbery that took place two years prior at the Hibernia Bank, which marked the public’s first sight of Hearst’s gun-toting Tania. ‘The bank was robbed, it was robbed by the people described, except for Miss Hearst; but she was present, and she was carrying a weapon which was not operable,’ he insisted to the jury. Bailey’s second focus would be the shootout at Mel’s Sporting Goods, during which she opened fire in an effort to free her comrades. Next, there was the abduction of eighteen-year-old Thomas Mathews, which effectively transformed Hearst from hostage to kidnapper. ‘At the time, I just did not feel threatened at all,’ he later claimed. ‘But I’ve come to realise just how lucky I am.’ The final issue that Bailey would have to fight was a series of recordings that were now referred to by the tabloids as the ‘Tanya Interview.’ As he performed his pantomime for the court, Hearst sat nervously as she watched the trial of her life unfold. Appearing weak as she slouched in her chair, both the press and jury scrutinised her every movement, waiting for a gesture that would reveal the truth behind her actions.
While Bailey’s case would rely on psychobabble that justified how an ordinary young woman could resort to such violent behaviour, Browning had the known facts on his side. The American media had documented the crimes of the Symbionese Liberation Army in explicit detail on the front page of every newspaper over the eighteen months since Hearst was taken from her home, and so the armed robbery that had taken place in April 1974 was already well-known to all those present at the Phillip Burton Federal Building. Initially, she was considered a witness to the crime, but it didn’t take long before her participation in the robbery was questioned. ‘The F.B.I. is hunting newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst on a material witness warrant which identifies her as a member of a heavily-armed gang that robbed a bank, and shot and wounded two passers-by,’ reported The Courier-News the following day. ‘Authorities said she may have been forced into taking part in the stick-up.’ Now Browning laid out all the known facts pertaining to this aspect of the case, depicting an armed invasion of a bank that Patricia Hearst had been a willing participant in. ‘The evidence will show you that on 15 April, 1974, at 9:40am, the Hibernia Bank was held up by five persons, one male and four females, one of them the defendant, who had been kidnapped ten weeks prior,’ he explained. ‘You will hear the bank guard, Mr Shea, testify that he saw the defendant approach him with her weapon and say, ‘The first person who moves gets his M.F. head blown off!’
Spectators that day began to form an orderly queue outside the courthouse moments after dawn waiting for Case No. 74-364 to commence. More than a hundred reporters and photographers had congregated to observe the trial, some travelling from as far as Australia to witness Patty Hearst facing the wrath of the state. Footage obtained from the bank was revealed to the jury, during which Browning would draw attention to the image of Hearst brandishing a machine gun. ‘This is Tania Hearst,’ he declared. But if Browning was to show the court that Hearst was a willing participant in the bank robbery, then it would be the responsibility of Bailey to prove that she was under duress. ‘Bailey was particularly interested in having on the jury men who had had military experience, because of the psychiatric testimony to come concerning coercive persuasion used on military P.O.W.s,’ recalled Hearst. ‘In court, I looked at those seven women on the jury. They were so dissimilar in age, appearance, and background, and I wondered if any of them was a Bailey-type. I could not tell; I could not read their minds. Would they understand what not even I had understood before about the process of coercive persuasion?’ The key question here, however, was whether mind control, or brainwashing, could be proved scientifically in a court of law. For if this was something that Bailey could prove, then Patricia Hearst may actually have a chance.
As the day’s events came to an end, Hearst was taken back to the cell that in recent months she had come to call home. It felt like history was repeating itself as she was once again locked away from the outside world, that room’s stone-cold walls keeping her from the loving embrace of her family. While this time her captors were guards under employment of the government, for the prisoner this treatment felt no different than that she had suffered at the hands of the Symbionese Liberation Army. ‘I told her to stand with her legs well apart, and spread out her arms: standard opening for what we call a frisk search,’ detailed her guard, Janey Jimenez. ‘After emptying her pockets, I went carefully over her body; around the neck; then, from the back, up and down the arms, over the ribs, breast, waistline; finally down the buttocks and legs, into the crotch.’ Each day after receiving visits from her lawyers and doctors, she was returned to her cell where she was left alone with her thoughts. It would be here that Hearst would relive the last two years of her life, during which she was abducted, abused, and radicalised. Somehow Bailey would have to prove that brainwashing was indeed a real thing, and that the findings of his psychiatrists would be admissible in a court of law.
Long before football hero O.J. Simpson stood trial for the murder of his ex-wife, the trial of Patricia Hearst was the media spectacle of the decade. This would be the first time the tabloids were granted access to a courtroom in order to document the case as it unfolded, and the celebrity status of the defendant would result in her exploits being reported to the public on a daily basis. And yet, while Hearst would attempt to shield herself from the glare of the cameras, Bailey revelled in the limelight ‘The case was handled badly by everybody, and certainly at the beginning,’ insisted District Judge William Orrick, who succeeded Carter following his death in June 1976. ‘Her parents tried to get her the best lawyer they could for her. They got good advice and didn’t take it. They could have hired James Martin MacInnis at that time. He was the very best criminal trial lawyer in the city. Everybody had a high regard for him, including the judges. He most certainly would have been able to work out a satisfactory plea bargain with Judge Carter, who drew the case and ultimately tried it. Instead, they picked F. Lee Bailey, who had a national reputation built largely upon newsworthy clients.’ One week into the trial, Bailey faced the possibility that he would have to admit into evidence both the Tania tapes and documents handwritten by Hearst that confirmed her pledge to the Symbionese Liberation Army, more commonly referred to as the S.L.A.
It would have been impossible for everyone present in the courtroom to not already have preconceived opinions on Patty Hearst, and whether she was guilty of the crimes for which she had been charged. No matter how much Judge Carter demanded that the jury not confer with one another outside of the jury box, each one of them would have followed the news for the eighteen months between her abduction and arrest. In that time she had become the focal point of an F.B.I. manhunt, and her family feared she would not be taken alive. The Federal Building had become such a circus that marshals had been forced to control the amount of spectators they admitted during each session, and Judge Carter repeatedly had to warn both the press and audience that any kind of disturbance would not be tolerated. The physical wellbeing of Hearst had taken a noticeable decline throughout the trial, resulting in numerous delays, which once again caused speculation among the newspapers that were documenting the trial. It was hard to imagine that such a petite and ordinary young woman had spent more than a year on the run, living the life of a fugitive as every law enforcement agency in the land sought to bring her to justice. Less than five months earlier, as she was escorted handcuffed by armed guards, she had declared her occupation as ‘urban guerrilla.’
Although Bailey’s tactic that Hearst had been the subject of brainwashing at the hands of the S.L.A. may require the suspension of disbelief, one recurring theme throughout the trial was that Hearst would evolve from a hostage to a true believer in their cause, declaring loyalty to her brothers and sisters of the revolution, and even taking one, twenty-three-year-old Willie Wolfe, as her lover. And while Hearst would repeatedly deny these allegations, these would be reported by the media during the course of the trial. ‘He’s just as bad as the rest of them,’ she insisted during an interview with Dateline in 1997. ‘I think it’s insulting to anyone who’s ever been raped to suggest that could turn into a seduction and a love affair afterwards. It’s outrageous. It became part of the mythology of the S.L.A. It did in fact get used – not just him but all of the members of the S.L.A. were my best friends, kids just like me, and of course I’d like them. It’s really shocking the way the case was presented.’ Whether or not a relationship formed between Hearst and Wolfe is a cause for speculation, but if this is true then could this not be considered a form of rape, as Hearst was taken from her home and locked in a closet for weeks before she engaged in sexual relations with Wolfe? To lock her away in darkness and then gradually show her moments of kindness could have created a situation similar to Stockholm Syndrome, in which case she was not given free will with any of the decisions they had allowed her to make.
Exactly two weeks into the trial, Patty Hearst took to the witness stand in order to endure the cross-examination of District Attorney James Browning. Dressed in a plum velvet suit, she tried to remain composed and confident in her response, but in reality there was very little fright left inside her. She had already answered in explicit detail as Bailey questioned the reality of life in the S.L.A., and she had detailed their intention to lead search and destroy missions against the San Francisco Police Department. Hearst then detailed what the court had come to refer as her missing year, the period of time that ran from the aftermath of a brutal shootout in Los Angeles that claimed the lives of several members in May 1974, to her apprehension the following summer. A recording was then presented to the court in which Hearst, identifying herself as Tania, declared her love for Wolfe and her admiration for her fallen comrades. This would have been the perfect time for Hearst to surrender herself to the authorities, but instead she had committed to fulfilling the mission of the S.L.A. On another recording she claimed that her captors had saved her life, and with each admission she had made on tape, Hearst felt her freedom was gradually slipping out of reach. The statements she had provided to both Bailey and Browning would implicate two of the surviving members of the S.L.A. in her abduction. But the records that day may have implicated her in even greater crimes.
There were two contrasting narratives that were on debate throughout the trial, and that was whether or not Patricia Hearst willingly joined the ranks of the Symbionese Liberation Army and participated in a number of felonies which resulted in the loss of life. ‘I tried to explain that I was in constant fear of being killed unless I did what I was told to do,’ she claimed. ‘I tried to respond to the questions, but I had the distinct feeling that here in court no one could understand, or wanted to understand, the situation I had been in. They had not been there. The crux of it was my state of mind at the time, what I had been thinking, my intent, and only I could know that.’ At the time of her abduction in February 1974, Hearst had seemed like just another young woman, albeit one who was part of an American dynasty; but just two months later she was a revolutionary, or an urban terrorist, intent on bringing down the bourgeoisie establishment. Now she was standing trial for her crimes, and if found guilty could spend the rest of her life behind bars. But who was Patricia Hearst before she became a criminal, and why was she targeted by an obscure organisation that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army?
‘I grew up in an atmosphere of clear blue skies, bright sunshine, rambling open spaces, long green lawns, large comfortable houses, country clubs with swimming pools, and tennis courts, and riding horses, and I took it all for granted,’ admitted Patricia Hearst in her memoir Every Secret Thing. The third of five children, all daughters, Patricia was born in San Francisco on 20 February, 1954, and after a few years spent in Beverly Hills, the family returned to her hometown and settled into a luxurious Georgian-style home on West Santa Inez Avenue in the affluent suburb of Hillsborough. Built by famed architect Edward J. Tobin, the estate boasted nine bedrooms, six bathrooms, a large swimming pool, and well-maintained gardens that were a sight to behold. It was here that Patricia would spend her childhood, enjoying a life of luxury that very few get to experience. ‘When the children were small, I had nurses and a governess, but I never just turned the children over to them,’ insisted her mother, Catherine, to the Australian Women’s Weekly. ‘The help was so that I could occasionally go with my husband on trips. My family has always been everything to me. Although we have warm friends and are grateful for them, the social scene means little to us. We have always preferred to build our lives around our children.’
While she would soon become a figure of pop culture, the name Hearst was infamous long before anyone heard of Patty. Her grandfather had become the epitome of the great success story, the ultimate American dream, and it was his decadent legacy that had inspired a young Orson Welles to write and direct the seminal Citizen Kane in his honour. Yet wealth had come to their family even before he built his media empire. At the moment of his mother’s death in the spring of 1919, fifty-five-year-old William Randolph Hearst had been bequeathed a fortune in excess of $25m. It was his father who rose from humble beginnings into the first millionaire of the Hearst family. Having been raised on a small plantation in Missouri, George Hearst had worked hard on the land from a young age, often sharing the duties with the slaves that belonged to his parents, and his growing knowledge of geology prompted the local Natives to refer to him as the Boy-That-Earth-Talked-To. When his father died in 1846, he was forced to assume the responsibilities of the household, but three years later gold was discovered in California and, much like many others across the country that were desperate for a taste of wealth, he made his way out West.
Over the next ten years, George Hearst earned a respectable sum as a prospector, but his luck would change not through gold but silver, when he stumbled upon a mine close to Virginia City. ‘It was part of the Comstock Lode, a strike so rich that it started a silver rush almost as crazed as the gold rush ten years earlier,’ wrote W. A. Wanberg in his acclaimed biography Citizen Hearst. As a result, when William made his way into the world on 29 April, 1863, he entered a life of opportunity. By this point the family had settled in San Francisco, a city that was rapidly expanding due to the influence of the gold rush, and by the end of the century California had become one of the most thriving states in the country. In October 1880, due to debts owed to him by the San Francisco Examiner, a local newspaper that was founded in order to keep the public informed on the events of the Civil War, George Hearst obtained the publication. Two years later his son enrolled at Harvard, a prestigious university located more than three-thousand miles away on the East Coast in the Massachusetts city of Cambridge. But the routines of academic life soon began to bore William, with one letter to his mother declaring, ‘I am beginning to get awfully tired of this place.’ By the time he was expelled before finishing out his junior year, he had developed a taste for journalism through his association with the institution’s Lampoon magazine, and in January 1887, with George having been elected senator, he turned the newspaper over to his son.
Still in its infancy, the San Francisco Examiner occupied a small office on Montgomery Street close to the Bay, but William had dreams of launching a media empire and so was determined that his first acquisition be a success. As he began to amass a wealth of his own, Hearst sought to purchase other properties and so set his sights on the New York Morning Journal. Founded by Albert Pulitzer in 1882 and later purchased by John R. McLean, the proprietor of the Washington Post, the Journal was struggling to compete with the more popular New York Times, and so Hearst was able to obtain the newspaper at a low cost, incorporating it into Hearst Communications. But when the threat of war with Spain began to loom, Hearst saw this as an opportunity to boost the reading figures of his various media properties. Spain had been one of the first countries to colonise the Americas following its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492, but following the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Spain, Britain, and France lost their hold over the lands that they had obtained. The island of Cuba, located south of Florida, fought for freedom against their Spanish rulers, and following the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine in the Havana Harbour, the United States declared war against Spain. While he remained sympathetic to the struggles of the Cuban people, Hearst was not above fabricating fiction in order to sell newspapers, and his talent for swaying public opinion would help to expand his empire even further.
By the time that his fourth child, Randolph Apperson, was born on 2 December, 1915, Hearst was one of the most powerful men in American, and over the subsequent decade he continued to expand with the formation or purchase of other newspapers, resulting in the Washington Times and the Los Angeles Examiner earning him further riches. With his parents having left him forty-thousand acres in San Simeon, a small village located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Hearst set about building a luxurious mansion that he dubbed La Cuesta Encantada, or the Enchanted Hill. But the media dubbed this paradise the Hearst Castle, and it was here that his family would block themselves out from the world around them, until poor health forced him to abandon the estate in the late forties. Following his death in 1951 at the age of eighty-eight, Hearst opted not to pass his fortune onto his offsprings, as his mother had done to him, for fear that they would squander it through incessant parties and needless investments. Instead, he left his finances under the control under of professional managers, with his sons occupying only five of the thirteen seats on the board of trustees.
Randolph Apperson Hearst may have been born into luxury, but that did not stop him from working hard to earn the respect of his father and a place in his enterprise. Having also attended Harvard, Hearst entered the world of publishing when he worked as an assistant for the Atlanta Georgian. In December 1937, he became engaged to Catherine Wood Campbell and the two married the following year, before welcoming their first daughter in November 1939. Born in Kentucky and raised in Georgia, Campbell graduated from Washington Seminary before moving to San Francisco in the thirties. Despite having recently married, Hearst decided to serve in the U.S. Army after the United States entered the Second World War, where he rose to the rank of Captain. Following his return home, he joined the family business and eventually became the president of the San Francisco Examiner, before progressing to chairman of the Hearst Corporation. Catherine was a philanthropist, and in 1958 she was invited to join the University of California Board of Regents, a position that had previously been filled by her husband’s grandmother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst.
While Patricia and her sisters may have viewed their mother as something of a disciplinarian, as a child she was close to her father and on occasion he would take her duck hunting, during which time he taught her how to fire a shotgun. As she entered high school, her mother enrolled her at the Santa Catalina School, a private facility run by the Dominican Order in the Monterey Peninsula, located approximately a hundred miles south of her family’s home. ‘A number of friends were going there, especially my best friend, Trish Tobin, with whom I had shared my entire childhood,’ she recalled. ‘Trish – who was bright, vivacious, and independent – and I had looked forward to attending Santa Catalina together. But nothing I knew of Santa Catalina prepared me for it. The very first week, when Trish and I skipped Benediction services, we were threatened with expulsion, even though we had no idea that attendance was compulsory. Instead of expulsion, we were given loads of demerits, which had to be worked off before we would be allowed any privileges, such as going home for the weekend.’ With her parents refusing to move her to a more lenient school, Patricia was forced to endure two years of strict education, before finally moving to the Crystal Springs School for Girls for her senior year.
During her time at Santa Catalina, Hearst demonstrated her tendency to rebel against authority figures, particularly the nuns that ran the institution. ‘She was a bright child from the start,’ claimed her mother. ‘She seemed to know what she wanted to do, and I was pleased that she did.’ It was at Crystal Springs that Patricia met the man that she believed she would marry. While the majority of the faculty were closer to her parents’ age, there was one teacher, a hip twenty-something called Steven Weed, that appealed to the young girls. He taught mathematics and geometry, and outside of the classroom he held guitar tutorials. ‘I don’t think she was really interested in learning the guitar; she just wanted to hang out with one of the older teachers,’ he revealed. ‘That was the first introduction, and then she would find ways to talk to me, and then finally one day she just showed up at my house for some maths tutoring. That became a constant thing eventually.’ By the time she graduated from high school, a romance had developed between the two, and when Weed won a grant to teach at the University of California, she decided to go against her mother’s wishes and follow him to Berkeley.
The two found a respectable duplex on Benvenue Street just blocks from the university campus, with a choice of local parks where they could spend their free afternoons walking. Just a few years earlier, San Francisco had been the epicentre of the hippie counterculture, with the Haight-Ashbury district of the city attracting thousands of young men and women who felt disillusioned with the Vietnam War, political corruption, and assassinations of civil rights leaders and wanted to find an escape, where likeminded souls could gather together and reject the conformities of contemporary society. But towards the end of the decade the neighbourhood had begun to attract crime, with drug abuse and assault becoming a serious problem. Former convict Charles Manson had made his way from Terminal Island, a federal prison located close to Long Beach, Los Angeles, to Haight-Ashbury in the late sixties, and had begun to recruit young runaways with the use of psychedelic drugs and a talent for manipulating people’s insecurities. Within two years he had commanded several of his followers to commit acts of murder across the city, with pregnant actress Sharon Tate and coffee heiress Abigail Folger among their victims.
Berkeley had retained much of the counterculture element of Haight-Ashbury, and while drugs and violence were as much of a problem in this part of the city, they felt relatively safe in their new neighbourhood. ‘We lived in a two-storey townhouse,’ explained Weed. ‘There was still kind of a dicey scene in Berkeley. Petty crime was fairly rampant.’ By the beginning of 1974 their engagement was announced in the city’s paper, but on 1 February they were left unnerved by an incident in which a tall Asian woman knocked on their front door, clearly under the influence of some kind of drug, and began to inquire if an apartment was available to rent. A man remained close behind her, obscured within the shadows. Three days later their lives would change forever. Hearst arrived home from class at 4pm and decided to sleep for a while until it was time to eat. ‘Steve returned home about 6pm, which was later than usual,’ she said. ‘Because it was so late, I took a quick shower and slipped into some panties, my terry-cloth bathrobe, and alpaca slippers, and hurried down to my tiny corridor kitchen to prepare a quick, light dinner.’ As they cuddled up to watch The Illusion of the Queen’s Gambit, the latest episode The Magician, their relaxing evening was disturbed by an unexpected knock at the door.
‘I’ve just had a car accident and I need some help,’ a young woman claimed as Weed looked out at their unwelcomed visitor. ‘Can I use your phone?’ she then asked. Hearst watched nervously from the end of the hallway as her fiancé attempted to convince the stranger that he was unable to help, but suddenly the front door burst open and two men charged into the apartment, guns waving in their hands as they began to issue orders to the frightened couple. ‘It was a military manoeuvre,’ detailed Weed in his book My Search for Patty Hearst. ‘Unlike a mugging or a robbery, I had the feeling that, given the slightest excuse, they might blow our heads off. ‘Get down. Get your face on the floor!’ the first man ordered, and I got down on one knee fairly quickly, but not quickly enough. He began kicking me, knocking my glasses off. I was ducking, was jolted by a couple of blows, then went face-down in the hallway, my head towards the door, as the second man pushed Patty into the kitchen. The woman’s feet came up beside me, and I felt my hands being yanked behind my back as she wound a rope around my wrists and cinched it tight.’
While Weed was being tied up, Hearst also had her arms bound behind her back as she was ordered to keep facing down and not to look at her assailants. She soon realised, much like her partner, that this was not a simple robbery, and a moment later a rag was placed into her mouth and a blindfold across her eyes. In the darkness, she could hear Weed attempting to plead with his attacker. ‘At about that point, they started demanding, ‘Where’s the safe? Where’s the money?’’ recalled Weed in 2018. ‘I could hear Patty whimpering in the other room. I said, ‘We don’t have a safe. Take anything you want. Just leave us alone.’ Every time I’d look up, they’d kick me in the face. I do remember the woman saying, ‘They’ve seen our faces, we have to get rid of them!’ We had this $1 bottle of romance wine, and they grabbed one and started hitting me on the head with it, really hard. Even if he’s not trying to kill me he’s going to, he’s going to bash my head in. By this time my eyes were full of blood, I couldn’t see. I lurched up and started running out the front door. I just went running around the living room, yelling at the top of my lungs, knocking over furniture, knocking over plants, was banging into things; just hoping the distraction would drive them away. I opened the door, went out onto the back patio, jumped over the fence, and started banging on the neighbour’s door.’
The commotion attracted one of the neighbouring students, Steve Suenaga, but he took a viciously beaten by the more imposing of the two men. Meanwhile, Hearst found herself alone and defenceless as the other man pulled her to her feet and dragged outside. Her screams were temporarily silenced when the butt of a rifle collided with the side of her face, causing her to lose balance. The man dragged her down onto the street and to the back of a vehicle, where she attempted to make one last escape. While the other two kidnappers opened fire at an apartment house where witnesses were watching in horror, Hearst was apprehended and forced back to the car. ‘I heard another burst of rapid gunfire, and the car, with me in it, bound and blindfolded in the trunk, sped away,’ she explained. ‘Wriggling about, I was surprised at how easily the rope came away from my bound wrists, and I was able to remove my blindfold. A soft red glow of light filtered in from the taillights outside. The wires to those lights were right in front of me, and I thought of pulling them out so that, maybe, the car would be stopped by the police. But that was a zillion-to-one chance, and without the taillights I would be left in total darkness. It was cold, freezing, in there. When I least expected it the car stopped, and moments later, the trunk lid was opened and I was yanked out.’
Perhaps appropriately, it was on Friday, 13 February, 1976 that Hearst would be forced to relive this terrifying ordeal in front a courtroom filled with the jury, press, and eager spectators, where she gave a blow-by-blow account of the abduction. ‘What did he say to you?’ asked Bailey. ‘He said that they were the S.L.A., and that I was going to be held as a prisoner of war,’ she responded. ‘I’d be safe as long as their comrades were. He told me I’d be hearing a lot about prisons. He said if I made a noise they would hang me from the ceiling. He said they had cyanide bullets. They said I was bourgeois, and it didn’t matter if I got killed or not.’ Even as she conjured up memories she had attempted to repress, Hearst felt a certain animosity from the court. ‘What I recall mostly from my first day on the witness stand was the judge saying, ‘Would you speak up, Miss Hearst, so the counsel can hear you?’’ she recalled. ‘The microphone, amplifying my weak voice, was no more than an inch from my mouth.’ As the photographers and the court stenographer continued to document her testimony, Hearst thought hard about what had happened once her captors arrived at their destination.
Dragged out of the vehicle and launched to her feet, Hearst was directed through the door of a dilapidated house and around a couple of corners until she was finally brought to a standstill and forced down to her knees. Pushed into an enclosed space, she was ordered to remain gagged and blindfolded at all times. It was not long before she realised that she had been locked inside a closet. ‘I was alone there with a stale, musty odour of body sweat and filth. For all the air circulating in there, I might as well have been in an underground coffin,’ she explained. ‘Curled up, I lay there in a corner, weeping. Tears flowed of their own accord, soaking my blindfold and running down my face. I felt caged, like a wild animal, so helpless. The closet itself seemed of ordinary size, about six-feet long and a bit more than two-feet wide. It had been soundproofed with carpet and under-carpet padding, hung on all four walls from ceiling to floor, even covering the door, with just a slit for entry. The pads were very old, and worn and dirty. The closer I brought my nose to the padding, the stronger was the odour I detested. There was no escaping it. Never had I felt so helpless. Why me? I asked myself over and over again. Why me?’
Loud music began to blast through the walls, so loud that with her visual sense having been taken from her, the music and the odour were all that now existed. Every so often one of the group would check on her to make sure that she was doing as she had been instructed, but for a few hours she merely sat there waiting for her death to come. Eventually the door opened and a figure stepped forward, and immediately she recognised the voice as being the man who had beaten both Weed and Suenaga. ‘I am General Field Marshal of the Symbionese Liberation Army. My name is Cin,’ he announced. It took some time for her to recall the name, but then she remembered that there had been a shooting some months prior, and that the outfit that had claimed responsibility for this were often referred to in the press as the S.L.A. This was the same organisation that had committed cold-blooded murder, and now here she was, held hostage by these villains. ‘You are a prisoner of war of the Symbionese Liberation Army,’ the voice continued. ‘You will be held in protective custody and you will be treated according to the Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war.’ And this was how Patty Hearst first came to meet the S.L.A.
The Symbionese Liberation Army represented the court of the people, and its name, a reference to symbiosis, which National Geographic described as a ‘relationship or interaction between two dissimilar organisms,’ is emblematic of the coming together that the S.L.A. were desperate to promote. The United States during the first half the seventies was a turbulent country, with a growing distrust towards the government and one another threatening to tear the nation apart. The previous decade had seen the political assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, civil rights activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The murders committed by the Manson Family in the summer of 1969 brought an end to free love, and an alarming rise in serial killers across America left citizens feeling vulnerable in their own homes. Both Watergate, in which a sitting president was implicated in illegal activities, and Project MKUltra, a controversial programme run by the C.I.A. that was exposed to the public in 1974, only further fuelled the growing paranoia across the nation.
Once the true horror of the Manson Family had been exposed to the world, similar cults began to form around the country, causing the authorities to fear of another massacre. When preacher Jim Jones formed the Peoples Temple in the mid-fifties, he believed himself as some kind of prophet, a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and through his teachings he gradually brainwashed his followers into seeing him as their saviour. By the early seventies they had moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles, where they continued to cast their influence over the lost and disenchanted. But in 1977, they suddenly uprooted and relocated to a remote area of Guyana in South America that they christened Jonestown. It was here, on 18 November, 1978, that Jones and more than nine hundred of his followers – at least three hundred of which were children – died in the largest mass suicide in history. A decade before this, around the time that Charles Manson was recruiting members for his Family, David Berg formed the Teens for Christ in Huntington Beach, a coastal resort south of Los Angeles. Here Moses, as he often wished to be called, renamed his parish the Children of God, and over time his flock began to grow into the thousands. Like many cults, sexuality was openly explored, with incest and paedophilia believed to be in tone with the teachings of the Bible. ‘The guy running it got crazy. He sought to attract rich disciples through sex,’ revealed Arlyn Phoenix, mother of actors Joaquin and the late River Phoenix.
Distrust in authority, particularly in the wake of the Vietnam War, which had been broadcast in all its uncensored horror by media outlets for the last few years, left the youth of America unsure of their future. And as they desperately searched for meaning, it was people like Manson, Jones, and Berg who exploited this and, offering these young souls the father figure they had been searching for, were able to cast their insidious influence over them. Another such person was Cin, the self-appointed leader of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Born Donald David DeFreeze on 16 November, 1943, he was one of eight children, born to a nurse and a toolmaker, and raised in a house rife with alcoholism and violence. Being the oldest sibling, DeFreeze was often the target of abuse, and as a result he failed to attend school and soon began to attract the attention of the authorities. At the age of fourteen he ran away from home and spent time with a foster family in Buffalo, New York, where, according to a later report published by the New York Times, he joined a street gang known as the Cracked Skulls. Arrested and charged with grand larceny after he was caught breaking into a car and stealing funds from a parking meter, DeFreeze was placed in the Elmira Correctional Facility.
Upon his release he relocated to the New Jersey city of Newark and, meeting a young woman called Gloria Thomas, the two married and he became the stepfather to three children. Struggling to survive on welfare, the family moved to Los Angeles, where he occasionally found work as a labourer and cook. But his earlier criminal ways began to resurface, and in March 1965 he was arrested with a bomb, a sawed-off shotgun, and knife in his possession. Escaping a sentence with probation, DeFreeze allegedly began to work as an informant for the police in exchange for his freedom. ‘I started playing with guns, drinking, pills, but this time more than I had ever before did (sic),’ he confessed in a letter to Judge William Ritzi of the Superior Court. ‘I was arrested again, and again, for guns and bombs. I don’t really understand what I was doing. She wanted nice things, and I was working and buying and selling guns, and the next thing I knew I had become a thief.’ In December 1967, DeFreeze was arrested for the fifth time after beating and robbing a prostitute and, as claimed in an article by the Citizens’ Committee to Clean Up the Courts, he once again avoided a prison sentence by providing the police with information on the Black Panther Party.
Founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the Black Panthers emerged from Oakland in the East Bay of San Francisco, and was intended as a voice for the downtrodden African-American community who witnessed their heroes being assassinated, had struggled through mass poverty and unemployment, and were repeatedly the victims of police harassment. Its followers patrolled their neighbourhoods with firearms in order to keep their fellow citizens safe from harm, but this practice soon began to attract the attention of the authorities, who viewed them as a serious threat to public safety. ‘Contrary to misleading stories and scandalous misrepresentation, the Black Panther Party did not originate simply as an armed and violent response to police brutality and murder,’ explained writer Cornel West in the foreword to The Black Panther Party: Service to the People Programmes. ‘The Black Panther Party is not, and never has been, a group of angry young black militants full of hatred and fury towards the white establishment.’ If it is true that DeFreeze was working as an informant against the Party, this would have alienated him against his own community and, if discovered, could have resulted in violent retribution.
In November 1969, DeFreeze robbed a woman at gunpoint, and when he attempted to cash the cheque at a bank, he opened fire on the staff, resulting in a sentence at Vacaville, a prison located midway between Sacramento and San Francisco. A medical facility and correctional institution, Vacaville opened in the mid-fifties and was renowned for being the first prison hospital in the country. With many of its original inmates having been transported from Terminal Island, the prison was home to an assortment of violent offenders, while others were under the constant care of physicians and psychiatrists. With a population of a little over thirteen hundred, the facility was surrounded by two large fences that were overlooked by a guard tower. Inside the prison, the inmates were offered various programmes in which they could be educated, and in 1968 the Black Cultural Association was founded. Intended to provide ‘alternatives to the black offender in his apathy, and to deal with the unique problems that confronted him inside the prisons,’ the B.C.A., as it was often referred to, was ostensibly a social event that allowed inmates to interact with outside visitors, where they could discuss racial issues in a relatively calm and safe environment.
‘The B.C.A. was deeply into ritual ceremony – the culture of an African past. B.C.A. meetings began with a clenched-fist salute to the flag of the Republic of New Africa and a Swahili chant,’ claimed authors Vin McLellan and Paul Avery in their account The Voices of Guns. ‘Many B.C.A. members had ceremonially cast off their American slave names and taken African reborn names, often laden with symbolism and romance.’ This is how Donald DeFreeze became Cinque. He had chosen this moniker in honour of Joseph Cinqué, who had led a violent revolt against his abductors on the slave ship La Amistad, his actions eventually buying their freedom from the United States government. ‘Cinqué and his companions had wanted to return to Africa,’ wrote Howard Jones in Mutiny on the Amistad. This struggle and the subsequent legal trial became symbolic in the fight against white tyranny, and was a significant factor in America’s decision to abolish slavery. For DeFreeze, who believed that the African-American community had been oppressed by the ruling white class for too long, he felt a strong connection to Cinqué, and so adopted his name in honour of his strength.
In September 1971, the Black Cultural Association was given further credence when Colston Westbrook, lecturer at the University of California, began to organise visits from the general public, who felt both a sympathy for the black struggle and wanted to further educate themselves on civil rights issues. With over a hundred members, the group had become one of the most popular social gatherings in the prison, and in March 1972, a nineteen-year-old anthropology student called Willie Wolfe came to Vacaville. As part of his course he was studying African-American Linguistics, and with a term paper due, he decided to attend a meeting of the B.C.A. in order to gain a better perspective. ‘He rapidly became interested in the problems of the less fortunate,’ revealed his father. His parents had divorced in 1966 when Wolfe was fifteen-years-old, and they had both since remarried. He was sent away to the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. But his love of anthropology had prompted him to participate in excavations in Wyoming, and following his graduation from high school, he decided to take a gap year and visit the Arctic Circle. ‘It was only after Willie entered the University of California in 1971 that his political education began,’ wrote an article by People in 1974. ‘An instructor at the prison remembers Wolfe as ‘an average college kid, a little bit immature, who had a lot of things to learn about the world.’ Wolfe quit the university in 1972.’
Around the time that Wolfe made regular visits to Vacaville, he moved into a rundown house on Chabot Road in Oakland, a site more commonly referred to by the locals as Peking House. ‘The house operated as a kind of commune, with a shifting roster of politically-attuned residents,’ detailed Jeffrey Toobin in American Heiress. ‘He stayed on to become a tutor, and he brought his friends and roommates along with him. Wolfe’s fellow Vacaville tutors, who came to include Russ Little, Joe Remiro, Nancy Ling Perry, and Mizmoon Soltysik, went on to form the core of the S.L.A.’ Russell Little had, according to the authorities, lived under a variety of alias that included Robert James Scalise and George Devoto. He graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Philosophy, before relocating to San Francisco, where he took up residence in a house rented by Perry. A native of San Francisco, Nancy Ling Perry grew up in Santa Rosa and was a cheerleader in high school, and a straight-A student. She attended Whittier College in Los Angeles, before transferring to the University of California in 1966, where she majored in English. The following year, she married a musician called Gilbert Perry, but this would come to an end in 1973. She allegedly worked as a topless blackjack dealer, before taking a job at a fruit juice stand, donating the majority of her wages to the inmates at Vacaville.
Unlike the others who congregated at Peking House, Joseph Remiro had chosen to serve his country during the ongoing conflict with the Viet Cong in Vietnam. Born in the North Beach region of San Francisco, Remiro graduated high school in 1964 and enlisted in the United States Army two years later. After being stationed at Fort Benning on the border of Alabama and Georgia, he was dispatched to Vietnam where he served two tours with the 101st Airborne Division. ‘The infantry was black, man. It was black and Mexican,’ he later claimed. ‘Only the leadership was white. I was trained to be a switchboard operator, but I was put in the infantry because I had a Mexican name.’ The other member of Wolfe’s close circle to participate in the Black Cultural Association meetings was Patricia Soltysik. Born in Santa Barbara to a pharmacist father, Soltysik was one of seven children and, much like Wolfe, had struggled through the divorce of her parents. In 1968 she enrolled at the University of California to study French and Spanish, but eventually dropped out and found work as a janitor. It was here that she was introduced to the teachings at Vacaville. ‘She’s a gentle person, except for her political rhetoric. That’s violent,’ revealed one of her brothers to the New York Times. ‘She has an unrealistic vision of life. She lived in Berkeley because it was an ideological ghetto, and it gave her the support she thought she needed.’
On 11 December, 1972, DeFreeze was transferred to Soledad Prison, a facility located in the Salinas Valley on Route 101, close to the city that bore its name. First opening its doors in 1946, as an attempt to ease the dangerous overcrowding of San Quentin State Prison, it gained notoriety in January 1970 when one of its guards, twenty-six-year-old John Mills, was beaten to death just days after three prisoners were shot during a fight. As a result, hundreds of the black inmates went on hunger strike in protest, insisting that the authorities investigate the incident. An article published the following October cited that a rebellion was growing within the population, and that the political ramifications from their hostile treatment was provoking sympathy from groups outside the prison walls. Two months earlier, there had been an incident at a courthouse where a judge and three members of the public had been gunned down, and the slogan power to the people was starting to resonate among those who felt abused by the system. But there was one incident in particular that signalled the birth of a revolution in Soledad.
‘The first time I was in prison, it was just like dying. Just to exist at all calls for some very heavy psychic adjustment,’ wrote George Jackson in a letter that was published in his bestseller Blood in My Eye. ‘Being captured was the first of my fears. It might have been an acquired characteristic built up over centuries of black bondage.’ Jackson was eighteen-years-old when he was arrested for stealing $70 from a Los Angeles gas station and, after being advised by his lawyer to plead guilty, was sentenced to one-year-to-life. Spending much of his time in solitary confinement, Jackson became immersed in the writings of German philosopher Karl Marx, and along with several other inmates, used the teachings of Marxism to find an inner strength that would help them survive a life of incarceration. According to many sources, the prison officials saw Jackson as a threat, and when punishment had failed to silence him, they used other inmates to attempt to murder him. When a fight broke out in the exercise yard, a guard from the tower opened fire and killed three black prisoners. This was ruled as justifiable homicide, and as a result the body of Mills was found a few days later. Three inmates were charged with murder, Jackson being among them.
His younger brother, Jonathan, had considerable knowledge on guerrilla warfare, and feeling angry and betrayed by the treatment of his sibling at the hands of the authorities, he entered a courthouse in San Rafael, a city northwest of the Bay Area, and attempted to free the three convicted inmates. Five hostages were taken as Jonathan attempted to lead his brother to safety, but by the end of the failed effort Jonathan Jackson and three others were killed by police during their getaway. On 21 August, 1971, George Jackson revealed a gun that, according to a 1985 news story by The Day, was smuggled to him by an associate called Stephen Mitchell Bingham, and attempted to orchestrate a prison break. ‘Prison officials said Sunday they still were not sure exactly what happened during the fifteen minutes from the time Jackson produced the pistol Saturday, until the thirty-year-old convict was shot dead in the prison yard,’ reported the Bangor Daily News. ‘The bodies of the other victims – three guards and two white convicts – were found with their throats slit in or near Jackson’s cell.’
When DeFreeze arrived at Soledad the following year, the death of George Jackson still hung heavily on the hearts of many inmates, and the racial tension between the black prisoners and white guards was close to breaking point. Due to his behaviour and studies at Vacaville, DeFreeze was given a certain amount of leniency at this new facility, and was allowed the opportunity to work off-site at a training facility. Less than three months into his stay, he saw an opportunity to escape and made his way southwest to San Francisco. During his time at Vacaville he had become close to many of the tutors that participated in the Black Cultural Association, and so with no clear destination in mind he decided to visit Wolfe and his friends at Peking House. Desperate to find safe refuge, Russ Little suggested that he contact Patricia Soltysik, and before long DeFreeze had taken up lodgings with his new friend. Soltysik had recently split from her girlfriend, Camilla Hall, and so DeFreeze saw this as an opportunity to climb into her bed. As other members of Peking House were drawn into his circle, monogamy was soon forgotten in favour of the free love that the hippies had so openly celebrated just a few years earlier, and as the summer of 1973 approached, a strong bond was forming between DeFreeze, Soltysik, and Ling. And as the group began to talk about their desire for a revolution, they soon came to realise that the only way they could change the world was with affirmative action.
By the start of the seventies there was a growing concern regarding violence in schools and the safety of the American children. In January 1969, two students with ties to the Black Panther Party were shot at the University of California, Los Angeles, and all across the country there had been countless cases of murder, assault, and hostage-taking. The chief administrator in Oakland was a fifty-year-old African-American called Marcus Foster and he faced a difficult decision: should he embrace public and political opinion by imposing stricter security measures in the city’s high schools, or should he bow down to the accusations of fascism from activists for punishing the students, instead of acknowledging the failure of the public school system. ‘On the one side, a number of East Bay political leaders, educators, and citizens responded to the wave of school violence and vandalism by demanding a stronger showing of law and order,’ reiterated John P. Spencer in In the Crossfire. ‘On the other side, the Black Panther Party and other activists portrayed students as victims of a racist school system and society. Vera Silverman, a radical, black activist with a sixteen-year-old daughter in the Oakland schools, was furious when she heard talk about new security proposals, and she made up a flier on behalf of a group called the Coalition to Save our Schools (C.S.O.S.), that urged people to attend the 9 October school board meeting in protest.’
Foster had struggled through poverty as a young boy in the slums of Philadelphia, and despite his rebellious nature he graduated high school in 1941 and won a scholarship to Cheyney State College. From there he gained a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and it was at this moment that he began his career in education. In 1970, he was approached by the school board of Oakland and offered the position of superintendent. Determined to make a positive difference, he handpicked his deputy, Robert Blackburn, and set about proposing changes to the security measures that the schools had in place to protect their children. But the Black Panther Party were not the only radical group that had singled out Foster for his role in this action, as Donald DeFreeze had begun to compile a list of political assassinations that he intended the Symbionese Liberation Army to carry out. At this point, the S.L.A. consisted of DeFreeze, Patricia Soltysik, and Nancy Ling Perry. And much like how DeFreeze had adopted Cinque as his revolutionary name, so too would Soltysik and Perry, rechristening themselves Mizmoon or Zoya, and Fahizah, respectively.
Shortly after 7pm on 6 November, 1973, Foster and Blackburn left a school board meeting and made their way across the car park of the school to their vehicle. The day had escaped them and the darkness of the evening was starting to approach, but in the shadows ahead they noticed three figures skulking in a way that aroused suspicion in them both. Suddenly Perry stepped forward and raised her handgun, opening fire and striking Foster in the leg with the second shot. Then DeFreeze emerged and pulled the trigger of his shotgun, hitting Blackburn in the back but miraculously he remained standing. The last to appear was Soltysik, who calmly approached Foster as she emptied her revolver, striking him repeatedly. With one last shot, she stood over her victim and shot him in the back. Blackburn would survive, but Foster was dead moments later. In a sicking twist, it was revealed a few days later that the bullets used in the assassination were coated with cyanide, a fast-acting compound that causes seizures and cardiac arrest. The world would first hear of the Symbionese Liberation Army two days after the murder of Foster when the group took responsibility for his death. ‘This attack is to serve notice on the Fascist Board of Education, and its Fascist supporters, that the court of the people have issued a death warrant,’ exclaimed the communiqué. ‘This on-sight order will stay in effect until such time as all political police are removed from our schools, and all photos and other forms of identification are stopped.’
They had announced themselves to the world and now they were ready to start a revolution, but their numbers were merely three-strong. However, there were three other lost souls that were soon to make their way into DeFreeze’s life, and when that moment came, this would mark the birth of the S.L.A. As she later recalled under oath to her defence attorney, the individual that had grabbed Hearst as she screamed and carried her semi-naked from her apartment to the getaway car was later revealed to be William Harris. Known to his fellow members of the Symbionese Army as Teko, Harris was, much like Remiro, a veteran of the Vietnam War. Following his graduation from high school in 1963, Harris enlisted in the American Army and was shipped out to Vietnam, where he witnessed the extreme violence that man is capable of for the first time. ‘Vietnam totally flipped my perspective,’ he later revealed. ‘My first day in Vietnam, I had to witness the torture of a Vietnamese prisoner. When you get into that level of conflict, it’s really hard to adjust coming back home. Really, Vietnam was the precursor to the S.L.A.’ When he finally returned home, he had no interest in the politics that many other youths were embracing and so decided to enrol at Indiana University. It was during his time there that he met two people that would change his life. On campus he had grown close to a sorority girl called Emily Schwartz and the two soon became romantically involved, eventually marrying in 1971. Schwartz was the daughter of an engineer and had moved from Maryland shortly after her birth to Illinois, where she spent most of her childhood.
Having signed up to the theatre programme, Harris became friends with a fellow student called Angela Atwood. ‘She always had ideas influenced by modern feminist thinking, and she went through dramatic changes during the same period,’ said Harris. Atwood had moved from her hometown of Newark, the same city where DeFreeze had met his wife, to Bloomington, Indiana, where she had hoped to develop her acting talents. Her maternal instincts had come into play following the death of her mother when she was fourteen, forcing Atwood to help raise her younger siblings, and she would show her caring side once again after the kidnapping of Hearst, as she attempted to calm their prisoner and educate her in their doctrine. ‘It was the girl with the giggly voice, the one who had pointed the automatic pistol at me, who explained the situation to me,’ recalled Hearst. ‘She promised that she would tell me a lot about prisons because the S.L.A. had been involved with visiting and helping prison inmates over a long period of time. According to her, most prisoners were beautiful people, oppressed poor people forced into a life of crime by the Capitalist system and then thrown into prison, where they were beaten and tortured, and kept in solitary confinement in order to prevent them from starting a revolution.’
After she married fellow theatre student Gary Atwood, the couple relocated from Indiana to Berkely and, desperate for a new life, Bill Harris and his own wife soon followed. It would not take long before they became engrossed in the counterculture of San Francisco. ‘It was as close to a revolutionary situation in some people’s minds as we’d ever had. Once you get beaten up a few times by the cops when you protest, you have to make a choice between turning the other cheek, or do something more extraordinary in reaction to the violence of the state,’ claimed Harris in the documentary The Radical Story of Patty Hearst. ‘The three of us were interested in getting deeply involved in things. We didn’t really know anybody to hook up with until I met Joe Remiro. Joe invited me to a community meeting, and it was at this meeting that I met another future comrade, Russ Little. We started planning for the future. We’re going to catch people’s attention because we’re going to do something audacious.’ But Atwood’s marriage would begin to crumble and once her husband had disappeared from her life, she found work at a restaurant where she worked with one of her close friends, Kathy Soliah.
With Harris’ military background and their growing interest in politics and the revolution, the three were approached by associates of Remiro, who wanted them to join their organisation. ‘Emily, I, and Angela were taken to a location with hoods put over our heads. We were led into a van, and we were transported to a place; we didn’t know where we were,’ explained Harris. ‘Emily, Angela, and I were just trying to understand what was going on, and to listen to what they had to say. Because of the nature of the Foster assassination, I was prepared to possibly not be impressed. Joe and Russ were not happy with that particular operation. I think they were troubled by it enough to talk to Emily, me, and Angela about hooking up with them and separating off into a separate cell. It was my intention, always. A combination of impatience, despair, the real malaise of my own existence, and the ineffectualness of the left, was what caused me to make this decision. We’re about the beginning of January of 1974 when we finally come to that decision. 10 January, 1974 literally changed my whole life and all of my plans.’
Sergeant David Duge was driving through the streets of Concord in the Contra Costa County region of San Francisco in the early morning hours, cruising in his unmarked car as he went about his routine patrol. As he turned onto a residential road, he noticed a Chevrolet van parked among a number of other vehicles that for some reason struck him as suspicious. A black curtain was draped over the back window to hide the contents and the two occupants shifted nervously as he drove by. Pulling up to the side of the road, Duge made his way to the side of the van and knocked on the glass, gesturing for them to roll down the window. He asked what their business was for being out in this neighbourhood at such an early hour, and the driver responded that they were trying to find a friend’s house who lived on Sutherland Court, but they had gotten themselves lost. Requesting identification from both individuals, the driver presented a licence for Robert James Scalise, an alias of Russell Little, while the passenger produced documents that revealed him to be Joseph Remiro. Having called in both names to dispatch and receiving no warrants in response, Duge returned to the van but was not satisfied with the responses he had been given, eventually instructing them to step out of the vehicle. As he went to frisk the passenger, Remiro went for his pistol, and so Duge rushed back to his cruiser to retrieve a weapon of his own. Remiro opened fire and Duge returned the shots, by which point Little had restarted the van and the two left the scene as fast as possible.
But once again becoming lost in the maze of identical roads, Little soon found himself on the same street, and so a quick-thinking Duge pulled his car out and ordered them to step slowly out of the van. Soon afterwards back-up arrived and one of his colleagues, Office Bruce Brucker, began to search the vehicle. ‘I observed a pistol laying on the engine cover, which is between the two front seats of the vehicle,’ he would later explain. As he opened up the back of the van he found 9mm rifle, but what was more surprising was the stack of fliers that he discovered, the symbol of a cobra proudly dominating the page. ‘I observed a rather unusual drawing,’ he continued. ‘Then I saw printed on top of this, Symbionese Liberation Army.’ It had been two months since the murder of Marcus Foster and the San Francisco Police Department had been unable to unearth any significant leads on the organisation that had claimed responsibility for the act. Until now. Little was placed under arrest and Remiro was apprehended soon afterwards, having fled from the scene the moment Duge had stopped their van. Just a few blocks away, on Sutherland Court, news soon reached the other members that Little and Remiro were in police custody, and so DeFreeze ordered that they abandon their safehouse immediately.
But first Perry had an idea. She purchased gasoline and poured gunpowder throughout the house, then set a fuse with the intention of burning the building and all its contents to the ground. However, with no windows open there was no oxygen to fuel the flames, and before long the police had found a hive of evidence relating to the mysterious outfit that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. Among the items found were firearms and ammunition, Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, several communiqués addressed from the S.L.A., one of which had already been received by the media in relation to the murder of Foster, a detailed outline of how his murder would be carried out, cyanide bullets, and fingerprints of DeFreeze, Perry, and Soltysik. The final piece of the puzzle came with the van itself, which was registered to N. G. Ling, Perry’s maiden name. Now the police knew the identity of not only Little and Remiro, but also their three accomplices, and in just a few hours it seemed that the S.L.A. had been brought to its knees. Having relocated to a new refuge on Northridge Drive in Daly City, almost twenty miles southwest of Oakland, DeFreeze was furious as to the turn of events, and with the S.L.A. now including Bill and Emily Harris, Atwood, Wolfe, and Soltysik’s on-off girlfriend, Camilla Hall, they set their sights on following the Foster murder with something even more significant.
Even from the early days of the S.L.A. it was clear that Donald DeFreeze was impulsive, volatile, and could not be trusted. He had previously turned on Thero Wheeler, an ex-convict that he had known during his time at Vacaville, and who had regularly attended meetings of the Black Cultural Association. DeFreeze attempted to recruit him by writing a threatening letter to the author of an article that Wheeler had taken offence to, but when he had denied the opportunity to join the S.L.A., DeFreeze stole $600 from Wheeler’s girlfriend, Mary Alice Siem. As a result, Wheeler moved back to his hometown of Houston, Texas, and started a new life under the assumed identity of Bradley Bruce. Wheeler’s brief interaction with the S.L.A. would come back to haunt him following the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. ‘When people were reporting that I kidnapped Patricia Hearst, I was in Houston rewinding a 75-horsepower electric motor,’ he insisted. ‘They had my picture on the front page of the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle. I went home from work and stayed in the house. For about three weeks, I drove my car straight home from work, then I started going back out.’
One member of the S.L.A. who would turn her back on her comrades and emigrate to England when she felt that the group were becoming dangerous was Robyn Sue Steiner. In an article published by the New York Times on 23 February, 1974, almost three weeks after the abduction of Hearst, the newspaper revealed that Steiner was one of several individuals that the authorities were searching for in relation to the S.L.A.’s latest crime, and in an interview with an English magazine five years later, she confessed that she was the one who had stolen the cyanide that was used in the Foster assassination. Steiner’s decision to finally speak up was in defence of Little, who was one of two that were convicted of the murder of Foster, but in fact were not involved the incident. ‘Cinque was terribly excited and said, ‘Foster was shot several times. It was wild. We knew we’d killed hm. We’ve proven ourselves. I fired first with the sawed-off shotgun,’ she said. ‘Nancy and Mizmoon followed up immediately, ‘I know I hit him. Killed him! It was my fire. I know we’ve agreed nobody would take sole responsibility, but I’ve no doubts I killed that pig.’
In the days following her kidnapping, after DeFreeze had laid out that she was a political prisoner and would be held in accordance with the Geneva Convention, Hearst would hear from Atwood about how desperate they were to try and rescue Little and Remiro from the authorities, and how in part her abduction could be used as a bargaining chip in order to secure their freedom. ‘She went on to say blithely that their two comrades, Joe Remiro and Russ Little, who she called Bo and Osceola, had been arrested for the murder of Marcus Foster, even though they were not guilty of shooting Foster and his assistant, Robert Blackburn,’ recalled Hearst. ‘Bo and Osi had only been on the backup team when the two educators had been shot. And every day poor Bo and Osi were being beaten and tortured. But they were true revolutionaries and they would not kowtow to the pigs, nor would they confess, nor would they ever compromise their brothers and sisters in the S.L.A. She went on and on about Bo and Osi. How good, how loving, and how caring they were, and how committed the S.L.A. was to the need for winning the freedom of their two captured comrades.’
Paul Fischer made his way down the stairs of K.P.F.A. to the awaiting mob of photographers and journalists. It was almost 10am as he inserted the key into the lock and promptly stepped aside to allow the rush to safely pass. Each writer had their notepad and pencil poised in their hands, while their photographers looked through their viewfinders as they adjusted the focus of their cameras, ready to catch the historic moment in Polaroid. Gathered together like flock in a small room on the second floor of the Berkeley offices, they prepared for further details of an exclusive story that was about to announce. They had received a package that was addressed from the Symbionese Liberation Army, which included their latest communiqué regarding the fate of Patricia Hearst. It had been a week since her abduction, and the American public waited with bated breath for information on whether or not she was still alive. Fischer entered the room and waited for the rabble to calm down, and then moments after a button was pressed on a cassette recorder, the tired voice of Patty crept through the speakers. ‘Mom, Dad, I’m okay,’ she announced, and with that the entire room breathed a sigh of relief. She may one day be considered a fugitive, a spoilt rich girl playing bandit, but on this cold Monday morning she was an innocent victim.
The tape had been recorded three days earlier, and upon delivery the accompanying literature instructed the radio station to broadcast the recording in full. The recording had taken place in the closet that Hearst would call home for the next month, with DeFreeze sat opposite the blindfolded woman, one day after finally allowing his captive to take a bath under armed supervision. Accompanying Hearst’s statement was a manifesto of sorts courtesy of DeFreeze, once again identifying himself as Cin, General Field Marshal of the Symbionese Army. ‘Today I have received an order from the Symbionese War Council, the court of the people, to the effect that I am ordered to convey the following message on behalf of the S.L.A., and to insert a taped word of comfort and verification that Patricia Campbell Hearst is alive and safe,’ he declared. His speech was entirely fictitious, as the S.L.A. had no war council and at that time merely numbered ten, two of which were in federal custody. But this manipulation was a ploy to convince the powers-that-be that the S.L.A. was an army far more powerful than they could imagine, and thus a force to be reckoned with.
Throughout his declaration, DeFreeze laid out in detail the goals and philosophies of his organisation, the fascism of the media and the Hearst Corporation’s role in that, and the part that her mother had played as a member of the University of California Board of Regents in making investments with conglomerates that represented the very worst that Capitalism has to offer. But the main purpose of this communiqué was to convey to the world that Hearst was still alive. ‘I’m kept blindfolded usually, so that I can’t identify anyone. My hands are often tied, but generally they’re not. I’m not gagged or anything; I’m comfortable, and I think you can tell that I’m not really terrified or anything, and I’m okay,’ she continued as the press gathered in the KPFA studio hastily took notes. ‘I was very upset to hear about the police rushing in on that house in Oakland, and I was just really glad that I wasn’t there. And I would appreciate if everyone would just calm down and not try to find me, and not try to make identifications, because they’re not only endangering me but they’re endangering themselves. I’m with a combat unit that’s armed with automatic weapons, and there’s also a medical team here, and there’s no way that I will be released until they let me go. So it wouldn’t do any good for somebody to come in here and try to get me out by force.’
There would be some debate following the release of the tape as to how much of the statement was written for Hearst, and how much was given in sincerity. During the trial, Hearst would reveal that the majority of the statements were written either in whole or in part by Angela Atwood, but the experience of sitting in a confined space with a man she had grown to both fear and hate almost sickened her. ‘The first part of the tape went simply enough. I could understand what Cinque was trying to get across and put into words. But, as we went on, it became more and more difficult for me,’ she admitted in her memoir. ‘I had to exert all of my determination to keep from breaking down and crying as I told lie after lie about how well I was being treated, and especially when I expressed the hope of getting back to my family and to Steve. The truth was I was so scared, but still resented that I was being used to disseminate their lies. My voice faltered from time to time. I hardly knew what I was saying when Cinque had me talk of the Marcus Foster killing and the various ideological links of the S.L.A. There I had to stop the machine in mid-sentence to find out what to say next. But I was desperate to get home and I did stumble my way through it, with many hesitations, saving my tears until I had completed the tape.’
The first time that she had been forced by her attorney to take the stand before a courtroom of cynical faces, Patricia Hearst was questioned regarding the recording of the tape. She remembered every frightened moment, every undignified action, and every instance when she was made to feel worthless. The imposing man had sat across from her, but she had been unable to see him from behind the blindfold. Instead, she had heard his booming voice and felt his cold touch. After she revealed that he had criticised her for the way that she had read her lines for the tape recorder, she claimed he had pinched her breasts as punishment, as well as further down her body. ‘Your private parts?’ defence attorney F. Lee Bailey had probed. She nodded, barely able to hold back the tears. As a silence washed over the court, Bailey’s associate, J. Albert Johnson, seized the moment and loudly declared, ‘He didn’t just pinch her. He lifted her up off the floor by her nipples!’ Her humiliation at the hands of Donald DeFreeze was exposed to the prosecution, to the judge, and to the jury, and as she was forced to experience it once again, she sank further into her chair, both ashamed and embarrassed by events that had been out of her control.
Hearst concluded the tape with something that had clearly been dictated by the S.L.A., and was their primary motive for her abduction, which was to bring to light the fact that the two men that the police had in custody for the murder of Marcus Foster – Russell Little and Joseph Remiro – were clearly innocent of the crime. ‘Witnesses to the shooting of Foster saw black men, and two white men have been arrested for that,’ she explained. ‘You’re being told this so you’ll understand why I was kidnapped. And so that you’ll understand that whatever happens to the two prisoners is going to happen to me. You have to understand that I am held being innocent, the same way that the two men in San Quentin are innocent, and they are simply members of the group and have not actually done anything themselves to warrant their arrest.’ The recording finally came to an end and there was a moment of silence as everyone in the studio processed what that they had just heard, before they scrambled for the door and made their way back to their pressrooms. Once again the KPFA was empty and Paul Fischer let out a long sigh of relief, as a sly smile crept across his face.
Once the tape had been broadcast by the radio station, all eyes then turned to Randolph Apperson Hearst as the press awaited his response. Both Randolph and Catherine were grateful to hear their daughter’s voice, and thankful that she was still alive, but they understandably feared for her safety and knew that the only way that they could contact her captors was through the media. ‘The important thing for us is that Patty is safe,’ he announced from the door of his Hillsborough mansion, to the sea of reporters that had camped out in the street beyond the purview of their security gate. In response to questions from reporters regarding Patricia’s comment about the raid on the Oakland safehouse, he added, ‘I’d like to assure these people that nobody’s going to go rushing up to some house and start shooting – and I have been assured by the F.B.I. that their first concern is for Patricia’s safety.’ Yet despite the words of confidence that he exuded in public, behind closed doors Randolph feared the worst. It had been less than five years since the Manson Family butchered a pregnant woman and her friends in Los Angeles, and the Symbionese Liberation Army had already taken one life in the name of the people, so he was all too aware of how easily these negotiations could end in bloodshed.
Five days after the release of the S.L.A. tape, Reverend Cecil Williams paced the floor of Room 750 of the Hilton Hotel, glancing across at his two associates as he awaited the arrival of the F.B.I. He was not in the habit of contacting government officials, but he had received a phone call earlier that morning from an anonymous source that advised of a locker key that was allegedly taped underneath the metal desk of a telephone booth. He had been reluctant to entertain what could very well have been a prank phone call, but curiosity soon got the better of him and so he made his way across town to the hotel to see for himself. And sure enough there was the key. He had been advised that this would open a locker, and within was an envelope containing information relevant to the S.L.A. and, more importantly, Patty Hearst. Eventually there was a knock at the door and two FBI agents entered the room, having been sent under the orders of Thomas P. Druken, the assistant special agent in charge of the case. Druken reported to Charles Bates, the man the bureau had placed in charge of the investigation, and had been informed of Williams’ mysterious call and the key that he had discovered. Williams passed over the envelope to the agents and its contents, located at the Greyhound Bus depot, was obtained and analysed.
Cecil Williams was a respected figure in the community and one that the Symbionese Liberation Army clearly felt they could trust in delivering their message. He had given some consideration to contacting Heart’s father directly, but had finally decided to follow the instructions laid out and turn it over to the F.B.I. Born in the city of San Angelo, Texas, Williams gained considerable respect from both the black and white citizens of his neighbourhood and, repeatedly told by his mother that he would become something special, dedicated his life to bringing people together through religion. In 1963, he walked through the doors of the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco which, perhaps ironically, had been constructed during the year of his birth. An activist and a humanitarian, Williams embraced all walks of life and welcomed everyone into his church, and despite Patty Hearst’s claims that DeFreeze dismissed him as a fool, on 16 February, 1974, the S.L.A. decided that Williams could be the perfect instrument in which to distribute their latest communiqué to the fascist government.
‘The police and the F.B.I. had thrown everything into the hunt, only to come up embarrassingly empty. The Symbionese Liberation Army was close at hand, perhaps as near as around the corner,’ he later recalled in his memoir I’m Alive: An Autobiography. ‘I felt their desperate madness, the romance in the stilted military language of their communiqués (the word communiqué itself bearing witness), their naked wish for death. More than that, though, I felt something of their lives, the rightness of what they claimed they wanted. And the lie their wishes had become.’ Later that afternoon, the reverend’s secretary presented a cassette tape that was found in a locker at the airport bus terminal, and on the front of the Manilla envelope bore the address of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, San Francisco, California. Why the S.L.A. chose to be so cryptic in their delivery of the letter and tape was a mystery. Perhaps they wanted to play games with both Williams and the F.B.I., or maybe it was merely a way to make their outfit look more organised and intelligent than it really was, but once the FBI had both in their position they heard the latest demands of the Symbionese Liberation Army.
In the written instructions that had accompanied the first Hearst tape, the S.L.A. had declared that they wanted her father to provide $70 worth of meat, dairy, and vegetables to any citizen that claimed welfare, a pension, food stamps, or disability benefits. ‘We have heard it said that Mr. Hearst wants to save his daughter. We want to save all the children and people,’ they had insisted. ‘On each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for four successive weeks, each person with one of the listed cards can go to publicised stores and pick up their food.’ It was a heartfelt gesture that made the organisation seem less like petty criminals attempting to extort a millionaire and more like revolutionaries, akin to Robin Hood, who were determined to feed those less fortunate. ‘It occurred to me that the S.L.A. wanted the publicity as much as they wanted the food programme,’ confessed Patty Hearst. ‘With me in their clutches, the S.L.A. was now famous, a household word. Cin came to believe he was all-powerful, and his followers, all seven of them, lived in the same fantasy world. They were following their leader to glory or to death. They had said as much to me in a variety of ways.’
While it may have seemed like an ambitious concept for a relatively small unit such as the S.L.A., the concept of a food programme had been attempted many times before. ‘From 1966 on, the poorer areas of San Francisco and Oakland had become used to invasions of assorted liberal groups, yippies, hippies, and street people vying with each other to run free food centres, free clothes stores, free clinics,’ detailed David Boulton in his 1975 account The Making of Tania: The Patty Hearst Story. ‘After 1968, the Black Panthers themselves turned to a similar strategy in black areas, seeking both to expand their popular base and to create a revolutionary consciousness in their followers. What was new about the S.L.A. demands was its colossal scale and, of course, the means by which the programme was to be financed. What the S.L.A. described as ‘a symbolic gesture of good faith’ was required to take the form of a free gift of $70-worth of ‘top quality meats, vegetables, and dairy products’ to all people with welfare cards, social security pension cards, food stamp cards, disabled veteran cards, medical cards, parole or probation papers, and jail or bail release slips.’
Yet DeFreeze and his associates had clearly misunderstood the financial dealings of the Hearst Corporation, and the personal assets that Randolph Apperson Hearst had at his disposal. For if he was to donate $70 to each individual who would qualify, as laid out in their demands, then this would cost Hearst upwards of $400m. He was clearly one of the wealthiest men in America, but most of that was tied up in the company and was not something that he could merely withdraw from the bank. ‘The latest demand from the S.L.A. is far beyond my financial capability,’ he announced to the world. A few days later, Williams and his secretary both received ominous phone calls from soldiers of the Symbionese Liberation Army, informing them of another letter and tape in response to Heart’s declaration. ‘They understand that you want to meet their demands,’ Patty responded. ‘They weren’t trying to present an unreasonable request. It was never intended that you feed the whole state. So whatever you come up with basically is okay. Just do it as fast as you can, and everything will be fine.’ As a counter-offer, Hearst announced that he would carry out a food distribution programme at a cost of $2m, with $500,000 from his personal wealth and the remaining $1.5m from the Hearst Foundation. ‘The board of directors of the foundation voted to contribute that amount after members of the Hearst family had disqualified themselves from the voting, Hearst said,’ reported the Michigan Daily.
Despite Patty Hearst having claimed that the S.L.A. would be reasonable in their expectations of her father, she later revealed that this was not the case. ‘The United Symbionese War Council rejected my father’s $2m food programme as inadequate,’ she wrote. ‘‘Crumbs!’ shouted Cinque. ‘Only crumbs for the people!’ The War Council had seen through the Capitalist plot hatched by my father, said Cin. He was only interested in buying back one of his possessions – me. The S.L.A. was not interested in me – they wanted food for the people. So the S.L.A. was going to send one last message back to my father, and that would decide my fate: he must add another $4m to the $2m he had promised. The food must be distributed not over a year’s time, but all in one month. They worked all that day and well into the next, preparing this final message for my father.’ In his supposedly last communiqué to both Hearst and the F.B.I., DeFreeze referred to the oppressor and the murderer, and then declared, ‘Now we are the hunters that will give you no rest. And we will not compromise the freedom of our children. Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people.’ But Hearst did not have a further $4m at his disposal, so his only option was to forge ahead with his original proposal and hope that the S.L.A. would see this as a show of good faith, and thus enough of a reason to release his daughter.
With Hearst having no idea of how he would organise such a programme, he turned to Ludlow Kramer. Born in Manhattan, New York during the Great Depression, Kramer served in the Air Force and initially pursued a career in banking. He was first elected as secretary of state at the age of just thirty-two, and with the sixties bringing such divisive issues as civil rights and the Vietnam War, Kramer was an advocate for humanitarianism, and eventually resigned from his position shortly after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst to create the Ludlow Foundation. He had previously run a food programme in the state of Washington which had proved to be a success, and so Randolph Apperson Hearst hoped that he could work his magic once again. The operation, which they had dubbed People in Need (P.I.N.), called upon volunteers to help with the organisation, distribution, and bookkeeping, with the endgame being the release of Hearst from the custody of the S.L.A. Much like with everything else that surrounded the case, P.I.N. attracted the attention of those desperate for media attention, petty criminals, and riots, and from the very first day the programme proved to be an unmitigated disaster. ‘At the Hunters Point location in San Francisco, an unruly mob refused to participate in the orderly distribution of the food,’ wrote author Geri Spieler in Taking Aim at the President. ‘They rushed P.I.N. volunteers, pushing and tripping each other in order to seize their share of a hundred-and-fifty-thousand pounds of fish, and eight-hundred-and twenty cases of eggs. Reports of mishaps, poor communication, violent outbursts, and missing food came in daily.’
The S.L.A. wanted to create something that would bring the people together, but the hostility that was on display through the P.I.N. debacle achieved the opposite. Donald DeFreeze was furious at the disaster that had unfolded, and Randolph Apperson Hearst was frustrated at how he had failed to meet the demands of the men and women holding his daughter hostage. ‘They’d designated Glide as one of the community groups to oversee the free food programme that was supposed to ransom Patty Hearst,’ explained Williams. ‘And they’d designated me an unofficial intermediary, simply by sending me a taped message. I was more than willing to ferret through their many obfuscations to reach what truths they espoused, and I didn’t want to see any of them die. The issues they raised made them more than a gang of sorry desperadoes to me. Hearst and the S.L.A. Both of them were pressure. One had requested, the other had designated. I was in the middle, with, one might think, no decisions of my own to make. I felt jammed inside a dilemma of someone else’s construction.’ The failure of P.I.N. would continue to haunt the Hearsts for years to come, as even while Patricia sat in court on one Friday the 13th in February 1976, her father’s lawyer informed him that yet another lawsuit had been levelled at their corporation.
The $2m allocated to People in Need finally came to an end on 26 March, 1974, seven weeks after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and more than a month after the S.L.A. had issued the demand that her father donate $70 to each individual that struggled to put food on their plate. ‘We have done those things that we said we would do, and now I think we’re down to the actual negotiations for Patty’s release,’ said a hopeful Kramer. But the programme came and went and Hearst patiently waited for an update on his daughter. By this time, Patty had become familiar with her captors, viewing Atwood as the heart of the group, Wolfe as the soul, Emily Harris as the bully, Soltysik as the aggressor, Bill Harris as the militant, and DeFreeze as the unpredictable leader. Yet there was still a barrier between them; she believed they were insane, and they believed her to be irrelevant. ‘My values, to them, were bourgeois bullshit,’ she said. ‘My relationship with Steven Weed had been bourgeois and sexist. He had been using me, exploiting me, they said. The enjoyment I felt in cooking and baking was bourgeois and sexist. Engagement rings were ostentatious and a symbol of male proprietorship. Marriage was strictly a middle-class institution, enslavement of women. Monogamy was typical bourgeois mentality, denying freedom to men and women. Every bit of my relationship with Steve, in their eyes, had been bourgeois, reactionary, and beneath contempt.’
The last time that Patty Hearst laid eyes on Steven Weed was moments before Bill Harris wrapped a blindfold around her head, but she had heard the commotion as he ran desperately from the apartment. The ruckus caused by her attackers had attracted the attention of one neighbour, whose intervention resulted in a severe beating, and this had prompted Weed to try and escape into the cool evening hair, where hopefully a passer-by or a passing patrol car could come to their rescue. ‘DeFreeze had let go another burst of gunfire at three students who had run out of the porch of the Reagans’ house next door, and the car had screeched out of our driveway onto Benvenue, turning right once again on Parker,’ he recalled of that moment when she was taken from him. ‘I did not hear any of the shots, but was dimly aware of the rush of cars as I came running out of the alley on Parker. There was a darkened house to my right and I stumbled up the stairs, and started pounding on the door. ‘Call the police!’ I kept yelling. It was horribly frustrating because I knew I was terrifying the people inside. I kept pounding on the door, heard the squeal of brakes, and turned to see a squad car roaring past me up Parker. I watched it, then half fell back down the stairs and ran around the corner to Benvenue.’
How would one act if a trio of intruders broke through our front door and proceeded to beat both ourselves and our loved ones? Would we jump into action as is often portrayed in the movies, laying our life on the line in order to play the hero, refusing to back down in order to save the person that means the most to us in the world? Or would we do what Steven Weed did and run for our life? Would we run hopelessly into traffic, bang on strangers’ doors, and scream for help when we know it is likely that no one will come to our rescue? It is difficult to know unless we are ever placed in such a situation, but Weed had heard Atwood protest that they had both seen the faces of the three and so they should ‘get rid of them,’ and moments later DeFreeze had fired upon their neighbours. He had no idea how events would play out, that this was an abduction and that only Hearst was the target. Instead, in that moment he believed both of their lives were about to come to an end, and so in one last desperate attempt to survive he had fled like a coward and hoped that his hysteria would attract the attention of someone that might come to save them.
As she sat day after day in that foul-smelling closet, listening to the lectures of DeFreeze and Soltysik, and the contrasting kindness of Atwood and Wolfe, she was told how her fiancé had let her down, and how now even her father had failed her. But as time went on their greatest concern became the authorities, and the violent retribution that the government would revel in if they ever had the chance to surround the S.L.A. ‘Not a day passed, I believe, without some mention of the possibility of an F.B.I. raid. They never failed to explain that the F.B.I. would want to kill me in order to discredit the S.L.A. and all revolutionary movements,’ claimed Hearst. ‘One day, Cin told me that he was going to give me lessons on how to handle a shotgun, because the combat unit had decided that I ought to be given the chance to defend myself in case of an F.B.I. raid. The next day, they showed me how to use a gas mask, saying that in any shootout the F.B.I. was sure to lob tear gas into the house. The gas mask was left at my side in the closet. For the next three days, under their instructions, I practised handling a sawed-off shotgun, breaking it apart, and holding it. All without ammunition, of course, and often with my blindfold still on. Cin promised that when the time came, he would issue me the gun along with their special S.L.A. shells of 00 buckshot laced with Ajax. Ajax as the S.L.A. code word for cyanide.’
The media circus that surrounded both the abduction and the arrest of Hearst was unprecedented, with the courtroom, corridors, and streets outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building full of reporters stepping over each other like ants, each eagerly attempting to reach their editor with an exclusive before the rival newspapers could beat them to the punch. But on the morning of 16 February, 1976, the trial of Patricia Hearst would temporarily leave the United States District Court for a road trip, with a procession of vehicles making their way along Golden Gate Avenue for the forty-minute journey to Daly City. Eventually arriving on Northridge, as heavy rain poured down across the rundown neighbourhood, Judge Carter stepped out of his car and, shielding himself with an umbrella, was led to the front door of an apartment building. The reason for this day’s excursion was for the jury to see first-hand the closet where Hearst had spent the first four weeks of captivity, which could help paint a picture of what may have led to her subsequent actions. All twelve members of the jury, along with Carter, Hearst, Johnson, and two marshals, crowded together in the small apartment to see the state of the property for themselves. ‘One juror is dimly visible through the window of the still-empty third-floor apartment that has a ‘For Rent’ sign tacked to the fire escape,’ detailed Shana Alexander in her seminal account Anyone’s Daughter. ‘At the end of the street, through the rain and fog, one can see the dull gleam of the Federal Building, fourteen blocks away. The S.L.A. planned and executed its bank robbery in the shadow of F.B.I. headquarters.’
Almost two years earlier, in mid-April 1974, the tabloids discovered a shocking truth that only served to highlight the incompetency of the authority figures that were leading the investigation. In January, mere weeks before Hearst was dragged from her home, the police had catalogued every piece of evidence that they had found at the abandoned safehouse on Sutherland Court, with Perry’s attempts to burn down the house having failed. Among the paperwork and literature they unearthed was a list of high profile targets that the Symbionese Liberation Army had shortlisted to kidnap and hold as political prisoners. Among the names on this piece of paper was Patricia Campbell Hearst. The police had decided not to pursue this line of inquiry, and following her abduction in early February, they kept this information from the F.B.I. ‘I was not aware of any of the information prior to the Hearst kidnapping,’ admitted Charles Bates, the agent in charge of the investigation. ‘There was no immediate comment from Oakland police, or the Alameda country district attorney, but Concord Police Chief James L. Chambers quickly denied his department was involved,’ reported the Los Angeles Times on 20 April. ‘Chambers said the Concord house – an alleged S.L.A. headquarters – was in unincorporated Contra Costa County territory, rather than in Concord proper, so the sheriff’s office took over investigation of the fire. He said he understood all evidence found in the home – the notebook, and other documents reportedly bearing names of businessmen and others as potential kidnap targets – was turned over to Oakland police.’
The ineptitude of the local police, the F.B.I., and her own father caused a frustration to grow within Patricia Hearst, and these feelings soon began to manifest themselves in a mixture of tears and rage. She had come to accept that she would not be rescued, and that with all his money and power, her father was incapable of bargaining for her release. DeFreeze had not abandoned the hope of exchanging their prisoner for Little and Remiro, but certain members of the group began to feel an affection towards the young woman. They had expected to despise her, a naïve rich girl who understood nothing of the real world, but instead they found an open-minded and kind-hearted young woman who, in part, understood what had driven this assortment of misfits into the arms of revolution. As she began to learn more about them, she admired some of their philosophies, and despised other ideologies. The liberation aspect of the S.L.A. was not just the release of the American people from the shackles of their fascist leaders, but also an escape from the normality of monogamous relationships and an embrace of sexual exploration.
One bone of contention among various parties was Hearst’s relationship with Wolfe. Almost three years younger to the day than her captor, Hearst was approached several times by members of the S.L.A. to ask if she wished to engage in sexual relations with any member of the group. Wolfe, known to his comrades as Cujo, often spoke to Hearst about his love of philosophy and the teachings of the S.L.A., and over time the two had bonded. ‘Did there come a time when one of the women came to you and talked to you about getting it on with someone,’ her attorney had asked before the court. After revealing it was Angela Atwood who had broached the subject, she responded, ‘She said that in the cell, everybody had to take care of the needs of the other people. She said I was gonna sleep with Willie Wolfe. So I did.’ While subsequent recordings showed that she had deep feelings for the young revolutionary, in her memoir she attempted to paint a different story. ‘Cujo followed me into the closet, the door was shut, we took our clothes off, and he did his thing and left,’ she claimed. ‘I don’t think he said a word. If he did, I have absolutely no recollection of it. It was awkward, the closet was small and he was a big man, a big man who acted like a little boy. Only one image came briefly to mind: of all the others sitting silently outside, listening, and knowing. And when he was done, I consoled myself: it could have been worse; it could have been Cin.’
If Hearst had genuine feelings for Wolfe and then lied, both under oath and in print, then could this merely be justified by the situation she had found herself in? She was taken from her home, her fiancé savagely beaten, and she was dragged semi-naked across the street and thrown into the back of a car. Eventually arriving at a house bound and blindfolded, she was thrown into a closet, where she would spend the next month, choking on the foul smell and trembling at the threats levelled at her from the terrifying leader. During this time, the kindness of both Atwood and Wolfe may have developed into something similar to Stockholm Syndrome, a phenomenon in which a hostage begins to feel some kind of understanding, sympathy, or even dependency on their captor. And so when she was asked if she would like to have sex with one of the group, she may have feared that she would have been raped if she had refused all of the members, or may have been forced to sleep with DeFreeze, a thought that terrified her, and so had taken the lesser evil and slept with the sweetest of the household. Or maybe she had actual fallen for Wolfe during their time together, but following the actions that she would later commit in the name of the S.L.A., she tried to renounce the person that she had become as a fugitive.
Both Emily Harris and her husband have maintained that the relationship between Hearst and Wolfe was consensual, and was a desire for her as much as it was for him. ‘She saw an alternative she could relate to in the S.L.A. She saw people she felt more warmly about than anyone she’d ever met,’ claimed Emily during the trial of Hearst. Bill Harris, meanwhile, would give his own version of events during an interview conducted in 2018. ‘Over time, Patty developed a rapport and a relationship with the three comrades that were dealing with her that was unusual for those circumstances,’ he explained. ‘Willie spent a lot of time with her. Willie had the closest connection to her of anybody, based on class background. And her spent a ton of time with her, introducing her to some of the writers that had influenced him. Then finally I think Angela asked her is there anybody in the cell that she wants to have sex with, and she said she’d like to have sex with Willie. And when Angela came back and revealed this to us, it caused a big uproar. It was a huge fight from that point. I didn’t want Willie and Patricia to have sex. It wasn’t Willie’s idea. I wasn’t able to really wrap my mind around why this was ever going to turn out to be a good thing. What happens after that? She’s got to go home. We’re going to release her to go home. In the end, more comrades than Emily and I agreed that they could have a sexual encounter if they wanted to have one. And then they were given some privacy together.’
As Tamara Bunke stepped off the bank and into the muddy waters of the Río Grande, the spaces between her toes immediately filled with rancid ooze and she winced at how it felt against her skin. Ahead of her, her scout guided them through the treacherous terrain, and under the weight of their knapsacks they struggled to maintain balance. The sun was slowly starting to set and within minutes they would be sheltered by the cover of darkness. But even as they remained ever-vigilant in this hostile territory, they became aware of the impending danger only when it was too late. Soldiers were lying in wait, and in seconds the group were set-upon by a hail of bullets, tearing their way through flesh as each one of the party fell to their knees, dying face-down in the depths of the river. The decomposed remains of twenty-nine-year-old Bunke, known to her fellow revolutionaries as Tania, was found the following week. The Bolivian soldiers that had taken her life thumbed through her possessions before discarding the knapsack that was still draped across her back. Her body was given a funeral in accordance with her religious beliefs, but her legacy would live on, a symbol of revolution in a world of tyranny.
The life of Tania had begun almost thirty years earlier when Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider was born in the Argentinian capitol of Buenos Aires. The daughter of a Russian mother and German father, who had emigrated in the mid-thirties to escape the rise of Nazis and the extinction of Jews, Bunke and her older sister were raised in a Communist household and forced to keep their political affiliations to themselves for fear of punishment. Immersed in the writings of Karl Marx and the belief that Capitalism was a corruptive institution, she became highly politicised. But she was dragged back to Germany in the early fifties, once her father believed that it was safe to return to his homeland following the fall of Adolf Hitler seven years earlier. Due to her upbringing, she was fluent in German, Russian, Spanish, and English, and in 1956 she gained employment as an interpreter. But her childhood education of Marxist-Lenin philosophies had left a strong impression on the young woman, and by the end of the decade she left Germany behind and travelled to Cuba.
Following the overthrowing of President Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro assumed power and began to cast his influence over the country. Through his relationship with the Soviet Union, he allowed their government to house nuclear weapons in his country, and with the most southern point of Florida being a little more than two hundred miles away, the United States government perceived this as a threat. As a result, this led to what would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, leading the American public to fear than a nuclear attack was imminent. One of Castro’s closest allies during the revolution was Che Guevara, a guerrilla leader from Argentina who shared his hatred for Capitalism and strong beliefs in socialism and Marxism. Bunke had first met Guevara shortly before Christmas 1960, when she was hired as his interpreter, and the two crossed paths again almost a year later during her time working on the construction of a school in Havana. There was an instant chemistry between the two, and when she finally grew tired of her chosen profession, she decided the time has come to join the revolution and play her role in changing the world. In March 1964, she was called before Guevara and recruited for an upcoming mission that would take her deep into the heart of Bolivia on the western coast of South America. But her life would soon be cut short when a bullet penetrated her lung, killing her instantly.
While Bunke would become a symbol of liberation, she was not the first revolutionary to adopt the moniker of Tania. Twenty-six years before her untimely death, the Nazis made their way into the Soviet city of Moscow, prompting eighteen-year-old Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya to abandon her tenth grade studies and enlist in a guerrilla unit, where she hatched terrorist schemes against the invading forces of Hitler’s Third Reich. On 27 November, 1941, she was captured by German soldiers and interrogated, but refused to give them any information that could compromise her comrades. ‘For hours her captors tried to make her talk. They flogged her with a leather belt, punched her with their fists,’ wrote Time the following year. ‘Finally, they hung a bottle of gasoline and a card inscribed Guerrilla about her neck, and hustled her off to a gallows in the village square of Petrisheva. Villagers were herded to watch the execution. The Germans stood Zoya on a box, and dropped a noose around her neck. A German officer focused his camera. ‘Comrades!’ cried Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. ‘Cheer up! Smite the Germans! Burn them!’ The picture-snapper moved to get a different angle shot. ‘Hurry up,’ snapped the nervous German commandant. ‘You hang me now,’ Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya taunted her captors. ‘But I am not alone. There are two-hundred million of us. You won’t hang everybody. I shall be avenged!’’
The Symbionese War Council had spoken and issued an ultimatum: Patricia Hearst was to make a choice; either she return to the bourgeoisie existence that had made her an entitled, spoilt brat, or stay with her new brothers and sisters and fight against their oppressors. If she chose the former, then she could be back with her fiancé watching episodes of The Magician in her panties and terry-cloth bathrobe, and her life with the S.L.A. would have felt like a dream. But if she wanted to stay, she would be christened with a new revolutionary moniker, issued weapons, and taken out of the closet to join her comrades-in-arms against the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people. ‘The truth was, that I did want to join them! But not for the reasons they supposed,’ she explained. ‘Not for a moment did I believe in their revolution, or in their schemes to reform the United States by executing all corporate presidents and the like. I wanted to join them so that I would survive. I had no trouble at all putting sincerity into my voice when I appealed to each of them. I really wanted them to accept me into their ranks. I was panic-stricken at the thought that one of them would say no.’
The S.L.A. numbered ten; five men and five women. But two of the men remained behind bars, prisoners of the pig system, and Hearst had been taken from her home in the hope that they could negotiate for their freedom. Each of them had adopted a new name, one that was symbolic in their struggle; there was Donald ‘Cinque’ DeFreeze, Patricia ‘Mizmoon’ Soltysik, William ‘Teko’ Harris, Nancy ‘Fahiza’ Ling Perry, Joseph ‘Bo’ Remiro, Angela ‘Gelina’ Atwood, Willie ‘Cujo’ Wolfe, Russell ‘Osi’ Little, Emily ‘Yolanda’ Harris, and finally Camilla ‘Gabi’ Hall. Born in Minnesota to a Lutheran minister, Camilla Christine Hall was the only one of four children to survive infancy, and spent her early years of adulthood travelling across Europe and South America. By the time that she graduated from the University of Minnesota in the mid-sixties, she had become heavily politicised and was an advocate for the Gay Liberation Movement. By the dawn of the seventies she had arrived in Berkeley, and soon became armoured by the rebellions nature of the city. Despite being described by her father as an avowed pacifist, Hall soon became entangled within the web of the S.L.A.
On 1 April, 1974, almost two months after the abduction of Patty Hearst, a young woman walked through the door of Crete Florists in downtown San Francisco and ordered a bouquet of red roses to the sum of $2.99, that she addressed to John Bryan, the editor of an underground newspaper called the San Francisco Phoenix. Accompanying the flowers was a white envelope, and inside he found information negotiating the release of the political prisoner. Two days later, the latest communiqué was received by a local station, but instead of further information on her freedom, what the Hearsts were greeted with was a somewhat defensive and hostile response from their daughter, criticising them for their less-than-stellar efforts to win her freedom. ‘Mom, Dad, I would like to comment on your efforts to supposedly secure my safety,’ she sneered. ‘The P.I.N. giveaway was a sham. You attempted to deceive the people. You were playing games – stalling for time – time which the F.B.I. was using in their attempts to assassinate me and the S.L.A. elements which guarded me. You continued to report that you did everything in your power to pave the way for negotiations for my release – I hate to believe that you could have been so unimaginative as to not even have considered getting Little and Remiro released on bail.’ Yet despite how much her words cut through both Randolph and Catherine, it was her next reveal that caused a sensation in the media. ‘I have been given the choice of, one; being released in a safe area, or two; joining the forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army and fighting for my freedom, and the freedom of all oppressed people. I have chosen to stay and fight.’
Patty Hearst had joined the revolution. She was no longer a political prisoner, she was now a guerrilla soldier, and in that moment the public’s perception of the heiress changed from sympathy to scorn. ‘I have been given the name Tania, after a comrade who fought alongside Che in Bolivia, for the people of Bolivia,’ she announced. ‘I embrace the name with the determination to continue fighting with her spirit.’ Always concerned with public relations and media manipulation, DeFreeze decided that her conversion should be unveiled to the world alongside a Polaroid that captured her rebirth from pampered rich girl to revolutionary. Soltysik had already demonstrated a talent at taking photographs and so she was selected to capture this moment of infamy, in which Hearst, dressed in combat regalia, posed in front of a flag representing the seven-headed cobra that the S.L.A. had used as their emblem, with her hands taking a firm grip of her semi-automatic weapon. Sporting a beret, in keeping with the iconic visage of Che Guevara, Hearst appears battle-ready, a far cry from the weak and frightened voice that had populated her first tape following her abduction. ‘I know Tania dedicated her life to the people, fighting with total dedication and intense desire to learn,’ she declared, ‘which I will continue in the oppressed American people’s revolution.’
Hearst stood before U.S Magistrate Owen Woodruff on a warm September morning in 1975, almost a year-and-a-half since she had vowed to stay with her captors, but now the fight was gone, and all that remained was a pale and scrawny frame that appeared anything but threatening. She talked in whispered tones with her attorney before answering the questions of the court, and was then taken to the San Mateo County Jail, south of San Francisco, where she awaited the commencement of her trial. Trapped within the closed walls of her cell, her mind moved from one random memory to another, so many in such a short time to process; her kidnapping, her relationship with Willie Wolfe, her rebirth as Tania, the bank robbery that would be symbolic of her commitment to the Symbionese Liberation Army, the bloodshed, a life on the run as a wanted felon, and finally her arrest. She had become so notorious that her crime spree had resulted in two bails; $500,000 for her charges in San Francisco, which included her participation in a robbery, and $550,000 in Los Angeles for kidnapping and the use of a firearm in a felony. ‘She said she wanted to go home with us,’ smiled her mother following the arraignment, but instead Patty was once again held prisoner, this time by the establishment that she had publicly denounced.
During the hearings that would precede the trial, prosecuting attorney James Browning Jr. revealed that one crucial piece of evidence that he would use against the defendant were the communiqués that Hearst had recorded, initially at the behest of Donald DeFreeze, before joining the fight of the S.L.A. ‘Assuming that the evidence against her is as solid as newspaper accounts indicate,’ said one lawyer in an anonymous statement to the press, ‘then her best hope by far is that she committed the acts charged against her under coercion, that she was a victim of some kind of brainwashing that deprived her of the ability to distinguish right from wrong.’ From a legal standing, how would one build a defence which would establish that a suspect accused of a crime did not commit this act willingly, but had been under some kind of psychological duress, and therefore was not responsible for their actions? On the fifth week of her trial, the court brought in various psychiatrists that had observed and assessed Hearst shortly after her arrest. Dr. Louis Jolyon West of U.C.L.A., a specialist in the concept of brainwashing and psychological coercion, revealed under cross-examination that, ‘I’d leave the question of legal competence to stand trial up to the court, but that medically and psychiatrically, I thought she was far from competent.’
DeFreeze and the S.L.A. were not the first to subject their victims to both abuse and affection, to prey on their insecurities, and then offer them a life of meaning that their families had failed to provide. This is the means that many leaders use in order to recruit the young and the restless into their cults, and while both Jim Jones and David Berg had supposedly brainwashed their followers into committing unspeakable acts, arguably the most famous example would be Charles Manson. ‘I often heard it asked, ‘Why did people flock to this obviously abusive and oppressive deviant? Why did those who stayed feel drawn to his murder cult?’’ claimed former Manson Family member and convicted murderer Susan Atkins. ‘These are the types of questions you hear posed by those who look back from a point in time after 1970. For them, it seems impossible to believe that the commune wasn’t steeped in murder and revolution from the start, but it wasn’t. Without knowing the whole story of what led up to the murders in the fall of 1969, it’s very easy to doubt that an ordinary hippie commune preaching love, and music, and drugs, could be transformed into what the Family became. It’s very easy, without knowing what happened, to insist the Family must always have been a dark, bitter, twisted, and homicidal group. And that’s not true. The Family started as something very different, and then it changed. It was only over a relatively short period of time that it became what the media shows you today. But to understand this long road, you must understand how it began.’
At the moment that Hearst declared to her prison guards that she wanted to join their struggle, she had spent the last two months blindfolded inside a dark closet, with only the voices of DeFreeze, Atwood, and Wolfe to keep her company. Shortly after the S.L.A. welcomed her into their ranks, Wolfe presented her with a gift, a string necklace adorned with an Indian carving of a monkey, with an identical charm that he kept around his own neck. After weeks of fearing for her life, to suddenly become a part of the organisation, instead of a victim of it, would understandably have a significant impact on her emotional and psychological wellbeing, and this in part could be attributed to something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. But Hearst had denounced the suggestion of brainwashing in an earlier recording submitted to the press while she was still a fugitive. ‘I would like to begin this statement by informing the public that I wrote what I am about to say,’ she insisted. ‘It’s what I feel. I have never been forced to say anything on any tape. Nor have I been brainwashed, drugged, tortured, hypnotised, or in any way confused. As George Jackson wrote, ‘It’s me, the way I want it, the way I see it.’’
So if Hearst claimed that she was in possession of all her faculties throughout her time with the Symbionese Liberation Army, then that would mean she had to take responsibility for her involvement in every single crime that occurred during those nineteen months. At that time that she announced her decision to leave her former life behind, she had committed no crime, she was still an innocent victim that, for reasons the public could not understand, had begun to sympathise with the very people who had taken her. But she was scared, confused, and angry, and felt betrayed and abandoned by both her parents and the FBI, believing that neither had prioritised her wellbeing over the apprehension of the S.L.A. ‘After everything they’d done to me I felt so afraid,’ she told A.B.C. News in 1981. ‘And my thinking was so twisted that I really believed that I could not go and turn myself in without being killed.’ But DeFreeze had been the one responsible for planting this fear deep within her mind, as during the first few weeks of her captivity he repeatedly told her that one day the FBI would raid the safehouse and take no prisoners. Therefore, it was in her own best interest to learn to defend herself. ‘If the F.B.I. shot and killed me, they asked, how could the S.L.A. ever convince anyone that it was the F.B.I. and not the S.L.A. who had killed me?’ she wrote. ‘Strange as that reasoning may seem now, I believed it at the time. I knew they believed it. When it came to fear of the FBI, there was a ring of truth in their voices. Every few days there was a full-scale combat drill in preparation for the anticipated arrival of the F.B.I.’
Following the release of the Tania photograph, in which Hearst posed in honour of Tamara Bunke, her revolutionary hero, DeFreeze decided that the S.L.A. needed to solidify her conversion into the organisation by a significant show of strength, a gesture against the establishment that would strike a blow at the heart of Capitalism. With funds running low and the group living in poverty, the most obvious act that they could commit was armed robbery, and so they began to case various banks in the San Francisco area, carefully singling out their target and surveying the comings-and-goings of both staff and customers in order to learn their routines, and thus, find the perfect time to strike. Hearst had been duck hunting with her father as a teenager and so had learned how to use a shotgun, while both DeFreeze and Bill Harris trained her on how to be militant, but her involvement in the heist would have one primary objective: they had to choose a bank that had closed-circuit television so her image could be captured on film and unleashed upon the world. The process of transforming a heiress from victim to revolutionary in two months was a badge of honour for the S.L.A., and they needed to convey this achievement to the American public.
The weeks she had spent either locked in the closet or blindfolded by her captors was intended to break down her inhibitions and condition Patty Hearst into accepting the Symbionese Liberation Army as her allies. Much like other cults of the counterculture, sex and manipulation had been used to recondition their prisoner into adopting their beliefs and philosophies, and as the weeks progressed they saw a notable change in the young woman. The S.L.A. had distorted the news reports so that it fit with their doctrine, and over time she was led to believe that her parents had abandoned her, and the F.B.I. wanted her dead. And the more she welcomed their influence, the more Patricia Campbell Hearst became lost to her. ‘I had lived in fear of the S.L.A. for so long now that fear of the F.B.I. came easily to me,’ she later recalled. ‘They told me story after story of the F.B.I. storming radical hideouts, shooting through doors, killing everyone inside, asking no questions. The F.B.I. could kill with impunity. They had a licence to kill. And they would shoot and kill in order to wipe out radical movements in the country.’ As they continued to feed her tales of corrupt government agencies using excessive force against the revolutionaries, Hearst soon came to feel empathy for her captors, and an apathy for returning to her old life. And it was through this process that the S.L.A. were able to radicalise Patty Hearst in a matter of weeks.
This conversion would take place at a time when the concept of brainwashing had first entered the public consciousness. Five years earlier, three members of a hippie cult scaled the walls of a Benedict Canyon mansion and brutally murdered its five occupants, one of which was a twenty-six-year-old Hollywood star called Sharon Tate. In the aftermath of the massacre, the perpetrators were revealed to be members of what he media would christen the Manson Family. Ostensibly a collection of runaways and disillusioned youths who felt discarded by mainstream society, they had all fallen under the spell of a charismatic perpetual criminal called Charles Manson. Having spent half of his life incarcerated, Manson had become institutionalised and felt confused by the outside world, but when he was finally released during the Summer of Love, he discovered a generation of Americans desperately searching for meaning in their lives. Over the course of the next two years he amassed a following through the use of sexual liberation and hallucinogenic drugs, and in September 1969, feeling a hatred to the world he believed had discarded him, orchestrated in a series of ritualistic murders. Soon the authorities were able to find a connection between these crimes and a group of hippies that populated an old movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Before Patty Hearst ever saw inside a courtroom, the California’s press became obsessed with the trial of Charles Manson and his accomplices, all the while serenaded by a vigil that other members of the Family held on the steps of the courthouse. But how could so many ordinary young men and women be driven to murder, allegedly under the influence of their leader? ‘Considerable media attention has been given to Charles Manson’s ability to control the minds of his followers. His ability to brainwash people. To hypnotise,’ explained Susan Atkins, one of the followers that would kill in his name. ‘But if you look at his methods of controlling people, you will see no mystic clairvoyance, no unearthly superpower. What you will see is that he knows no more about brainwashing than any other pimp in Los Angeles. He took young people, primarily girls, who had poor family relations, low self-esteem, and who felt they didn’t belong. He took them away from all their familiar surroundings. He took them to an isolated place where he could control what they saw, heard, and learned. He prevented them from making any attachments outside his group. He took away all their money under the pretext that the Family would provide for them – which not only prevented them from leaving, but also made them dependent on him even for their clothes, food, and shelter.’
But just how much of the Family was Manson manipulating his children and them blindly following? With the exception of Lynette Fromme, who would attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford two weeks before Hearst’s arrest, most of the former members of the Family would later accuse Manson of coercing them into a life of crime. But was he really as influential and controlling as his followers have claimed? ‘Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecuting attorney and co-author of the book Helter Skelter, would have the world believe I got out of prison and pledged my life to corrupting the youth of the country,’ explained Manson in the mid-eighties. ‘Hey, those kids knew everything and did everything. I was the baby! I was sleeping in the park and calling it home. I was shining shoes for money to eat.’ Whatever the true story was behind the Manson Family, the undisputed facts are that a collective of normal, respectable youths committed murders so brutal that they would shock the nation and effectively bring the free love of the sixties to a violent conclusion. ‘He used the same technique as any abuser to control and manipulate his victims,’ insisted Patricia Krenwinkel, who to this day remains incarcerated for her role in the Manson Family murders, ‘coercing others through mental, emotional, or physical attacks.’
On the morning of 3 August, 1977, Stansfield Turner, the Director of Central Intelligence, sat before a Senate Committee to answer accusations that the Central Intelligence Agency, more commonly known as the C.I.A., had conducted a host of top secret experiments on American citizens during the fifties and sixties that included the use of hallucinogenic drugs, sex, and sensory deprivation. Many of its subjects had been unwilling participants in these trials, and at least on one occasion the tests had resulted in death. Continuing the work that Nazi and Japanese scientists had conducted during the Second World War, the C.I.A. were determined to discover the secret behind mind control. It was their intention to create a Manchurian Candidate, an agent that they could manipulate into espionage and government assassinations, and over the course of twenty years this was overseen by a chemist called Sidney Gottlieb. The truth behind Project MKUltra, the programme the C.I.A. had conducted behind closed doors, was first exposed to the public by the New York Times on 22 December, 1973, when it published documents it had obtained on the government’s attempts to unlock the mysteries of brainwashing.
It was no secret that the Third Reich had conducted the most barbaric experiments imaginable on the prisoners they had detained in their concentration camps, and even as Nazi scientists stood trial at Nuremberg, the American government were secretly recruiting many of its scientific masterminds to help the United States beat the Soviet Union in the space race. But the C.I.A. were more focused on continuing the work the Nazis had begun on mind control. In his 1956 text Brainwashing: The Story of the Men Who Defied It, author Edward Hunter wrote, ‘The new word brainwashing entered our minds and dictionaries in a phenomenally short time…The word came out of the sufferings of the Chinese people. Put under a terrifying combination of subtle and crude mental and physical pressures and tortures, they detected a pattern and called it brainwashing.’ The C.I.A. were convinced that manipulating the mind in order to create the perfect spy was the secret to victory in the Cold War, and as long as the circle remained small then the world would never know of their crimes. But when documents were released in the seventies under the Freedom of Information Act, the truth was finally revealed.
Yet despite almost twenty years of experiments, the C.I.A. would fail to make any kind of serious advancement in their study of mind control. Many of their subjects had suffered psychotic episodes from the excessive use of such drugs as LSD, but the results always remained inconclusive. ‘On the scientific side, it has become very clear that these materials and techniques are too unpredictable in their effect on individual human beings, under specific circumstances, to be operationally useful,’ reported Gottlieb. ‘Our operations officers, particularly the emerging group of new senior operations officers, have shown a discerning and perhaps commendable distaste for using these materials and techniques. They seem to realise that, in addition to moral and ethical considerations, the extreme sensitivity and security constraints of such operations effectively rule them out.’ While Stansfield Turner had not been a part of the C.I.A. during the years of Project MKUltra, as its current Director he was forced to explain its purpose to the Senate Committee on Intelligence. The truth behind this programme was revealed shortly after America’s President, Richard Nixon, was implicated in a political scandal that would come to be known as Watergate, and it would be this corrupt America that would allow the S.L.A. to thrive. But there was one incident that took place a year before the kidnapping of Patty Hearst that could perhaps help to explain her decision to join her captors.
On 23 August, 1973, before the American public had even heard the name Symbionese Liberation Army, a man walked into the Sveriges Kreditbanken in the Swedish city of Stockholm and opened fire with a machine gun. After announcing that the party had begun, he took several members of staff hostage while others sought cover behind the counter and in the vault. Within minutes police had arrived on the scene, and one Inspector received a shot to the hand during a failed attempt to infiltrate the bank. Over the next six days a standoff ensured between the authorities and the gunman, a thirty-two-year-old called Jan-Erik Olsson. The police were finally able to raid the bank and rescue the hostages without a single loss of life, but to their shock the victims seemed reluctant to testify against the assailant. Perhaps even more surprising, they even felt a modicum of sympathy towards him. The media would soon speculate that they had somehow been coerced by Olsson into believing that he would protect then, and from this case the term Stockholm Syndrome was born. But the truth was far less fantastic than history would have us believe.
Despite opening fire and detaining them against their will, Olsson did not express a desire to hurt his hostages. ‘I am not a violent person,’ he would later claim. It is believed, however, that the reason his hostages would not testify was in protest against the actions of the police department, who allegedly expressed little regard for collateral damage. The fact that a bond of some sort had clearly developed between the assailant and the victims would be echoed the following year when Patty Hearst was abducted by the S.L.A. This would be the first time that Stockholm Syndrome would be used in a legal trial. ‘In Victims of Terrorism, several scholars, most with backgrounds in psychiatry, explicitly applied the term to the Patty Hearst kidnapping, or described the phenomenon in ways that reflected her experience,’ wrote author William Graebner in Patty’s Got a Gun: Patricia Hearst in 1970s America. ‘One argued that under conditions of overwhelming fear and anxiety, a victim might ‘actively view the family and the police as the enemy’ – as Patty, at one time or another, apparently distrusted her parents and the F.B.I. Another suggested that Patty’s participation in the S.L.A.’s violent activities may have been a form of ‘identification with the captor’ produced by a prolonged period of stress.’
Bailey would use the notion that Hearst had been coerced, and thus was not a willing participant acting of her own free will, during his defence. While brainwashing itself would be ridiculed by many medical experts, Stockholm Syndrome carries a little more weight, but the question was could Bailey prove that this was the case with his client? ‘Drawn from Pavlov’s early experiments in behaviour modification, but much more sophisticated, Chinese thought reform holds that if a person is forced to recite certain ideas, even without believing them at first, he or she will come to in time,’ claimed Hearst. ‘Psychologically, no one can long believe one thing and say or do another. In time, such a conflict would either make a person crack up or force him to adjust his actions to his thoughts, or his thoughts to his actions. Thus did Mao Zedong reform the thinking of hundreds of millions of Chinese who lived their lives according to Confucius until the revolution. Then Mao set up schools to teach the children, meetings to instruct the adults, and in time when a whole nation’s people recited over and over quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, the people came to believe what they had been reciting. Thus did Cinque ‘reform’ me into believing that a revolution was under way, which in time would overthrow the government.’
Every time F. Lee Bailey takes the floor he immediately has the undivided attention of the court. For all his arrogance, and flippant approach to his clients, once it is his time to make a case he wows his audience with his theatrics and his enigmatic energy. Born in Massachusetts in 1933, Francis Lee Bailey enrolled at Harvard University during the fifties but eventually abandoned his studies in order to enlist in the Navy. While studying at Boston University Law School, he founded his own private detective agency, but his attention soon turned to practicing law, and in the mid-sixties he found success when he won an appeal against the conviction of neurosurgeon and murder suspect Sam Sheppard. As infamous for his outrageous lifestyle as he was for his convictions, Bailey was an experienced pilot and the owner of a helicopter-manufacturing firm in Michigan, but he was even more notorious for his drinking. ‘Heavy trials make me thirsty,’ he declared during the opening passage of his 1975 publication For the Defence. ‘When you’ve spent the entire day in court, arguing to protect your client’s life or freedom, a quiet drink with friends can work wonders. Sometimes it almost makes you feel human again.’
On 17 February, 1976, Patricia Hearst, just three days shy of her twenty-second birthday, was sat nervously in the witness stand of the Ceremonial Courtroom as Bailey once again worked his magic. The primary focus of today’s proceedings was an incident that took place two years earlier at the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, and was one of two incidents that the prosecution were determined to gain a conviction on. Much of what she had been accused of was speculation and circumstantial, but footage of her involvement in the robbery of the Theatre District branch had been broadcast on channels and printed in newspapers and magazines since that fateful day in April 1974, and so her presence during the hold-up would be impossible to deny. ‘Did Cinque tell you why he wanted you inside the bank?’ Bailey had demanded of her. Yet the reasoning for this had already been covered in extensive detail in an array of literature. ‘We are discussing the possibility very thoroughly that this was a staged job to show off Patty Hearst as a member of their ranks,’ claimed police captain Mortimer McInerney.
Much like with the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the planning of the bank heist would be done in meticulous detail, with each member having a clear understanding of both their role and that of their comrades before, during, and after the hold-up. They had committed a political assassination, and a kidnapping, and now they were about to add armed robbery to their list of charges, but there was an air of excitement in the safehouse that everyone could feel. ‘When I woke up that morning, I simply could not believe that this day had arrived and that I, Patricia Campbell Hearst, was going to take part in a bank robbery,’ she recalled in Every Secret Thing, which would later be republished under the alternative title Patty Hearst: Her Own Story. ‘I could never have imagined such a thing. Yet, in the past two weeks, just about every moment of every day had centred on the planning and preparation for this day. I knew more about the Hibernia Bank branch at Noriega Street and Twenty-Second Avenue than I knew about my parents’ home in Hillsborough. I could visualise the two swinging glass front doors, the eight teller positions, the three writing counters, the executive desks area, and the entrance where the armed guard usually stood – and I’d never once been in or near that particular bank. It was all very much like a dream.’
The Golden Gate branch of the Hibernia Bank was located at 1450 Noriega Street, on the corner of Twenty-Second Avenue, a little over twenty blocks from the gorgeous views of Ocean Beach. Situated only minutes away from one of the safehouses of the S.L.A., its positioning provided an easy getaway during the early morning traffic. At 9am, the security guard, Edward Shea, carefully opened the large glass doors as he would every weekday, and gradually customers would make a quick deposit on their way to work. Less than an hour after the branch had opened, two vehicles pulled up close to the premises, with DeFreeze having split the group in half, with each party controlling one aspect of the operation. ‘While the inside team rehearsed how to act like bad asses, shouting, screaming, and threatening in order to intimidate all those in the bank, the outside team practiced how to disable pursuing police cars,’ said Hearst. ’Cin gave instructions on how to shoot at the lower half of the front windshield of pursuing police cars so as to wound or kill the police in the front seat. Drawings of windshields were taped to one wall, and then Cujo and Teko, and sometimes the others, practiced aiming at the appropriate targets. All this practice, of course, was done without ammunition. In fact, they hardly ever practised inserting ammunition clips into the weapons because of fear that the loud clicking sounds would arouse the suspicion of neighbours.’
At some point before 10am, one of the vehicles swung around and pulled up close to the entrance of Hibernia and the inside team, consisting of DeFreeze, Perry, Soltysik, Hall, and Hearst, made their way into the bank, brandishing their semi-automatic weapons and immediately ordering all present to remain calm and follow their instructions. While sources vary, it is believed that either Perry (as in the events laid out by Jeffrey Toobin in American Heiress) or Hall (in David Boulton’s The Making of Tania), in a moment of panic, dropped their ammunition across the floor, hastily retrieving them while trying to remain authoritative to the frightened onlookers. ‘‘Get on the floor, get on the floor,’ barked the stubbly-bearded leader at the two dozen terrified employees and customers,’ detailed Time two weeks later. ‘Two of the women rushed to the cash drawers, while another, in the best Bonnie and Clyde style, proudly announced, ‘We’re from the S.L.A.’ One of the gang gestured towards the young woman who had taken up a position at the middle of the seven tellers’ cages and shouted, ‘This is Tania Hearst!’’ DeFreeze had clearly detailed where he wanted Hearst to stand, so that she was in clear view of the cameras, while she screamed, ‘Lie down, or I’ll shoot your motherfucking head off!’ Displaying no fear, Hearst looked every bit the guerrilla soldier as she maintained a strong presence, easily impressing DeFreeze, who had always felt a certain reluctance towards embracing the young idealist.
Events would run smoothly until the group were startled by two new arrivals. The front door to the bank opened and Peter Markoff, the owner of a local liquor store, and Eugene Brennan, a seventy-year-old resident of the neighbourhood, stepped inside. Perry suddenly began to panic and opened fire, seriously wounding both but leaving no fatalities. DeFreeze ordered his comrades to make their escape, and once they had returned to the safehouse they counted up their earnings to discover they had made $10,960 from the heist. ‘In a major new development today, a federal warrant was issued for the arrest of Donald DeFreeze, the escaped convict who calls himself Cinque, and leads the S.L.A. He was accused as the bearded, gun-wielding black man who entered the bank with Patty and three other women, and staged the robbery yesterday morning,’ reported the San Francisco Examiner. ‘Two of the four persons who waited outside the bank in two getaway cars had descriptions matching those of S.L.A. members Willie Wolfe, twenty-three; and Emily Harris, twenty-seven. However, Bates said the F.B.I. does not have significant information on which to base warrants for them. Earlier warrants named three women linked to the S.L.A. – Nancy Ling Perry, twenty-six; Patricia Michelle Soltysik, twenty-three; and Camilla Christine Hall, twenty-nine – as participants in the hold-up. But it was the role of the kidnapped Patty that was of prime concern to the police.’
Bailey paused for a moment to consider his next question. It was the fourth week of the trial, by which point Hearst’s deteriorating health had become a growing concern for both her family and her doctors. But the court had decided to soldier on, providing she was confident that she could give clear and concise responses to the cross-examinations posed by both attorneys. ‘Did anyone talk to you about what would happen if you surrendered or were picked up?’ he asked. She nodded slightly and responded, ‘That I’d be charged with bank robbery. And be tried for it.’ On 17 April, 1974, just two days after their raid on the Hibernia Bank, a grand jury assembled to view footage of the heist with one clear directive – to decide whether or not, without a shadow of a doubt, that Patricia Hearst had been a willing participant in the robbery, and therefore a felon, or if she had been coerced into taking part in the crime. ‘I have consistently maintained that evidence may show that all participants of the robbery were acting freely and voluntarily,’ said Browning, the prosecuting attorney. ‘This is essentially a question of fact which must ultimately be decided by the grand jury.’
In keeping with the traditions of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a little over a week after the robbery, another tape was received from the group, and once again it was DeFreeze that made the initial statement. Once he completed his speech, during which he detailed how those injured during the heist were issued orders, and therefore punished when those instructions had been ignored, the tape was then passed over to Hearst. ‘Greetings to the people, this is Tania,’ she announced. ‘Our action of 15 April forced the corporate state to help finance the revolution. In the case of expropriation, the difference between a criminal act and a revolutionary act is shown by what the money is used for. Unlike the money involved in my parents’ bad faith gesture to aid the people, these funds are being used to aid the people, and to ensure the survival of the people’s forces in their struggle with and for the people. To the clowns who want a personal interview with me – Vincent Hallinan, Steven Weed, and Pig Hearst – I prefer giving it to the people in the bank. It’s absurd to think that I could surface to say what I am saying now, and be allowed to freely return to my comrades. The enemy still wants me dead. I am obviously alive and well. As for being brainwashed, the idea is ridiculous to the point of being beyond belief. It’s interesting the way early reports characterised me as a beautiful, intelligent liberal, while in more recent reports I’m a comely girl who’s been brainwashed. The contradictions are obvious.’
One contradiction that would be prevalent within the Symbionese Liberation Army was its illustrious leader. Just who was the General Field Marshal, Cinque, or Donald De Freeze, and where did his loyalties truly lie? Was he a police informant or in league with the CIA, as some writers have since claimed, and is this how he was able to avoid severe prison sentences, and to easily walk out of the front door of Soledad Prison without a single guard attempting to stop him? In an article published by the Washington Post in May 1974, its author insisted that evidence had been uncovered which proved that DeFreeze was a snitch for the Los Angeles Police Department. In an interview with the newspaper, investigator Lake Headley said that as his criminal ways became more and more dangerous, the authorities finally decided to distance themselves from him. ‘That’s why I cut him loose,’ he said. ‘He was getting into that, and I knew he was dead as far as his psychological state was concerned. I just couldn’t deal with him.’ In his book Revolution’s End, Brad Schreiber claimed ‘DeFreeze promised to lead the L.A.P.D. to his partner who ran guns. His full name, DeFreeze now remembered, was Ronald Coleman. It bought DeFreeze his freedom in the short run.’
Perhaps even more outrageous are the reports that DeFreeze may have worked with the CIA, a government agency tasked with running operations overseas in matters of national security. In a 1976 article entitled Who Ran the S.L.A.?, writer Dick Russell claimed that Colston Westbrook, who assisted in the running of the Black Cultural Association programme at Vacaville, had worked for Pacific Architects and Engineers in Vietnam, a shell corporation run by the C.I.A. The New York Times confirmed that this company was used as a way of recruiting people into their agency. Upon his return to the United States, Russell said that Westbrook became involved in a domestic surveillance programme called Operation Chaos, which ‘was to recruit agents who could penetrate the various radical groups. There were no better recruiting grounds than the black power movement inside the prison.’ Westbrook had joined the B.C.A. at Vacaville in 1971, and had encouraged the likes of Willie Wolfe to attend the sessions. Russell maintained that a man such as Donald DeFreeze was a perfect candidate for Operation Chaos. The Washington Post once again reported on hearsay in a 1978 piece, in which Westbrook was quoted as saying, ‘In the early part of 1971, DeFreeze stated to me that the C.I.A. was conducting tests to try out certain drugs on inmates, and he had been on it.’ Whether or not there is any truth to the claims made by either Westbrook or DeFreeze remains to be seen, but in 1974 it was revealed that the C.I.A. had in fact been testing an assortment of experimental and psychedelic drugs on not only inmates but students and mental patients in an programme entitled Project MKUltra. Unearthed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, this revelation only served to further damage the trust that the American people had in their government.
‘We certainly haven’t forgotten about her,’ declared Steven Weed from the driveway of the Hearst mansion in Hillsborough to a sea of reporters and photographers in mid-March. It had been approximately six weeks since the disappearance of Patricia Hearst, and in such a short time she had become a household name. Fearing for his life, and convinced that they would both be murdered in a similar fashion to the victims of the Manson Family, Weed had scrambled to his feet and run bound and blindfolded from their Benvenue Street apartment. As he knocked on one door after another, desperately attempting to attract attention as he shouted hysterically for assistance, his fiancée was dragged into the back of a car and taken from his life. ‘The two weeks of silence on our part was very unpleasant,’ he continued. ‘We really didn’t know what to say or do at that time. We thought the food programme was going to work out, but now apparently it wasn’t what was wanted.’ His press conference had been inspired by a communiqué in which Hearst, frustrated with the failure of the People in Need programme and what she saw as her father giving up on her, had lashed out at those that she felt had abandoned her.
‘Steven, I know what you are beginning to realise is that there are no such things as neutrality in time of war. There can be no compromise, as your experience with the F.B.I. must have shown you,’ she explained. ‘You have been harassed by the F.B.I. because of your supposed connections with so-called radicals, and some people have even gone so far as to suggest I arranged my own arrest. We both know what really came down that Monday night, but you don’t know what’s happened since then. I have changed – grown. I’ve become conscious and can never go back to the life we led before. What I’m saying may seem cold to you and to my old friends, but love doesn’t mean the same thing to me anymore. My love has expanded as a result of my experiences to embrace all people. It’s grown into an unselfish love for my comrades here, in prison, and on the streets. A love that comes from the knowledge that ‘no one is free until we are all free.’ While I wish that you could be a comrade, I don’t expect it – all I expect is that you try to understand the changes I’ve gone through.’ Weed knew nothing of her relationship with Willie Wolfe, nothing of the guerrilla training she had received from Donald DeFreeze, and nothing of the bank heist that was beginning to form in their minds. All he could remember was the frightened young woman taken from their home the previous month, and at that moment he would have done anything to bring her back.
As Patty Hearst was being thrown into a closet, Steven Weed was being carefully placed into the back of an ambulance. He had received serious head injuries during the attack and was taken to the nearest hospital to undergo a series of x-rays. As he was being treated, a police officer took his statement, during which Weed revealed that her parents, the infamous Hearsts, had left San Francisco on a trip to Washington D.C. and were not due back for a few days. Suenaga, the other victim of the attack, had survived the ordeal with only a few minor bumps and bruises, but the police had no leads on the whereabouts of Hearst. It would not be until the following day that they discovered the vehicle used to flee the scene had been stolen just hours earlier. Thirty-one-year-old Peter Benenson, a mathematician at the University of California, had been accosted as he removed bags of groceries from the back of his car and was tied up and left on the floor by the back seat. Once the S.L.A. abandoned the car and changed to a second vehicle, Benenson eventually cut himself free and, still terrified by the incident, was too scared to report the events to the authorities. Instead, he walked a little over a mile to his sister’s house, and when the police later found his car they believed he too had been kidnapped.
‘Mr. and Mrs. Hearst had been in Washington D.C. where they were attending the Hearst Foundation’s Senate Youth Programme, where they first received word of Patty’s abduction,’ said Weed. ‘Earlier in the evening, they’d had dinner with Senator Charles Percy, then returned to their suite at the Mayflower Hotel. At about 1:15am, the bedside telephone rang. It was Anne, Patty’s younger sister, calling from Hillsborough. She told them what had happened. The police had just called and informed her that Patty had been kidnapped. There had been shots fired. Steve was injured, but she didn’t know how seriously. Anne, and Vicky, the youngest of the sisters, had been fixing a snack in the kitchen when the police had telephoned. Stunned by the news, Mr. Hearst went straight to the top. He called Clarence Kelly, head of the F.B.I., who confirmed Anne’s call, but said there was nothing new to report. Mr. Hearst then made a number of calls to the Berkeley Police, family members, and friends, before he and Mrs. Hearst began packing their things. At 5am, a special breakfast was prepared for them, but it sat untouched as they endured a two-hour wait, then drove to Dulles International Airport and caught the first flight to California.’
Much like Randolph Apperson Hearst, Steven Weed had used the media as a tool in which to attempt a negotiation for the release of his fiancé, but for the most part his actions on the night of her abduction, and the mannerisms in which he would present himself during his public appearances, often drew animosity from the public. He had spent much of his time in the early weeks of the media storm taking refuge in the Hearst mansion, but before long he began to irritate his hosts, until he finally decided to launch an independent search for Hearst. His attitude in the press also annoyed the authorities, whom he regularly criticised for their lack of progress in the case. ‘The F.B.I. does not intentionally – I really believe – want Patty to die,’ he had said in front of several agents, before then making a personal remake against Charles Bates, the man in charge of the investigation. ‘Mr. Bates comes in and sits down, and he’s poured a drink,’ he continued. ‘And Mr. Hearst and Mrs. Hearst, and whoever wants to be there, just sits down and chats. The comical parts about it is how adept Mr. Bates is at not telling us anything.’
Weed would tell his story to anyone who would listen, and was one of the first to sign a book deal with a publisher in order to document his own struggles with Patty Hearst and the S.L.A. As soon as her disappearance became a media spectacle, journalists and anyone connected to the publishing world desperately gathered together all the available information on the case. British producer David Boulton, best known for the documentary series World in Acton, worked with the New English Library to develop The Making of Tania: The Patty Hearst Story, while American journalist Shana Alexander, who was present in court throughout the trial, was responsible for Anyone’s Daughter. Weed, too, would capitalise on the notoriety by penning My Search for Patty Hearst. As one would have expected, he gave his testimony for the jury and was also interviewed by Dr. West, the same psychiatrist that had assessed Heart shortly after her apprehension. ‘I sat and listened to Mr. Weed for three-and-a-half hours, during which I think he spoke constantly,’ he told David Bancroft, the lawyer that had been assigned to handle the testimonies from experts in psychiatry. ‘He must have used a hundred to a hundred-and-fifty adjectives, which isn’t bad for a Princeton man, and sarcastic may have been one of them.’
Even as other books sought to exploit the growing interesting in Hearst, which included Exclusive! The Inside Story of Patricia Hearst and the S.L.A. and Patty/Tania, an exploitation picture based on a novel published in 1972, which boasted a premise eerily similar to that of the Symbionese Liberation Army, made its debut in New York in the autumn of 1975. Just a few years earlier, psychology student Joseph Zito developed an interest in filmmaking as he watched a new wave of independent features achieving modest success in the wake of Easy Rider, and so abandoned his studies to develop low-budget quickies with funds borrowed from family and friends. Even as he worked on a screenplay about a pandemic outbreak that he called Quarantine, Zito was approached with the proposition of directing an adaptation of Harrison James’ Black Abductor, a sleazy tale of an attractive young woman, Patty Prescott, who is kidnapped by a radical group in order to extort her rich father, and through such coercive measures as rape and torture, they seek to convert her to their cause. Initially intending to be an X-rated film, the majority of sex scenes were removed from Abduction and the film was released on the late-night theatre and drive-in circuit. While critics noted that the source material had been published more than a year before Hearst’s ordeal, reviews were scathing for its amateurish tone, underdeveloped characters, and unengaging story.
While Steven Weed whored himself to the media, Donald DeFreeze decided that it was no longer safe for the S.L.A. in San Francisco. Within the last six months they had murdered Marcus Foster, kidnapped and converted Patty Hearst, humiliated the F.B.I. and police, and committed an armed robbery that became front page news. They were now the most wanted fugitives in the country, and the first place that the authorities would search for them was close to the Bay. So Cin ordered his comrades to gather their materials, abandon their latest safehouse, and prepare for the journey almost four hundred miles south to Los Angeles, where they were not hunted felons. With Hearst’s face having been in the tabloids for the last two months, she needed to travel incognito, an so it was integral to their survival that they kept a low profile. As a final middle finger to the bureau, DeFreeze left a message on the wall of their house which had concluded with the taunting send-off of ‘Happy Hunting, Charles,’ for the attention of lead investigator Charles Bates, while Hearst herself wrote, ‘Freedom is the will of life. Patria o muerte, Venceremos,’ a favoured slogan that meant our country or death, we shall prevail. Using false credentials to rent three vehicles, even supplying the location of an empty lot as a contact address, they separated into three teams and took one last look at the city they had called home, before making their way onto Route 99 and keeping within the speed limit as they made the innocuous road trip to the City of Angels. But with less than $1,000 left of the takings from their heist, they knew that they needed to formulate a plan the moment they arrived in L.A.’
Los Angeles had long been a city of vices and corruption, with a police force as crooked as the criminals that waged war against them. While the forties saw such gangsters as Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel rule the streets with brutal intimidation, by the end of the sixties sexual assaults, prostitution, and drug trafficking had become the government’s greatest concern. If they were able to avoid making any boisterous statements that would alert the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) to their presence, they could easily assimilate themselves into the slew of drifters and tourists that make their way each year to Hollywood. The free love generation was well and truly over, and the nation had yet to embrace the commercialism of the eighties, so Los Angeles in the mid-seventies was a cultural vacuum. Like every other city, the youth were without direction, and the cloud cast by both Watergate and Vietnam left the country feeling like there was little hope for the future. It was in this negative environment that the Symbionese Liberation Army had thrived, and so DeFreeze and his followers felt as home in L.A. as they had in San Francisco.
When they finally arrived in L.A., the first task handed out was to find a new safehouse where they could lay low, and so Perry and her team searched for affordable and secluded accommodation, with Bill Harris delivering regular updates to his own group as they awaited instructions on their next move. ‘Teko returned from the five o’clock meeting in Cin’s van glowing with news: Fahizah had located a marvellous, cheap safehouse for us. It was in an all-black neighbourhood and it had no electricity, but it was only $70 a month,’ recalled Hearst. ‘Best of all, the landlord was a cool dude who had photos of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King on his walls, and he had said he loved freedom fighters. In fact, Fahizah thought the landlord, who called himself Prophet Jones, had recognised her, because he had kept asking if they had ever met before at political demonstrations. Fahizah, of course, had denied it, but she thought Prophet Jones to be so trustworthy that she had asked Cin’s permission to reveal to Prophet Jones that we were the S.L.A. We would be among friends in our new safehouse and we could begin recruiting. Cin okayed the action, but told Fahizah to take Zoya in with her as a back-up, just in case of any trouble. Fahizah’s team drove off to rent the safehouse, and we waited for her return. When Teko had come back from that meeting he told us laughingly that Prophet Jones ‘must be some kind of brother, because when Fahizah told him that she was from the S.L.A., he didn’t believe her.’ Our new landlord was tremendously suspicious of all white people, Teko said, with admiration in his voice.’
Located east of Inglewood in South Central, the house on West 84th Street was not only without electricity but also the tenants were forced to live without a hot water supply, making bathing even more of an issue than before. There was nothing welcoming about the property, and was the very epitome of a ghetto. But it was highly unlikely that the L.A.P.D. would come looking for them, particularly in such a neighbourhood, so despite protests at the quality of the living arrangement, they begrudgingly accepted the situation and began discussions on their next move. But within days of being in the city, the S.L.A. made a mistake that would have serious repercussions over the coming days. ‘On the morning of Thursday 16 May, one of the party parked the red-and-white Volkswagen van right outside the house. That day, parking happened to be prohibited for street cleaning. The van was booked and a citation was filled out, and left in the glove compartment. The citation included the West 84th Street address,’ explained Boulton. ‘Patty and the Harrises evidently didn’t intend to stay long on West 84th Street. They had conceived a new plan. As the original Tania had fled with Che to the sanctuary of the hills, so the S.L.A. prepared to make its base in the Californian wilderness. America’s urban guerrilla army had decided to go rural.’
This would be yet another decision that the group made that somewhat echoed that of the Manson Family. Following his failed attempt at launching a music career through his exploitation of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, Charles Manson had withdrawn from society along with his followers to the seclusion of an old movie ranch in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley. Owned by an elderly man called George Spahn and populated by a handful of ranch-hands, the site was perfect for a cult of misfits and criminals who wished to evade the law and live under their own set of regulations. Occasionally the Family would venture into the nearby dunes, where they were at one with nature, and with downtown Los Angeles less than thirty miles from the ranch, the city was merely a hitchhike away. This kind of environment would be ideal for the Symbionese Liberation Army, who by this point had already become notorious in their hometown, and yet despite their desire to retreat to a safe haven where they could plan their revolution, far from the prying eyes of the L.A.P.D., they had been forced to endure the poverty and misery that life on West 84th Street had to offer.
‘I suggest that it is reasonable to believe that a person who is in fear of being killed by her captors does not, when confronted with an opportunity to escape from her captors, fire weapons in the direction of other persons in order to free the captors, and does not fail to try to escape, given an opportunity,’ proposed prosecuting attorney James Browning during his closing statement. The date is Thursday, 18 March, 1976 and the trial of the United States of America vs. Patricia Campbell Hearst has been in full swing for exactly six weeks. Browning, who has struggled through the trial with the flu, tried to reason that an event which took place two years earlier, on 16 May on South Crenshaw Boulevard in Inglewood, seriously undermines the defence’s claims that Hearst was both brainwashed and coerced into the crimes that she had committed during her time as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. On the date in question, Hearst had opened fire in a public street in an attempt to free her comrades, one of two incidents that now threatened to have her remain incarcerated for the rest of her life. ‘She attempts to explain this by telling us that it was a sort of reflex action. If that is true, ladies and gentlemen, there were three reflex actions. The first had to be when she picked up the gun.’
It was late in the afternoon one Thursday in May 1974 when Hearst left with the safehouse with Bill and Emily Harris to pick up some supplies at Mel’s Sporting Goods, some four miles northwest of West 84th Street. Hearst had taken to wearing a wig when out in public for fear of being recognised, and as Bill and Emily crossed Crenshaw Boulevard towards the store, Hearst remained in the van, enjoying the warm breeze on her face after weeks of being caged inside rundown apartments and houses. Beside Hearst was an enveloped filled with money to pay off the recently-obtained parking fine, but first they had to purchase clothes for their upcoming missions. Disappearing through the front door of Mel’s, they both separated for a moment as Emily began to work from their shopping list, while Bill lusted over an ammunition bandolier. From behind the counter, the clerk spied his suspicious activity and so remained trained on his movements, and as bad luck would have it, Tony Shepard was determined to join the police force, and so was trained in how to handle a weapon and defend himself against an attack.
After Emily paid for her items, the pair began to head towards the door, prompting Shepard to make his way around the counter to intercept them. Realising that the man was closing in on him, Bill made a desperate attempt to escape but was overpowered, with the clerk placing handcuffs on the shoplifter as his manager rushed out to assist. Glancing carefree around the neighbourhood, Hearst’s eyes soon came to fall on the store and she immediately leapt into action. ‘In a flash of recognition, I took it all in instantly,’ she explained. ‘Teko was on the ground in front of the store, struggling fiercely. Several men were atop him, trying to pin him down. Yolanda was being held firmly in the grip of another man, and she was trying to kick him and to free herself. Another man was jumping around, also trying to subdue Teko. In that same instant, I could see both Teko and Yolanda looking over in my direction. They were staring right at me, waiting for me to take action. I immediately knew what to do. I had been trained and drilled in this very combat manoeuvre over and over again. I scrambled to pick up the proper weapon, the one with the heaviest firepower, Teko’s submachine gun. Moving towards the front and leaning over the driver’s seat, I shoved the sawed-off weapon out the window, resting one hand on the window frame. Holding it with the other, I aimed it over their heads and, despite my awkward position, pulled the trigger.’
Hearst, having emptied the machine gun, then turned and pulled out her own weapon, a semiautomatic, and begin to squeeze the trigger, firing across the road through traffic until both Bill and Emily Harris had escaped from their aggressors. The men dove for shelter as Hearst returned to the van, allowing Bill to jump behind the wheel and turn the key in the ignition. The engine sputtered to life and they made their getaway from their first Los Angeles crime scene. As Emily screamed at her husband for his stupid mistake, the Volkswagen weaved through backstreets as he attempted to put as much distance between Mel’s and their van as possible, but with their vehicle having been involved in a felony, they quickly pulled to a halt and grabbed their weapons, hastily abandoning the van and precuring a car that had just pulled up close by. Bill announced them as members of the S.L.A. as he held out his gun, demanding the driver to relinquish his keys.
But their escape would not last long as, just a few blocks later, the car suddenly came to a stop and died. Once again they were desperately searching for another vehicle, and so Bill approached another owner and demanded use of their car. ‘‘Just a second,’ the owner of the Chevy said, in heavily accented English. He had a lawnmower in the back. Could he remove it before they took the car?’ wrote biographer Jeffrey Toobin. ‘Bill agreed, and Emily and Patricia transferred the weapons a second time. At least the Chevy appeared to be in decent working order, and for the moment there appeared to be no one in pursuit. Bill drove through the streets of Inglewood, heading nowhere in particular. Bill, Emily, and Patricia discussed their situation. They were fine now, but the police were sure to follow the trail from their VW van to the Pontiac, to the Chevy. They would need another car to lose the police. They took the Chevy to a shopping centre, hoping to find another vehicle that might cause the police to lose their trail. They saw a hippie-type getting into a camper, which seemed especially appealing because it could serve as a mobile hideout. Bill pulled his gun, and unlike the previous two carjack victims, the hippie registered with real fear. He started weeping hysterically. Bill gave up on him and his camper. ‘Don’t call the cops!’ Bill instructed, but he realised that the cops would soon know of their latest encounter as well.’
Tom Matthews was as far from the Symbionese Liberation Army as one could imagine. While several members of the organisation had come from respectable homes, they were now radicalised and working towards a revolution that they felt was inevitable, but Matthews was an eighteen-year-old senior at the nearby Lynwood High School, and the following day was set to participate in the state playoffs for the campus baseball team. Petty had been a cheerleader in her teens, while Bill had grown up a passionate fan of sport, but Matthews seemed to have a chance of turning his talents into a promising career. Having seen a ‘For Sale’ sign in his driveway, Emily asked the young man for a test-drive before purchasing the $2,500 vehicle, but when Matthews insisted on joining her, she realised that she had no choice but to accept his demand. Having made their way from the house, Emily pulled to a half as Bill stepped out in front of them, his machine gun raised as a warning to the passenger. Once again announcing himself as a member of the S.L.A., Bill and Hearst climbed inside and Matthews, taking a seat next to the woman in a wig, had now become their hostage.
‘They said they were really organised,’ recalled Matthews when cross-examined in court the following year. ‘They said if they could pull off a bank job in one-and-a-half minutes they could get away.’ Enjoying the fascination that their new companion showed for the group, Bill revealed that the woman sat next to him was the kidnap victim-turned-revolutionary Patty Hearst, and after showing genuine support for the three, he suggested a nearby hardware store where they could purchase a saw in order to free Bill from the handcuffs that were still wrapped around one of his wrists. When both Emily and Hearst failed, Matthews offered his services, and finally Bill was free from his restraints. ‘The van then moved on to a drive-in cinema at Inglewood, which was showing a cops and robbers feature, The New Centurions,’ detailed David Boulton in The Making of Tania. ‘Then Tom said he was sorry, but he really had to get home; it was halfway through the night and his parents would be frantic. By now, they would have reported him and the van missing. He was told he would have to wait until they had found another car. So he pulled the blanket over himself and dropped off to sleep. When he awoke, the van was in the Hollywood Hills and it was nearly dawn. He heard the trio discussing how to hijack another car.’
The drive-in wasn’t just a random location for the three to hide out with their hostage, as this had been a pre-arranged meeting point if, for security reasons, they were forced to abandon their safehouse and regroup far from the action, where they could discuss their next move away from the glaring lights of the police cars. But by morning DeFreeze and their other comrades had failed to show, and so the Harrises and Hearst allowed Matthews to return home while they searched for a place to lay low and wait for Bill, the group’s leader, to suggest how they should proceed. Following summer work at Disneyland, Emily suggested that they rent a room at the site’s motel. ‘Disneyland, even from the outside, looked enormous and inviting. It had been years since I last visited it as a child, so young and innocent and carefree,’ admitted Hearst. ‘We now had only our weapons with us, having lost the clothes and the groceries we had bought when we abandoned Cin’s VW. The room seemed marvellously big to me and clean, with two large double beds and a colour television set. Teko headed for the TV as soon as we got into trouble. ‘It’s live…Look, it’s live,’ Teko exclaimed, shaking all over, pointing. We gathered around the set and watched. There in living colour, we could see what seemed to like a regular cops and robbers show: an army of policemen, wearing gas masks and battle fatigues, surrounding a little white stucco house.’
During their desperate attempt from Mel’s, there was one important detail they had completely forgotten about. At the time, they may have felt it was inconsequential, but it was a mistake that would threaten to bring the S.L.A’s revolution to an end. When they had fled from the Volkswagen van, they had neglected to collect the parking ticket that they had obtained sometime earlier, and with the address indicating that the vehicle had been parked outside a house on West 84th Street, the police cornered off the road and brought in their S.W.A.T. team. As gun violence in Los Angeles increased during the sixties, the L.A.P.D. created a new task force that would utilise state-of-the-art weapons and the skills to use them in order to diffuse situations that involved terrorists, hostages, or other dangerous standoffs in which regular officers may have been out of their element. Having replaced the Mobile Security Unit that was formed in the forties, S.W.A.T. – Special Weapons and Tactics – was an army of highly-trained gunmen that had become the most feared arm of modern policing. After hearing the police had surrounded the house in South Central, the F.B.I. dispatched agents to the scene, with both forces competing for supremacy as they attempted to lure the fugitives from out of the sanctuary of the safehouse.
Locked away in a motel room at Disneyland, an environment far-removed from the slum on West 84th Street, Bill Harris, his wife Emily, and Patricia Hearst watched in horror as their comrades were surrounded live on television, their final stand-off against the authorities that had so doggedly pursued them, captured in real-time for the entire nation to see. ‘The courtroom is darkened, the film begins, and the familiar staccato voice of Los Angeles television newscaster Jerry Dunphy provides a running ad-lib commentary on the violent events we see,’ wrote Shana Alexander in Anyone’s Daughter, as she recalled the moment on 18 February, 1976 when the judge and jury of the United States District Court watched footage taken two years earlier, in which the L.A.P.D. and F.B.I. attempted to force the Symbionese Liberation Army from their home. ‘Dunphy describes the action as if it were an impromptu sporting event, which in a sense it was. Police radios crackle with assault team code: Manhunt, Cobra. The action shifts. The S.L.A. are really hiding in a different bungalow. Cops and newsmen rush to the new location. Dunphy’s hyped-up sportscaster voice praises the Los Angeles police professionalism, and this brings a chorus of boos from a few spectators and young reporters in the back rows of the courtroom.’
‘At this point in time, I don’t believe that she will give herself up to come home,’ admitted Randolph Apperson Hearst just days after his daughter and two other fugitives sat in a motel room at Disneyland Los Angeles, watching along with the rest of the nation as the other members of the S.L.A. stood their ground against both the L.A.P.D. S.W.A.T. team and the F.B.I. It had been more than three months since Patricia Hearst had been taken from her home in Berkeley, and now it seemed that respectable young woman was lost forever. Having rescued her two comrades from apprehension, she had shed any doubt for herself, her companions, or the American public that was no longer a victim but now a fully-fledged member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. ‘While I have no death wish, I have never been afraid of death,’ she would claim less than two weeks later. ‘Life is very precious to me, but I have no delusions that going to prison would keep me alive, and I would never choose to live the rest of my life surrounded by pigs.’ But following the televised shootout on West 84th Street, the Los Angeles Police Department issued a warning to Hearst and her co-conspirators. ‘If they’ve got any sense, they’d have left,’ threatened L.A.P.D. commander Peter Hagan before the dust had settled and the fires had only just been extinguished. ‘Things are getting hot here!’
The Los Angeles Police Department has had a long, troubled history with the city that it had been created to protect, and was for many years considered the most corrupt and, particularly towards black citizens, the most dangerous force in the country. In 1946, in an effort to combat organised crime, the L.A.P.D. created the Gangster Squad, an off-the-book outfit of officers and detectives under the instructions of the chief of police, who vowed to rid L.A. of the corruptive influence of Mickey Cohen and his mobster peers. ‘Los Angeles had one bona fide gangster on its hands,’ wrote author Pal Lieberman in his study Gangster Squad. This group were often as violent and willing to break the rules as the criminals, as this was the only way the government knew how to rid the streets of crime, but once William H. Parker took over as chief, the department began to undergo a significant change in an effort to distance itself from its sordid past and into the modern age. This would not stop officers from remaining trigger-happy, and the LAPD would continue to encounter significant controversy throughout its history, but by the seventies the police department had at least attempted to separate itself from the villains.
As tensions between the L.A.P.D. and F.B.I. began to boil over on the scene at East 54th Street, where DeFreeze and company had now taken refuge, six members of the Symbionese Liberation Army stood their ground against their oppressors, despite being significantly outnumbered and outgunned. The agency had no real jurisdiction in Los Angeles as the crimes committed by the S.L.A. were not federal offences. The F.B.I. were often assigned cases that involved terrorism, serial killers, snipers, mass murders, or counterintelligence, while in the boundaries of L.A. the only crimes that the organisation were guilty of were opening fire in a public place, speeding, public endangerment, and shoplifting. While Hearst would later stand trial for the use of a firearm in a felony, had this not been the actions of the S.L.A., it is doubtful that the F.B.I. would have given it a second thought. But DeFreeze, Hearst, and their comrades had repeatedly embarrassed the government, and now the Feds were determined to bring this circus to an end. Having been warned of the shooting at Mel’s earlier that day, DeFreeze had desperately searched through his neighbourhood to find a sympathetic household that were willing to offer them shelter.
When the police stumbled upon two vans hidden in an alleyway that was known as a popular dumping site, they were soon traced to an alternative address where members of the S.L.A. were now hiding. As DeFreeze stared out the window at the army amassing outside, the authorities continued to quarrel among themselves over who was in charge of the scene. ‘Police and FBI called a planned meeting for 2pm at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in Newton Street. Assistant police chief Daryl Gates argued out with the F.B.I.’s local director, William Sullivan, the question of which force should lead the operation against the S.L.A.,’ explained Boulton. ‘A command post was established in an unmarked police van, parked on the corner of 57th Street and Compton Avenue. It got off to a bad start. The adjacent building where officers planned to make and receive telephone calls was locked and no one had thought to bring the key. At 3pm, the command post was moved to a parking lot on Alameda Street, nearly three-quarters of a mile from the 54th Street address and the S.L.A. vans. The car park attendant let the police use the office phones, and a comprehensive short-wave radio system was also installed. By 3:30, a hundred-and-fifty Los Angeles policemen, a hundred F.B.I. agents, a hundred sheriff’s officers, and fifteen state highway patrolmen assigned to what had now become one of the biggest operations in the L.A.P.D.’s long, ruthless history.’
Much as it is human nature to slow down to observe a car crash, so too is it to stop and stare when a police shootout is underway. And as such, the houses and roads surrounding East 54th Street attracted large crowds of curious and morbid spectators, prompting both the L.A.P.D. and F.B.I. to worry that collateral damage could be inevitable. While both officers and agents were unsure on which house they were to target, Mary Carr, the mother of one of the residents, settled the debate by pointing to the correct door. ‘Occupants of 1466 East 54th Street,’ bellowed a sergeant through his bullhorn. ‘This is the Los Angeles Police Department speaking. Come out with your hands up! Comply immediately, and you will not be harmed.’ DeFreeze was not a complete animal, and so allowed those inside the house that were innocent of any crime relating to the S.L.A. to make their way out to the safety of the sidewalk, while the S.L.A. soldiers kept their eyes on the figures skulking in the shadows outside.
Watching their comrades caged in like animals was too much for the three hiding out in the motel to bear, with heavily-armed officers training their weapons on the house, looking for any excuse to open fire. ‘The emotional shock was devastating. Shots rang out and my body reverberated as though struck,’ admitted Hearst. ‘Tear-gas canisters were fired into the house. Clouds of smoke and gas poured out of the front windows, followed by a fusillade of submachine gun fire from the house in response. ‘That’s our people in there,’ screamed Teko. Yolanda began sobbing. Teko changed channels and it was all the same; perhaps a different angle, a slightly different scene, but it was all the same like a war news film out of Vietnam. Handheld cameras jerked every which way, while the news reporters described in simplistic detail what we could see on the screen. As Teko impatiently switched channels, we saw the same scene over and over again, but we did get a variety of synopses of what had happened earlier, before we had reached the motel. Apparently, Cin and the others had taken over that house on East 54th Street in the Compton area during the previous night, or in the early hours of this morning. They were hiding the black occupants of the house hostage, the newsmen said. But they were all trapped inside, surrounded by an overwhelming force of Los Angeles police, more than one hundred of them. And they had refused to surrender.’
While this had been a war raged between the F.B.I. and the S.L.A., now it had invaded the homes of families all across the country, broadcast before the watershed and without the media even knowing how this incident would end. ‘The television coverage was live and in colour throughout most of California, and it came at a prime-time, dinner-hour period on a Friday evening,’ wrote Rolling Stone a month later. ‘People sat in their living rooms, watching an epic battle of American insanity, commenting to each other about the cases of ammunition being unloaded from the F.B.I. car, about the small grin on the cop’s face as he threw the bolt home on his rifle, before firing another round into the blazing little bungalow in south Los Angeles. His baseball cap and clumsy flak jacket, along with his bolt-action rifle, made him appear as a boy playing at a game, in which all the battles are heroic spectacles – where just the imaginary bad guys fall dead. The camera pans closer, peering at a window belching flames. Nothing can be seen of the Symbionese Liberation Army. The live sound had earlier picked up the heavy fusillade from inside the house that police said began the gun battle, and later the camera spotted what looked to be a gun barrel poking through the drapes at one window. But only one human form from the house was seen, and that was a terrified young black woman who ran from the house as the fire began, and stumbled into the grip of police, who threw her to the ground and handcuffed her hands behind her back, and then began shouting in her face, ‘How many? Are they white people?’’
While the S.L.A. were surrounded from both sides and had little chance of escape, they refused to submit to the fascist, bourgeoisie pigs, instead remaining inside the house, their faces covered by gas masks, as the L.A.P.D. did everything they could to force them from their hideaway. As the police began to run low on ammunition, they reluctantly allowed the FBI to join in the fight, and soon DeFreeze and his five associates had a new army to contend with. The gunfight had lasted approximately an hour, by which point the whole of America – including Patty Hearst and, several hundred miles away, her parents – were glued to their television sets. Back in Hillsborough, Randolph and Catherine Hearst watched with bated breath for confirmation on whether or not their daughter was one of the soldiers trapped in the house, or if by some miracle she had managed to escape the massacre. By the time 7pm drew nearer, thick black smoke poured from the windows of the house and filled the darkening sky, but despite the building gradually turning into an inferno, in truth neither the F.B.I. nor the L.A.P.D. had any clear idea of what was going on inside.
The situation had turned desperate for the Symbionese Liberation Army. There was no clear path of escape, ammunition was starting to run dry, and even through their masks they were having trouble remaining focused as their enemy drew near. ‘Nancy Ling had climbed through a small space that family dogs had used to go beneath the house, to escape the heat of the day. She rose from a crouch, fired a pistol in the direction of the police, and was then immediately hit by seven bullets, producing two fatal wounds in her back, four nonfatal wounds in her legs, and one nonfatal wound in her arm,’ detailed Jeffrey Toobin in American Heiress. ‘Camilla Hall followed Ling out of the crawl space, guns in both hands. Before Hall could get all the way out, a police bullet shattered her skull, tearing off a large portion of her head. She fell to a prone position, and her comrades pulled her lifeless body by the legs back into the house. At 6:58pm, the walls and roof of the house collapsed. The pop-pop of unused ammunition exploding inside the gutted residence – which made a different sound from ammunition fired from a weapon – continued for a few more minutes. Then the guns were silent. At 7:02, the police decided it was safe for firefighters to begin to extinguish the blaze. By the time they did, not a single wall in the house remained intact.’
In the decades since the shootout that claimed the lives of six members of the S.L.A. – Donald DeFreeze, Patricia Soltysik, Willie Wolfe, Nancy Ling Perry, Angela Atwood, and Camilla Hall – journalists and citizens have repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the actions of both the L.A.P.D. and the F.B.I., with the severity of violence displayed that day in the streets and on television leaving a nation horrified. ‘It was overkill, no doubt about it,’ said M. L. Leverette, a neighbour from across the street who took photos throughout the gunfight. ‘The L.A.P.D. was making a statement to revolutionaries, to stay out of the city.’ In an article published by the Harvard Crimson two weeks later, its writer declared, ‘Yet, there is no justification for the way six members of the S.L.A. were ultimately destroyed by police; even if it can be argued that such a dramatic death may have served their political purposes more eloquently than any planned action. It is impossible to believe that the Los Angeles police, and the F.B.I., needed four hundred men, equipped with helicopters, tear gas, bullets, and fragmentation grenades, to overcome six amateur gunmen trapped in a single house. Nor is there any excuse for the police to have totally ignored the safety of the community. A crippled woman sitting on the porch next door to the S.L.A.’s hideout had to be helped to cover when the shooting began without previous warning.’
Having followed the events on the day, and then witnessed the news footage in the courtroom, author Shana Alexander recalled the devastating aftermath of the S.L.A.’s last stand. ‘The morning after the fire, five bodies charred beyond recognition, gas masks melted onto their faces, were removed from the ruins, put into plastic bags, and delivered to the coroner’s office,’ she said. ‘By noon, the coroner had made positive identifications from dental records. Only then did Catherine and Randolph Hearst learn that their daughter was not among the victims. Five of the six S.L.A. members died from bullet wounds and smoke inhalation. DeFreeze’s body, like the others, contained multiple bullet wounds, but the coroner said the fatal shot was a self-inflicted revolver bullet in the head. Later, in its official report on the battle, the Los Angeles Police Department said the S.L.A. arsenal had included four automatic weapons, six shotguns, six handguns, and the makings of pipe bombs, all found inside the house. The L.A.P.D. had opposed this force with five-thousand, three-hundred-and-seventy-one bullets from the S.W.A.T. team alone. It also used tear gas rockets, and tossed tear gas canisters into the house.’
For Patricia Hearst, who had been one of the primary targets of the authorities that day, the sight of the F.B.I. laying siege to the S.L.A. safehouse only confirmed that which she had been warned about time and time again over the preceding weeks. ‘Cin had told me it would be that way. If I had been there, I would be dead now,’ she admitted. ‘I could not believe that Cin was dead. I just could not believe it. Yet it flashed through my mind that I was glad he was dead. Glad that all of them were dead. They deserved to die for what they had done to me. They had expected to die in this cause, but they had no right to expect me to die with them. But then I corrected myself: this was a bad thought to harbour. The shootout had been barbaric. I really did not wish them to die in that way. In fact, I really did not want them to be killed, because now I was left with the Harrises, for whom I felt no comradeship whatsoever. My fear of them intensified. My life in the S.L.A. would be even more miserable from now on. I sat there on the floor in a stupor. I was a soldier, an urban guerrilla, in the people’s army. It was a role I had accepted in exchange for my very life. There was no turning back. The police or F.B.I. would shoot me on sight, just as they had killed my comrades. I sat there sobbing; not for my comrades, but for myself.’
For fifteen years, K.P.F.K. had kept listeners in southern California entertained with their irreverent discussions and popular music. It was mid-morning on Friday, 7 June, approximately three weeks after the massacre in Los Angeles, when the DJ received an anonymous call informing him of a cassette tape that had been left in the alleyway behind the station. This would prove to be the latest communiqué from the Symbionese Liberation Army, and their first since the death of Cinque. While Bill Harris, the new leader of the S.L.A., would head the proceedings, the familiar voice of Patty Hearst followed with a statement she wished to make regarding the death of Willie Wolfe, known to his comrades as Cujo. Despite her insistence in later years that the two were not romantically involved, during the recording she blasted the authorities for his violent and senseless murder. ‘The name Cujo means unconquerable. It is the perfect name for him,’ she declared. ‘Cujo conquered life as well as death, by facing them and fighting. Neither Cujo nor I ever loved an individual the way we loved each other, probably because our relationship wasn’t based on bourgeois values, attitudes, and goals. I was ripped off by the pigs when they murdered Cujo – ripped off the same way that thousands of sisters and brothers in this fascist country have been ripped off of people they loved.’ She would even take a moment to celebrate her infamous leader: Donald DeFreeze. ‘He taught me virtually everything imaginable, but wasn’t liberal with us. He’d kick our asses if we didn’t hop over a fence fast enough, or keep our asses down while practising. Most importantly, he taught me how to show my love for the people. He helped me see that it’s not how long you live that’s important, it’s how you live, what we decide to do with our lives.’
Sara Jane Olson stepped out through the front door of her five-bedroom home on Hillcrest Avenue in the Highland Park region of St. Paul in Minnesota. The fifty-two-year-old woman was a respected member of the community, had occasionally performed in local productions of William Shakespeare plays, and was revered for her social activism. She had moved to the city in the eighties and had succeeded in building a respectable life for herself, and on the morning of 16 June, 1999, she climbed behind the wheel of her Plymouth minivan and set out to work, where she taught classes to immigrants. But what she hadn’t realised was there were several vehicles following her from a discrete distance, watching her every move with close scrutiny. Four weeks earlier, the popular true crime television show America’s Most Wanted had run a piece on the Symbionese Liberation Army, and had depicted a censored account of the brutal shootout with authorities twenty-five years earlier that had left six revolutionaries dead. Suddenly Olson was approached by a patrol car, with its driver gesturing for her to pull-up at the side of the road. To her surprise and horror, she was suddenly surrounded by officers from the St. Paul and Los Angeles police departments, and agents of the F.B.I.
Half a century earlier, Kathleen Ann Soliah was born in the city of Fargo in North Dakota, before relocating to Barnesville, Minnesota, where her younger brother, Steven, was brought into the world. Kathy, as she was so often called, had a fondness for drama while in school and made occasional appearances in their theatre productions, but the family was eventually forced to uproot to California when her father accepted work in Lompoc. Less than a year later, they relocated once again to Palmdale, a city in the most northern region of Los Angeles. At the age of twenty, she enrolled at the University of California, Santa Barbara, at a time when campuses across the United States had become heavily politicised. Seeing the injustice all around her, with Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated during her second year of studies, Soliah began to sympathise with the revolutionary cause, and it was around this time that she fell in love with a young man called Jim Kilgore. More than a year after her graduation, the couple decided to move to the neighbourhood of Berkeley, and it was here that they crossed paths with several people that would become close friends and key players in her life, including Berkeley graduate Michael Bortin, Wendy Yoshimura, and Angela Atwood.
When Detective David Reyes of the L.A.P.D. located Sara Jane Olson in the summer of 1999, he knew he was closing the page in an important chapter in California’s history. She appeared to be an all-American woman who paid her taxes, obeyed the speed limit, and was respected by her neighbours, but what the other residents of Hillcrest Avenue did not know was that Sara Jane Olson and Kathleen Ann Soliah were one and the same. It would be her brief role in the Symbionese Liberation Army, which had begun in the June of 1974, that would force her to mysteriously disappear the following year, assuming a new identity and returning to the state of Minnesota. Six months after her arrest in 1999, Olson published her first book, Serving Time: Americas Most Wanted Recipes, a cookbook that was intended to help finance her defence while she was an inmate at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul. ‘At that time, it seemed completely out of touch with my immediate reality, but I didn’t protest,’ she explained in the book. ‘In jail, anything’s a distraction.’ Following her indictment before the grand jury, Soliah decided to plead guilty to charges of planting bombs under police cars in 1975, but in November 2001 she withdrew this admission of guilt. ‘After deeper reﬂection, I realise I cannot plead guilty when I am not,’ she later claimed.
Kathy Soliah’s story with the S.L.A. began on 2 June 1974, when she agreed to give a speech at a commemorative rally in honour of the fallen soldiers that had perished the previous month. One of the dead, Angela Atwood, had been a close friend of Soliah, and the two had acted together in local productions. Having watched their senseless murder at the hands of the L.A.P.D., this left her sickened to her core. ‘The rally took place in a pie-shaped corner of Ho Chi Minh Park,’ wrote biographer Sharon Hendry in Soliah: The Sara Jane Olson Story. ‘The crowd consisted of some former well-known Berkeley radicals, and Vietnam War protesters dressed in the Berkeley style of boots and casual clothes. From a nearby building, the FBI filmed the gathering. Someone had lined up bottles of Acadama Plum Wine along the front of the stage, a memorial gesture to Field Marshal Cinque’s favourite drink. Kathy Soliah was twenty-seven-years-old now, tall and lean, with a firm jaw and long, straight, light brown hair. She was angry.’
Her appearance at the rally may have only been a passing interest to the F.B.I., but one person whose attention was aroused by her words of encouragement was Bill Harris. Much like Soliah, Teko had been mourning the death of Atwood, his friend from his old days at Indiana University, and ever since the shootout in Los Angeles, the Symbionese Liberation Army had felt like less of an army and more like a failure. ‘For several days, Teko and Yolanda discussed the wisdom of approaching Kathleen Soliah,’ confirmed Hearst. ‘They did not know if she was under police surveillance or, even if not, whether she could be trusted to help us. So many of their former friends had turned out to be just big talkers. They preferred to approach only those whom they knew well. But we were at the end of our rope, broke. The choice was down to a hold-up of some sort, or try Kathy. They decided to approach Gelina’s friend. In her grey wig and nondescript dress, Yolanda went out to do it alone. She returned, ecstatic.’
Emily Harris succeeded in tracking down Soliah to a bookstore where she worked and slipped her a note, requesting that they meet at a nearby church. Within half an hour, the two had met covertly and Harris laid out the facts for her. With the help of Kilgore, and her younger sister, Josephine, Soliah gathered together all the money she could find and passed it over to the wanted felon with no questions asked. They had then arranged to meet the following evening, and a little over twenty-four hours later, the Harrises, Hearst, Soliah, and Kilgore reconvened in a drive-in theatre during a showing of The Sting, a drama which depicted an elaborate con devised by two grifters. Prior to the death of DeFreeze, Emily Harris had been somewhat marginalised in the inner-workings of the S.L.A., but when the latest communiqué was released to the public, in which Hearst had detailed her profound love for Wolfe, Emily also gave a eulogy to her fallen comrades, and a declaration of her intent with the S.L.A. ‘Greetings and profound love to all the people, to all the comrades-in-arms, to all the comrades in concentration camps in fascist America, and to all the children. This is Yolanda speaking,’ she announced. ‘When we say revolution, we do not use the word loosely. By revolution, we mean the violent fight for freedom – freedom that can be gained in no other way than by fighting!’
It would be with the help of Soliah, and her brother Steve, that the communiqué would find its way to the doors of K.P.F.K., and out into the ether via way of a radio broadcast. But even as they tried to keep a low profile, they suddenly received an unexpected show of support from a writer who wanted their story to be told to the world. A graduate of Syracuse University, Jack Scott had demonstrated a passion for sport from a young age, and trained as a sprinter during his time at Stanford University. Having then gained a doctorate from the University of California, he took his first step into the literary world in 1969 with Athletics for Athletes. ‘Scott’s politics were formed in the turbulent sixties, during which he became sports editor of the left-wing San Francisco magazine Ramparts,’ wrote the Guardian following his death in 2000. ‘But he began to make real changes when a new and liberal chancellor of Oberlin College, Ohio, appointed him as athletics director and chairman of physical education in 1972. Scott immediately hired a black football coach, the first in a non-black university in American history, then a black basketball coach, a trampoline champion, and a woman to coach women’s sports; appointments the like of which were unheard of at the time.’
In July 1984, Scott and his wife, Micki, successfully brought their lawsuit of two years to an end against Patricia Hearst following the publication of her memoir Every Secret Thing. In the book, the suit had claimed, she had accused the writer of ‘operating an underground railroad for radical fugitives,’ according to the New York Times. It is interesting that Scott, who won $30,000 in an out-of-court settlement with Hearst, had not raised a similar lawsuit against Shana Alexander. In Anyone’s Daughter, she said that ‘Jack and Micki Scott were among the many people who ran a kind of informal underground railroad for radicals in hiding.’ But if he was not involved in this kind of service for the revolutionaries of America, how did he come to be involved with the Symbionese Liberation Army? ‘Like much of the country, he watched on television on 17 May, 1974, as the core of the S.L.A. burned to death in a fiery shootout with the L.A.P.D.,’ stated the Cal Alumni Association. ‘Scott was at once transfixed and horrified. Though the S.L.A. had refused to surrender, firing thousands of rounds at police, Jack saw it as summary execution: murder by law enforcement. While he seethed at the perceived injustice, he also saw an opportunity. There was a big story, one that would garner a huge advance and even greater acclaim. And given his ties in Berkeley’s underground circles, Scott felt he was uniquely placed to get it. He flew back to the Bay Area and started making calls. It was his friends, Kathy Soliah, and her boyfriend, James Kilgore, a former college volleyball player, who took him, blindfolded, to an apartment on Berkeley’s Northside. When the blindfold came off, there sat Patty Hearst and her two captors-cum-comrades, Bill and Emily Harris. All three were armed to the teeth, holding rifles and decked out in ammo belts and bandoliers.’
Despite his sports credentials, when Scott finally laid out his plan to the group, Bill Harris seemed less-than-impressed with his involvement, particularly as his suggestions included leaving California, and extensive interviews that would serve as the basis for a book on the rise and fall of the S.L.A. While they continued to express reservations, they reluctantly agreed, and Hearst travelled by car with Scott across the United States to New York, where they met up with Micki Scott and Emily Harris. From there, they made their way to a farmhouse in a remote area of Pennsylvania which Micki had rented from a New York fireman for the summer. Once they had settled in, Jack then returned to San Francisco to collect Bill Harris. ‘I did have one full week of peace in that farmhouse, and then Teko arrived,’ complained Hearst. ‘Yolanda was happy and relieved to see him safe and sound, and reunited with us. The hugs and kisses were prolonged. He had shaved off his moustache and beard, and his hair was cut short and back to its natural brown colour. But he had not changed. He had no thank you for Jack, who had driven him to the farm. He demanded to see the weapons they had supplied us with at the farm. Then he flew into a rage. The .38-calibre revolver was loaded with blanks, and we were given no live ammunition. The carbine, which Jack admired, was a present from one of his old professors. The rifle was old, filthy and rusted out, and also without ammunition. They were useless.’
While they would be mostly left to their own devices, Scott would occasionally visit for a meal and conversation, during which he would constantly remind the group about his proposed book project, and attempt to generate some enthusiasm by talking about his various ideas. But all Bill Harris was interested in was continuing the training drills that had been developed by Donald DeFreeze, while Hearst enjoyed long walks in the countryside. But even as he pursued the concept with his guests, another person had approached the authorities with accusations that Scott was in the habit of harbouring fugitives. His brother, Walter Scott, turned himself in to the F.B.I. in August 1975 with news that Jack had kept Hearst safe from apprehension, although he had allegedly offered to give her up for a $100,000 reward and immunity from prosecution. ‘He felt she was not a true revolutionary,’ claimed Walter Scott, prompting Jack to respond through the tabloids to these accusations. ‘This represents a deliberate effort by the FBI to invade the defence camp, and to chip away at the very limited amount of time given to us by the court to prepare our legal case,’ he retorted.
Another sympathiser for the Symbionese Liberation Army that would spend time at the farmhouse was Wendy Yoshimura. Born on an American concentration camp in 1943, Yoshimura had always been a gifted artist and, at the age of twenty-two, enrolled at the California College of the Arts, before dropping out in her third year to spend time in Cuba. Returning to the United States soon afterwards, her life would change when, on 30 March, 1972, her partner, William Brandt, and two others were arrested for possessing, and owning materials for the building of, explosive devices. Fearing that she might face a prison sentence, Yoshimura disappeared underground, and it was through her friendship with Jack Scott that she was able to stay off the F.B.I.’s radar. And yet while Hearst would appreciate her company at the farmhouse, the increasingly volatile Bill Harris was regularly hostile to their new guest. ‘Teko accused her of being lazy and wasting her potential for Third World leadership. ‘The Third World people are the most oppressed in this country, and all over the world,’ Teko declared,’ claimed Hearst. ‘Teko intended to rule the roost. Wendy Yoshimura’s first shopping mission for Teko was to buy bags of sand and cement. He mixed these with water in five-gallon planter buckets, and fashioned fifty-pound barbells for arms – and leg – strengthening exercises. He had Yolanda make ankle weights for our jogging. She sewed sand into socks to make five-pound weights, which we would wrap around each ankle for our morning jog of either a half hour or a full hour.’
Once the Scotts discovered that their houseguests had been shooting on the property, against their instructions, they demanded a relocation to a new farmhouse in Jefferson, New York. It would be here that Scott concocted a new idea for his book project. He had recruited a friend, a teacher from Canada called Paul Hoch, to interview all three members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and those transcripts were then to become the focal point of the book. Bill Harris still had little interest in participating, but as he had been offered sanctuary away from the F.B.I. and L.A.P.D., he reluctantly agreed. The tapes, which have since become known as the Tania interview, was in part used during the subsequent trial against Patty Hearst. ‘We all had trouble explaining my conversion to the S.L.A.,’ she admitted. ‘The three of us went over the questions and our proposed replies, but the writer had difficulty accepting our answers. He was shocked when I told him of being kept locked up in a closet for two months. He had never suspected such a thing from his preconceived notions of why and how I had joined the S.L.A. Teko tried to explain that my being kept prisoner was not so bad. ‘It was a big closet,’ he explained. The writer asked, ‘How big?’ Teko could try to twist facts and stretch the truth to fit his own version of what had happened, but he could not bring himself to lie outright. We struggled to find the right words prior to being recorded. For instance, I said that the S.L.A. had not ‘kidnapped me,’ but rather ‘rescued me’ from my blighted, bourgeois life, and had led me to true freedom. The whole thing was an exercise to me, a sort of propaganda action.’
‘Doctor, you said earlier that you considered the period just before her abduction significant in reaching your opinion. Would you comment on that?’ James Browning Jr. stood before the jury, impatiently waiting for the clinical expert to respond. ‘Well,’ Dr. Harry Kozol began, taking a moment to clear his throat. ‘She entered this relationship with Weed with the most conventional aims. She wanted to marry, she wanted a ring. But Patricia also had private reservations. This very proud, dignified girl felt disappointed and frustrated. She was cooking for his friends, who were not her friends. Then she’d do the pots and pans. He did very little; when she wasn’t there, he lived on toast. These things, together. With some subtle hostility she had developed towards her parents – well, the girl who got kidnapped was a bitter, confused person, angry at authority, angry at power, angry at hypocrisy, angry at Steven Weed. She really was revolted by this man’s sense of values. So this is the girl who was picked up. She had gotten into a state where she was ripe for the plucking. I don’t think she was in a clear frame of mind, but she was in a receptive frame of mind. She was ready for something. She was a rebel in search of a cause. And the cause found her. In a sense, she was kidnapped by the cause.’
The state of mind of Patty Hearst prior to her abduction became a key factor in the case made by the prosecution, in that she had been easily recruited by the Symbionese Liberation Army because she was dissatisfied with her life and longed for an escape. But if this was true, more than a year on the run from the law could have changed that. Tensions between Hearst and the Harrises continued to rise, and the isolation of the farmhouse had caused them to turn on one another. Desperate for a way to escape the monotony of living in hiding, it was decided that they would return to California. However, with both San Francisco and Los Angeles police determined to either arrest or kill them, their destination was finally agreed as Sacramento. While the city would make the headlines later that year as the scene of the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford, committed by a member of the Manson Family, when the S.L.A. returned to the East Coast in the early months of 1975, they were confident that here they were safe from the authorities. ‘The capital of California was only ninety or so minutes by car from the Bay Area, and its great advantage to us was that neither we, nor our new recruits, were known there,’ said Hearst. ‘The plan, therefore, was for the Soliahs to rent a safehouse in Sacramento, and then divide their time between it and their usual haunts in the Berkeley-Oakland area and, gradually, without arousing any suspicion, disappear from view. Sacramento also had another distinct advantage: Joe Remiro and Russ Little had obtained a change of venue from Oakland for their trial for the Marcus Foster murder. They would be tried in Sacramento. We wanted to be on hand for that event. Bill and Emily Harris could hardly wait to get back.’
On 10 June, a jury of four men and eight women delivered a verdict of guilty against Joseph Remiro and Russell Little for the premeditated murder of Marcus Foster on 6 November, 1973. There had been no evidence that had placed the two at the scene of the crime, nor were there any witnesses to testify that they had seen the two defendants approach Foster or Blackburn on the evening in question, but with both apprehended with weapons and S.L.A. propaganda, the circumstantial evidence seemed enough to garner a conviction. Despite being sentenced to life in prison, four months later both Remiro and Little were called back to court in order to face additional charges that the government hoped would bring about ‘lengthy prison terms.’ These included being in possession of explosive devices and an attempted escape from Alameda County jail the previous year, and with the trial having once again relocated, this time to Los Angeles, the site of the S.L.A. massacre, it was clear that the courts wanted to make an example of them. ‘I know what they want to do. They want to lynch us,’ declared Remiro. ‘Try us and try us until they finally railroad us into a conviction of something, and then they’re going to throw us off into the prisons and then they’ll try to kill us. But it will be hard. They finally killed George Jackson, you know, and they got off easy.’
Finally returning to California, Hearst was invited by Kathy and Steve Soliah to stay with them, and she found the change of environment refreshing after the hostility of living with Bill Harris. Residing on W. Street, less than twenty blocks from Capitol Park, where President Ford would narrowly escape assassination, Hearst remained in good spirits with her new friends until the inevitable arrival of the Harrises. While they were in a more comfortable situation than their previous safehouses, there was little in the way of finance, with both Steve and Jim Kilgore working as housepainters, and Kathy working as a waitress. Eventually it was decided that their only means of survival was to commit another heist, and so began to research on the most plausible of targets. ‘On 25 February, two S.L.A. members allegedly held up the Guild Savings and Loan Association in Sacramento for $3729,’ said Rolling Stone. ‘The next day, a man identified as Bill Harris bought a 1966 Chevrolet station wagon with $20 bills, apparently taken in the robbery. Soon after, Steve Soliah allegedly used crisp new twenties to buy a 1967 Ford Galaxie, later recovered by police near Kilgore’s apartment. Harris had plans for a half-dozen more bank holdups in Sacramento, according to police. The banks had been scouted, and detailed maps had been drawn.’
Amidst the preparations for further heists, the living arrangements once again changed, with Emily Harris renting an apartment on Capitol Avenue with Hearst, and Bill Harris temporarily moving in with Kilgore. Harris continued to dictate training regimes as he selected the next location for the S.L.A. to hold up. In a suburb of the city known as Carmichael sat the Crocker National Bank, and on 21 April, Bill Harris orchestrated a major offensive on the bank in the hope of securing a taking that would help finance future operations. ‘This was not a robbery,’ claimed Hearst many years later. ‘It was an expropriation. It was a combat operation.’ After tense debates among the ranks, it was decided that the inside team would consist of Kathy Soliah and her friend from Berkeley, Michael Bortin, Emily Harris, and Jim Kilgore, while Patty Hearst and Wendy Yoshimura would drive the vehicles. Yet while their crime two months earlier had run seamlessly, this time their escapade would end in disaster.
Hearst slammed her foot down as hard as she could and the car roared to life, skidding across the gravel as they frantically made their way escape from the scene of the crime. She had not been present in the bank during the heist, and so was struggling to understand what had happened as her comrades screamed and shouted in desperation. ‘Kathy mumbled something which I could barely hear, but it sounded as if someone in the bank had been shot, a woman,’ recalled Hearst. ‘I heard Emily say, ‘Maybe, she’ll live…’ ‘No, said Jim somberly. ‘I saw her.’ ‘What’re you talking about?’ I asked, not wanting to believe what I had heard. Kathy then said that a woman in the bank had been shot. ‘Who shot her?’ I asked. ‘I did,’ snapped Emily. ‘Let’s not talk about it. Keep your eye on the road and your mind on the driving.’ Everyone seemed nervous and worried, except Emily. She was remarkably calm, reminding all of us we were to go to our own safehouses and stay there until contacted by Teko. I carefully parallel-parked the van near Winn Park, and Kathy and I got out and walked to our Capitol Avenue apartment. Emily accompanied Bortin and Kilgore to ditch the getaway car and then to T Street, where they could count the money taken from the bank.’
With Hearst not being present inside the bank, and therefore had not been a witness to the shooting, she could not be charged with this crime, but her association with the S.L.A., and her participation as a getaway driver, meant she was an accomplice and could once again find herself on the radar of the F.B.I. It had been months since the media or the authorities had devoted significant time to the group, but now an innocent member of the public had been shot. For all his swagger and confidence, F. Lee Bailey would have a difficult time mounting a defence against such a tragedy, as had she surrendered to the bureau the previous year, instead of opening fire at Mel’s Sporting Goods and releasing her comrades, then this nightmare could ended long ago. But instead, forty-two-year-old Myrna Opsahl, who arrived at the bank that morning to deposited receipts from her local church, was shot during the operation. Her husband, a surgeon on duty at the local hospital, had failed to save her from the shotgun wound to her stomach, and as a result she died on his operating table. Now the Symbionese Liberation Army were wanted for murder.
With Sacramento no longer offering sanctuary to them, the S.L.A. decided to return to San Francisco, where they were at least familiar with their surroundings, and had gained modest support from several radical groups. But they were now more determined than ever to make a statement against their oppressors, and through Bill Harris’ growing interest in bombs, it was agreed that they would strike a blow at the police department. Observing the behaviour of the officers, the proposed action was to place a device under a patrol car outside a coffee shop, and wait for driver and his partner to return to their vehicle. But despite their research on explosive devices, each attempt ended in failure. Finally, they turned their attention to the small city of Emeryville, located between the comfortable surroundings of Berkeley and Oakland. ‘The bomb was meant as an after-the-fact punishment for a police shooting of a fourteen-year-old boy in Emeryville, in November 1973,’ claimed Toobin in American Heiress. ‘Emily Harris and Steve Soliah placed their bomb under a police car on 13 August, 1975. This time the comrades succeeded. The car was demolished, though there were no injuries. The next day, they returned to writing communiqués, claiming responsibility in the name of the New World Liberation Front, which served as a kind of place-holder for all bombers in the Bay Area.’
Patricia Hearst had not seen them coming. Nor had she heard the army of footsteps leading towards the front door. She had finally escaped the company of Bill and Emily Harris, now living in relative peace with Steve Soliah and Wendy Yoshimura on Morse Street, a respectable neighbourhood close to the San Bruno Mountain State and County Park. Tim Casey made his way carefully around the back of the property and peered through the window, observing both women as they sat peacefully in the kitchen. Accompanied by a fellow police officer and five agents of the F.B.I., Casey burst through the door and trained his weapon on the suspects. ‘Don’t shoot, I’ll go with you,’ pleaded Hearst, who allegedly lost control of her bladder during the incident. ‘This apprehension came about as a result of a very diligent, painstaking effort by F.B.I. agents throughout the entire United States,’ boasted the government, attempting to distract the public from the fact that the S.L.A. had left both the bureau and the police humiliated for more than a year. ‘Following up on leads in an effort to locate Patty Hearst, we attempted to interview numerous individuals we believed to have knowledge of her, or associations with her. In the course of these attempts, we developed a reasonable basis to believe that Patty Hearst was in the Morse Street house where she was apprehended.’
According to an account detailed by Toobin, the turning point in the investigation came when Monte Hall of the F.B.I. backtracked the purchase of a vehicle that traced the agents to a painting company in Pacifica, a city on the coast in southern San Francisco. This was the same firm that employed Steve Soliah and Jim Kilgore, and having looked through a series of photographs, the manage identified both Soliah and Michael Bortin. The main focus of their surveillance, it was revealed to the media, was Kathy Soliah, and during a stakeout they happened to observe two familiar faces: Bill and Emily Harris. They were apprehended without incident, and it was only as a routine inquiry that officers and agents visited the house on Morse Street, where they stumbled upon public enemy number one: Patty Hearst. ‘The shots I expected did not come,’ she later recalled. ‘The voice seemed to reach me from somewhere far away. ‘Freeze!’ ‘Stop, or I’ll shoot!’ In fractions of a second, as I heard the voice, I slid into Wendy’s bedroom, terrified, instinctively moving away from the hail of bullets I expected. I was through the door and away, out of the line of fire, when the voice came through to me, loud and clear; ‘Come out, or I’ll blow your head off!’ I stopped and looked back. There was Wendy up against the wall in the hallway, just outside the kitchen. She looked over her shoulder at me. Pure panic was in her eyes. In the flash of that moment I thought two things at once: the shotgun hidden in the wall behind me, and Wendy’s statement back on the farm that she did not want to shoot it out and die; she wanted to come out with her hands up.’
The headlines that ran the day after the arrest of Patty Hearst were as sensational as the ones following her abduction nineteen months earlier. In that time she had progressed from captive to soldier, from victim to fugitive, and from celebrity to pop culture icon. For the nation, it was one of the most shocking and exciting scandals of the decade, but for her family it was a devastating ordeal that threatened to tear them apart. In March of 1975, Hearst’s younger sister, Anne, was arrested by customs officials while returning from Niagara Falls, across the border in Canada, where she was found with amphetamines in her possession. Hearst and her companion, Donald Moffett, were charged with a misdemeanour, although they were eventually sentenced to probation instead of the one-year prison term and $5,000 fine that they both faced. But the return of Patricia Campbell Hearst on 18 September, 1975 brought one of America’s biggest manhunts to an end, and gave both Randolph and Catherine Hearst closure after more than a year-and-a-half of fearing for their daughter’s life. ‘Please call it a rescue, not a capture,’ pleaded her mother. ‘She was happy,’ revealed her father after visiting the prison. ‘She really wants to come home. We told her we loved her, and hugged her and kissed her. We just said we loved each other.’
While Yoshimura was remanded to the custody of the Alameda County sheriff’s department, relating to an earlier charge of explosives, Randolph Hearst retained the services of the Hallinan family. Vincent Hallinan was something of a legend in the world of legal affairs, with a career that, at the time of his death in 1992, had spanned seven decades. He was known for his theatrical flair during court appearances, as well as being a ruthless opponent, but perhaps his most defining attribute was his willingness to take unpopular cases and fight for the underdog. ‘He had defended a murder case in which a great public clamour had been excited against the defendant,’ wrote his wife, Vivian, in her family biography My Wild Irish Rogues. ‘This bias had penetrated into the courtroom and had affected the trial judge. Vin had denounced the conduct of the trial, and had been sentenced to twenty-four hours in jail for contempt of court. His appeal to the Supreme Court had been turned down, and he was now required to serve the sentence.’ Despite his refusal to conform to the expectations of the courts, Hallinan was an imposing presence when he worked his defence, and it was this fearless bravado that Hearst hoped would win the freedom of his daughter.
But by the time of Patty Hearst’s arrest, Hallinan was now in his seventies and poor health had forced him to take a step back from the family business, instead allowing his son to take the lead. A former boxer who had earned the nickname Kayo, Terence Hallinan had his father’s rebellious streak and often came to blows with the San Francisco police department, before leaving behind a life of petty crime to enrol at the University of California in Berkeley. After graduating from law school in 1965, he began his legal career two years later, regularly defending clients on drug charges. But now he faced the impossible task of proving the innocence of one of the most infamous fugitives in American history. ‘Tell everybody that she’s smiling, that she feels free and strong, and sends her greetings to the brothers and sisters out there,’ Hallinan told the media, just days after Hearst had given a clenched‐fist salute in defiance as she arrived at the magistrates court. But soon her father feared that her attorney was in over his head, and so sought out the services of an equally notorious lawyer, one with the skills to rival his arrogance. But could even the legendary F. Lee Bailey obtain a verdict of not guilty for a felon such as Patty Hearst?
Once again she found herself a prisoner. She had been forcibly taken from her home, locked in a confined space, stripped naked, and was now being judged by those that kept her captive. Patricia Hearst could easily have described the events of her arrest that way, much like when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. It did not matter if she was locked away in a closet or in a prison cell, she was still made to feel like an object, a conduit with which an oppressive force wished to exert its will on the people. She had been humiliated by Donald DeFreeze and the S.L.A., and now she was forced to endure it yet again at the hands of the authorities. ‘When the examination did begin, the doctors poked and probed and x-rayed with no concern for my personal feelings or any explanation of what they were doing,’ she recalled in Every Secret Thing. ‘The gynaecological examination was positively brutal, and by the end of it I was in hysterics, sobbing, as I writhed in pain.’ For Janey Jimenez, the security guard that had been tasked with monitoring Hearst, she too was disturbed by the degrading examination. ‘As she lay down on the table, I saw a light trembling. The doctor came in, adjusted her feet to the stirrups, and now her legs were really shaking. She was fighting for self-control,’ wrote Jimenez in her own account, My Prisoner. ‘So he went ahead, probing with his gloved hand into her vagina. Patty cringed, wriggled away. She shook her head desperately, closed her eyes, bit into her lower lip. And that’s when it happened. Suddenly she let out a piercing wail, and the tears gushed forth. I have never seen a dam burst, but that was the image that crossed my mind. The doctor tried to hold her still. ‘Please, Miss Hearst, relax. I can’t examine you if you fight me. It will just take a moment.’ ‘Oh, my God,’ Patty sobbed. ‘Oh, my God.’ She struggled for an instant more, then went slack. I had never seen anyone so beaten, crumpled, totally helpless.’
Once she had been subjected to a variety of physical tests, Hearst then underwent the psychological evaluations. It was key to both the prosecution and defence to establish her mental state at the time of her abduction, and whether or not the Symbionese Liberation Army succeeded in brainwashing their captor, or if her actions during her flight from justice came from her own free will. ‘When the first psychiatrist came to see me on 30 September, just eleven days after my arrest, I simply crumbled under his scrutiny. This was Dr. Louis Jolyon West,’ she later confessed. ‘Despite all this, and despite my own depression, Dr. West did get through to me in time, and I tried to tell him of Cinque’s interrogations, the threats, the metallic clicking of the rifles when I thought they were going to kill me, the sex forced upon me in the closet, the offer to join them or die, the bank robbery, the criticism/self-criticism meetings, the weapons, the combat drills, the political indoctrination, my fears, my desire not to anger them, and my subsequent inability to escape or even to telephone anyone for help. All of this, or most of it, was extracted from me by the doctor very slowly and painfully. I was amazed at how much I had repressed of those early days of torture and torment.’
While it could be considered Hearst’s own form of propaganda by painting herself as the victim, and thus free from guilt, when Dr. West attempted to examine his young patient he became concerned for her emotional wellbeing. Despite her crimes, she had undergone such a radical transformation over the last two years, experiencing torture, humiliation and, ultimately, comradeship with her captors. Was this as a means to survive, or did she really believe in their cause? After all, she had a chance to escape outside of Mel’s Sporting Goods, but instead she chose to discharge her weapon in order to free Bill and Emily Harris. But what West found was a wall that Hearst had built inside her mind in order to protect herself from the memories she was unable to process. ‘As soon as I asked her for any information about her previous nineteen-month experience it became extremely difficult,’ he explained to the court. ‘She would begin to cry, her eyes were downcast, her voice became almost inaudible, her pulse went up to a hundred-and-forty, she broke out into a clammy sweat, and she became pale around her nose and mouth.’ In order to reiterate the fact that she had been coerced, Bailey asked the doctor what was the purpose for the military-style training that she had been ordered to follow, first by DeFreeze and then by Harris. ‘To diminish the amount of thought prior to action,’ West had responded.
The concept of mind control and whether or not Patty Hearst had been psychologically coerced into participating in the crimes of the S.L.A. would once again resurface as the defence team mounted their case. Ever since the term brainwashing was first coined by the Miami News in 1950, a fascination has built around this idea that one human could manipulate the mind of another and lure them into carrying out their bidding without free will. Such experiments had been conducted on American P.O.W.s during the Korean War, and following the sudden confession of Hungarian cardinal József Mindszenty after only thirty-five days in captivity, the American government were convinced that he had been subjected to some form of mind control. But could something as fantastic as brainwashing be proven in a court of law? ‘I have never liked the expression,’ said psychiatrist William Sargant following Hearst’s arrest. ‘It occurred in the case of Cardinal Mindszenty. Charles Manson converted those girls to murderers. And in Nazi Germany, the most intelligent people started to hang on Hitler’s every words, to believe everything he said – and act accordingly.’
The truth behind Project MKUltra, the C.I.A.’s clandestine programme that experimented with mind control techniques derived from Nazi scientists, was only starting to come to light as the United States vs. Patricia Campbell Hearst commenced in the city of Los Angeles. The possibility that Hearst could have been the subject of mind control was proposed by F. Lee Bailey to Dr. West on 23 February, 1976, five weeks into the trial. Despite the defence citing the mysterious circumstances surrounding the confession of Mindszenty, West refused to subscribe to the concept. It was Dr. William Sargant, who had also examined Hearst, who performed extensive research on the techniques for his 1957 analysis Battle for the Mind. ‘Once a state of hysteria has been induced in men or dogs by mounting stress which the brain can no longer tolerate, protective inhibition is likely to supervene,’ he wrote. ‘This will disturb the individual’s ordinary conditional behaviour patterns. In human beings, states of greatly increased suggestibility are also found; and so are their opposite, namely, states in which the patient is deaf to all suggestions, however sensible.’
After examining Hearst prior to the trial, he felt that her condition had been misunderstood, not only by the authorities that were eager to decide her fate but also by Hearst herself. This would make her a victim in the truest sense. ‘In explaining all this, Dr. West repeatedly tried to reassure me that I had no reason to feel guilty or humiliated. No one, including himself, Dr. West said, could know beforehand whether they could withstand coercive persuasion,’ recalled Hearst. ‘It depended upon how effective and adept the captors were and how resilient the prisoner might be. Cinque and the others had used a rather coarse, haphazard method, but then I had been an easy subject for them. Because I was so young and apolitical, I had no background experience in training with which to resist their persuasion. Nevertheless, whether or not they knew really what they were doing, they did employ the classic Maoist formula for thought reform on me. Dr. West called it the three Ds – debility, dependency, and dread. I had been effectively weakened by my confinement in that closet, deprived of sight, decent food, regular sleep, and exercise, with a radio blaring at me most of the time. I had grown fully dependent upon them for the necessities of life, as well as all the information I would receive about the outside world.’
Despite her opulent upbringing, being a child of privilege and luxury, Patty Hearst was not unlike every other American teenager in the early seventies. She was perhaps too young to remember the counterculture revolution of the sixties, but San Francisco in 1974 was still a melting pot of radicals, students, and artists. She had no strong political beliefs, and had moved from her family’s estate to a modest apartment with her fiancé in Berkeley. But her abduction and abuse at the hands of the Symbionese Liberation Army had awoken something inside of her. Through manipulations that included misinformation and degradation, they were able to break her spirit and make her susceptible to their influence. Dr. West observed the effects that the S.L.A.’s treatment had on their hostage. ‘The doctor’s best estimate of the amount of time Patty spent in the closet is fifty-seven days,’ explained journalist Shana Alexander, who was present throughout the trial. ‘He cannot evaluate the effects of so prolonged a period of blindness. There is no data. Even people who go down in caves do not suffer such severe blindness for so long a time. After the second week, Patty’s distortions and confusions became severe. But by putting together her own recollections with the recovered documents provided by the government, Dr. West figured that five weeks had gone by when Cinque decided that the best way the S.L.A. could use Patty might be to force her to join their group.’
Just days after her psychological examinations began, James Browning Jr. met with the Attorney General and several fellow lawyers to discuss the motion to prosecute Patricia Hearst with her involvement in the armed robbery of Hibernia Bank on 15 April, 1974. But Judge Carter requested that final decisions not be made until Dr. West and other psychiatrists had returned with their findings. Around this time, Terence Hallinan had warned officials that his client was about to fall into a permanent and irreversible psychosis, stating that, ‘We are dealing with a mentally and emotionally disturbed young woman, who is either emerging from, or about to fall into, a nervous breakdown.’ Further evidence in the trial would be obtained from a testimony given by Tom Matthews, the student they had taken hostage as they attempted to escape the shootout at Mel’s. Furthermore, Judge Carter had overruled Bailey’s attempts to suppress evidence against Hearst regarding the 1974 bank robbery and other S.L.A.-related crimes, some of which were confessed by the defendant during the Tania interviews that were recorded at the farmhouse. ‘I will deny the motion to suppress, and I will find that by a preponderance of the evidence the government has established, that the defendant’s statements after the bank robbery, whether by tape, oral conversation, or writing, were made voluntarily,’ declared Carter.
It was hailed as the trial of the century. A young, rich white woman with no criminal record and a respectable reputation was seized from her home, tortured, threatened, and finally joined her abductors. She had remained a wanted fugitive for more than a year-and-a-half, and against all odds the authorities had captured her alive. Now she was sat in a courtroom, dangerously underweight and barely able to force a smile, as Bailey and Browning fought tooth and nail over her freedom, bringing in witnesses and medical experts to argue their cases. ‘The questions came at me like a full-scale cross-examination, and I kept having to deny that anyone was my friend or my lover, or that I had initiated any of the things that had been done to me,’ she explained of her experiences with Dr. Harry Kozol, whom Hearst had been forced to sit through five psychological tests with prior to the trial. ‘Then he began to ask me about the Harrises, and what part they had played in various crimes. I refused point-blank to talk about the Harrises, or anyone else still alive, or say anything that could be used against them by the government. I told him I was still in fear of them. But he kept insisting. His provocative questions were beginning to make me ill, and within fifteen or twenty minutes he had me in hysterics. I ran out of the room, crying, looking for Al Johnson, whom I found standing by in another room. Then I came back and told Dr. Kozol that my lawyer said I did not have to answer such a question. He kept on. I ran out again. Came back. And on and on went those questions. In the end, Dr. Kozol and Al Johnson got into a furious argument, and Al ended up taking him back to court for a hearing in an attempt to straighten out what the doctor could and could not ask me under the court order.’
The odds had been stacked against Hearst ever since her arrest. Judge Carter had denied bail following her apprehension as he felt she had declared war on American society and had ‘punctuated it with gunfire.’ On 11 February, 1976, one week into the trial, Carter had agreed for the prosecution to present the Tania interview tapes, during which she had boasted of her participation in the robbery of the Hibernia Bank and the shootout at Mel’s Sporting Goods. Eight days later, Hearst decided to invoke the Fifth Amendment which, as dictated by the American Constitution, allows a defendant the right to refuse to answer any questions put forth for fear of further incriminating themselves. This decision would come at the advice of her lead attorney, F. Lee Bailey, an action that can hurt one’s credibility during a trial the day had begun with Hearst detailing her abduction for the benefit of Browning and the jury, before the prosecuting attorney declared that brainwashing was merely a change in attitude. But then the focus shifted to her treatment during those weeks she was confined to a closet, and her decision to ultimately join the S.L.A. Reliving the pain and fear proved too much and Hearst began to shut down on the witness stand.
Bailey’s case for the defence was precarious at best and with so much evidence mounted against them, it would have been easy for his client to talk herself into a corner. ‘Bailey says he has advised Patty not to discuss the events of the missing year because they might be used to incriminate her in another proceeding,’ detailed Shana Alexander in Anyone’s Daughter. ‘Once again, the lawyers are back on this critical point. ‘She has the right to refuse to answer to avoid incriminating herself, and I have asked for an order that the prosecutor not knowingly provoke the Fifth Amendment claim in the presence of the jury.’ A claim of the Fifth Amendment privilege has got to relate to some crime, Browning retorts, and so far as he knows, just being in Sacramento is not a crime.’ Despite the proceedings becoming all the more complex, several spectators would note Judge Carter’s tendency to fall asleep as the attorneys state their case, but it would not just be his health that was called into question. As the trial progressed, Hearst seemed to become more lethargic and pale, resulting in several instances when she failed to appear in court. Following an x-ray, a blister was located on her right lung that was cited as the cause for a collapsed lung she had suffered just days earlier. The end of the trial couldn’t come soon enough.
If brainwashing was not to be recognised by the court in this case, then the situation that Hearst found herself in, and the lengths that she had to go in order to survive, would undoubtedly have had a significant impact on her psychological state. So even if she was not coerced in the same way as one of the C.I.A.’s patients in the MKUltra programme, she had most certainly been stripped of her old identity and force-fed radical rhetoric that was prescribed by her captors, her only human contact for two months. ‘For nineteen years, she had been sheltered in the bosom of a wealthy family, insulated by her father from the harsh realities of life. He even financed her not-so-wild romantic fling with her fiancé,’ explained Jimenez, who would develop a close friendship with her charge throughout the trial. ‘Then the S.L.A. swooped down on her, totally shattering that delicate protective screen. Suddenly, she was plunged into a world of rifle butts, naked force, wanton brutality. Cut off from all familiar sources of support and information, she was told that she had been abandoned by her parents and friends; that despite their enormous power, nobody cared enough to make the necessary modest financial sacrifice. After the Hibernia Bank hold-up, a new note was added; the F.B.I., her captors said, was hunting her down like an animal.’
As the trial reared its conclusion, Patricia Hearst was merely going through the motions. She had endured more than she was willing to take, and now poor health had added further stress to an already unendurable situation. ‘Jim Browning was constantly getting the dates of events mixed up, and from time to time Judge Carter would appear confused about who was on trial. He would call me Patricia Harris, and refer at times to Bill and Emily Hearst,’ she bemoaned. ‘Meanwhile, my former comrades, Bill and Emily Harris, appeared from jail on the Today Show, gave out interviews frequently to one and all, and from the side-lines were denying that any force was used on me, other than in the kidnapping itself. I had no reason to feat them, they declared. At the same time, some N.W.L.F. groups were carrying out bombing raids on the Hearst Corporation. After sending threatening notes and bombing San Simeon, a bomb was planted and went off outside the Hearst Headquarters building in New York City.’ But even as all this chaos was levelled at the Hearst family, the moment of truth was finally upon them.
Patricia Campbell Hearst was asked to stand. Then Judge Carter turned his attention to the foreman of the jury and asked if they had all agreed on a verdict. Once informed that they had, the judge then asked for this to be passed over to the court clerk, who looked down at the paper and then out across the courtroom. Trembling with fear, Hearst and her family awaited the sentence that they knew was coming. It was almost inevitable. The F.B.I. and the police were both humiliated by this woman’s actions, and now they had to make an example of her. ‘We, the jury,’ he began, ‘find the defendant guilty on the first count, and guilty on the second count.’ And then it comes, like a sucker-punch to her stomach. All the air is expelled from her lungs in one gasp and her legs become weak, her eyes welling up with tears. Judge Carter had ordered the final sentencing to be postponed until Hearst had undergone a ninety-day psychiatric diagnosis, and was then taken to the Federal Correctional Institution at Pleasanton to carry out her term. Two months later, on 14 June, 1976, Judge Carter suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of sixty-five.
Following his death, the case of Patricia Hearst was reassigned to Judge William H. Orrick Jr. ‘We all gathered in the robing room and had the clerk bring down the box. We each were satisfied that he had mixed up the ballots. The first ballot that he pulled out had my name on it, and that was the Hearst case,’ recalled Judge Orrick. ‘The first thing I did was keep her down in San Diego for another six months to see if I could get some help from them. They had said that she had some psychiatric problems. So, I considered that the proper thing to do.’ Two years into her sentence, Hearst requested that the conviction be overturned as F. Lee Bailey had failed to provide an adequate defence, just weeks after various politicians had signed a campaign to win her clemency for her crimes. ‘My plan had been for her to serve part of her sentence up to about October,’ continued Orrick. ‘The impression that I did not want the public to have was not that just because she had rich parents, and could appeal to the Court of Appeals and to the Supreme Court, that she would then be free on time served. So, I wanted to show people that isn’t the way we worked. I treated her like I treat everyone else.’
By this point, both Bill and Emily Harris had also been sentenced to a prison term for their role in the abduction of Patty Hearst, and were released in 1983. ‘I don’t think about it every day, but it’s definitely part of my personal history, so for me it’s always there,’ admitted Emily Harris. But nineteen years later, their involvement in the bank heist that led to the death of Myrna Opsah resulted in the F.B.I. launching a manhunt in order to arrest five former members of the Symbionese Liberation Army: William Harris; Emily Harris, now living under the name Montague; James Kilgore; Michael Bortin; and Kathy Soliah. Patty Hearst, meanwhile, was released on 1 February 1979, and just two months later she married her former bodyguard, Bernard Shaw. In 2001, at the request of former commander-in-chief Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton pardoned a hundred-and-forty citizens on his last day in office, including the infamous Patty Hearst. As of today, the only member of the Symbionese Liberation Army to still be incarcerated is Joseph Remiro, for the murder of Marcus Foster in 1973, a crime that accomplices and historians have all claimed that he played no part in. In the years since her release, Hearst has written a memoir, enjoyed minor appearances acting on television, and has watched as her own daughter, Lydia Hearst, enjoyed success in the modelling world. The events of the seventies must seem like a distant dream to her now, but it is a dream that will never fade from memory. But as she told television presenter Larry King in 2002, ‘I feel that now there can be closure to the case. This has gone on far too long.’