Crime History: Patty Hearst Kidnapped By The Symbionese Liberation Army

Patty Hearst (right) during bank robbery [FBI]

At 9 P.M., on February 4, 1974, heiress Patricia (Patty) Campbell Hearst was kidnapped, starting what the FBI calls “one of the strangest cases in FBI history.”

Hearst herself wasn’t well-known to the public, but everyone knew the name of her grandfather, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who left a vast fortune to his heirs. In 2016, the Hearst family was worth $28 billion, according to Forbes.

The “strangest case” began when there was a knock at the door of the apartment Hearst, an art history major at the University of California at Berkeley, shared with fiancée Steve Weed, who she’d met when he tutored her in high school.

Patty Hearst during the Hibernia Bank robbery [FBI]

Patty Hearst during the Hibernia Bank robbery [FBI]

Within moments of the knock, a group of armed men and women forced their way inside the apartment — #4, 2603 Benvenue Street in Berkeley, California — and assaulted and tied up Weed and a neighbor who had heard the commotion and tried to help.

Related: “Crime Stories: Photography And Foul Play” At The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

The group then grabbed the 19-year-old Hearst, blindfolded her, and forced her out of the apartment and into the trunk of a car.

Neighbors who tried to intervene were forced to take cover to avoid gunshots fired by the group during the getaway.

Pleas for Hearst’s safe return were met with silence until three days after the kidnapping when a Berkeley radio station received a letter from the self-proclaimed kidnappers, the U.S. leftist group Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). The author of the letter said Hearst was a “prisoner of war.”

Hearst’s kidnapping was part of the SLA’s plot to incite what the FBI called a “guerrilla war” against the U.S. government and destroy what they called the “capitalist state.” SLA members included a wide cross section of extremists.

Audiotape demands, received four days later, insisted the Hearst family give away $70 of food to every needy person between Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. The Hearst’s complied, donating about $2 million in food.

Related: Cursed Or Criminal? 7 Wealthy Families With More Than Their Fair Share Of Controversy

The kidnappers then demanded $4 million more in ransom. The Hearst family said they couldn’t immediately meet that demand, but the Hearst Corporation agreed to pay the amount if the heiress was released unharmed.



Hearst has said publicly that when she was in captivity, her kidnappers abused and brainwashed her in an effort to turn her into a high-profile face of the SLA. After her release, Hearst said she was given the choice of joining the SLA or being killed.

On April 3, an audiotape was released of Hearst saying she had joined the SLA.

Less than two weeks after the audiotape release, Hearst was seen on a surveillance video holding an assault weapon during a bank robbery, demanding bystanders follow her directions and providing cover as she worked in concert with the other SLA members.

The FBI said the hunt for Hearst was “one of the most massive, agent-intensive searches in history.” The SLA’s intimidation techniques against possible witnesses and informants, array of organized safe houses, and constant movement made the search fruitless until May 16 when two SLA members – Bill Harris and his wife Amy — tried to steal an ammunition belt from a Los Angeles store.

Hearst was also at the scene and fired shots to allow the Harris’ escape. The three fled in a van, which they later abandoned. A parking ticket enabled police to find the SLA safe house.

The day after the attempted theft, the police surrounded the SLA safe house. A shootout between police and the SLA members ensued, and the house burst into flames. Six SLA members, including leader Donald DeFreeze, died.

The FBI chased Hearst and the SLA around the country, finally capturing her on September 18, 1975, in a San Francisco apartment. She gave her occupation to authorities as “urban guerrilla.”

Patty Hearst's mug shot [FBI]

Patty Hearst’s mug shot [FBI]

Attorney F. Lee Bailey, who later was on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, represented Hearst during her San Francisco “trial of the century.” She was charged with felonies including bank robbery. Hearst was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.

After Hearst had served just two years, President Jimmy Carter commuted her jail sentence. President Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon on January 20, 2001.

Related: Bank Robbers With Flair — 10 Times Recent Holdups Got Creative

By 2002, all members of the SLA were captured.

Hearst married her former bodyguard Bernard Shaw soon after her release. They had two children and remained married until his 2013 death.

Since 1990, Hearst has appeared in several movies and TV shows. Her acting career is mostly associated with the films of “Pope of Trash” John Waters, specifically Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Pecker, Cecil B. Demented, and A Dirty Shame. She is reportedly also active in East Coast society and charitable efforts.

Read more:






The New York Times


Main photo: Patty Hearst (right) during bank robbery [FBI]



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