On February 4 1974, 19-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst was abducted from the apartment she shared with her fiancée in Berkeley, California.
Stephen Weed, Hearst’s fiance, was beaten unconscious by the two abductors. Soon, a ransom demand came from the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical activist group led by Donald DeFreeze.. But a few short months later, Patty Hearst appeared to be on their side.
On March 5, 1973, Donald DeFreeze escaped from prison. Radical penal activists and future SLA members Russell Little and William Wolfe took DeFreeze to Patricia Soltysik’s house.The SLA was led by DeFreeze, who, after a prison acquaintance named Wheeler left, was the only African American in the group. By the time the group became active, most of the members of the tiny group were women, some of whom have, like Soltysik and her roommate Nancy Ling Perry, been described as in lesbian relationships. The members included William and Emily Harris and Angela Atwood.
The SLA instructed William Hearst to distribute $70 in food for ever poor person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. Hearst agreed to give away $2 million to the poor in Oakland to have Patty released. The Black Muslims, Malcolm X’s former organization, were chosen to manage the food distribution, which turned into a riot when more than 10,000 people showed up and fought for the food. Afterwards, the SLA demanded an additional $6 million giveaway. Hearst refused and they did not release Patty.
The Hearst story took a strange and unexpected turn two months after the abduction, when the SLA robbed the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. The surveillance cameras clearly showed that Patty Hearst was one of the machine gun-toting robbers. Soon after followed a taped message from the SLA in which Hearst claimed that she had voluntarily joined the SLA and was now to be known as “Tania.”
On April 15, 1974, she was recorded on surveillance video wielding an M1 carbine while robbing the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank at 1450 Noriega Street in San Francisco. Hearst announced herself under her pseudonym of Tania.Two men who entered the bank while the robbery was occurring were shot and wounded.
According to later testimony at her trial, a witness thought Hearst had been several paces behind the others when running to the getaway car
On May 17, 1974, police were tipped that the SLA leaders were at a Los Angeles home. With 400 police and FBI agents outside the house, a tremendous gun battle broke out. The police threw gas canisters into the house and then shot at them, sparking a fire in whichDeFreeze and five other SLA members died. However, Hearst was not inside the house. She was not found until September 1975.
Hearst helped make improvised explosive devices, one of which failed to detonate, in two unsuccessful attempts to kill policemen during August 1975.Marked money found in the apartment ,when she was arrested linked Hearst to the SLA armed robbery of Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California.
She was the getaway car driver for the robbery in which Myrna Opsahl, who was at the bank making a deposit, was shot dead by a masked Emily Harris, thereby creating a potential for felony murder charges against Hearst, and making her a possible witness against Harris for a capital offense.
Patty Hearst was put on trial for armed robbery and convicted, despite her claim that she had been coerced, through repeated rape, isolation, and brainwashing, into joining the SLA. Prosecutors believed that she actually orchestrated her own kidnapping because of her prior involvement with one of the SLA members. Despite any real proof of this theory, she was convicted and sent to prison. President Carter commuted Hearst’s sentence after she had served almost two years. Hearst was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.
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