The Radical Story of Patty Hearst’s Kidnapping

Patricia ‘Patty’ Hearst was kidnapped on February 4th, 1974, at her apartment in Berkeley California. Patty was with her fiancé Stephen Weed when three armed strangers broke into their home. Weed was beaten and tied up and so was a neighbor who tried to help the couple.

Chris Hardwick, Lydia Hearst / Patty Hearst / Bill Clinton / Larry King, Patty Hearst.
Source: Getty Images

Patty Hearst was only 19 years old at the time of her kidnapping and was the daughter of Randolph Hearst, a newspaper publishing giant. Witnesses said they had seen Patty being forcibly carried away by three men and was blindfolded and put in the trunk of the car.

Who Were the Hearst Family?

In the 1920s, William Randolph Hearst owned the first nationwide media chain, including properties such as the San Francisco Examiner, Harper’s Bazaar, the New York Morning Journal, and Good Housekeeping. The empire was famous for its “yellow journalism.”

William Randolph Hearst sits on his desk.
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William Randolph Hearst and his wife had five children, including Randolph who worked for the family corporations and managed the family wealth. Randolph went on to have five daughters, Patricia being one of them. The family remains among the wealthiest in America.


Who Abducted Patty Hearst?

It was three days later when the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) who were a small U.S. leftist group took responsibility for the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. A letter was sent to Berkeley radio station stating that they were holding the young woman as a “Prisoner of war.”

Three members of the SLA.
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The Symbionese Liberation Army had chosen Hearst because of her family position; in the letter that was sent, it was made clear that to keep their daughter safe, the Hearst family must comply with the demands for the safe return of Patty Hearst to her family.

The Symbionese Liberation Army’s Demands

The SLA demanded that the Hearst family give $70 to every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. The task wasn’t an easy challenge, but they promised when it was completed, they would return Patty to her family safe, which turned out to be a lie.

A view of the house where Patty remains hostage.
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Randolph Hearst organized $2 million worth of food to be distributed around the areas that were requested. The SLA wasn’t happy and raised their demands to $6 million worth of food instead. This would end up being the first of many unreasonable demands by the SLA to come.

The Media’s Involvement in the Case

The SLA released many different types of communication to the media during the kidnapping and it became clear they wanted the attention of the media. One was of Patty who was recorded on audiotape letting her family know she was bruised but that she was okay and being treated well.

A photograph of Patty in her house.
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In the first couple of radio broadcasts, Patty acted normal and spoke calmly but this was believed to be the result of torture. The torture techniques used by The Symbionese Liberation Army members on her resulted in her developing Stockholm Syndrome.

The Grandfather of Patty Hearst

William Randolph Hearst Sr, born April 29th, 1863, was an American businessman, politician, and newspaper publisher. He created the largest newspaper chain and media empire. It was the power of the Hearst name that made Patty Hearst a target.

William Randolph Hearst is campaigning for Mayor.
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The Hearst family were associated with enormous political power and influence, and they supported their position of anti-Communism since World War II. The SLA intended to control the influence over the media created by the Hearst’s for their political agenda.

The Kidnapping and what Happened to Patty

Patricia Hearst was a 19-year-old sophomore at Berkeley and studying Art History and lived with her older fiancée Stephen Weed before the kidnapping. Patricia was the third of five girls and had a conservative upbringing in California and had kept a low profile.

A portrait of Patty Hearst and her fiance, Steven Weed.
Patty Hearst, Steven Weed. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She testified that she was kept in a small closet, blindfolded with her hands tied, and threatened with death repeatedly by SLA leader Cinque Donald DeFreeze. Hearst was only let out for meals and was giving a flashlight only for reading the SLA political material.

How the SLA Tried to Control the Media

There were many reasons the SLA had kidnapped Patty Hearst, one reason was for convenience as she was the closest socialite nearby. Hearst and her fiancée lived close to the SLA headquarters; it was a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time for Hearst.

A poster about Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping by the SLA.
Photo by Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS/Getty Images

The main reason was the SLA decided to kidnap a well-known figure in response to two of its members being arrested. Joseph Remiro and Russell Little had been imprisoned. They had murdered Marcus Foster, a school superintendent and DeFreeze wanted them released.

How Patty Hearst was Brainwashed

Patty was forced to memorize the political tracts by heart. She later recalled the incident and what was said to her, “DeFreeze told me that the SLA had decided or was thinking of about killing me or me staying with them, and I better start thinking about that possibility,” Hearst said.

A picture of Patricia Hearst as a rebel.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Hearst said that she had Stockholm Syndrome and that after being treated so badly and then shown some kindness, she began to identify with her captors when they invited her to talk to them. Hearst to this day maintains that she was brainwashed by the SLA extreme group.

The Meaning Behind the New Name

In one of the audiotapes sent from the SLA to the media and just two months after Patty Hearst was taken. Patty made a shocking announcement that she was now a member of the SLA and would be known from now on as ‘Tania.’ The revelation shocked everybody.

Posters read ‘’We Love You Tania’’ on the bulletin boards at University.
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“Tania the Guerrilla” was a revolutionary communist and was involved in the American Latin revolutionary moment and this was who ‘Tania’ was named after. Tania the Guerilla was given an almost saint-like title when she died in battle in 1967 at age 29 in combat.

The Bank Robbery that Changed Everything

Hearst would later become one of the most active SLA members and appeared to have developed a strong alliance with the group. However, it would come as a shock to everyone when Patty Hearst robbed a bank in San Francisco in April 1974 with a gun.

The camera captures Patty in the robbery of a bank.
Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Getty Images

The bank robbery was captured on videotape, and it appeared to show Patty being actively involved. The SLA members and Hearst entered the Sunset branch of the Hibernia Bank with automatic rifles and ended up stealing over $10,00 in cash.

Patty Hearst Used an Automatic Rifle

After robbing the bank, Patty seemed to be on a downward spiral and becoming more involved in crime the longer she was away from home. Only one month after the bank robbery, William, and Emily Harris – fellow SLA members – robbed a store in Inglewood, California.

A footage of Patty Hearst inside the bank.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

A staff member and the manager followed the couple outside after the robbery, grabbing William’s wrists, causing his gun to fall to the ground. Hearst started shooting from the other side of the street, she fired more than 30 rounds with an automatic rifle towards them.

How Tania had Tried to Kill Two People

The manager and a clerk managed to narrowly avoid being shot by the Hearst’s by driving behind a light post. Neither of them was badly injured during the robbery and attack but they had witnessed who had shot at them and were shocked by the event.

A view inside the bank.
Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Getty Images

Patty Hearst was once again recognized, and it removed any doubt that Patty had turned to a life of crime. The SLA was now a top priority for the police and FBI because of the multiple attacks with firearms. The FBI now viewed Hearst as an associate rather than a victim.

The Parking Ticket

When Patty was kidnapped, every effort was made to find her, but all attempts were in vain as there was no trace of her. The Hearst family was well contacted and had the funds but still, they couldn’t find Patty. It wasn’t until after the sporting goods store was robbed that a clue was left behind.

The FBI agent in charge during Patty’s kidnapping.
Charles Bates. Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

The van that Patty, William, and Emily Harris had used as a getaway vehicle had been issued a parking ticket. It would lead investigators right to the SLA headquarters. The location was discovered but it wasn’t going to be a rescue mission as they had once thought.

The Deadly Raid by the FBI

The raid on the SLA headquarters was the biggest one in California history. The FBI stormed the house on May 17th, 1974, the day after the shop robbery. The task force had 374 men including a SWAT team. The police issued a verbal warning informing them that they were surrounded.

The LAPD launch assault on the SLA headquarters.
Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Getty Images

It became clear that The Symbionese Liberation Army was willing to die for their cause. The police used a canister of tear gas to force them out. The house caught on fire and firefighters put it out but three members of the SLA, including the “Field Marshal” were found dead.

The Survivors Go on the Run

Patty, William, and Emily were the only survivors and were now on the run from the FBI. They lived in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania where the three of them trained for a couple of hours a day. When police finally caught up with them, they almost didn’t recognize patty.

The pictures of Patty, William, and Emily.
Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Getty Images

Her appearance had changed so much that they hardly recognized the girl who got kidnapped from Berkley, California. The FBI had at least 20 crimes against Patty and two carried life sentences. Patty was now viewed as a willing member of the SLA by them.

The Arrest of Patricia ‘Patty’ Hearst

It was in California that Patty was arrested at an apartment, it was tip-offs that led to the arrest. Patty and Emily were seated together at the kitchen table when police arrived, and they were immediately arrested. Patty was no longer a victim in the eyes of the prosecutors.

The street where Patty’s arrest took place.
Photo by MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune/Getty Images

When Patty was arrested, she showed alliance to The Symbionese Liberation Army by clenching her fist in a salute which was customary for members to do. Along with her comrades, she was charged with the use of a firearm and three counts of robbery.

The Sensational Trial that Followed

At the trial, Patty described how she was brainwashed at the hands of the SLA, however, in the 1970s forensic psychology wasn’t as abundant. The ‘Brainwashing’ would mean she would need to be proved as insane during the period she committed the crimes.

Patty Hearst heads to court.
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Forensic psychologist Margaret Singer examined Patty, and Singer found that following her arrest, Patty’s IQ was a mere 83 compared to 130 before she was kidnapped. Louis Jolyon West, an expert in brainwashing, agreed that Patty had been brainwashed.

The Brainwashing Theory used by the Defense

The defense failed and Patty was sentenced to initially 35 years of prison. She suffered from ill-health whilst in prison, her lung collapsed, and she had other health issues which prevented her from testifying against the Harris’s at their trial.

Federal agents escort Patty Hearst.
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Her father put a large sum of money up for bail, her parents tried to get her case heard in the Supreme Court, but their requests were denied. Patty’s bail was revoked in 1978, no security was assigned to her in prison until her hearing when a rat was found dead in her cell.

The Symbionese Liberation Army

The Symbionese Liberation Army wasn’t a big as they had portrayed in the media, they had around 11 to 12 members. When the shootout happened in California, some of the members were killed, including leader Donald DeFreeze. Their army had been forcefully dismantled.

The ruins of an SLA house after an LAPD intervention.
Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Getty Images

The United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army time had come to an end at the hand of the FBI. They were active between 1973 to 1975 and committed bank robberies, two murders, and numerous acts of violence.

President Jimmy Carter Involvement in the Case

When Patty was 24 years old and had already been in jail for almost 22 months, President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. Carter commuted the seven-year sentence to just two years, four months, and 10 days meaning Patty could walk free from prison.

Jimmy Carter stands in front of the U.S. Flag.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There were conditions on her release though, such as not associating with any criminals or associating with any person with a criminal record or persons who had firearms. Even though Hearst was commuted from Carter she still had a criminal record.

Bill Clinton Pardons Patty Hearst

Bill Clinton pardoned almost 500 people during his term as president and 140 of them were pardoned on his last day off. One of those people was Patricia Hearst and Jimmy Carter had asked Clinton to pardon her of all the crimes she had committed.

A portrait of Bill Clinton.
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Carter had discussed with Clinton on another occasion about the case. He had told his friend how the former SLA member and the victim were now leading an exemplary life since her release from prison 20 years ago and deserved to be pardoned from her previous convictions.

What Patty did after her Release from Prison

Two months after Hearst’s release from prison she married Bernard Lee Shaw, he was a policeman and part of her security team during her time on bail. The couple went on to have two children together and Hearst became involved in many charitable projects.

A picture of Bernard Lee Shaw and Patty Hearst.
Photo by Ron Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

One of those was a foundation helping children with AIDs, and she went on to become involved with the other charities. She wrote a memoir in 1981 about her experience with the SLA. It was called Every Secret Thing and co-written with Alvin Moscow.

The FBI Considered Bringing New Charges

When the book was published, its contents spiked the interest of the authorities, who felt they might have reason to pursue more charges against Hearst. In an interview in 2009 on NBC, she talked about her experience with the prosecutors and the alleged charges.

Patty Hearst’s mugshot.
Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hearst said on NBC that when the book was released the prosecutors suggested that she had been in a consensual relationship with SLA member, Wolfe. Hearst said the accusation was “outrageous” and it was an “insult to rape victims.” Hearst was disgusted with the authorities.

What New Information the Book Contained

Every Little Secret was Patty’s chance to tell her story and how she was a victim of the SLA. The media had been torn on whether she was guilty especially as the prosecutors had made it quite clear during the trial that they felt that Patty wasn’t a victim but a criminal.

Patty Hearst talks to the press.
Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Getty Images

The book detailed the terrifying events that she went through, being raped, locked in a closet, and stripped of her identity. The mental and physical torture she suffered at the hands of The Symbionese Liberation Army. How she had guns pointed at her during the bank robbery and forced to do it.

The Patty Hearst Movie

The Patty Hearst movie was released in 1988 and directed by Paul Schrader and Natasha Richardson as the heiress and Ving Rhames as SLA leader Cinque. The film is based on Every Secret Thing, a book that Patty herself had co-written.

Natasha Richardson as Patricia Hearst.
Source: Copyright: Atlantic Releasing

The film tells the story of the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, how she became converted to be a member of the SLA, and the robberies. It discussed the brainwashing and how she felt she had to deprogram from. It also talked about imprisonment and its effect on her life and what happened later.

The Other Six Films about the Event

Patty Hearst was a popular subject and there were many films made about the heiress. How a conservative wealthy heir ended up robbing a bank and committing crimes in the name of the SLA. The films were an interesting take into the events that happened.

A portrait of Patty Hearst at home.
Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/IMAGES/Getty Images

There were other movies made about the abduction: The Ordeal of Patty Hearst (1979), Captive (1986), Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004), Drunk History: The Kidnapping of Patty Hearst (2019), and American Woman (2019).

Jeffrey Toobin and the Debate of Innocence

Jeffrey Toobin wrote a book on Patty Hearst that caused a stir amongst readers; the book was titled American Heiress. Although Hearst didn’t talk to Tobin for his novel, it gives readers some information that raises some questions about Patty’s involvement in the SLA.

A portrait of Jeffrey Toobin.
Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images

Toobin says that Hearst seemed more like a “fanatic,” and “Passionate and unhinged” than some of her comrades in the SLA. The book states that on her arrest she gave her occupation as “urban guerrilla” and in a letter that Toobin found it said “I look forward to a lifetime of struggle.”

The Interview on Larry King Live

Patty Hearst had been a popular subject in the media and people were interested in how a rich girl could be part of such a radical group. She was invited to many interviews with some famous people. She gracefully went on several media platforms to tell her side of the story.

Patty Hearst’s interview with Larry King.
Source: CNN

On February 4th, 1974, Patty appeared on CNN in an exclusive interview with Larry King, the interview was an in-depth account of her time spent with the SLA. Patty was open and honest as she recalled the details of her abduction and the trial and the aftermath with King.

How Stephen King’s Was Inspired to Write a Book

American author Stephen King wrote a nonfiction book called Danse Macabre in 1981. The book discusses King’s influences and focuses mainly on the 1950s to the 1970s era. SLA leader Donald David DeFreeze was the inspiration for the character, Randall Flagg.

A portrait of Stephen King.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Stephen King was interested in the darkness surrounding the SLA and it was during his adulthood that the events happened regarding the bank robbery and Patty Hearsts’ kidnapping. King has stated that Patty Hearst’s case was one of the reasons he wrote The Stand (1978).

Is Patty Hearst Still Alive?

Patty is now 67 years old. She didn’t shy away from media attention and decided on a career in acting. She made many appearances in different movies. She acted in John Waters films Cry-Baby (1990), Serial Mom (1994), and “Lord of the Pi’s”. She also acted in Veronica Mars, a TV series, among many other films.

Patty Hearst attends an event.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Hearst is a dog lover and had taken part with her dogs in several dog shows. Her dog, a Shih Tzu named Rocket won the competition in the “Toy” group at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Hearst’s French Bulldog named Tuggy won Best of Breen in 2015.

The CNN Documentary about Patty

‘The Radical Story of Patty Hearst’ was a documentary aired on CNN revisiting the events that surrounded Patty Hearst’s kidnapping. Patty Hearst was not impressed with the documentary, stating “It’s no secret that I was abducted, raped and tortured at 19.”

A publicity shot for the documentary.
Source: CNN

Hearst reinforced what she had previously said; that she was the victim of the SLA by saying “I have no interest in revisiting such a violent and hurtful time in my life.” The CNN documentary brought up the past that Patty had finally tried to put behind her.

Patty Hearst and Bernard Shaw

Patty Hearst married Bernard Lee Shaw on the 1st of April 1979, a few months after Patty was released from prison. Bernard Shaw was born in San Francisco on September 3, 1945. He attended the University of San Francisco and served in the Army.

A wedding portrait of Patty and Bernard.
Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/IMAGES/Getty Images

Shaw began working for the Hearst Corporation and was the vice president for corporate security right up until his death. On December 17, 2013, Shaw died at Garrison Philipstown, New York, United States. Patty and Bernard were married for 34 years until his death.

Lydia Hearst And Chris Hardwick

Lydia Hearst, the daughter of Patty and Bernard, is a fashion model, blogger, and actress. She has been married to Chris Hardwick since August 20th, 2016. Lydia starred in several films such as ‘Slayer’ and ‘America Bogeywoman’ and the television series, Gossip Girl.

Chris Hardwick and Lydia Hearst attend an event.
Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Lydia’s husband Chris is an American comedian, actor, writer, and podcast host, and producer. He is known for his AMC after show series about Fear of the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead. Hardwick is a former alcoholic and has been sober since October 2013.

The Legacy of Randolph Apperson Hearst

Randolph Hearst was the biggest supporter of his daughter Patty Hearst; he did everything in his power to find his daughter after her kidnapping. Randolph often had to be the one to read out the letters that the SLA had sent with their demands in front of the media.

A portrait of Randolph Apperson Hearst.
Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Getty Images

Randolph left his seat as a trustee of his father’s will to his second-oldest daughter Virginia Hearst Randt. Even after his death, he is well known for his contribution to the media just like his father had been.

It has been 47 Years Since the Kidnapping

It has been 47 years since the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, who is now known for her philanthropy work and lives in Charleston, South Carolina. She enjoys being a mother and grandmother and is a keen lover of dogs and enjoys her peaceful life.

Patty Hearst with her two daughters, Lydia and Gillian.
Lydia Hearst, Patty Hearst, Gillian Hearst. Photo by Michel Dufour/WireImage/Getty Images

It seems like it was a lifetime ago, the events that made her as well-known as she is today- the kidnapping, the trial, and the presidential pardons. It has forever marked her as the innocent 19 year old who became a radical that was firstly a victim and then a member of The Symbionese Liberation Army.