Patty Hearst
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Patty Hearst

Kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army


Updated July 2024
Posted October 2023

FBI Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army

On February 4, 1974, 19-year-old Patricia Hearst of the famous publishing family was kidnapped at gunpoint by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). The FBI worked 12-hour shifts six days a week following thousands of leads to try to recover Hearst. The kidnapping made the SLA front-page news. Members wanted to incite a guerrilla war against the government, and had already killed an Oakland school official, firing cyanide-tipped bullets. The SLA released audio tapes demanding a ransom of millions of dollars in food donations, and then on the April 3 tape, Hearst herself spoke, saying she had joined them. On April 15, she was seen with SLA members committing a bank robbery. On May 16, a shootout with Los Angeles police led to the burning of a safe house where six SLA members died, but Hearst was not among them. She had gone on the run. FBI agents searched for additional safe houses by investigating new utility services. The FBI arrested Hearst in San Francisco September 18, 1975. Despite claims of abuse and brainwashing, the jury found her guilty of the bank robbery and other crimes, and she served two years in prison.

Patty Hearst Pea Coat
  • Patty Hearst Pea Coat
    April 15, 1974
    When Hearst was seen on security camera footage with members of the SLA robbing the Hibernia Bank, she was wearing this pea coat and brandishing a firearm as she yelled at bank patrons. She was using the alias "Tania" during the robbery.
  • SLA Gas Mask

Patty Hearst Ransom Note
Ransom Note in Patty Hearst Kidnapping
We're holding your daughter Patricia Hearst and we're never going to give her back to you unless you pigs let Remiro and Little out of prison. We already XXXXXXXX your little Patricia and we're going to XXXXXXXXXX doing it unless you let Russle and little out. We're giving you ten days and when those 10 days are up and don't hear from Russle and Little we're going to kill her the same way we killed those 4 persons. My friend killed those 3 people in that funeral home and we'er going to keep on killing if you don't let them out free.

I want you to put this in the news and in your paper an if you don't you might be our next victim. I'm writing this letter from San Jose but I live here in SF. I put this letter from San Jose - so the pigs can't trace it. I want you to put those word from where the arrows point. I want you people to know we like trouble and if you don't believe me try me. Sorry for writing crummy that's not the best I do?! I want you to show this letter to the cops and public, so they know we mean trouble. XXXXXXXXX never going to rest in peace again until you catch us??!!

Patty Hearst

WIKIPEDIA Patricia Campbell Hearst
Born February 20, 1954
The granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. She first became known for the events following her 1974 kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was found and arrested 19 months after being abducted, by which time she was a fugitive wanted for serious crimes committed with members of the group.

She was held in custody, and there was speculation before trial that her family's resources would enable her to avoid time in prison.

At her trial, the prosecution suggested that Hearst had joined the Symbionese Liberation Army of her own volition. However, she testified that she had been raped and threatened with death while held captive. In 1976, she was convicted for the crime of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years in prison, later reduced to seven years. Her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter, and she was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

Hearst's Account
According to Hearst's testimony at her trial, she was held for a week in a closet, blindfolded and with her hands tied. During this time, SLA founder Cinque (Donald DeFreeze) repeatedly threatened her with death. She was allowed to leave the closet for meals, still blindfolded, and began to participate in the group's political discussions. She was given a flashlight for reading and SLA political tracts to memorize. Hearst was confined in the closet for weeks. She said, "DeFreeze told me that the war council had decided or was thinking about killing me or me staying with them, and that I better start thinking about that as a possibility. ... I accommodated my thoughts to coincide with theirs." In an April 1974 account, Hearst claimed that she had been offered the choice of being released or joining the SLA.

When asked for her decision, Hearst elected to remain and fight with the SLA. The blindfold was removed, allowing her to see her captors for the first time. After this, she was given daily lessons on her duties, especially weapon drills. Angela Atwood told Hearst that the others wanted Hearst to experience sexual freedom within the unit. Hearst later claimed to have been raped by William "Willie" Wolfe and DeFreeze.

Brainwashing Claims
At the time of her arrest, Hearst's weight had dropped to 87 pounds (40 kg), and she was described by psychologist Margaret Singer in October 1975 as "a low-IQ, low-affect zombie". Shortly after her arrest, doctors recorded signs of trauma: her IQ was measured as 112, whereas it had previously been 130; there were huge gaps in her memory regarding her pre-Tania life; she was smoking heavily and had nightmares. Without a mental illness or defect, a person is considered to be fully responsible for any criminal action not done under duress, which is defined as a clear and present threat of death or serious injury. For Hearst to secure an acquittal on the grounds of having been brainwashed would have been completely unprecedented.

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