Patty Hearst, Criminal Or Victim? Facts And Trivia About The '70s Most Wanted

Culture | November 19, 2019

Patty Hearst welcome home button. Tania was the name she received from the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). In 1974 she became a member of the FBI's ten most wanted list. (Photo by David J. & Janice L. Frent/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 1974, Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, becoming the most famous abductee of the '70s. When she robbed a bank a year later, she became a celebrity criminal and fugitive. Young, beautiful and incredibly rich, the facts of Hearst's story sparked debate up to and after her eventual capture by the FBI -- was she a terrorist, or had she been a brainwashed victim the whole time?

On February 4, 1974, an armed group of men and women burst into the apartment where Patty Hearst and her fiance were living. They threw Patty, a 19 year-old college student, in the trunk of their car, beat up her fiance, Steven Weed, and fled. Later, the identities of her captors would be revealed; they were the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), led by Donald DeFreeze, an escaped convict. They were an eclectic group: men and women, blacks and whites, anarchists and extremists. They were domestic terrorists with the goal of overthrowing the U.S. Government. They kidnapped Hearst because of her family’s position and they wanted to draw attention to their cause.

The SLA Used Her Family Name For Publicity

Patty Hearst, with the logo of the SLA. Source: (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Patty Hearst’s grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, was pretty much the father of tabloid journalism, and inspired Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. Patty Hearst met her fiancé while she was in high school, when she was 15 and he was her young math tutor. Eventually, the two got engaged and moved in together.

After the kidnapping, Hearst's mother, Catherine Hearst, publicly expressed her disappointment with Weed:

Whatever happened to the real men in this world? Men like Clark Gable? No one would have carried off my daughter if there had been a real man there.

The SLA, now in possession of their rich hostage, first demanded that two of their members who were jailed be released. When that was denied, they demanded her family give millions to feed California’s poor; her family and the Hearst Foundation gave $2 million but the SLA demanded more.

She Becomes A Victim Of Brainwashing

SLA propaganda. Source: (historycollection.co)

The SLA began the process of brainwashing her and it seemed to work. According to Hearst, she was told she could either join the SLA or be killed According to Hearst’s autobiography, which she released in 1992, they kept her in a closet for 57 days, subjecting her to abuse and depriving her of sleep, light, and food.

While the treatment was brutal, the rest of Patty Hearst's story hinges on an unanswered question: Is "brainwashing" really a thing? The concept was developed in the '50s to describe forced submission to Communism in China, but psychologists and psychiatrists are largely skeptical. Stockholm syndrome, in which a victim develops a bond with his or her captor, is considered more plausible than brainwashing, and was certainly a factor affecting Hearst's actions. Throughout her terrifying ordeal, and after, the question has always been: Was Patty Hears responsible for her actions?

Patty Hearst Participated In A Bank Robbery, And Was Nearly Caught

Hearst participates in a bank robbery. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

By April 3, the SLA released a tape of Hearst in which she claimed to take on a new name, Tania, and to have joined their cause. Then, she was spotted on a bank surveillance camera, participating in a bank robbery. The FBI launched one of the most massive searches in its history. Following a shootout at a sporting goods store, police were led to the safe house where SLA members were hiding. Hearst and two accomplishments decided not to return to the safe house, which at this point wasn't safe at all -- the police surrounded the house, leading to a shootout that left six members of the SLA, including DeFreeze, dead. The whole thing was broadcast live on TV. After this, she hid out for a while with other survivors in a Pennsylvania farmhouse. Despite the death of their leader, they ran four miles every day wearing ankle weights to ensure they were prepared for future guerrilla activities. 

Hearst Was Arrested, Charged With Crimes, And Tried In Court

She was arrested in San Francisco on September 18, 1975 and charged with bank robbery and other crimes. When she was arrested, she claimed her occupation was “urban guerrilla” and directed her lawyer to say she was “smiling” and felt “free and strong.” Her lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, claimed brainwashing as her defense, and when she was examined, they found that her I.Q. post-abduction was significantly lower than before her abduction. Additionally, she had taken up smoking and suffered from nightmares. The jury found her guilty and sentenced her to seven years. At that point, the public did not accept that she could have been brainwashed, but public sentiment turned in her favor after the Jonestown Massacre, which happened shortly after her guilty verdict. She served two years before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. After that, she was pardoned by Bill Clinton.

Two SLA Members Were Still At Large, Living Normal Lives

Source: (npr.org)

The last two members of the SLA were arrested in 1999 and 2002. One former member of the SLA, Sara Jane Olson who had changed her name from Kathleen Ann Soliah, became a soccer mom and married a doctor. She was accused of conspiring to plant bombs under Los Angeles police cars in 1975. Olson was spotted on America’s Most Wanted. The other member was James Kilgore, who was apprehended in South Africa, where he was living under an assumed name. He was hired by the University of Illinois as a research scholar after he was released.

Patty Hearst's Life After Prison

Source: (pinterest)

Once Hearst was released from prison, she married her bodyguard, Bernard Shaw, moved to Connecticut, and had two daughters. Her daughters have made names for themselves as well, though not through such dramatic events. Gillian Hearst-Shaw is a contributing editor at Town and Country magazine, and Lydia Hearst is an actress, lifestyle blogger, and model who married Talking Dead host and Nerdist podcaster Chris Hardwick.

Patty Hearst, Multimedia Phenomenon

With her husband. Source: (pagesix.com)

In addition to her autobiography, she co-authored the novel Murder at San Simeon with Cordelia Frances Biddle. The year 1988 saw the release of Patty Hearst, a film adaptation of her memoir, in which Natasha Richardson played Hearst. Patty Hearst then caught the attention of John Waters, who cast her in four movies, beginning with 1990's Cry-Baby, starring Johnny Depp.

A Philanthropist, Lover Of Dogs, and Musical Inspiration

With her dog. Source: (kcby)

Hearst owns purebred French bulldogs and in 2017, she took home two titles at the Westminster Dog Show. She has also dedicated time to working with a foundation for children living with AIDS.

Musicians have written songs about her, including The Misfits who wrote a song called “She” and Camper Van Beethoven, who wrote a love song to Hearst called “Tania” that was featured on their album Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.

Tags: Crime In The 1970s | F. Lee Bailey | Kidnapping | Patty Hearst | Rare Facts And Stories About History | What Did She Do?...

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Cyn Felthousen-Post


Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!