By: Nancy RommelmannPublished: September 18, 2022

Patty Hearst Captured

On the night of February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst was home with her fiancé when three people bearing weapons forced their way into the couple’s Berkeley apartment. Hearst struggled but could not overpower the intruders, who stuffed the granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst into the trunk of a car and drove off. Authorities initially had no idea who has taken the 19-year-old Hearst. Learning the kidnappers called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army shed no light on the group’s motivation.

Hearst was at first kept in a closet in a Bay Area "safe house." Given a TV for company, she watched her story play out. The nation too was riveted: Would the SLA kill or release the young heiress?

The answer, as those familiar with the story know, turned out to be neither: within two months Patricia Hearst was radicalized, took the nom de guerre Tania, appeared in the iconic photograph holding a sawed-off M1 carbine; was captured on footage robbing a bank and, before her arrest in September 18, 1975, drove the getaway car after another bank robbery, during which a woman was murdered. The San Francisco Chronicle, a Hearst newspaper, covered the story incessantly, as did a new magazine called People.

Though Hearst had told a fellow SLA member “her old life was gone," when she needed that life back, she grabbed for it. She allowed her parents to fund her defense. Awaiting trial, she took up crocheting and learned The Hustle. As Jeffrey Toobin would write in, American Heiress, The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, Hearst again “became a Hearst," and then some. She ratted on her "former allies with icy specificity” and “never acknowledged any wrongdoing on her part.”

Hearst would spend less than two years in jail, President Carter commuting her seven-year sentence in 1979. On his last day in office, and over the objections of then-U.S. attorney in San Francisco Robert S. Mueller III, President Clinton granted Hearst a full pardon.

Adapted from my review of American Heiress for Newsday

Related Articles