In a previous post, “The Strange Case of Patty Hearst: Part 1,” I wrote about the kidnapping of wealthy media heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army and her participation in their robbery of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco on April 15, 1974. When the attorney general viewed a videotape of the bank robbery, identifying Patty as one of the five robbers, he issued a warrant for her arrest as a material witness. What Patty’s parents and all of America wanted to know: had this well-brought-up young lady really crossed over and joined her captors in their radical notion of justice? Or was Patty brainwashed and acting in fear of her life?
A month later, SLA members William and Emily Harris walked into Mel’s Sporting Goods in Englewood, California, to buy supplies for their safe house. While Emily paid at the register, William shoplifted some socks. A security guard noticed and attempted to arrest William Harris by placing a handcuff on his left wrist. They struggled and a .38-caliber handgun fell from William Harris’ waistband. Patty Hearst, on armed lookout from across the street in a red Volkswagen van, produced a semi-automatic rifle and started shooting out the store’s overhead sign. Shots cracked the concrete and shattered the window, and one of them ricocheted and slashed the forehead of the owner, Mrs. Huett. Everyone inside Mel’s took cover and William and Emily made their getaway with Patty behind the wheel of the van. They soon abandoned the van and took refuge in their safehouse at 1466 54th Street in Los Angeles.
From a parking ticket found inside the glove box of the abandoned van, the L.A.P.D. was able to locate the safe house. The next day, May 17, 400 L.A.P.D. officers along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, California Highway Patrol, and Los Angeles Fire Department surrounded the neighborhood. They descended upon the hideout and conducted a live televised raid. It was one of the largest shootouts in police history with a reported total of over 9,000 rounds being fired by both the police and the SLA members who chose not to surrender. Six members of the SLA were killed, probably as a result of a combination of multiple gunshot wounds, smoke inhalation from the burning house, and burns. Among the dead was the SLA’s leader, Donald DeFreeze, an African American ex-convict who called himself General Field Marshal Cinque and Willie Wolfe, who was reported to be Patricia Hearst’s lover and called himself Cujo. Patty Hearst was not in the house during the siege. She and several other fugitives had seen the news coverage of the Mel’s Sporting Goods incident on TV the night before and fled.
Patty and the others remained on the run for over a year, crisscrossing the country and surviving by conducting small thefts. Authorities following the trail of SLA member Kathleen Soliah were eventually lead to the Harrises and Patty. On April 21, 1975, Kathleen Soliah (nee Sara Jane Olson) had robbed a bank in Carmichael, California, during which a mother of four was murdered and a young pregnant bank teller was kicked in the belly and later had a miscarriage. Patty had been Kathleen Soliah’s getaway driver.
Patty was finally arrested on September 18, 1975 at her apartment in the outer Mission District of San Francisco. As she was led away, Patty gave a clenched fist salute and listed her occupation on police papers as “urban guerrilla.” Patty Hearst’s mother, Catherine, expressed confidence that her daughter would not face imprisonment: “I don’t believe Patty’s legal problems are that serious. After all, she’s primarily a kidnap victim. She never went off and did anything of her own free will.”
Patty Hearst was brought to trial in 1976, represented by famed attorney F. Lee Bailey. (Read about the trial here.) Despite her claim that she had been tortured, raped, and brainwashed into submission by the SLA, the jury found it hard to believe her. She was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to seven years in prison. After serving two years, President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. She married her bodyguard Bernard Shaw. In 2001, she received a full pardon from President Bill Clinton.
She now lives with her husband and two children, Gillian and Lydia. She raises French bulldogs that win red ribbons at Westminster Kennel Club competitions.