Patty Hearst Kidnapping

Patty Hearst on the Cover of Newsweek April 29, 1974On Feb. 4, 1974 the Vietnam War was over but the Watergate scandal still dragged on dominating the news. By August of 1974, President Nixon would resign in disgrace.

How could things get any more bizarre than they had been?

On the evening 36 years ago, Patricia Hearst was in her Berkeley apartment with her boyfriend Steven Weed. A gang stormed into their apartment and Patty, the daughter of the prominent Hearst heir and the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped. She was dragged away in a blue bathrobe and the kidnappers sprayed the Berkeley neighborhood with gunfire as they fled.

So began one of the most bizarre kidnapping cases in American history. At first most of the public wondered–Who is Patty Hearst? 

Hearst was held for over 50 days bound in a closet after her kidnapping. Shortly after her kidnapping, there were communiqués from a group of revolutionaries calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. The radical politics of the Sixties in the Bay Area was still alive. It had morphed into a new violent strain. The SLA demanded that the Hearst’s dispense part of their considerable riches to feed the poor in San Francisco.

The public was beginning to become aware that this would not be the usual kidnapping of the heiress of a rich family for ransom. This would be distinctly difference. This was about politics. The Hearsts complied amid some wild, violent scenes at some locations where the food was distributed. Then as often was the case in major news events in San Francisco, just when you think a story couldn’t get more bizarre, something happens that takes it to the next level.

On April 15th, Patty Hearst showed up in a surveillance tape carrying a rifle, as she and a gang of SLA members robbed Hibernia Bank in the Sunset District of San Francisco. Patty Hearst was now calling herself “Tanya” and said she was an “urban guerilla.” In September, Patty Hearst’s ordeal ended but not as it would have been imagined in February. In September, she was arrested as a terrorist bank robber and was shown in handcuffs.

Her trial was billed “The Trial of the Century.” Does anyone remember how many “trials of the century” the 20th Century had?

In my book Expiation, Dan leaves his life in Seattle to begin his career as a newspaper man at the San Francisco Examiner. I imagined what it would have been like for Dan to be working at the Examiner when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. It would have been an extraordinary event.

I began my newspaper career on the August day in 1974 when President Nixon resigned. That was an amazing day to enter the newspaper business. I used that experience to imagine Dan’s circumstances.

Patricia Hearst has moved on with her life and now lives in Connecticut. In his heyday, her grandfather, would have relished a story like the kidnapping.


About gregmessel

I've written six novels and am working on a seventh. My first three novels were "Expiation," "Sunbreaks" and "The Illusion of Certainty." I'm now working on a series of mysteries set in San Francisco in the 1950s. In 2008, I retired from corporate life and so I can spend more time writing. I spent over ten years in the newspaper business. I now live on Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, just north of downtown Seattle.
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