Hearst Abduction Riveted the Nation

The Associated Press/February 4, 1999

By William Schiffmann

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Police inspector Dan Wolke still vividly remembers being called into the chief's office 25 years ago. He thought he was in trouble.

``They told me Patty Hearst had been kidnapped,'' he recalled this week. ``I said, 'Who's Patty Hearst?'''

Wolke quickly found out, along with the rest of a fascinated nation.

Today, newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst Shaw is a married mother living in Connecticut, still trying to clear her name. But on Feb. 4, 1974, she was a 19-year-old college student abducted in a barrage of gunfire.

A band of radicals calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army announced that they had made her a prisoner of war to avenge ``the crimes her mother and father have committed against the American people and the people of the world.''

The SLA was born in neighboring Berkeley, a hotbed of opposition to the Vietnam War. Its symbol was a seven-headed snake, and its rallying cry was ``Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people.''

The group demanded that Randolph and Catherine Hearst distribute $2 million worth of food to the needy before they would discuss freedom for their daughter. The demand later climbed to $6 million.

Meanwhile, Hearst Shaw was held for weeks in a closet. The SLA, led by the grandly named Field Marshall Cinque, indoctrinated her with radical rhetoric.

Cinque, who took his name from a famous rebel slave, was actually an escaped convict -- Donald DeFreeze, a father of six who was obsessed with weapons and was a lifelong loser in battles with the law.

Hearst Shaw metamorphosed into Tania, a member of the very group that took her prisoner. She named herself for a Bolivian woman who had died with Che Guevara.

Two months after the kidnapping, she was photographed carrying a carbine during a SLA holdup of a San Francisco bank -- the robbery for which she eventually was tried, convicted and sent to prison.

``It was overwhelming to start out with,'' Wolke said. ``One surprise after the next.''

The SLA appeared for the first time three months before the kidnapping when they ambushed and murdered Oakland schools Supt. Marcus Foster. Two SLA members -- Joseph Remiro and Russell Little -- were arrested after a gunfight with police and sent to prison for that crime, although Little was later retried and acquitted.

The group was basically destroyed in May of 1974 when six members, including Cinque, were trapped by police in a Los Angeles house. As the nation watched the action live on television, officers riddled the place with bullets and it finally caught fire. All six died.

Hearst Shaw went underground. There were scores of sightings, but she didn't reemerge until Sept. 18, 1975, when she was arrested in San Francisco.

Although she claimed she was the victim of brainwashing, she was sentenced to seven years for the bank robbery. She served about two years before President Carter commuted her sentence.

Since her release from prison, Hearst Shaw has become a celebrity. She has appeared in two movies directed by John Waters, in several television sitcoms, and even written novels. She declined to be interviewed for this story, but her husband, Bernard Shaw, said by telephone from New York that the family doesn't discuss the SLA days.

``Actually, to be truthful, most people who meet her today think of her as an actress and author,'' he said. ``Most have seen her in the movies or on TV or have read one of her two books.''

She also does charitable work for Alzheimer's and AIDS groups and for Meals on Wheels.

Although many people thought her brainwashing defense was far-fetched, Wolke said he is a believer.

``I never forgot that she was a kidnap victim, a young woman, impressionable,'' he said. ``I never talked to her, but I believe most of what I've read.''

And, he added, ``It could have been my kids.''


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