Tales of the Bizarre: Kidnapped Newspaper Heiress Patty Hearst Turns Radical Guerilla?
Born into privilege on February 20, 1954, Patricia Campbell Hearst had all the underpinnings of a predictable life. Early on, she was young, intelligent and attractive. After all, the granddaughter of newspaper mogul/media empire founder William Randolph Hearst grew up “sublimely self-confident” in an “affluent and sheltered environment,” as she noted in her 1982 autobiography, “Every Secret Thing.” Following high school, Patty attended Menlo College before transferring to UC Berkeley in her sophomore year.
At 19, she was engaged to and sharing an apartment with Steven Weed, though she would later admit to being unhappy in the relationship. Still, life was pretty ordinary until Feb. 4, 1974, when members of a revolutionary group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) kidnapped Patty and held her hostage for two months while demanding the release of two group members arrested for the murder of Oakland, Calif.’s first black school superintendent. Authorities refused. In response to a second demand, the Hearst family gave $2 million in food to the needy in California’s Bay area.
Matters took an even more bizarre turn when Patty announced on an audiotape that she’d joined the group. Was she brainwashed? Deluded by Stockholm syndrome? Forced to make an unthinkable choice as a result of abuse, indoctrination and death threats? The question remains controversial. Whatever the truth, not long after her abduction, Patty, newly christened Tania, went on an SLA-led crime spree that included numerous shootouts, fires, bank robberies and deaths that ended with her capture by the FBI in September 1975. Convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to seven years in prison, she served less than two when her term was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. She was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.
What does one make of such a saga? Certainly, Hearst has proved herself a survivor, passing from silver-spoon heiress to crime victim, from criminal to wife, mother, author of “Patty Hearst: Her Own Story,” and even acted in several John Waters films including Cry Baby (1990) and Serial Mom (1994) across the decades. Avoiding the spotlight until the publication of “Every Secret Thing,” she told TV talk show host Larry King in 2001 that she’d written it because “not everything that went on was made public.” She was widowed in 2013, when her former bodyguard husband, Bernard Shaw passed away. She currently lives in New York, is a show dog mom and is deeply involved with several charities. She also has 2 daughters, Gillian and Lydia, the latter of whom is married to Chris Hardwick.
As she told reporters in 2015, “People move on. I have grown daughters and granddaughters and other things that normal people have.” But it’s that most abnormal episode of her life, 50 years ago, that holds a permanent place in America’s fascinating memories.