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February 4, 1974: Patty Hearst kidnapped

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom are armed. Her fiance, Stephen Weed, was beaten and tied up along with a neighbor who tried to help. Witnesses reported seeing a struggling Hearst being carried away blindfolded, and she was put in the trunk of a car. Neighbors who came out into the street were forced to take cover after the kidnappers fired their guns to cover their escape.

Three days later, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a small U.S. leftist group, announced in a letter to a Berkeley radio station that it was holding Hearst as a “prisoner of war.” Four days later, the SLA demanded that the Hearst family give $70 in foodstuffs to every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. This done, said the SLA, negotiation would begin for the return of Patricia Hearst. Randolph Hearst hesitantly gave away some $2 million worth of food. The SLA then called this inadequate and asked for $6 million more. The Hearst Corporation said it would donate the additional sum if the girl was released unharmed.

In April, however, the situation changed dramatically when a surveillance camera took a photo of Hearst participating in an armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, and she was also spotted during a robbery of a Los Angeles store. She later declared, in a tape sent to the authorities, that she had joined the SLA of her own free will.

On May 17, Los Angeles police raided the SLA’s secret headquarters, killing six of the group’s nine known members. Among the dead was the SLA’s leader, Donald DeFreeze, an African American ex-convict who called himself General Field Marshal Cinque. Patty Hearst and two other SLA members wanted for the April bank robbery were not on the premises.

Finally, on September 18, 1975, after crisscrossing the country with her captors–or conspirators–for more than a year, Hearst, or “Tania” as she called herself, was captured in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery. Despite her claim that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, she was convicted on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. She served 21 months before her sentence was commuted by President Carter. After leaving prison, she returned to a more routine existence and later married her bodyguard. She was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.

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