On February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom were armed. Her fiancé, 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, negotiations 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 $4 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 Patty Hearst declared, in a tape sent to the authorities, that she was joining the SLA of her own free will. Later that month, a surveillance camera took a photo of her participating in an armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, and she was also spotted during the robbery of a Los Angeles store.
On May 17, police raided the SLA’s secret headquarters in Los Angeles, 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 later claim that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, she was convicted on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. Her prison sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter and she was released in February 1979. She later married her bodyguard. In 2001, she received a full pardon from President Bill Clinton.