Terrorist group SLA kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst who then joined their ranks: ID investigates

Mugshot of Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst was convicted of bank robbery. Pic credit: San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office

Investigation Discovery is looking into the case of Patricia (Patty) Hearst, an heiress to the Randolph Hearst fortune who was kidnapped from her apartment in California in 1974.

The heiress was abducted by a short-lived criminal organization called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), which was a terrorist group on the political far left that engaged in bank robbery and extortion.

The kidnapping became particularly infamous because Hearst subsequently joined with her kidnappers and quickly became a fugitive herself.

The nation became shocked that a rich girl who’d lived a sheltered and pampered life could become a radical gun-toting revolutionary in a very short space of time.

People have long debated whether Hearst was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, which causes hostages to bond with their kidnappers, or whether she was coerced into joining their cause.

On February 4, 1974, 19-year-old Patty Hearst was abducted from her apartment in Berkeley. She was a student at the University of California in Berkeley, and the SLA happened to have their headquarters nearby. It was largely an opportunistic crime.

The criminal organization wished to use Hearst as leverage to force the release of two of its members who had been imprisoned for murder. When that failed, they demanded that the Hearst Family donate $70 worth of food to every needy resident of California.

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The family did organize a program of donations; however, it came well short of the SLA’s expectations.

Patty Hearst: From victim to bank robber

At some point over the next couple of weeks, Hearst went from being a victim to joining the ranks of the SLA. Accounts have differed, but it seems she was given an ultimatum that she should join or be killed.

However, on another occasion, Hearst stated that she was asked if she wanted to join or be released.

Hearst released an audiotape to the media where she stated that she had joined the cause and would fight for the SLA.

On April 15, 1974, she took an active role in a bank robbery in central San Francisco.  An image from surveillance footage of Hearst brandishing a submachine gun was seen around the world and shocked many. The group netted $10,000, and two bystanders were shot during the heist.

Hearst robbing a bank (1)
Surveillance footage showed Hearst pointing a gun at bank customers. Pic credit: FBI

On May 16, 1974, a member of the group was detained for shop-lifting outside a sports store in Los Angeles, but Hearst managed to free them by spraying a barrage of gunfire at the storefront, which caused security staff to dive for cover.

The next day, the LAPD raided one of the SLA hideouts, and a fiery shootout ensued. Six members of SLA were killed, including some of its leaders. However, Hearst was not at the hideout and managed to avoid capture.

The SLA and Hearst continued their criminal activities, including bank robberies and extortion, until the FBI finally arrested her in San Francisco on September 18, 1975.

In 1976, she was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Hearst spent only two years in prison before being released after President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. In 2001, President Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon.

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more horrific crimes profiled on ID.

Tae Bum Yoon murdered single mother and sex worker Ashley Benson over an argument about payment after sex in a Portland, Ore. hotel. Her body was found in the hotel stairwell on the morning of December 26, 2014.

Marilyn McIntyre was an 18-year-old mother of a 3-month-old baby boy when her husband found her lying dead on the floor of their home with a knife sticking out of her chest. The case lay cold for two decades until a friend of Marilyn’s husband, Curtis Forbes, was arrested and jailed.

Patty Hearst: The Crimes That Changed Us airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

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