Patty Hearst: Inside Story of Kidnapped Heiress Who Turned Radical Bank Bandit (FPD CASE VAULT)

patty hearst inside story kidnapped heiress turned radical bank bandit
Source: Associated Press

Aug. 1 2023, Published 10:33 a.m. ET

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

Newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst became a bank robber, fugitive and jailbird after her shocking kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a band of radical leftists dedicated to transforming American society.

It was a far cry from the quiet life she led as a student in Berkeley, Calif. Her privileged existence as media mogul William Randolph Hearst's granddaughter came to a chilling end on Feb. 4, 1974, when she was dragged at gunpoint from her apartment.

SLA leader and escaped convict Donald DeFreeze issued a bizarre ransom demand: the release of two jailed gang members and $70 in food for every needy person in the Golden State.

Article continues below advertisement


Inside Story of Kidnapped Heiress Turned Bank Bandit Patty Hearst
Source: Bettmann Archive

Escaped convict Donald DeFreeze led the radical SLA

Her father donated $6 million to the poor of the Bay Area but for the next 57 days, Hearst recalled she was "blindfolded, gagged, tied up" in a closet.

To brainwash his prisoner, DeFreeze raped and beat her repeatedly, and bombarded her with angry rants against the U.S. government.

Inside Story of Kidnapped Heiress Turned Bank Bandit Patty Hearst
Source: Bettmann Archive

Photograph of kidnapping victim Patricia Hearst sent by her kidnappers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, to a Berkeley radio station along with a tape recording in which she states that she has decided to join her kidnappers.


Years later, she relived the ordeal, saying: "You're deprived of sight, light, sleep and food. You depend on them for all information. And the dread is just the threat constantly that you'll be killed if you don't cooperate."

Ultimately, she adopted the "revolutionary" name Tania and was caught on surveillance cameras holding a rifle as the SLA robbed San Francisco's Hibernia Bank.

Two witnesses were shot during the heist. Hearst went from victim to wanted fugitive.

Article continues below advertisement

Never miss a story — sign up for the Front Page Detectives newsletter. Be on the scene the moment news breaks.

Over the next 17 months, the SLA was involved in other robberies and shootings. Most gang members were killed in a May 1974 gun battle with police. But the former debutante- turned-self-described "urban guerrilla" lived on the lam until Sept. 18, 1975.

During her trial for the Hibernia Bank job, high-priced defense attorney F. Lee Bailey insisted Patty's crime spree was the result of brainwashing.

Inside Story of Kidnapped Heiress Turned Bank Bandit Patty Hearst
Source: Rob Latour/Splash News/Corbis

Patricia Hearst at an event in 2014

The jury didn't buy it. Hearst was given seven years in the slammer. President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence after two years and President Bill Clinton gave her a full pardon in 2001.

Now 59, the socialite married her bodyguard Bernard L. Shaw while on parole in 1979. They had two daughters, Gillian, 32 and Lydia, 29. She has taken to acting, appearing mostly in bit parts and B-movies.


Become a Front Page Detective

Sign up to receive breaking
Front Page Detectives
news and exclusive investigations.

More Stories

Opt-out of personalized ads

© Copyright 2023 Empire Media Group, Inc. Front Page Detectives is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.