It ended as it had begun: at gunpoint. On Sept. 18, 1975, two men burst into a San Francisco apartment with revolvers drawn. ”Are you Patty Hearst?” asked FBI agent Tom Padden. ”Yes,” answered a terrified, emaciated 21-year-old, who was immediately arrested. And with that the heiress-turned-revolutionary Patricia Campbell Hearst’s life as America’s most famous fugitive came to a close.
Hearst’s very public descent into criminality had begun on Feb. 4, 1974, when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, white terrorists led by black ex-con Donald DeFreeze (a.k.a. Cinque Mtume). The granddaughter of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (the inspiration for Citizen Kane), she dominated the news for months, tantalizing a nation of voyeurs. The details that eventually emerged were shocking: Hearst was kept in a closet, bound and blindfolded, for 57 days. Raped and psychologically tortured, she eventually ”joined” the SLA under her nom de guerre, Tania. Thanks to a photo of Hearst helping to rob a bank (as well as tapes of her radical rhetoric), the heiress morphed from victim to villain in the eyes of a fascinated public.
After her arrest, Hearst endured a 39-day proto-O.J. media-circus trial; convicted of robbery, she served 22 months of her seven-year prison term. At the urging of her family and friends, President Carter commuted her sentence in 1979.
Her travails soon crossed the line into entertainment, becoming fodder for nearly 10 books and a few movies, most notably Paul Schrader’s 1988 Patty Hearst, starring Natasha Richardson. ”Her case was gripping because it had elements of class, race, sex, and politics running through it,” says Schrader.
Hearst has carved out a surprisingly normal life since then, marrying her bodyguard Bernard Shaw in 1979; the couple now live in New England with daughters Lydia, 12, and Gillian, 16. A sometime actress who’s appeared in John Waters’ Cry-Baby and Serial Mom, Hearst has also written two books: 1982’s autobiography Every Secret Thing, and, with Cornelia Frances Biddle, 1996’s Murder at San Simeon, a mystery novel based on some 1924 events at her grandfather’s mansion.
Despite the passage of years, Hearst has acknowledged that ”’kidnapped newspaper heiress’ will always come before [my] name.” Indeed, to boomer pop-culture mavens everywhere, Hearst’s ordeal stands as a grim reminder of the counterculture’s dark side.
September 18, 1975
CHICO AND THE MAN (with Freddie Prinze and Jack Albertson, right) is starting its second season after debuting at No. 3. Actor Freddie Prinze Jr., born 10 months before his dad’s 1977 suicide at 22, would break into movies with 1996’s To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. RAGTIME TOPPED the fiction best-seller list; the story of an early-1900s black pianist’s quest for justice would be a film six years later — and starting Dec. 26, 1997, it’ll be a Broadway musical. TIDAL WAVE sweeps up. Though the decade’s high tide of disaster movies soon ebbs, it flows again in the ’90s with Volcano, Dante’s Peak, and Titanic. AND IN THE REAL WORLD, Lynette ”Squeaky” Fromme, 25, pleads not guilty this week to charges of attempting to assassinate President Ford; she’s still serving a life sentence.