From New Yorker staff writer and bestselling author of The Nine and The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson, the definitive account of the kidnapping and trial that defined an insane era in American history
On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a sophomore in college and heiress to the Hearst Family fortune, was kidnapped by a ragtag group of self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbonese Liberation Army. The weird turns that followed in this already sensational take are truly astonishing--the Hearst family tried to secure Patty's release by feeding the people of Oakland and San Francisco for free; bank security cameras captured "Tania" wielding a machine gun during a roberry; the LAPD engaged in the largest police shoot-out in American history; the first breaking news event was broadcast live on telelvision stations across the country; and then there was Patty's circuslike trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the term "Stockholm syndrome" entered the lexicon.
Ultimately, the saga highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. American Heiress portrays the electrifying lunacy of the time and the toxic mic of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst and captivated the nation.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
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The doorbell rang at 9:17 on the evening of February 4, 1974.
From their perch on the sofa in the living room, Patricia Hearst and Steven Weed looked at each other and shrugged. No one was expected. But it was Berkeley, so who knew?
Still, visitors were unlikely. Their cozy duplex was one of four apartments at 2603 Benvenue Avenue, a sturdy, well- made structure covered in the chocolate- brown shingles that were a signature of the neighborhood around the University of California, where both Patricia and Steve were students. The apartment offered an unusual degree of privacy. There was no door to the street, only a pair of garage doors, which were open. To enter, one had to walk up an outside stairway along the side and then find the entrance to apartment 4 on an interior walkway. Few did.
With some trepidation, Patricia and Steve walked to the front hall. Weed pulled open the door a crack and saw a woman he did not recognize. Her clothes appeared slightly disheveled.
“I’m sorry but I think I backed into your car,” the woman said. “I’m sorry. Can I come in and use the phone?” Patricia turned away in disgust, thinking that the visitor had damaged her beloved MG roadster. Then, as she headed back toward the living room, she heard a crash.
Three people, all bearing weapons, burst into the apartment. The woman at the door was named Angela Atwood, and she had not had a car accident. She was acting, and she was, as it happened, an actress who had recently played a leading role in a local production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. On this night, however, she was using her talents to initiate a kidnapping.
Two men rushed in behind Atwood. Later, Weed would insist that both were black, but only one was— Donald DeFreeze, who had recently applied a political filigree to a lifetime of petty and not-so-petty crime. The other man was Bill Harris, an agitated, compulsive talker, also a theater person at one time as well as a Vietnam veteran, and currently a revolutionary. DeFreeze knocked Weed to the floor, and Patricia fled toward the kitchen, in the back of the apartment.
“Where’s the safe? Where’s the safe?” DeFreeze demanded. He had an almost quaint conception that rich people kept their money at home in safes. Steve and Patricia did no such thing, and Steve protested that there was no safe. “Take my wallet,” Weed said. “It’s all the money I have. Take anything you want!” DeFreeze, unhappy with this answer, belted Steve across the head with a homemade sap— a leather- covered piece of lead. The pain knocked Weed almost unconscious.
Atwood chased Patricia into the kitchen and put a black automatic pistol in her face. “Be quiet and nobody’ll get hurt,” she said. Harris ran after Patricia as well and then dragged her back toward the front door, where he placed her facedown on the floor. Atwood began tying Patricia up. She fought back— Patricia was stronger than her delicate, barely five- foot frame suggested— but Atwood managed to get some nylon cord wrapped around her arms and legs. She also tried to put a gag (actually a racquetball) into Patricia’s mouth and a blindfold over her eyes, but her fierce resistance left both restraints hanging loosely around her head. Still, with Weed semiconscious and Hearst trussed, there was a brief moment of silence, which was broken by the arrival of a new face at the door.
Steve Suenaga, also a Cal student, lived in one of the apartments across the walkway. He was heading out to see his girlfriend, when he noticed some unusual activity inside apartment 4 and poked his nose in the door.
DeFreeze grabbed Suenaga and told him to get on the floor, facedown. Atwood tied him up, too. Suenaga heard Hearst whimpering, “Please leave us alone . . .”
“Quiet!” Harris said to her. “Or we’ll have to knock you out.”
Atwood said to DeFreeze, who seemed to be in charge, “They’ve seen us, we’ve got to kill them.”
Suenaga raised his head, and DeFreeze struck him on the head three times with his weapon— an M1 carbine converted into a machine gun.
A moment later, Weed was able to rise from his stupor. He made a wild rush at Harris, who blocked his advance with the sawed- off automatic he was carrying and slammed Weed to the ground. Weed then bolted for the back door. He pushed through the screen, busting it off its base, fled into the tiny yard, ran past his marijuana plants, vaulted the fence, and disappeared into the night. Two hostages— Hearst and Suenaga— remained tied up on the floor by the door.
Lying facedown, Patricia began to realize that she was confronting more than a robbery. These people had demanded a safe but didn’t look for one. They didn’t even take Steve’s money. What did they want? Why would mere thieves take the trouble to tie her up?
She soon found out that her fears were justified. Atwood left first for the getaway car, a 1964 Chevrolet Impala convertible that the kidnappers had carjacked earlier in the evening. (In the backseat of the car, tied up and dazed from a pistol- whipping from Atwood, was Peter Benenson, the owner of the vehicle, covered by a blanket. He had been accosted after leaving a nearby market in Berkeley.) Camilla Hall, a poet as well as a terrorist, was at the wheel of Benenson’s car, which she had backed into the driveway of 2603. The trunk was ajar, awaiting human cargo.
The commotion had started to draw attention. In the house next door, a Berkeley student named Sandy Golden and three classmates were studying for a bacteriology exam in his apartment. When they heard a woman scream, they ran onto a small porch that faced 2603. For a moment, they stared eye to eye with DeFreeze, who lifted his weapon and fired two quick bursts at the students. He missed. Atwood jumped in the passenger seat.
Harris, meanwhile, was half dragging, half carrying Patricia down the stairs along the side of the building toward the waiting car. She was kicking, screaming, and wearing nothing but a bathrobe, a pair of panties, and fuzzy blue slippers. Harris raised the trunk with one hand, but it bounced up and slammed shut. He groaned in frustration. He now had to put Patricia down and retrieve the key from Camilla Hall, in the driver’s seat. While Harris went for the key, Hearst . . . disappeared. The kidnap victim had wiggled free from her bonds, for Atwood’s training for the stage had yielded few insights about knot tying. After a few panicked seconds, Harris located Hearst, who had scampered into the garage, near her own MG. Harris again lifted her up and this time managed to deposit her in the trunk and close the lid on top of her.
Then, for Patricia Hearst, chaos yielded quickly to darkness and silence.
And cold. The temperature in Berkeley had dropped into the forties, and she had only her bathrobe for warmth in the trunk. A trunk? What was she doing there? What did they want? Why was this happening?
In a way, she already knew: it was because of her name. It is difficult, at a remove of several decades, to conjure what the name Hearst still meant in 1974. Fame, wealth, and power on a grand scale. Her grandfather William Randolph Hearst (who died several years before Patricia was born in 1954) was a newspaper publisher, but that barely captures the scope of his renown. The Chief, as he was known, built the grandest private residence in the United States, San Simeon, and his life inspired perhaps the greatest American film, Citizen Kane.
Patricia was just nineteen, restless and unformed, the product of a lonely childhood in a big wealthy family. She was the middle child of five daughters, the rambunctious one, the one the governess (that was the term the family used) disciplined with a hairbrush. She was sent off to boarding school when she was only ten and was in and out of five schools before she graduated from high school. She was never exactly expelled— Hearsts were not expelled— but it was suggested that she would be happier elsewhere, especially by the nuns who ran the Catholic institutions chosen by her mother. Mrs. Hearst was displeased, often.
Catherine Campbell Hearst was a regal presence, as austere as the limestone mansion in Hillsborough where she and Randolph Apperson Hearst presided. In temperament, she differed greatly from her husband. Catherine was tightly wound, a stickler for proprieties, a Georgia beauty who persuaded Randy to make a kind of halfhearted conversion to Catholicism. In contrast, Randy liked nothing so much as a long day in a duck blind followed by a big meal fueled by scotch and red wine. He was a businessman of sorts, the publisher of the family’s flagship newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, but his role there was mostly that of a figurehead. Still, Randy possessed a kind of journalistic curiosity about how the rest of the world lived. Patty was his favorite; he related to her spunk and moxie as well as to her aversion to formal education. And she, in turn, loved her dad and allowed him to call her Patty without complaint. For others, she preferred Patricia. As for the Hearst name or her family’s history, Patricia had little interest. She made a point of never seeing Citizen Kane.
Her final high school had been the Crystal Springs School for Girls, in Hillsborough, which aspired to be a finishing school in the mode of Madeira or Miss Porter’s, where the daughters of the San Francisco elite would prepare graduates for a women’s college and, more important, for marriage. But by the early 1970s, the turmoil of the era had penetrated the manicured hedges of Crystal Springs, and the girls there began wanting something more than the lives of their mothers. Some wanted careers. Patricia wanted Steve. After graduating from Princeton, Steve Weed took a job teaching math at Crystal Springs, and his shaggy good looks generated more than academic interest among the girls in his classes. Patricia began driving her MG to his apartment for, she said, extra help with her geometry homework. They began sleeping together right around her seventeenth birthday. Steve was twenty- three.
Patricia accumulated enough credits during her peripatetic education to graduate from Crystal Springs after the eleventh grade. A year at a local junior college followed. When she told her parents she was staying with girlfriends, she was actually spending most of her nights at Steve’s. Upon her return from a long trip to Europe, she announced to Randy and Catherine that she would be moving in with Steve. Her mother wanted Patricia to enroll at Stanford, which was more socially prominent, but Patricia preferred the University of California at Berkeley, where Steve had started graduate school in philosophy.
There, abruptly, the fun stopped for Patricia, even if few people knew the depth of her despair. In those days, as always, she spoke in a kind of lock-jawed monotone that gave away little of what she was feeling. That fall, in their first days together in the apartment, Patricia pinned her hope for happiness on an actual marriage, or at least an engagement, and she hinted that she expected a ring. (In the manner of most unmarried couples who lived together in those days, they felt compelled to sign the lease as “Mr. and Mrs. Steven Weed.”) In time, Patricia got a ring— sort of. For Christmas, in 1973, Steve gave her a pair of moccasins and a piece of paper with the word “ring” written on it, as a kind of promissory note. Hardly a romantic gesture. Steve thought Patricia was sarcastic. Patricia thought Steve was condescending. (Both were right.) Patricia enrolled as a sophomore at the university, and when she told Steve she was thinking of becoming a veterinarian, he informed her that she could never master the math and science requirements. She chose art history instead.
Reluctantly, Patricia lapsed into the life of a proto- housewife. She bought furniture and crammed every surface with knickknacks— little vases, ceramic shoes and bunnies, glass jars with stoppers, tiny sculptures. Tasteful prints, mostly Impressionist, lined the walls. (Patricia’s mother, in a forlorn nod to Catholicism for a daughter living in sin, gave the couple a sixteenth- century stations of the cross bas- relief.) Above their bed, on the second floor, in an oval frame, was the photograph of the couple that had run in the newspaper to announce their engagement. The decor matched their lifestyle— middle- aged. (Still, in a couple of ways, their tastes did reflect those of their generation. By the front door, there was a rack of their favorite wine, called Romance, which retailed for ninetynine cents a bottle, and they always maintained a generous stash of pot, which Steve also tried to grow in the garage as well as in the backyard.)
Patricia cooked and cleaned; Steve did neither. They did everything, including have sex, on his schedule, not hers. Patricia made the beds or left them unmade, as she did on February 4. Their evening together on that occasion was typical. Dinner was chicken soup with tuna fish sandwiches, followed by Mission: Impossible on television, then schoolwork in silence on the downstairs sofa. Bathrobe and slippers had become her home uniform. At nineteen, this was her life? On the eve of her kidnapping, Patricia later acknowledged, she was “mildly suicidal.”
Now, incredibly, those fuzzy slippers were evidence of her struggle to escape from Bill Harris. Police photographers would note the presence of one on the stairway and the other on the driveway. And where was Steve, the man of the house? Her fiancé? Her protector? He had run away. “Take anything you want!” Steve had told the kidnappers, and indeed they had. They had taken Patricia Campbell Hearst, and now she was locked in the trunk of a car.
The kidnappers brought three vehicles to 2603 Benvenue that night. There was the stolen convertible with Hall at the wheel, along with the kidnap team of Atwood, Harris, and DeFreeze; one hostage, Benenson, was in the backseat, and the other, Hearst, was in the trunk. Emily Harris (Bill’s wife) and Nancy Ling Perry parked a stolen station wagon parallel to the front of Hearst’s apartment. A sometime sex worker turned terrorist, Ling (as she was known) was volatile even by the standards of her colleagues; when she saw DeFreeze firing at the students on the porch next door, Ling stuck her automatic weapon out the window of her car and shot two quick bursts at them as well. She also missed. Waiting on the other side of Benvenue, facing 2603, was a blue Volkswagen Beetle driven by Willy Wolfe, the youngest in the group and the least experienced criminal. He was joined by Patricia Soltysik, known to all as Mizmoon, the name given to her by her occasional lover the poet Camilla Hall. The plan was for Wolfe to lead a three- car caravan away from the scene, followed by Hall driving the kidnap vehicle and Emily Harris and Nancy Ling Perry in the rear.
The plan nearly failed at the outset. Wolfe made a left onto Parker Street, with the two other cars following close behind. Suddenly a Berkeley police cruiser appeared from nowhere and flashed its lights at the Volkswagen. The officer walked slowly to the driver’s side to talk to Wolfe.
Were they caught? The kidnapping itself was over quickly, but the gunfire prompted several calls to the police.
DeFreeze and Harris, with automatic weapons splayed across their laps in the Chevy, faced a moment of decision. With eyebrows more than words, they asked each other, could we waste a cop? If the officer was questioning Wolfe about the kidnapping, it was only a matter of minutes until the whole plan unraveled. The only way to protect their mission— their “action,” in the military argot they favored— was to kill the cop right now. DeFreeze was a killer, as he had proven just a few weeks earlier. But Harris was bigger on talk than violence; in Vietnam, he’d never even removed the rifle from beneath his bunk. But that was then. In unspoken accord, DeFreeze and Harris prepared to open their doors and turn their guns on the officer who was questioning their comrade.
Just then, DeFreeze and Harris saw the police officer walk away from Wolfe’s window, return to his vehicle, and drive away. Later, they learned that the officer had only stopped the Volkswagen to tell Wolfe to turn on his lights.
And so the three cars headed off into a future that was nearly as mysterious to the captors as to their captive. There were just eight of them— Donald DeFreeze, Bill and Emily Harris, Angela Atwood, Camilla Hall, Nancy Ling Perry, Mizmoon Soltysik, and Willy Wolfe— but they called themselves an army, the Symbionese Liberation Army. As they drove off into the California night, with Patricia Hearst as their unwilling passenger, their unofficial motto might well have been “What now?”
Excerpted from AMERICAN HEIRESS: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin. Copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey Toobin. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House
Table of Contents
1 Nervous Breakdown Nation 13
2 From Inside the Trunk 19
3 The SLA 31
4 The Point of No Return 48
5 Prisoner of War 65
6 Not Just a Bunch of Nuts 81
7 Three Hundred Bald Men 97
8 "I'm a Strong Woman" 112
9 The Birth of Tania 126
10 Stay and Fight 140
11 Common Criminals 157
12 Showdown at Mel's 172
13 Live on Television 187
14 Apocalypse on Fifty-Fourth Street 199
15 "The Gentlest, Most Beautiful Man" 215
16 Jack Scott Makes an Offer 229
17 Road Trip 239
18 The Streets of Sacramento 258
19 Death of a "Bourgeois Pig" 271
20 Feminist Bomb-Making 281
21 Freeze! 290
22 "There Will Be a Revolution in Amerikkka and We'll Be Helping to Make It" 309
23 "Your Ever-Loving Momma and Poppa Care About the Truth" 321
24 More Excited Than Scared 332
25 The Search for Old McMonkey 350
26 The Verdict 366
21 "Favoring the Rich over the Poor" 378
Authors Note 407
Selected Bibliography 421
Photo Credits 425
"The kidnapping of Patricia Hearst," writes Jeffrey Toobin, "is very much a story of America in the 1970s." But in his gripping new book part strange-but-true crime epic, part cultural history the veteran legal reporter presents a case with unsettling overtones for an unsettled nation almost fifty years older. American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, traces the intersection of a strangely assorted group of radicals who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army and the nineteen-year-old granddaughter of the legendary newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
Drawing on thousands of pages of archival materials including hours of FBI interviews with suspects Toobin painstakingly and compellingly reconstructs the events that unspooled when the Berkeley-based SLA first abducted Patty Hearst from the driveway of her home, from their demands of food donations to the poor in lieu of ransom, to their announcement that Patty had renounced her former life to join their armed cause, to an infamous San Francisco bank heist, and the apocalyptic gunfight between the LAPD and SLA. Having missed out on the confrontation, Hearst and two others fled and found sanctuary among fellow radicals. When the FBI finally tracked Hearst down in 1975 more than a year and a half after her abduction her conversion looked to have been total, aiding in bomb-making plots and in another bank robbery that caused a teller's death.
Hearst's subsequent trial featured yet another shocking twist the assertion by the defense that their client's transformation had been wholly a matter of psychological manipulation on the part of her captors, and that her life as a fugitive and participation in SLA crimes was the result of a program of brainwashing. The resulting controversy over Patty Hearst's intent and culpability have only added to the sense of enigma around her case, and American Heiress offers it as a perhaps unique case study in the question of how far any one of us is capable of changing ourselves to match a shift in the reality around us.
Toobin is not only a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker and legal affairs correspondent on CNN but the author of multiple bestsellers including The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court, and The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson. Just before the release of American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin spoke with me by phone about his research, what brought him to the Hearst case, and how the strange atmosphere of early '70s California resonates with an anxious USA in 2016. - Bill Tipper
The Barnes & Noble Review: What brought you to this? Was there a specific moment when you thought, "Patty Hearst; I want to write about that story."
Jeffrey Toobin: It's actually a very straightforward story. I wrote a piece for The New Yorker a couple of years ago about this jail in Baltimore that had been taken over by a gang called the Black Guerrilla Family, and the history of the Black Guerrilla Family, which started, it turns out, in the California prisons in the 1970s, which were a big hotbed of political activism. I got interested in that story, and I went to lunch with my editor at Doubleday, Bill Thomas, and I was telling him about that, and he said, "But what about Patty Hearst?" Because the SLA also came out of the California prisons.
BNR: You write that prison activist George Jackson, the author of Blood in My Eye, is something of a link between those movements . . .
JT: He was actually the founder of the Black Guerrilla Family. So my immediate reaction when Bill suggested that was, "Oh, there must be a million books about Patty Hearst." So he said, "Well, go check it out." And I found that, in fact, nothing has been written about Patty Hearst for decades, that there were a bunch of books that happened in the immediate aftermath, and then nothing. So I thought, "Wow, there really might be something here," and I started looking into it, and I realized that the story was much richer and more evocative than I had expected.
BNR: As I began reading it became clear how little I knew or remembered and I suspect this is true of most people today about the SLA. The name, the Symbionese Liberation Army, itself almost resisted sort of interpretation. They couldn't have picked a name that was more of a kind of cipher for the idea of vague radicalism.
JT: In fact, as I write in the book, the name is a good reflection of the absurdity of the whole SLA enterprise. There is no such word as "symbionese." They didn't liberate anyone or anything. You can't really call a dozen people an army. But the name has, you know, entered into American history because of this bizarre case.
BNR: The SLA formed around an escaped convict, Donald DeFreeze, who became known as Cinque, and was made up largely of white younger people, some of whom had been working in the prison education movement in that time, getting further radicalized and getting attuned to the idea that the Revolution will have to be led by black Americans, by people who have been imprisoned. But what you present is this group that's a chaotic amalgam of radical fervor, a half- baked Bonnie-and-Clyde outlaw fantasy, and cultlike dysfunction. Was it just chance that this is the group that became the most notorious of all those leftist radicals of that period?
JT: I don't know if I would call it chance. They committed the only political kidnapping in American history, before or since. So it's not surprising that their name is remembered. That is a sinister, important accomplishment. What they had no way of knowing is that their target was in a restless moment in her life that found her receptive to joining with these lunatics.
That's what turns this case into an American epic, the transformation, disputed though it is, of Patty Hearst.
BNR: What's fascinating about the story, in your careful retelling here, is that she goes from victim to protagonist she really does become the figure who makes this such a notorious and lasting kind of event in our history. She takes over the story.
JT: The lunatic politics of the SLA are subsidiary to the broader and really important questions of: What is free will? How do people decide what they do? The question of Hearst's conduct is really the mystery at the heart of this case.
BNR: You're very careful as you walk through and lay out all of the evidence in the quest for the solution to that mystery. The books is structured so that you both tell the story from the various viewpoints that illuminate it and eventually lead the reader to the court case, giving us the evidence that the juries in the various cases had, and also all the evidence that they didn't have. You're very careful not to draw a final conclusion yourself or to explicitly say that you do about the truth or falsity of Patty Hearst's claims in her trial. But you do leave us saying that there's bigger game here, which is the question of what does it mean that she could change from one person to another person, another person almost directly opposed to that earlier personality, and then change back.
JT: That's right. I do think that I am pretty clear that I don't believe that Patricia was coerced into committing this extraordinary list of crimes that she did over almost a year and a half. I think that she did join the SLA. She did voluntarily rob banks and set up bombs and shoot up a street in Los Angeles. I don't think she staged her own kidnapping. But I certainly believe that she was a voluntary participant in a lot of crimes.
BNR: As you point out, that looks very clear in retrospect. It is interesting, then, as you do, to revisit that case for the commutation of her sentence that was made, and, interestingly and fascinatingly to me, driven forward or given extra strength by the tragedy of the People's Temple.
JT: Right. One of the things that interested me the most in the book is that the overall atmosphere of madness in the United States in the mid-1970s, especially in the Bay Area, and the People's Temple, was a classic demonstration of that.
BNR: You also note that her kidnapping happened right on the heels of a string of the Zebra murders in San Francisco.
JT: The Zebra murders, which I knew nothing about before researching the book. Can you imagine if a group of Black Muslims decided just to murder random white people on the street, which is what happened, how that would be responded to today? It's just unbelievable how crazy it was. The People's Temple forms a sort of bookend to the whole story. Jim Jones tries to get in on the action.
BNR: He wanted his group to distribute the food for the poor, which the Hearsts bought as an SLA ransom demand.
JT: Right. And then later, the fact that he led all of his followers into suicide persuades a lot of people that brainwashing is real, and Patricia should have her sentence commuted, which it was.
BNR: Is this the last gasp of a kind of 1960s- based idea that there will be a real left-wing revolution, or is it more of a zombie afterlife of those movements?
JT: I think it's a combination of the alienation of the post-'60s counterculture, which, you know, after the end of the draft, saw most middle-class kids fade away, and only the hardcore remained. And then you had the example around the world of other revolutionary movements, like the Tupamaros in Uruguay, like the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, which the SLA very clearly modeled themselves on.
BNR: I want to talk about that famous photograph of her that the SLA stages right when she is announcing her joining. You call it "the Mona Lisa of the 1970s," What does that image come to represent for people now? In other words, have we overlaid too much glamour on top of this?
JT: What gives the book, I think, contemporary resonance is that, you know, terrorism is nothing new in the United States. We are very scared of ISIS today. But in fact, there was more terrorism in the '70s. That photograph also I think shows that outlaw glamour is a concept that's been around for a long time.
BNR: Let me ask you a little bit about what it was like to put the book together. There's an element of historical reconstruction that you had to do, that must have been quite different than writing about, say, the O.J. case.
JT: This is the first book I've written that is really at the border between journalism and history. I covered the O.J. case in real time.
BNR: So you had your own experiences and interviews and notes to build that book from.
JT: Yeah. I was a kid during the Hearst story, and essentially had no firsthand knowledge of it. So it was completely reconstructed from the sources that were available to me. Fortunately, I found that not only were there a lot of documentary sources that had never been tapped, but also that there were a lot of people still alive who wanted to talk.
BNR: Who for you were the most revelatory people that you spoke with?
JT: I don't really want to sort of rank my sources. I was able to speak to people in all parts of the story. FBI agents. Prosecutors. Defense lawyers. SLA members. Crime victims. The crazy bystanders. People who had weird tangential connections to the case, like Jane Pauley and Lance Ito. It was an eclectic, fun experience.
BNR: What aspect of the story yielded the most surprise for you, where you might have had one expectation about it that turned out to be different?
JT: I think, to me, the biggest revelation was Patty's lost year, which is the period after the shootout in May of '74 until her arrest in September of 1975, when the incompetent FBI had no idea where she was and she was participating in this extraordinary terrorist offensive that went on for some time, until she was caught. I think that period to me was the most extraordinary and interesting.
BNR: It's a period in which she's both doing that, and she's falling in love in a very real-seeming or real way with one of her fellow terrorists, basically.
JT: Yes. She did it twice, first with Willie Wolfe, then with Steve Solia.
BNR: You remark that there's a throughline in all of her relationships, that these are figures who provide sort of protection and authority she winds up . . .
JT: Yes. Steve Weed, her teacher, her kidnapper, her protector, her bodyguard.
BNR: Whom she winds up married to for the rest of his life.
BNR: You've remarked on the fact that the Hearst case confronts us with the history of homegrown American terrorism, at a moment when our sense of the word is strongly associated with the idea of foreign terrorists. During the time this was all happening, the sense of real panic in the culture surrounding these events, the sense that lots of the rules of engagement between the political class and ordinary people, between the media and the people who they report on and serve, are all in tremendous and terrifying flux. Some of that seems unhappily familiar right now. As you were working on this, did you see this speaking at all to our particular moment, not just with regard to something like terrorism, but with regard to the mood of the country?
JT: I think it's a combination. I do think that if you believe, as many people do, that events are shimmering out of control, it may be helpful to know that things have been worse in the past. But I don't want to pretend that I wrote this book as sort of like a guide to contemporary life. It's mostly just an extraordinary story from the past that has one woman at the mysterious heart of it.
August 3, 2016
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting theoretical perspective on 70s radicalism. Worth reading!
I learned so much of this Era.
In American Heiress, author Jeffrey Toobin explores the Patty Hearst kidnapping case and Hearst’s surprising choice to join her kidnappers as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (“SLA”). While Hearst remained a member of the SLA, she had many chances to escape her captors, but didn’t, instead taking part in several bank robberies and attempted bombings of police stations. After finally being captured and put on trial for her involvement in the SLA, she renounced her life as a revolutionary almost immediately. Hearst’s case has come to be considered a classic example of Stockholm Syndrome. Toobin explores this classification in regards to Hearst’s actions and offers instead the suggestion that Hearst is a rational being who simply acted consistently with whatever was in her best interest. Toobin notes in his acknowledgments that, having purchased a large cache of SLA writings and trial documents from member Bill Harris, he reviewed over 150 boxes of documents for this book in addition to other outside sources. This depth of research provided a very intimate portrait of the disturbed and at times almost comically chaotic mindset of the SLA. Toobin also does a thorough job of setting the cultural backdrop of the kidnapping in the 70’s with its political turmoil and the affinity that radical groups of the time had for bombing. Having been born after this time period myself, a lot of this was news to me and I found the time period and the case itself quite interesting. The one surprise I had upon reading this book is how little sympathy I felt for Patty Hearst in the end. Considering the kidnapping she went through and the crazy inept group the SLA was, one would think she would present a more pitiful character, but it was hard to understand her actions. It just seemed like Hearst had so many opportunities to walk away, but instead seemed to enjoy her role as a revolutionary. It puzzled me, but then I imagine that is how victims of Stockholm Syndrome come across. Admittedly, this is my only exposure to the case and Toobin makes a convincing point that, while the kidnapping was no doubt a terrifying experience, Hearst soon acted in her own interest and wholeheartedly embraced the SLA. Though conflicting evidence throughout the case makes it impossible to know anything for sure, Hearst’s actions and general demeanor make it difficult to understand her even after she left the SLA. An intriguing if somewhat lengthy seeming read. Disclaimer: I received an advanced ARC of this book from the publisher on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Great read. Hearst comes across as a shallow person without deep feelings about any person or thing. She subverts and adopts the ways of any nearby authority. Thus, she badmouths to her kidnappers, her fiancée and mother. For this reason, and the excitement of her new life, she does not escape when she has the chance. When a new authority comes along in the form of the legal system she quickly dumps her criminal associates, and the lover to which she had expressed undying love. And does the thing her personality compels her to do. She marries a cop.
Oh you trivia friends of mine (and you know who you are), I got some major ammo out of this book. It's crazy. I lived during all of this. I knew the girl was kidnapped and that she said she was brainwashed. I had no idea it went on as long as it did. I remember the picture. I remember she married her bodyguard. I remember Squeaky Fromme trying to kill Ford, but not Sara Jane Moore just 17 days later. Creepy I know more about the Manson case than this one. Well, now I know a LOT about this one. It's amazing the connections that are involved in all of this. At first, I thought I was going to be bored, as it started out a little slow. There was also a little redundancy. However, for the most part, I thought this was a great book. I can also see how she was just bored with her life and hey, here comes something new and different. She is a year or two older than me, so yeah, I can totally relate to what she did. The big question - didn't a lot of us do that? Did all of us get that second chance? I think this was be a great debate book for a book club. There's also a lot of researched information in here and I definitely recommend it for those who love to absorb and learn interesting facts! Thanks to Doubleday Books and Net Galley for the free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
So strange when it happened. For Patty it ended well. The bank thing was so odd...