CRIME: The Hearst Nightmare

  • Share
  • Read Later

The robbers—a black man and four white women-strode swiftly into the Hibernia Bank branch in San Francisco's Sunset district, pulling out semiautomatic carbines from under their long black coats. "Get on the floor, get on the floor," barked the stubbly-bearded leader at the two dozen terrified employees and customers. Two of the women rushed to the cash drawers, while another, in the best Bonnie-and-Clyde style, proudly announced: "We're from the S.L.A." One of the gang gestured toward the young woman who had taken up a position at the middle of the seven tellers' cages and shouted: "This is Tania Hearst!"

That surreal scene, captured on film by the bank's automatic cameras, was the Symbionese Liberation Army's way of introducing Patricia Campbell Hearst, 20, to the world in their role for her as an armed terrorist. It was the latest bizarre development in what had already become one of the most sensational and baffling crime sagas in American history, engaging the speculation and imagination of the U.S., the sure stuff of books and movies to come. Last week's episode only added a sharp new edge to the fears of a particular class of Americans, the wealthy and vulnerable, who have special reasons for empathizing with the Hearst nightmare.

Only three months ago, Patty Hearst was a quiet, comely heiress to a famed publishing fortune who spent much of her time preparing for her intended marriage to Steven Andrew Weed, 26, a graduate philosophy student. Kidnaped on Feb. 4 by the obscure revolutionary band that grandiosely calls itself an army but is more of a ragtag platoon, she seemed close to release two weeks ago, after her family started a free-food program for the Bay Area's needy and aged that the S.L.A. had demanded. Then she stunned her family and friends by announcing that she had renounced them, joined her abductors, and adopted the name Tania, after the German-Argentine mistress of Latin American Revolutionary Che Guevara. Whether through conversion or coercion, she materialized last week in the role of a foul-mouthed bank robber. In the bewilderment shared by all who have followed the case, her anguished father Randolph A. Hearst exclaimed: "It's terrible! Sixty days ago, she was a lovely child. Now there's a picture of her in a bank with a gun in her hand."

Armchair View. It was still not known whether Patty had actually been won over to the band's vague philosophy, with its Maoist cant and its dedication to deadly terrorism. There was furious debate, despite the 1,200 photographs snapped by the bank's cameras during the five-minute robbery, over whether Patty had willingly participated. In Washington, Attorney General William Saxbe, whose foot-in-mouth disease seems to be becoming increasingly virulent, gratuitously offered his armchair Sherlock Holmes view that the girl was "not a reluctant participant," and labeled all bank robbers, including Patty, "common criminals." Reacting angrily, Hearst called Saxbe's statement "irresponsible." Officially, at least, the FBI did not share Saxbe's view.

Director Clarence M. Kelley declared that "the FBI is going to be guided by facts, not opinions," and the bureau issued a warrant for Patty's arrest only as a material witness. It charged her four

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7
  9. 8
  10. 9
  11. 10