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Taking along a bunch of yellow roses, which the San Francisco FBI had given them for Patty in a rather odd, gentlemanly gesture, the parents arrived at the San Mateo jail shortly after midnight and talked with her for about half an hour. There were reports later that the meeting had gone coolly, but the parents insisted that they were delighted by the reception they had received. "We all smiled and laughed and hugged each other," said Mrs. Hearst. "Patty is happy to come home and would like to come home with us. She really wants to come home."
The search for Patty Hearst was not only one of the longest in FBI history but one of the most embarrassing. Occasionally, Attorney General Edward Levi was frustrated by the inability of the bureau to lay its hands on the much-publicized fugitive heiress. Says one Justice Department source: "He couldn't understand why the bureau, with all its resources, couldn't even get close to her."
As many as 300 FBI agents worked on the case at one time. In San Francisco, a special unit of agents did nothing but run down leads. Several times, the FBI got to Patty's hideouts shortly after she had left. The bureau's traditional methods did not work quickly for two good reasons. First, most fugitives sooner or later make personal contact with family members or friends, who are quietly watched by the FBI. Patty, however, remained aloof. Second, the bureau was unable to infiltrate the S.L.A.; the radical group was too small and tightly knit. Thus for months at a time, the FBI had no idea where its elusive quarry was.
The FBI was flooded with tips and followed up on almost all of them. Patty was reportedly "sighted" in Hong Kong, Cuba, Mexico City, Algeria, on a Los Angeles freeway, in the hills of Tennessee and in a Colorado café. Sometimes the FBI and other officials reacted overzealously. FBI agents barged into a young woman's apartment in Arlington, Va., prompting the tenant, Elizabeth Norton, to sue for invasion of privacy. About 50 Los Angeles police staged a predawn raid on a Hollywood home, awakening two sleepy women in pajamas who vaguely resembled Patty and Emily Harris. A young woman seemingly meditating in a subway station in New York's Times Square resisted efforts of New York police to check her identity against that of Patty; she was arrested for disorderly conduct. Scores of "hippy-looking" American women were stopped along the Mexican border, and even in Central American tourist spots like Honduras, because of real or imagined resemblances to Miss Hearst.