Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

HEARST, SOLIAH AND THE S.L.A.

The Arrest

Forty-eight hours after the April 15th bank robbery, black police officer Rodney Williams received a communication from the SLA. Once again, it was a tape of Patty's voice and she sounded enraged.

She explained that she and her "comrades" had robbed the bank. "My gun was loaded," she claimed, "and at no time did any of my comrades intentionally point their guns at me." Their actions were justified to finance "the revolution." She called her parents "pigs," dismissed her fiancÚ, and then said, "As for being brainwashed, the idea is ridiculous to the point of being beyond belief." She ended by declaring that "I am a soldier of the people's army."

Even so, there was good reason to believe that Patty's sudden membership in the SLA was insincere. This was a girl who had broken off with her first boyfriend after he'd smoked some pot. In letters to him, she'd expressed extreme distaste for hippies and the filth in which they lived. Before being kidnapped, she had a good relationship with her parents, was excited about getting married, and lived on an allowance that financed her expensive apartment.

There are theories that she fell in love with one of the men in the groupand in fact she said as much in one of her tapes. There was also talk that she'd had some association with the SLA before her kidnapand possibly helped to arrange it (although the brutal beating of her fiancÚ belies this). Yet whether her involvement was out of fear or sympathy, there are certainly some unanswered questions.

For the year she was on the run, she never contacted her family. Why not? Even in her own book on her experience, Every Secret Thing, she fails to address this issue, 'though she claims that she was in fear for her life throughout her ordeal.

Yet a month after the bank robbery, Tania sat alone in a van outside a Los Angeles sporting goods store where two other SLA members, Emily and Bill Harris, were shoplifting. When they were apprehended, she fired a series of warning shots that barely missed killing the storeowner but allowed the thieves to escape. "Let them go, you motherfuckers," she shouted, "or you're all dead." They then stole one car after another to elude capture, and one kidnapped victim claimed that Patty appeared to be very much in league with the SLA. There was no indication that he could see that she was afraid or coerced. In fact, she had volunteered negative opinions of her family and former life that sounded sincere.

When news spread, everyone wondered why Patty not only had remained in the van but also assisted in an illegal act. This did not appear to be the behavior of someone forced into submission. (Patty later claimed that it was automatic, the result of her "training.")

The fire at SLA hideout after shoot-out (CORBIS)
The fire at SLA hideout after shoot-out
(CORBIS)

The next day, May 17th, 1974, a two-hour gun battle between the SLA and the LA police ignited a fire that fatally trapped six "soldiers" in their cramped East 54th Street hideout. Nine thousand rounds were fired when 500 cops descended on the house, and the drama was televised, similar to the Waco fiasco in which the David Koresh cult would be killed two decades later. Eighteen requests to surrender were issued and ignored before the first tear gas canister was thrown. Three members were shot as they tried to escape, two succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, and DeFreeze shot himself in the head. Since the "army" was not very large to begin with, this pretty much wiped them out. While America feared that Patty would be found among the dead, in fact, along with Bill and Emily Harris, she was alive and well and now a fugitive.

William & Emily Harris (CORBIS)
William & Emily Harris (CORBIS)

She left behind another tape on which she expressed her horror over the killing of her comrades, eulogized them, and spoke of her deep love for member Willie Wolfe, a.k.a., Cujo. "I died in the fire on 54th Street, but out of the ashes I was reborn," Patty said. "I know what I have to do."

Kathleen Soliah, 1974 (AP)
Kathleen Soliah, 1974 (AP)

Sympathizers and new recruits assisted them, including a woman named Kathleen Soliah. Patty wrote about her in her autobiography, Every Secret Thing. Soliah herself eventually went into hiding by changing her identity after an alleged attempt to bomb a police car backfired.

In September 1975, a year and a half after her life had been so brutally altered, Patty Hearst was found in an apartment with two other SLA members and arrested by the FBI. They charged her with bank robbery. Her family hired the famous attorney F. Lee Bailey to defend her in court.

F. Lee Bailey at a press conference (CORBIS)
F. Lee Bailey at a press conference (CORBIS)

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