Saturday, September 5, 2015

Degrees of Seperation - Patty Hearst

It was one of the great crimes of it's day, the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. She was taken from her apartment in the middle of the night half naked, although that detail was quickly hushed up due to her father's influence over the media of that time. Her abductors were a ragtag, misfit group of militant activists who had dubbed themselves the "Symbionese Liberation Army". Their ransom demand was that millions of dollars of food be distributed to the poor. This turned into a fiasco when a near riot broke out during the first attempt of distributing of a portion of the demanded amount.

Eventually Patty became a victim of  "Stockholm Syndrome" where a captive becomes attached to her captives and, in this case, sympathetic to their goals and ideologies. She had an affair with one member of the militant group during her time with them. Judging from photos he was kind of hot and, taking into account  her distressed psychological state I was not unsympathetic to her goals and ideology. Her full immersion into the group reached a zenith when we witnessed famous images of her, captured by security cameras, in military style beret, holding a machine gun during a bank robbery. I recall a Halloween party several years later when a friend of mine went as Ms. Hearst using the grainy surveillance photos, and later posed images of the heiress, as her inspiration.

As the back stories of the group were discovered one incident in particular stuck close to home. One member, Nancy Ling Perry, thwarted a burglary of her rented residence in my high school home town of Concord, California. As she kept the would be thief from ever entering the home it's interior was not a crime scene and the police, when they arrived, had no legal right to enter or search the house. Ms. Perry denied them entrance, perhaps, it was suggested later, because there may have been literature and arms stored there in anticipation of the group's later misdeeds. There was a news photo taken of Ms. Perry at the time standing in the front yard of the suburban ranch style home, her arms crossed, the expression on her face a mixture of defiance and anger. 

The majority of the SLA members perished in an inferno during a violent confrontation with law enforcement. Three members survived and went into hiding. Ms. Hearst and a married couple, both university professors, Bill and Emily Harris. The Harrises were taken into custody decades later, recognized by neighbors after being profiled on "America's Most Wanted". Patty was captured several months after the inferno. Police found her in a San Francisco apartment with militant activist Wendy Yoshimura. Convicted of armed robbery, her 7 year prison sentence was commuted by President Carter and she was released after serving 3 years. Eventually she was granted a full pardon by President Clinton. She appeared in several John Waters movies including "Serial Mom" where she is beaten to death with a pay phone by Kathleen Turner for wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Ms. Turner's character in this film took the rules of fashion quite seriously.

In my late teens I dated, briefly, a man living in Berkeley, California. True to Berkeley fashion he eked out a living as a psychic reader and trainer. One evening he and several of his housemates were discussing whether or not their names were on file with the FBI, a badge of honor among certain social groups in those times. The principal reason they felt that they might be "on file" was that Wendy Yoshimura had visited them in the house they shared, apparently more than once.

A few years ago I read an article on the offspring of several artists and celebrities regarding their career choices. Among those profiled was the daughter of Patty Hearst. There is more than a passing resemblance between mother and daughter. Remarking to a 20 something how much Ms. Heart's daughter looked like her mother the 20 something remarked, "I don't know who Patty Hearst is". It was one of those moments that made me feel really, really old.


  1. I recently had a patient who didn't know who were the Marx Brothers.

    1. Who the Marx Brothers were....and that's a cryin' shame!

  2. Who the Marx Brothers were......and that's a cryin' shame!