Remembering Patty Hearst And The Dark Origins Of Stockholm Syndrome

A beautiful California co-ed was kidnapped in 1974 - and two months later, she burst into a bank with a machine gun. In the eyes of America, Patty Hearst quickly went from a sympathetic victim to a criminal terrorist. But was she truly guilty? Patty Hearst images showed her aiming a gun, barking orders in a bank robbery, and committing crimes next to domestic terrorists, but many argue that Hearst suffered from the famous Stockholm syndrome.

Hearst was a wealthy heiress, like Barbara Hutton, the original "poor little rich girl," yet the jurors in Hearst's trial didn't go easy on her, nor did they buy her claim that the radical leftists in the Symbionese Liberation Army forced her to commit crimes. And she definitely did commit a lot of crimes: Hearst robbed three banks, fired a gun on a crowded LA street, and even made bombs to blow up the police. 

But when the FBI finally captured Hearst, she only weighed 87 pounds, and she'd lost a shocking 18 IQ points in just 18 months. Hearst isn't the only hostage who was brainwashed, and shockingly what happened to Patty Hearst could have happened to just about anyone. The true story of Patty Hearst's horrifying ordeal is enough to convince anyone that she was innocent.

  • Hearst's Kidnapping Shocked The Nation - Until Her Turn As A Bank Robber Shocked Them Even More
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Hearst's Kidnapping Shocked The Nation - Until Her Turn As A Bank Robber Shocked Them Even More

    Patty Hearst, heiress to the enormous Hearst publishing fortune, was violently kidnapped on February 4, 1974. The kidnappers knocked on her door around 9 o’clock before they burst in with guns drawn. They grabbed Hearst, a 19-year-old college student, and beat up her fiancé. Finally, they threw Hearst into the trunk of their car and drove off.

    Hearst’s kidnapping became one of the biggest news stories of the 1970s. In the two years that followed, she appeared on the cover of Newsweek seven times. And the kidnapping was only the beginning. Soon, her kidnappers were sending recorded messages to the media, demanding millions of dollars for her release. The story only got stranger after April 15, 1974, when Hearst burst into San Francisco’s Hibernia Bank wielding a machine gun.

  • She Was Blindfolded And Kept In A Closet For Weeks

    After she was dragged from her apartment and thrown into the trunk of a car, Hearst was taken to a house where she was locked in a closet and left there for days. Her hands were bound. She was blindfolded. There was no light in the closet. For 10 days, she barely ate. She had no place to urinate or defecate except in the closet, which was only three feet wide. And she didn't know anything about the people who had kidnapped her.

    For a week, no one talked to Hearst, except for one man who would come in to record her for ransom messages. When her kidnappers finally let her out of the closet, they told her that she was going to rob a bank with them.

  • Hearst Was Kidnapped Because Of Her Rich And Powerful Grandfather

    Patty Hearst was the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst. He was a businessman who built a media empire at the end of the 19th century, and then built an enormous castle on the California coast in the 20th century that he named after himself. Orson Welles’s classic film Citizen Kane was based on William’s life.

    And it wasn’t a coincidence that Patty Hearst shared the last name of one of America’s richest businessmen. In fact, she was targeted by the SLA because she was a Hearst. The SLA hoped that the Hearst family’s wealth and power would convince the police to release two SLA members who had been arrested for killing Oakland’s first Black superintendent. But Patty’s family was not as wealthy as her deceased grandfather - her father took out a loan of $2 million to have his daughter released, but the SLA refused to let Patty go.

  • Hearst's Kidnappers Told Her That Both Her Family And The FBI Abandoned Her

    While the FBI launched a massive search to find Hearst, her kidnappers were whispering to her that her family had abandoned her. They told her that their organization, the Symbionese Liberation Army, or SLA, wanted to help the poor. They demanded that her family distribute $70 worth of food to every hungry Californian, which would have cost $400 million. When Randolph Hearst, Patty’s father, donated $2 million worth of food to impoverished people in the Bay Area, she only heard that her family had refused the demand. 

    Suddenly, the terrified teenager started to wonder if the SLA was right about the “capitalist state.” But she also didn’t have a choice - she had been kidnapped, and her captors were ordering her to work with them or die.

  • The Leader Of The SLA Told Hearst To Join Them Or Die

    The leader of the SLA was a man named Donald DeFreeze, code name Cinque. He had been sent to prison in 1969 after robbing a bank. In 1973, DeFreeze escaped and founded the SLA. DeFreeze was the man who forced Hearst to record ransom messages. He repeatedly threatened to kill his teenage captive. He also gave her SLA political tracts to read in her closet with a flashlight. 

    In April of 1974, DeFreeze told Hearst that it was time to make a choice. She later said, “DeFreeze told me that the war council had decided or was thinking about killing me or me staying with them, and that I better start thinking about that as a possibility.” Hearst decided that she wanted to live, so she said, “I accommodated my thoughts to coincide with theirs.” She promised to fight for the SLA, and they removed her blindfold and told her that she was an SLA member.

  • On Tape, Hearst Said She Wanted To Fight For The SLA, But Behind The Scenes, She Was Abused

    The SLA released the next tape of Hearst on April 3, 1974. In the recording, Hearst announced that she had joined the SLA. She believed in their cause, and she was going to fight for the freedom of oppressed people. In the tape, she said, “I have been given the choice of one, being released in a safe area, or two, joining the forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army and fighting for my freedom and the freedom of all oppressed people. I have chosen to stay and fight.”

    Of course, the tape wasn’t completely accurate. Hearst later said the recording was scripted and she was forced to read it. And the choice wasn’t between fighting or being released - her only other option was death. Even after she taped the message, Hearst was raped by members of the SLA. Still, in the minds of many Americans, she had gone from victim to terrorist. And it was about to get even worse.