‘First person puts up his hand,’ a woman screamed at frightened bank customers, ‘I’ll blow his motherf–king head off!’ So began perhaps one of the most infamous bank robberies in American history. e case is not particularly interesting for the size of the robbery, nor for the violence of the attack. What made the 90-second heist on April 15, 1974, so unique was the starring character.
Patty Hearst was a 19-year-old Berkeley student from a wealthy, famous and powerful Californian family. To this day the Hearsts own an empire of newspapers, magazines, and television stations worth billions of dollars. This made Patty the heir to an enormous fortune-an ideal kidnapping target for an obscure terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).
Jerey Toobin’s American Heiress chronicles the bizarre events of Patty’s kidnapping and swift conversion to the extremist cause in meticulous detail. The Hearst case featured the key emerging features of the modern world-media intrigue, celebrity shenanigans, and questions of appropriate justice. In particular, the story gripped the press. It provided visuals for television, recordings for radio, and perfect fodder for tabloids. Newsweek alone put Patty on the front cover seven times. The SLA provided tapes to radio stations and written statements to newspapers, which they demanded be printed in full. The initial focus was less political. It was more of a dramatic story of celebrity-an heiress in captivity…
This article originally appeared in the IPA Review