Newspaper heiress Patricia (Patty) Hearst picked armed with the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA, the terrorist group who kidnapped her. Picture:
Newspaper heiress Patricia (Patty) Hearst picked armed with the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA, the terrorist group who kidnapped her. Picture:

The heiress who turned terrorist

SHE was the glamorous heiress to a newspaper and magazine fortune in a family accustomed to wealth, power, political clout and privilege.

She was also a college kid, studying for an arts degree in California, living with her boyfriend.

Patty Hearst may have had bloodlines which made her pretty much American royalty, but with her father one of a number of her wealthy grandfather's heirs, her parents saw no need for her to have special personal security.

So in 1974 when kidnappers came calling, abducting her at the age of just 19 from her apartment as her fiancee Steven Weed watched helplessly, America watched, spellbound.

Imagine, then, the intake of breath when she re-emerged, apparently having become a member of the very terrorist organisation which abducted her.

Four decades on, after being kidnapped by terrorists, resurfacing to join them, then being thrown in jail by the FBI, the Patty Hearst of today is and entirely different person.

She's 63. She's an occasional actor, has married, had children, written a few books, and has appeared in several movies.

Patty Hearst became “Tania”, a machine gun-toting terrorist. Picture: Supplied
Patty Hearst became “Tania”, a machine gun-toting terrorist. Picture: Supplied

She mixes in the US east coast's elite social circles and takes her beloved pets to dog shows.

But asUS news giant CNN releases a four-part documentary retelling her incredible story, The Radical Story of Patty Hearst - a series she loathes and has denounced - Americans are again debating whether her story was one of horror in which she was a victim suffering Stockholm syndrome and trying to stay alive, or whether she just changed her tune when caught.

Hearst herself, four decades on, is angry over suggestions she was anything but a scared, unwilling accomplice fighting for her life.


Hearst is the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, an American businessman who by the 1970s had created and reigned over Hearst Communications - then the largest newspaper, magazine, newsreel and movie business in the world.

So when she went missing in 1974 - kidnapped by the domestic terrorist group SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) - it made world headlines, and only got weirder when she reappeared shortly after, toting a gun and seemingly working alongside her captors.

She would later claim she had been brainwashed and threatened into joining them, in an exercise that saw her become a poster girl for the terrorist group.

It's this much-debated "double life" which the CNN documentary focuses on.

She has slammed the CNN series and a planned biopic about in a lengthy statement to deadline Deadline saying both productions were "romanticising my torture and rape".

"It's no secret that I was abducted, raped, and tortured at 19," she said in a statement.

"What followed was a series of events that were the direct result of a child having been destroyed both inside and out."

She said it was a story she had herself told "many times', and that the new shows were "attempting to rewrite history and directly flies in the face of the present #MeToo movement where so much progress is being made in regard to listening, and providing a voice, to those who have suffered abuse".

Hearst said at the end of her statement: "I have grown well past the 19-year old me and gone on to become a proud wife, mother, and grandmother. I have no interest in revisiting such a violent and hurtful time in my life."

In the wake of her statement, Fox axed it's planned biopic.


Hearst grew up in the media spotlight thanks to her wealthy, high-profile family.

But she went from privileged rich kid to headline-grabbing kidnapped kid with her 1974 kidnapping by (SLA).

The 19-year-old Berkeley student was abducted at gunpoint from her home, and would later testify in court she was blindfolded, threatened with death tied up and locked in a cupboard for 58 days.

Allowed out for meals, still blindfolded, she said she was given SLA political manifestos to learn. Eventually, the leader of her captors told her: 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", she said.

To stay alive, she said, she "accommodated my thoughts to coincide with theirs" - telling the SLA she would join their fight.

Amid the weapons drills and teachings that followed, she said, her captors told her they thought she should "know what sexual freedom was like", and she was raped several times.

On April 3, 1974, two months into her disappearance, she announced via audiotape to the world she'd joined forces with her captors and kidnappers. Her new name, she said was Tania.

By April 15, "Tania" had been photographed robbing a San Francisco bank while brandishing an assault rifle.

This picture of Hearst toting a gun during a bank robbery shocked the world. Picture: Supplied
This picture of Hearst toting a gun during a bank robbery shocked the world. Picture: Supplied

She became a gun-wielding bank robber, joining her leftist guerrilla former captors in a crime spree which spanned almost 600 days.

The rich university student had turned armed terrorist and a fugitive wanted for serious crimes.

In September 1975, the FBI caught up with the then 21-year-old, arresting her for armed bank robbery in San Francisco.

As she was being booked, she listed her occupation as "Urban Guerrilla".

Hearst's trial loomed amid speculation that the Heart family's fortune and political clout would see her escape jail.

Some Americans believed she had willingly joined SLA, as the prosecution would attest during her trial, and SLA members would attest, saying she was a willing convert with contacts with the organisation well before her disappearance.

Hearst arrives in handcuffs to court. Picture: Supplied
Hearst arrives in handcuffs to court. Picture: Supplied

Others believed Hearst's defence that she was raped, abused and threatened with death, and had been an unwilling accomplice doing anything to stay alive. She'd been brainwashed..

She was found guilty of bank robbery in March 1976, and imprisoned for almost two years before then-President Jimmy Carter commuted her seven-year-sentence and freed her from jail.

In 2001, as he was leaving office, President Bill Clinton officially pardoned Hearst.


While Hearst has been released on bail pending an appeal ahead of her sentence being commuted, her powerful father hired dozens of bodyguards to protect her.

Two months after she was released from prison in 1979, she married one of them: policeman Bernard Lee Shaw.

The pair had two daughters, Gillian and Lydia Hearts-Shaw.

By 1981, Hearst had given her account of what happened in her memoir, Every Secret Thing, and set about rebuilding her life.

She became and actor, and high-profile charity fundraiser, and rising force in the East Coast society scene.

She took roles in four John Waters movies, and still walks the red carpet thanks to an acting career which has also included guest appearances on shows including Frasier, Veronica Mars, and The Adventures of Pete and Pete.


Hearst's greatest wish remains continuing to move on.

"Over the years I have been approached many times to discuss my ordeal, and I have answered many questions," she said in her scathing statement denouncing the CNN documentary.

"I have spoken the truth about my experience and even wrote a 499-page book where I lay it all out, as painful as it was to relive.

"Each time I do, it puts me back in the nightmare which, as you might imagine, is deeply painful.

"This is why for the last several years, I have declined to answer any more questions. It's very hard on me, and not something I want my daughters to be reminded of."

Her daughters are in the media spotlight on their own terms. Gillian is a contributing editor at Town & Country, while Lydia is an actor, lifestyle blogger, and model.

Hearst herself is often seen lavishing love on her beloved dogs at dog shows.

Last year, two of her charges, French Bulldogs Tuggy and Rubi, picked up prizes at the Westminster Dog Show, following in the tiny footsteps of her toy Shih tzu, Rocket, who picked up a ribbon in 2015.

Hearst says "as hard as it was to do, I have grown well past the 19-year old me and gone on to become a proud wife, mother, and grandmother".

"I have no interest in revisiting such a violent and hurtful time in my life," she says.

"Aren't we living in a better world than this? I sincerely hope the answer is a resounding 'Yes'.

"I am joyful and inspired by all of the women who have been brave enough to come forward with their truths."