Bob Bestler

Why the controversial Patty Hearst will be a perfect fit for the City of Charleston

Patricia Hearst attends a memorial service for Mario Buatta at The Winter Show at Park Avenue Armory in New York, Jan. 21, 2019. The largely female crowd of around 200 social registrants had gathered inside a mahogany-paneled room to pay tribute to Buatta, the society decorator who died in October 2018 at the age of 82. (Rebecca Smeyne/The New York Times)
Patricia Hearst attends a memorial service for Mario Buatta at The Winter Show at Park Avenue Armory in New York, Jan. 21, 2019. The largely female crowd of around 200 social registrants had gathered inside a mahogany-paneled room to pay tribute to Buatta, the society decorator who died in October 2018 at the age of 82. (Rebecca Smeyne/The New York Times) NYT

I see that newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst — yes, that Patty Hearst — recently purchased a two-story home in historic Charleston.

The news was especially interesting because it brought back personal memories of my newspaper days back in April 1974.

A few weeks earlier, in February, 19-year-old Patty Hearst had been kidnapped by a radical group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. She had not been seen since — until she showed up on a surveillance camera robbing a branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco.

I was an editor at The Charlotte Observer the night the surveillance photo was transmitted to newsrooms. Several of us stood in amazement as a picture of kidnapped Patty Hearst, now holding a rifle and dressed as “Tania,” came over the Associated Press wire.

For months afterward she and her captors eluded law enforcement, even criss-crossing the country to a farm in Pennsylvania, until she was arrested in September 1975.

Hearst immediately identified herself as an “urban guerilla” and issued a statement: “Tell everybody that I’m smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings and love to all the sisters and brothers out there.”

Those defiant words did not serve her well at a trial that lasted nine months.

Various lawyers, including F. Lee Bailey, argued that any actions taken after her kidnapping were the result of brainwashing.

I always thought those were strong arguments — mainly because any wrongdoing began with her kidnapping and her sole association, over weeks and months, with members of the radical SLA.

She had been kept bound in a closet for several weeks, often blindfolded so she could not identify her abductors.

She had been told that her parents were balking at paying a ransom for her return — although her father Randolph had given $400,00 to set up a food bank as requested by the SLA, which saw it as a paltry sum. Fact was, Randolph Hearst did not have direct access to the family fortune; he mainly lived off his income as publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Over time, her captors convinced her that the FBI was her enemy because the agency did not believe she was actually kidnapped.

The arguments did not impress the jury, which convicted her of bank robbery and using a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Hearst was sentenced to seven years. The sentence was commuted by President Carter after 22 months in prison; she was given full pardon several years later by President Clinton.

After her release from prison, Hearst married one of her bodyguards, Bernard Lee Shaw, and the couple had two children. Shaw died in 2013.

These days, Mrs. Shaw, who turns 65 this month, divides her time between fundraising and charities, among them a foundation to help children with AIDS — and at dog shows.

In 2015 her Shih Tzu won the “Toy” category at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and in 2017 a French bulldog named Tuggy won best of breed at Westminster.

I don’t know if she’ll be moving to Charleston any time soon, but with her charity work and love of dogs she could fit right in.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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