Monday, October 3, 2016

The Patricia Hearst Kidnaping / My memories of the investigation (Part 1) / & Jeffrey Toobin’s Book, ‘American Heiress

Recently, I finished a good book – ‘American Heiress’ by Jeffrey Toobin.  I recommend it.

“The wild saga of the kidnapping, crimes and trial of Patty Hearst.”

Of course, as Toobin points out, Patty Hearst preferred to be called Patricia by anyone other than her immediate family.  We, in the FBI’s San Francisco Division, called her ‘Patty.’  We got to know her pretty well.

I actually lived part of this story, but wasn’t mentioned – nor did I expect to be.  I was just one of the many FBI Agents who worked 12 to 14 hour days, six or seven days a week for quite a few months on this case.  It was demanding, tedious and often disorganized.  Actually, Mr. Toobin gave me new insights on the investigation that I was not previously aware of – some of which seemed to explain why, at times, the investigation was disorganized.  However, other things he said in his book (petty perhaps) were kind of silly.  Such as…

Toobin:  “At this point, the Bureau was populated almost entirely by white** male agents who wore white shirts and black shoes and had crew cuts…”

February 4, 1974:  I was assigned to the Berkeley Resident Agency when Patty was kidnapped and don’t recall any Agents dressing as he described.  Oh, some of the older guys headquartered in San Francisco, desk jockeys mostly, might have occasionally worn white shirts and black shoes – but a “crew cut,” not hardly, unless they were attempting to conceal the fact that they were prematurely going bald.  This was San Francisco and Berkeley during the early 70s.  Agents working the streets dressed in accord with the venue so as not be too conspicuous.  Maybe, Toobin is talking about old photos of Charles Bates, Tom Padden or Monte Hall – prominent players in his story.  I will discuss them further in subsequent posts.

Toobin:  “They (referring to the FBI) knew little about the radical underground and had no chance of infiltrating those circles.  Who were the SLA?  Where were they?  Who were their friends and allies?”

Well, yes, that’s true in part.  However, we actually knew quite a bit, generally speaking, about the ‘radical underground,’ the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers.  However, the SLA, the Symbionese Liberation Army, was an instance of ‘spontaneous combustion.’  They were suddenly on the scene.  The SLA was closely knit and had no formal structure.  Infiltrating them would be like infiltrating a socially dysfunctional, psychotic family.  What was there, initially at least, to infiltrate?  The first question needing resolution was:  ‘Who are they?’

We knew, of course, that the SLA had already murdered the Oakland City Superintendent, Marcus Foster – a particularly cold blooded murder; shooting Foster with cyanide-laced bullets as he exited a school board meeting.  It was, at the time, a local crime being investigated by the Oakland PD.

Soon, there was a break in the case when a Concord Police Officer, conducting a routine FI or field interrogation, got in a shootout with Russ Little and Joe Remiro – who were members (later determined) of the SLA.  At that point, the nature of the SLA and who its members were began to come into focus.

The night Patty was kidnapped, I was one of the first Agents to respond to the scene.  I still remember how chaotic it was.  The confusion factor was almost overwhelming.

FBI Agents, including myself, began interviewing anyone in the area they could find.  Often times individuals contacted had already been interviewed by the Berkeley Police Department – and said individuals were understandably irritated by the FBI’s duplication of efforts.  One couple slammed the door in my face.  I made a note to return the next day when, perhaps, they would be in a better mood.  The FBI was not popular in those neighborhoods.  Ultimately, we spread out doing neighbor inquiries, noting license plates, taking photographs, mapping the neighborhood, and coordinating pertinent information that might lead to a quick locate of Patty Hearst.  As the violence involved became better known and the prominence of the victim became increasingly clear, we began preparing for the big push the following morning.

Berkeley PD was initially in charge of the investigation for the first 24 hours.  After that, the FBI was the lead agency.  Federal statute states that the victim, if not recovered within the first 24 hours, will create the presumption that the victim had been transported interstate or foreign commerce.  After 24 hours, with certain exceptions, kidnapping becomes a Federal crime (The Lindbergh Law).

February 4th turned into a long night; and the beginning of many long nights and days to come.

To be continued…

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**A point needing a little clarification is concerning J. Edgar Hoover.  It is often stated and inferred that he had a bias against Blacks and did not allow Blacks to become Agents.  I entered the Bureau under Hoover’s watch.  There were two Black Agents in my New Agents’ Class.  Both great guys.
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