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Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Patricia Hearst Kidnapping (Part 4) / Camilla Hall’s Cat



I never met Camilla Hall or her cat; both had tragic, untimely deaths.

As I think back, the Patricia Hearst investigation often seemed unfocused and disorganized in the FBI’s San Francisco Division.

There were approximately 100 Agents brought in from other divisions to assist, most of them young and, relatively speaking, unfamiliar with the surrounding, radical environment swirling around San Francisco and particularly Berkeley.  We, the twenty Agents, assigned to Berkeley were considered to be the most familiar with the area; and were generally utilized accordingly.  Agents from other field offices were mostly used for stationary or moving surveillances, or in some instances assigned to ‘towers.’  (I will describe ‘towers,’ later).

One evening, I returned to the Berkeley Resident Agency after covering some leads.  I was approached by an older Agent who was responsible for coordinating assignments.  This was rather early in the investigation, and the whereabouts of the SLA members, still at large, was unknown.

The Agent told me that Camilla Hall’s residence had been identified and checked-out.  It appeared that she had left her apartment a week or so previously; but apparently took little or nothing with her except her pet cat.  It was believed that she would try to return for clothing or other abandoned items and we needed to set up a twenty-four hour surveillance on her apartment.  Unfortunately, the older Agent advised, we need someone to start as soon as possible; and he asked if I’d be willing to take the overnight shift – even though he knew that I had been working all day.  I said I would.  He said to get to the apartment as soon as possible, establish a discreet location; and that he’d try and get me some relief about eight in the morning.

I went home to get what I would need – knowing it would be a long night.  At home, I gathered some warm clothes, a pillow and my poncho liner from the military.  I also took some snacks and a thermos of coffee; and an empty plastic bottle to pee in if there was no other option.  More importantly, I had binoculars, camera, a strong flashlight, my .357 and a speed-loader with six additional rounds.

I positioned myself shortly after dark.  I did find a discreet location.  I could see her apartment, but was not sitting directly in front of someone’s residence.  It was a long, mostly uneventful, night.  Cars would pass, even a pedestrian or two, but no one seemed to notice me.  It was hard to stay awake.  This is the nature of real police work – not like in the movies that’s for sure.  I knew, of course, that if I was spotted by a member of the SLA, before I saw them, I would be in serious trouble.  Nonetheless, sometimes, the need to sleep is hard to resist – no matter the circumstances.

Fresh troops, two-man teams, were assigned the following days and nights.  I’m not sure how long they maintained that surveillance, but Camilla never returned.  She had what was dearest to her – her pet cat.  And, in her judgement, there was no reason to risk returning.  As previously noted, the cat died with Camilla in the Los Angeles shootout and inferno.

To be continued…


True Nelson