G. True Nelson: Former Deputy Sheriff, Military Officer, FBI Special Agent, and Security Consultant / Private Investigator. He currently resides in the Portland, Oregon Metro area. He is a writer on crime and judicial process; as well as discussing his personal observations on American culture and social mores.
When I think back on the Patty Hearst investigation, I don’t
remember any unusually dramatic experiences – that pertained to me directly.
Oh, I suppose I could bore you with endless stories about
what it was like to be a FBI Agent working in Berkeley – in the early
70’s. It was ‘surreal.’ And, yes, I understand that word is often
overused, but that’s the way it was. It
was a crazy time. Such as? Well, like following Bill Walton around
Berkeley. You know Bill, the basketball
player. He was a shirt-tail radical at
the time, and wanted to get involved some way in the Hearst matter. I remember he was on crutches and was about seven feet tall – so he was pretty easy to follow.
But I don't want to go among mad people.
The Cat: Oh, you
can't help that. We're all mad here.
You gradually become acclimated. The abnormal and bizarre begin to become normal
and routine. For the most part, the
Agents were hard-working and professional; but there were, of course, many
exceptions. There was some danger
involved; and it went without saying the potential danger could extend to
your family. On many occasions, I got
down on my knees to examine the undercarriage of my BuCar and even my personal
automobile – looking for bombs. There
was a joke circulated about having your wife go out in the morning to start
your car. Not funny for most, I suppose;
but Agents initially found it rather hilarious.
The days were long and exhausting, nerves got frayed. Ultimately the Agents’ feelings toward Patty
Hearst deteriorated – going from ‘I will risk my life to save her’ to something
along the lines of ‘f--- her, I couldn’t care less.’ Most of us just wanted it to be over.
A couple other comments about the principal Agents mentioned
in Jeffrey Toobin’s book, American
Charles W. Bates, FBI Special Agent in Charge, San
Francisco Division, during the Hearst investigation: The Agents referred to him as Charlie. I don’t know if he liked that name or
not. My experience, and I had a few contacts
with him while in SF, was that he was formal, remote, often humorless and not
particularly interested in the working Agents.
During the Hearst case, he spent a lot of time, much of it reportedly was
social time, with the Hearst family. Too
much time, in my opinion – but they were, after all, the Hearsts. Much of this time he should have spent with
his Agents addressing leadership issues and morale. There often seemed to be a leadership vacuum
in the division. Just my opinion. Perhaps I am wrong. I understand he had a long and distinguished
career in the Bureau. He passed-away at
Picture above is
several of us receiving an ‘incentive award’ for the capture of Cecil Robert
Moody Jr., age 29, a former associate of SLA member, Donald DeFreeze. Moody was wanted for armed robbery and
murder. Charlie Bates is in the center,
dark suit, and terrific smile. I am the
tall dude, second from right. I
participated in the investigation leading up to the arrest; and was given the
‘honor’ of smashing down the apartment door with a 16 pound sledge hammer. Moody was nude when captured, sleeping with
two semi-naked women. A loaded .357
magnum was under the bed, where he could quickly get to it. Wisely, he made no move to do that.
Tom Padden, FBI Special Agent, San Francisco
Division, directly involved in the capture of Patty Hearst: I knew Tom casually. He was an older Agent and assigned to the
Bank Robbery, Fugitive Squad. As I
recall he was, at one time, with the Portland Police Bureau – and we discussed that
we were both from Oregon. Tom was one of
the older Agents who chose to remain a ‘Street Agent,’ not interested in
advancement. He was highly regarded. The fact that he was assigned or given the
opportunity to arrest Patty was not circumstantial. The arrest was, as I remember, a gift
assignment largely based on information developed by other Agents. However, I don’t begrudge him that
assignment. He was a good Agent.
Monte Hall, FBI Special Agent, San Francisco
Division: An older Agent, I knew him,
but had very little contact with him. He
was on the same squad as Tom, and I believe Tom and Monte were close
friends. Monte might have been the squad
supervisor – not sure about that. Tom
and Monte were major characters in Jeffrey Toobin’s book. From what I read, it sounded like Monte may
have been a little too cozy with the Hearst defense team – maybe not the most
professional conduct, in my opinion.
As I’ve said before, on the inside, the whole Hearst / SLA
investigation seemed often disorganized. I suppose it’s easy to criticize, but that was
the way it seemed to me.
For example: To my
knowledge, the FBI never set-up a professionally structured ‘hotline’ to
receive tips from the public, as well as to offer a substantial reward. The public did occasionally call in tips to
various FBI offices, but those tips were sometimes ignored or haphazardly
recorded. I know of one instance where a
caller telephoned the Resident Agency in the South San Francisco area; gave
good information on the SLA’s possible location (which was later confirmed to
be accurate), but the Resident Agent failed to write a memo reporting the
caller’s information. I guess he thought
the tip didn’t sound credible. Many of
us thought the Agent should be fired, but he wasn’t. I believe he received a letter of censure.
The ‘water – gas leads,’ when Agents were sent to every
residence in the Bay area where new hook-ups for water, gas, electricity were
ordered. The operation became very
public – ridiculously so – but might have caused the SLA to move south to Los
Angeles. Was that a good thing? Doubtful.
I could go on, but what’s the point. Anyway, I enjoyed reading American Heiress. It brought
back many memories.
Oh yes, in a previous post, I referred to ‘towers’ and that
I would subsequently explain what they were. This is what the Bureau called them and
perhaps now calls fixed surveillance locations.
A tower could be an apartment, hotel room, or vacant building
overlooking a location believed to be frequented by a suspect, person of
interest or associate of same. Towers
could be operational for several hours or for many months – even years for
those working foreign embassies. It was
boring, tedious work. Towers were often
used in organized crime cases and counter-espionage. During the Hearst case, I spent one night in
a teenage girl’s bedroom which overlooked the apartment of a possible associate
of the SLA. The girl, of course, slept
downstairs on the living room sofa; but she made it clear that she was more
than a little irritated by the FBI invading her private space. I spent the night sitting on the floor and braced
against her bed – drifting in and out of some sort of dream-like state. It was miserable – and uneventful. When I came down in the morning, the girl’s
parents offered me coffee. They were
gracious. The girl – eyed me
suspiciously. I apologized for the
inconvenience. Another Agent, later in
the day, followed-up with a nice gift for the family. This ‘tower’ turned out to be a one night
deal – and was discontinued. Patricia Hearst Kidnapping: Part 1 Patricia Hearst Kidnapping: Part 2 Patricia Hearst Kidnapping: Part 3 Patricia Hearst Kidnapping: Part 4