“THE BRAINWASHING OF PATTY HEARST” and More True and Terrifying Kidnapping Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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Listen to ““THE BRAINWASHING OF PATTY HEARST” and More True and Terrifying Kidnapping Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
IN THIS EPISODE: “Don’t take candy from strangers” – that warning stemmed from a real kidnapping in 1874, made even more history-making by being the first kidnapping in U.S. history to demand money for the child’s safe return. (The First U.S. Kidnapping For Ransom) *** I’ll share true kidnapping stories told by the victims – stories you’ve never heard, because none of them made the evening news. (True Stories of Abduction) *** In some kidnapping cases, the victim outsmarts their abductor. We’ll look at a few quick-thinking abductees whose out-of-the-box thinking and determination to survive helped them to escape their captors. (They Outsmarted Their Kidnappers) *** In some cases of kidnapping, the victims have an opportunity to escape – but don’t. They even try to help those who abducted them in the first place. In many cases this indicates the victim is suffering from a terrifying type of brainwashing we’ve come to know as Stockholm Syndrome – and we’ll look at a few famous cases of it. (True Cases of Stockholm Syndrome) *** A beautiful California co-ed was kidnapped in 1974 – and two months later, she burst into a bank with a machine gun. We’ll look at how Stockholm Syndrome changed 19-year-old wealthy heiress Patty Hearst into a cold-blooded bank robber. (The Brainwashing of Patty Hearst)
(Dark Archives episode from September 22, 2020)
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“The First U.S. Kidnapping For Ransom” by Amanda Sedlak-Hevener for Ranker.com: https://tinyurl.com/y2v2q93v
“True Stories of Abduction” by Amanda Sedlak-Hevener for Ranker.com: https://tinyurl.com/yxgg53ez
“True Cases of Stockholm Syndrome” by Jonathan Sherman for Ranker.com: https://tinyurl.com/y5m33n4c
“The Brainwashing of Patty Hearst” by Genevieve Carlton for Ranker.com: https://tinyurl.com/y4d6kqhz
“They Outsmarted Their Kidnappers” by Cristina Sanza for Ranker.com: https://tinyurl.com/yxodhtot
The fictional short story I began the podcast with, “The Kidnap” is by Rajesh K.: https://tinyurl.com/yxn6xnpr
“The Jonestown Massacre and the Psychological Issues It Caused for First Responders”: https://weirddarkness.com/?s=jonestown+first+responders
“Manson Family Malevolence”: https://weirddarkness.com/?s=Manson+Family+Malevolence
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(Over time links seen above may become invalid, disappear, or have different content. I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing so for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I will rectify it in these show notes immediately. Some links included above may benefit me financially through qualifying purchases.)
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46
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00:17:20.783, 00:40:56.339, 01:06:51.970,
“ THE KIDNAP” by Rajesh K.
It was dark all around him. Except for a small one-meter hole a few feet ahead of him, that brought in faint light, he couldn’t see anything else in the room. He tried standing up, but he only felt the ropes tied to his hands and legs on the chair, tighten.
The door opened after a few minutes. Someone switched on the lights. He saw three people enter, one after another. They sat in three chairs kept around the circular table, before him. They were wearing black trousers, black suit, white shirt, black tie, and black glasses.
He was silent for a couple of seconds and then burst out laughing. He laughed until he was coughing and there were tears in his eyes.
“What’s so funny about being kidnapped?” the Leader asked in a serious tone.
“No, I did not laugh for that. I laughed because you chose to kidnap a new and budding author. How much ransom you think you can extract out of a novelist? Don’t you guys do some research to identify the right prospects before kidnapping?” he said and beamed.
“If you’ve finished your lecture, we would like to clarify that we did not kidnap you for money. Of course, we have that much common sense!” the leader said.
“Then why did you kidnap me? Why?” he asked.
“You are the author of the recently released Mystery novel – The Great Bank Robbery, aren’t you?” the Leader asked.
His eyes widened in excitement. He said, “Yes. So you were that one person who bought it. Did you read it? Did you like it? Why don’t you leave a positive review for it on-“
“Stop it.” the Leader thundered. “We liked your plot, and the research you have done on the banking system. Besides, you are the only author of a bank robbery mystery living in this city.”
“Well I did expect some crazy fans,” he said with a smiling face. “But this is taking fandom to a whole new level. I mean, you could’ve just walked into my house if you had wanted my autograph. This kidnapping thing wasn’t-“
“Nonsense. The novel, for your information, was dull and unengagingly written. It was a hopeless mystery,” the Leader said looking straight into his eyes.
“Then why did you kidnap me?” he shouted, unable to hide his agony.
“If it isn’t obvious to you yet, we want you to write a foolproof plan for robbing the Royal Bank. With the kind of information you have, this should be easy,” the Leader said and smiled.
The enormity of the situation struck him hard. Even the lack of sales (except that one copy) did not discourage him. But this was walking into trouble. For the first time, he wished he hadn’t written a Bank Robbery Mystery. A Harlequin Romance might have been a better . . . safer choice? Hmm . . .
THE FIRST KIDNAPPING FOR RANSOM
“Don’t take candy from strangers.” Your parents might have told you this when you were young, but you probably never considered where the caution came from. The grim origins of the phrase lie with a four-year-old named Charley Ross, who was abducted in 1874. The kidnapping of Charley Ross shocked the nation. Perhaps the child was targeted for his family’s assumed wealth; his father, Christian Ross, owned a fine house in Philadelphia’s ritzy Germantown area, though the family was actually in debt. Whatever the motive, on July 1, 1874, Charley and his older brother, Walter, were playing in their front yard when they were approached by two men in a horse-drawn carriage. The two men offered the boys candy and invited them for a ride. They accepted, and later that day, Walter was returned to his parents, but Charley wasn’t. Soon, disturbing ransom notes began arriving at the Ross home. Charley’s panicked parents went to the police, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency got involved in the search as the media spread the story around the country. In the end, little Charley was never seen again. But his tragic tale left a legacy: it was the first kidnapping for ransom to receive substantial media attention in American history, and today a major missing persons database still bears his name.
On July 1, 1874, a horse-drawn carriage with two men in it pulled up in front of the Ross’s yard in Philadelphia, PA. Charley Ross, age four, and his brother Walter Ross, age five, apparently recognized the men; supposedly they had stopped by the house before and given the boys candy.
This time, the men gave the Rosses an invitation: come in the carriage, and they would buy the boys firecrackers. The children got in, and they went off to a local store where Walter was given 25 cents to spend. But when Walter got out, Charley and the men stayed behind in the carriage – and they drove away.
The chilling episode is said to have inspired the often-repeated phrase, “Don’t take candy from strangers.”
After the two men sped off in a carriage with his little brother on July 1, five-year-old Walter Ross was left behind in an unfamiliar part of Philadelphia. Thankfully, Walter made it back home, though reports differ on how he got there; either his worried father found him, or a neighbor returned him safely. Either way, once Walter arrived back at his parent’s house, he told them about everything that had happened.
The very first known ransom note in the United States was written concerning the return of Charley Ross. In 2013, 22 letters were found in a basement belonging to Bridget Flynn, a Philadelphia school librarian who had several bins full of family heirlooms. All of the notes were addressed to Christian Ross, Charley’s father, and asked for $20,000 in exchange for the boy. The very first letter, riddled with spelling errors, was dated July 3, 1874, and read:
“Mr. Ross – be not uneasy you son charly bruster he al writ we as got him and no powers on earth can deliver out of our hand. You wil hav two pay us befor you git him from us. an pay us a big cent to. if you put the cops hunting for him yu is only defeeting yu own end. we is got him fitt so no living power can gits him from us a live. if any aproch is maid to his hidin place that is the signil for his instant anihilation. if yu regard his lif puts no one to search for him you money can fech him out alive an no other existin powers don’t deceve yuself and think the detectives can git him from us for that is one imposebel. yu here from us in few day.”
(You can see how badly the note was misspelled and how awful the grammar was by reading the note in the transcript of this episode which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.)
The notes that came to the Ross house after Charley was abducted were insistent: pay the $20,000 if you want to see your son again. But the family simply didn’t have the money. Despite owning a fine house, Christian Ross was in debt.
Over the next several years, the Ross family ultimately spent $60,000 in the search for Charley – the modern-day equivalent of a small fortune.
Charley Ross’s father, Christian Ross, hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to assist in the search for his son. The Pinkertons were known for their inexhaustible efforts – in fact, their company motto was “we never sleep” – and they had a large collection of mugshots and related information about criminals.
Why not rely on the local authorities? Christian Ross had doubts that the Philadelphia police force had his best interests at heart, and didn’t think they were doing enough to find Charley. However, the Pinkertons’ efforts also failed to turn up any answers about the boy’s disappearance.
When the kidnapping occurred, Sarah Ross, Charley’s mother, was in Atlantic City, NJ, tending to her sick daughter. She was completely unaware that her young son had been kidnapped – that is, until front-page ads pleading for his return hit the front page of the newspapers. The frantic woman returned home to Philadelphia at once.
Two men were fatally shot while robbing a home in Brooklyn, NY, on December 13, 1874. The last words from one of them were a confession: he claimed to be involved in the Charley Ross kidnapping. The other man died at the scene.
These two men were William Mosher and Joseph Douglas, both suspects in the abduction. The police had been searching for them for some time. Mosher died right away, and, according to Douglas, only Mosher knew where Charley was.
Walter Ross, Charley’s brother, was taken to the morgue to identify the bodies, and he confirmed that they were the men who invited them into their horse-drawn carriage.
The abduction of Charley Ross was the first such case to receive nationwide attention, thanks to the news media. Articles about him appeared in national publications, including the Illustrated Newspaper, and local papers around the country wrote about the shocking kidnapping. A record 700,000 flyers also were passed out with information about the boy in the hopes that someone, somewhere knew something about the case.
In addition to the print media, Charley’s plight was popularized in song. Two tunes, “Bring Back Our Darling” and “I Want To See Mamma Once More,” kept his story in the public imagination.
Over the years, several boys and men came forward claiming to be Charley Ross. One even took his claims to court. Gustave Blair, a resident of Phoenix, AZ, petitioned the court in his home state to accept the fact that he was, indeed, Charley Ross. He claimed to have lived in a cave after his kidnapping, and said he only discovered his true identity after he was adopted by a man who told him he was Charley Ross.
The Ross family didn’t contest the suit, so Blair won. Of course, they didn’t accept that he was really Charley, and DNA testing didn’t exist to prove any family relationship between Blair and the Rosses.
Only one person was jailed for supposed involvement in the kidnapping: William Westervelt, an associate of William Mosher’s. Investigators received a tip from a criminal, Gil Mosher, William Mosher’s brother, who claimed that William Mosher and his friend Joseph Douglas resembled the kidnappers.
Westervelt was a former NYPD officer who had been fired for corruption; he was also Mosher’s brother in law. Westervelt spent some time working as a double-agent, gathering information from Douglas and William Mosher, but at the same time, giving the criminals details about the police investigation. Ultimately, Westervelt was charged and convicted of complicity to commit the kidnapping.
Charley Ross was never found, though his family never gave up searching for answers. His father, Christian Ross, passed away in 1897 at the age of 73; his mother, Sarah Ross, passed away in 1912 at the age of 79.
The abduction of Charley Ross had major implications for not just his family, but the community. In 1975, Pennsylvania changed the charge of kidnapping from a misdemeanor to a felony. It was the first state to do so.
Christian Ross wrote a book about his son’s kidnapping in 1876. The book, The Father’s Story of Charley Ross, the Kidnapped Child: A Full and Complete Account of the Abduction of Charles Brewster Ross, was published by John E. Potter and Company of Philadelphia, PA. The book included information about the case, and had a chapter on another missing boy, Freddie Leib.
The Charley Project, named for Charley Ross, contains valuable information about missing persons, including thousands of documents, digital flyers, and other resources. In a way, it acts as the newspapers did when Charley Ross went missing: it provides information and a way to spread the word.
When Weird Darkness returns, I’ll share true kidnapping stories told by the victims – stories you’ve never heard, because none of them made the evening news.
TRUE STORIES OF ABDUCTION
Many kidnapping victims, at least the high-profile ones, have their stories told in newspapers, on television, and in books. However, this doesn’t encompass everyone who has been kidnapped, which can happen to the young and old at times when you least expect it. There are plenty of true abduction stories that haven’t been broadcast to the general public. The stories I’m about to relate are all true according to the Reddit users who wrote them, the ones who lived through these traumatic experiences.
“Not my own abduction, but my cousin was abducted. She lives in Mexico. She was walking home after being dropped off by the school bus when a van drove up. Men wearing bandanas over there faces pulled her into the van, tied her up, and placed a hood over her head. They drove for a long time according, and she was taken to and left at a barn, along with other kidnapped young women. She asked what was going on and where are they, but the women wouldn’t answer her. She somehow got loose from her rope and started to look for an escape. She found a window and broke it with a chair. She urged the other girls to come with, but they were too scared to leave. My cousin left them and she ran nonstop to the nearest town, staying off the roads in case they were looking for her. Luckily she found a phone in the town and called her family. She’s safe now but she could never remember where the location of the barn was. She still feels guilty about it all.”
“When I was 11-years-old we lived in a small villa behind a Canadian university; just for reference we live in a Muslim country – Dubai UAE. When I was younger, I was really into skateboarding and would skate in front of our house. I heard my mother calling my name, and as I picked up the skateboard, a white Nissan Patrol came flying down the street with the passenger door wide open. I dropped my board and fled for the gate. As I opened the metal gate, I felt a cold hand grab my neck and try to pull me. I grabbed the gate and forced myself through it, closing it behind me. I was not abducted, but the feeling of the cold hand still haunts me 10 years later.”
“My mother would steal my sister and me away and hide us from the rest of my family every time she’d get upset with our father. She’d leave us with any random person who would take us and leave. I remember bits and pieces, but mostly just being scared and wanting to go home. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old. It was bad enough that my dad called CPS and gave up his parental rights to the state, who had us placed with our paternal grandmother.”
When I was about 13, my girlfriend and I were walking home from the library during summer break. We both had a few books and a beautiful day in northern NJ, so we were very happy. We reached the crossroads where she turned to go a few more blocks to her house and I would go, the opposite direction, three blocks to my home. As we were standing on the corner just talking before we would have parted ways, a ’60s-style red car pulled up at the corner. A very attractive young blond man in his 20s asked if we knew the location of Church Street. Where we were standing at the corner you could clearly tell Church Street was about 20 feet on the other side on the main road where we were all stopped, so this question was odd. Furthermore, Church Street was only one block long, was one way and only had a large church and approximately four houses on it. What would this young guy in the cherry red car need on Church Street? My girlfriend I just pointed to Church Street and said it’s right there. Weird. The gentleman then introduced himself and tried to initiate conversation. He was articulate, attractive and charming. Why was he talking to us? He made joke[s], asked us about what we were doing, did we know where to get a soda, etc. He told me that I had beautiful hair (long, wavy auburn) and that he was a hairstylist. He said it would like to cut my hair (for free) and would like to use me in a modeling show. He ask me to come take some paperwork so he could give share some information. Though my hair got a lot of comments, I certainly was not model material. More weird. He kept talking, trying to be over-friendly almost, and it was just kept becoming more creepy. He offered to buy us sodas and drive us home since it was hot. After saying no many times in many ways and trying not to give him any real info, he finally drove slowly down Church Street. My girlfriend began to run home her way and I wanted to get to my house ASAP. I remember thinking that if he went around the block that he would come up on me again alone so I made the decision to take a slight detour and go down Church Street. It was risky since it was a very sparse street, yet I figured at least he could not really turn around on the one way street and, if he did, I would see him coming. I cut through the church complex and made it home where I told my dad what happened. The police came and took a report and also talked to my friend. They mentioned that a gentleman had attempted to speak with another girl on the other side of town a few days prior who matched the car/physical description. I never found out more information or heard anything else about but that scared teen-me for a long time.”
“I have a friend who was kidnapped. He came home late one night and a van pulled up right beside him and a few guys grabbed him. They were planning on holding him for ransom, under the impression his dad was rich. His dad did pay the ransom and he was dumped in some remote part of the city and had to find his own way home, luckily uninjured. It happened a couple years back, and to this day, he refuses to go out at night. You can see he gets visibly shaken whenever a vehicle passes/stops nearby him.”
“My friend and I were playing in a creek that ran from her backyard to the next street over. I was 7 or 8 at the time. We’re playing around, talking when I just stopped. She, confused, kept asking what was wrong because I just stopped in my tracks. This guy in a green car had passed by and then backed up to where we were to stop and stare at us. He slowly started opening his door, then locked all of them with the power button but manually unlocked the passenger side (facing us) which was weird to me. I told my friend very quietly ‘On the count of three, run as fast as you can back home…. One. Two. THREE!’ When we started to take off, I heard the man’s door shut and the car take off. We ran back to her house through the woods like crazy and told her mom what happened. By this time we were out of breath and crying. It was terrifying.”
“I was 5 and my family lived in a really poor part of town. I was never allowed to play outside for very long or in the dark. My only friend was my next door neighbor who was about my age. On that day my mom was really tired because of a new baby and taking care of me and my 2-year-old brother. I begged to play outside with my neighbor and finally my mom said yes, as long as we stayed in the yard were she could see me from the window. About 20 minutes later, a green beat-up Plymouth stops in the road in front of our houses. A white man leans over and asks us if we had seen a dog. My neighbor just stood in the yard, but I couldn’t hear well, so I started walking toward the car. I got about a foot from the passenger door and saw another guy start sitting up from the back seat. Then I heard a door slam, and turn to see my mother running with no shirt on (she had just been breast feeding my sister) through the yard, yelling for me to get behind her and my neighbor to run home. The car sped off. The cops came and we moved several cities away. Years later I found out that they were two men my father worked with. When the cops raided their house, they found all kinds of gross costumes and journals of their plans. I remember for weeks after that my parents made me sleep with them and even had my huge godfather move in and sleep in our living room. At the time I was embarrassed the whole neighborhood saw my mom’s boobs flying, but now I’m pretty proud.”
“I was not kidnapped, but a college roommate of mine was. While he was still in Bosnia, he was part of an amateur football team when he was 15. They were practicing in a football field when several vans showed up and at gunpoint dragged everyone into the vans. They were driven to a secluded wooded area and held there for several days. I don’t remember what the kidnappers were after if it was a ransom or something political. He told me that one night they were sitting around the fire, he was looking at one of his kidnappers, and his head exploded. Soon another kidnapper’s head explodes. The gunmen all get up and soon a fire fight ensues. Apparently the military had showed up with snipers. It sounds amazing, but he was a very serious type of person. The kind of person that you know has seen too much.”
“My closest friend described an experience that haunts her to this day, even as a mother now. She was abducted from her job when she was 14. The guy intended to rob the place, but he instead took the money and her, blindfolding and binding her. He drove around town, telling her that he was going to [end] her. Instead of crying, she calmly explained that he didn’t have to do that. The robber became very emotional, yet she talked him through it. She told me he bounced from angry and frustrated to remorseful and inconsolable. The[y] drove around town for a few hours, all the while she was blindfolded and her wrists were bound. By this time, the police were looking for her. By 3 am, the robber decided to bring her back to work. The police were waiting, and he was taken into custody. She suffered from incredible anxiety for a long time. Being alone was almost impossible for her to do without breaking down and crying. Even in college, [seeing] someone walk in a crosswalk while she was waiting at a streetlight made her hyperventilate. It got bad when she had painkillers from her wisdom teeth removed; if the stress was too much for her to handle, she would take a pill. She confessed this to her boyfriend, who just flushed the pills down the toilet. I’m absolutely amazed how she’s turned out. She’s well adjusted and raising her two children without problem. I couldn’t imagine talking someone out of [taking my life].”
“My sister is doing time for kidnapping, and here is her story. She is a meth addict and rolls with a biker crowd. One day she gets a call from one of these guys saying that they have a problem and need her. So she goes to the address, and it’s a hotel. She goes to the room and inside is two tied-up girls and a tweaked-out biker. He tells her that he is missing three ounces of glass, and these three are the only ones that have been in the room. He doesn’t want to physically beat it out of them because they are chicks and he is on parole. My sister tells him to gather all of their possessions (they had been partying for a few days) and put it in her trunk. After that’s done, she tells him to take it to a safe house and thoroughly go through their things. So off he goes. And my sister starts interrogation. Both girls (over 18, younger th[a]n 21) say they have no idea what’s going on. The guy calls and says there is nothing in their gear, so he comes back to the hotel. They decide to get the girls to the house and the interrogation will get intense. They go to the house and the girls are handcuffed in the basement. My sister and another old lady go to town on these chicks. Nothing super bad, but punching, spitting, verbal assaults, etc. Well, a day goes by and the girls don’t have anything to say. The guy goes back to the hotel and lo and behold the dope [was] in the vent in the bathroom. Guy goes back to the house and they are going to let the girls go. The girls are told not to say anything, and they agree and are released. One girl takes off and goes right to the police. The other girl asks if she can stay and get high. Sis got two-and-a-half years and gets out in May this year.”
“I have not personally been abducted, but when my mom was younger, I think about 9 years old, she was abducted. She used to walk to church on Sundays, which was about a block away from her house. So she was on her way to church when a man in a red car pulled up beside her. He told my mom that he was friends with her parents and they had asked him to drive her to church. Being the naive little girl that she was, she believed him. She got in the car with him, and it wasn’t long before she realized they weren’t going to church. He drove her to these woods and they got out and he laid a blanket on the ground. He told her to sit down on it then he told her that her parents had asked him to talk to her about sex. She never actually told me what he did to her, but she said that she was molested. After he was done doing whatever he did to her, he just got in his car and left her in the woods all alone. He had told her he was going to get something out of his car, and he’d be right back. She told me she wasn’t scared or frightened at all until she heard the car start and she knew he was leaving. She panicked a little but then got up and started walking back the way she came. She reached a really busy road and followed it until she got to a little neighborhood. She said there was a lady checking her mail and my mom ran to her. She told the lady what happened and the lady called my mom’s parents and my mom’s parents called the police.”
“I was 13 and lived in a low-income, rundown area where [sex work] was an every day thing. From as young as I can remember, I would regularly have random men ask me if I wanted to earn some pocket money. One evening I was walking back from my friend’s house and a couple of streets away from my house I saw a regular working girl that I always stopped to chat with. Note that I grew up on the same street and the [sex workers] were familiar faces to me, and I would always talk to them. Anyway this night, as I turned the corner after speaking to the lady, a car full of men and obvious [sex workers] stopped and two women got out and walked toward me. I looked over to the car and noticed the men had got out and were standing watching. One of the girls had a glass bottle and smashed it on the wall and held it up to me and told me to empty my pockets, when I refused she started grabbing me and trying to pull me toward the car. The men were now opening the back door for us. Then all of a sudden the girl I’d stopped and spoke to appeared out of nowhere and grabbed me and ran home with me. My dad took me to the police station and the officer told me this is usually how working girls end up on the game. If they’d succeeded I would of been taken somewhere and pumped full of drugs until I was hooked and repeatedly [assaulted] ‘to break me in.’ I never saw the [sex worker] again even though she was a regular by my street. I worry all the time about what has happened to her.”
“I was about 8- or 9-years-old walking home from my best friend’s house back to my home. A guy pulled up beside me wearing a police uniform, seemed totally legit but who knows. But he was driving a super crappy sedan, like one of those old Buick like boat cars. He’s really aggressive and assertive saying to get in the car, that I need to go with him right now. My dad is at the hospital and sent this guy to come get me – my mom was in an accident, but he is here to take me to her. I totally lost my cool, felt super sketched out and I just burst out crying and as this guy is shouting at me to get in the car, I panicked and just started sprinting all the way home. I get home and my dad is watering the garden, cool as anything, and I am completely losing my mind, absolutely hysterical. He calms me down, hears the story and calls 911. He gave them the description and sure enough they catch this guy with a 13-year-old girl in the back seat who he managed to talk into going with him!”
“When my mom was younger, my sister (who was a baby at the time) was almost stolen. My dad was at security in the airport, or something, and my mom was trying to make my sister stop being super fussy like most babies are. This nice looking young woman came up to my mom and offered to hold my sister so my mom could get the luggage. My mom (who in her defense was tired and jet-lagged), gave the lady my sister to hold. The woman immediately sprinted off with my sister, but she was caught later by security. My mom says she was super paranoid about anyone holding us kids for the longest time.”
“My brother was kidnapped in broad daylight while he and my parents were out shopping. This was in Chile, late ’80s. I can’t remember how old he was exactly, but I want to say around 3 or 4. One minute he was there, the next he was gone. The police got involved, and they searched for him for a good while before he was found a few blocks away. A lot of children were kidnapped and sold off in those days. Luckily for my brother, the kidnappers didn’t get far before they realized he had a large birth mark by his eye that would have made him worthless.”
“It wasn’t me, but my uncle was abducted in Cabo a few years ago. He was walking through a back alley near Cabo Wabo (which he knows now that he shouldn’t have been) and two guys walked up to him from the front, pulled out screw drivers, and started yelling at him. He was hit over the head with something that knocked him out. Next thing he remembered was waking up tied to a chair in some room. He was able to get out of the rope and hop out of the window. All he did was run after that.”
“It almost happened to my now wife, while she was walking home one evening and decided to take a short cut through an alley. It was around 5-6 pm and getting dark fast. All of a sudden a man approaches her from behind with a knife, and guides her towards a white van with no windows in the back, where a second man was waiting. Once he slides the door open she sees a window of opportunity and yells, ‘That’s my purse, I don’t know you!’ and Tomahawk kicks him in the nuts. She runs nonstop for about five blocks and calls me gasping for air and screaming of what just happened. To make it a long story short, they never found the perverts and she now carries a compact 9mm.”
“I was friends with a guy in university who was kidnapped as a child. Apparently in Taiwan, it was very common for children of wealthy families to get kidnapped for ransom money, and this is what happened to him. Although he doesn’t remember much, he did tell me that it took a couple of days for him to get rescued, and he was treated fairly decently. Still, the experience must have taken a toll on him, since he was a little high-strung and anxious, and [he] was over-protective of his little brother, despite both of them being fully grown adults.”
Coming up… in some kidnapping cases, the victim outsmarts their abductor. We’ll look at few quick-thinking abductees whose out-of-the-box thinking and determination to survive helped them to escape their captors.
Plus… in some cases of kidnapping, the victims have an opportunity to escape – but don’t. They even try to help those who abducted them in the first place. We’ll look at a few of the most famous cases of what has become known as Stockholm Syndrome… when Weird Darkness returns.
THEY OUTSMARTED THEIR KIDNAPPERS
If you’ve ever tried to imagine what you would do in kidnapping situation, you probably pictured yourself as one of those cool, calm, smart victims. And though that’s usually much harder than it sounds, the following stories are of victims who did just that and actually outsmarted their captors. These are victims who talked their way out of danger – like Benedict Cumberbatch, who survived a kidnapping attempt in South Africa. And then there are other stories of quick thinking, like the little girl who faked an asthma attack to escape her would-be abductor. All of these cases are impressive feats of bravery and will have you taking notes just in case you ever find yourself in the same scenario. Here are a few amazing survival stories of people who outwitted their captors.
It was every parent’s worst nightmare, but 12-year-old Rebecca Savarese was able to think on her toes and outsmart her would-be abductor. While walking alone to school in 1994, a man came up to Rebecca and pressed a gun into her side. He commanded her to walk to his car. Rebecca did as she was told, but as they got closer, she pretended to lose her breath. Her attacker was startled, giving her enough time to run away. He was left holding her backpack, and then jumped in his car and took off. Eyewitness accounts eventually led to his capture, and it turned out that he was responsible for the deaths of at least three other children.
In 2002, Michelina Lewandowska’s fiance attacked her with a Taser, bound and gagged her, and then buried her alive. This is truly a tale of staying calm in an insanely stressful situation. After waking up in a cardboard box underground, Michelina was able to use her engagement ring to cut herself free. Her fiance apparently committed the crime because he wanted complete control over their three-year-old son and had “grown tired of (Michelina).” Michelina says she was able to survive by thinking about getting back to her child.
Years before he became the crime-solving super-detective Sherlock Holmes, or superhero crimefighter Dr. Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch had to outsmart criminals in real life. In 2005, he was filming the miniseries The Ends of the Earth in South Africa and was traveling back to his hotel after a scuba-diving lesson. The car ended up getting a flat tire and when he, actress Denise Black, and a friend pulled over to fix it, they were ambushed by car jackers. The men frisked them, tied them up, and forced them into the car. After driving for awhile, they stopped and tried to force Cumberbatch into the trunk. Thinking quickly, he told them that he had a medical condition that would cause him to have a seizure if he were forced into the small space. “I will be a dead Englishman in your car. Not good,” he said. The ploy worked and the car jackers released Cumberbatch and his friends. He said the ordeal inspired him to “live a life less ordinary.”
Even in the middle of a horrifying nightmare, Jennifer Holiday was able to keep her wits about her. While driving with her 18-year-old cousin Anna in east Texas, the women were suddenly ambushed by gunfire. Jennifer had been badly wounded in the arm, and the shooter approached the car to inflict more damage. He shot Anna in the head, killing her, and then dragged Jennifer into the woods to assault and torture her. With no help in sight, Jennifer knew her only chance at survival was to ask to go to her attacker’s house. He was clearly on drugs, and if she could maintain control over him, she knew she’d be able to get away. After arriving at the house, she convinced him that he had saved her from a car wreck. She was then able to call 911 right in front of him and, while keeping her voice completely calm, made the dispatcher realize she was in the presence of her attacker. Jennifer survived the ordeal, and the man was captured.
In 2008, a New York Times reporter and his translator escaped from the Taliban, thanks in part to a board game. After being captured in Afghanistan while doing research for a book, David Rohde, his translator Tahir, and their driver were held in Pakistan while their captors made demands to the US. After seven months, their driver had turned against them and they knew that they had to make an escape. Tahir kept the guards up late one night playing checkah, a game similar to Parcheesi. With the guards peacefully passed out, Rohde and Tahir climbed over a five-foot-high wall and used a rope they’d hidden days earlier to climb down and get away.
When pirates decided to hijack a fishing vessel owned by Hassan Khalil, they messed with the wrong guy. Khalil’s vessel and another ship were overtaken by pirates near the coast of Yemen in 2009. After trying to negotiate with the pirates unsuccessfully, he hired a group of mercenaries. Khalil paid one pirate $10,000 with the promise of more money and was allowed to re-board the ship to check on his crew. Once back on the ship, he and his crew attacked the pirates with guns, knives, and tools. Eight pirates were delivered to the authorities, while two were killed in the sneak attack.
In 2007, a gunman took over an Air Mauritania flight, demanding to be taken to France to seek asylum for unknown reasons. The pilot, Ahmedou Mohamed Lemine, realized that the hijacker spoke no French and decided to use this against him. He spoke over the intercom in French, telling the crew and passengers to prepare for turbulence. With the gunman off balance, the crew had the opportunity to toss boiling water on him before he was overpowered by ten people. The plane was able to land safely and passengers were treated for only minor injuries.
This next story proves that anyone can be disarmed by a celebrity. Johnny Weismuller, who played Tarzan in twelve different films and created the iconic character’s ape-like yell, was visiting Cuba during the revolution. While he and some friends were out golfing, they suddenly found their cart surrounded by rebel soldiers pointing guns at them. After trying to communicate that he was the famous actor known for playing Tarzan, Weismuller switched gears and let out one of his huge Tarzan yells. The star-struck rebels put down their guns and yelled, “Tarzan! Tarzan!” Weismuller and his friends were escorted back to their hotel completely unharmed.
In this next case, a kidnapper trusted his prisoner to set up a brand-new cell phone for him and it totally backfired. Japanese journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka was captured in Afghanistan in 2010. After five months of captivity, he was losing hope of ever getting home. Then, one of his kidnappers was having trouble setting up his new Nokia and asked Tsuneoka for help. Tsuneoka was able to convince them to get an Internet connection, which he then used to tweet his location while “setting up” the phone. He was freed a few days later.
And in this story, the man showed absolutely no fear in the face of danger – and luckily, it worked. While in Seattle visiting his mother, the victim was riding a city bus near the Central District area. He noticed a suspicious teenager trying to hide his face, and when the man reached his stop, the teen followed him. When the man turned around on the street, the teen pulled a gun out of a paper bag. Unfazed, the man said, “What are you going to do with that pistol?” He threatened to fight back if he was robbed and the would-be robber realized he was in way over his head. He hid the gun and parted ways with the man at the next street corner.
TRUE CASES OF STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
Whenever terrible cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking come to light, people ask, why didn’t they try to escape? Tragically, in many cases, hostages, kidnapping victims, or members of cults cooperated with their tormentors and even resisted the police sent to rescue them, even though they faced unimaginable horrors.
Through torture, dehumanization, and disconnection from the outside world, many of these victims have been labeled “brainwashed” by the people who turned their world upside down. Victims of Stockholm syndrome will later explain that they felt completely unable to resist the criminals who kidnapped them.
Cult leaders have also been known to exact similar brainwashing methods on their followers to gain complete control over their subjects, even to the point of inciting them to murder or mass suicide.
These are some of the most shocking stories of people being brainwashed, where the men and women who were victimized lost not only their free will, but their humanity entirely.
Let’s begin with the incident which gave Stockholm syndrome its name. It took place during a bank robbery in 1973 at the Norrmalmstorg Bank in Stockholm, Sweden. An escaped convict kept four hostages trapped inside the bank’s vault. By the second day inside the vault, police on the scene started to have to deal with hostages who were brainwashed. The hostages were on a first-name basis with their captor, and responded to the police with hostility.
When the hostage situation finally ended, the four hostages hugged their captor to protect him from police. They even collected money for their captor’s defense attorney. Months later, psychologists coined the term “Stockholm syndrome” for the bond that was formed between the hostages and their captor.
The tragic story of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart captured the fears and sympathy of America after she was taken from her Salt Lake City home one night and wasn’t found until nine months later, as her captor, Brian Mitchell, moved her all over the country, torturing and raping her.
While Mitchell may not have purposefully taken lengths to brainwash Smart, the level of torture and neglect she faced certainly had an impact. After her rescue, and during her testimony, she stated that she had opportunities to escape while held captive, but chose not to take them.
At one point, “Smart was questioned by a police officer who had received a tip that she had been spotted, but she chose not to scream for help or try to run away.” When questioned about this incident in interviews later, she said, “I was under threat of my life, I was under threat of my family’s life. And those two threats right there are stronger than chains for me. It is wrong for any person to ever judge someone in any situation saying, ‘Well, why didn’t you try to run? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you try to do something?’ That is so wrong and, frankly, offensive to even ask that question.”
A man blamed with putting an end to the idealism and hope of the 1960s, Charles Manson stands out in this list because he did not kidnap people. Nor did he did brainwash his followers into killing themselves, but instead, he convinced them to murder others, in what became known as the Manson Family Killings.
Following two prison stints for lesser crimes, Manson began collecting his followers, mostly women with troubled pasts. He asked his followers to give up their ego, to demonstrate self-sacrifice, and he told them about the future of the family, living in an underground paradise and then reappearing to seize control of the nation. He sought to keep his group’s gender ratio at 5:1, so that the women could take care of the men’s every desire.
Manson would hammer his ideas into his followers’ heads, then consolidate his control by dosing them with LSD and then performing sermons to his drug-addled audience, preaching his racist, misogynist, and ultimately, murderous beliefs.
In the end, Manson successfully convinced his followers that the only way to bring about “Helter Skelter,” the eventual apocalyptic race war that he believed would lead to his world takeover, was to kill innocent people. The “Family,” as they were called, carried out seven murders, including the murder of up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (who was pregnant at the time). As a result, Manson was sentenced to death, later reduced to life imprisonment after the death penalty was abolished in California.
Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped in 1991, when she was 11 years old, and wasn’t released until 2009. Dugard’s captor, Phillip Greg Garrido, filled Dugard’s head with his own insanity, telling her of the “demon angels” who let him take Dugard so that she could help him with his sexual problems that society condemned – those being child molestation and rape. He would also make Dugard listen for the voices that he himself heard speaking to him from within his house’s walls. While Garrido was already married, many psychiatrists believe that in Jaycee’s mind, her relationship with her twisted captor was similar to marriage, in part because the pair had two children together.
Dugard was so controlled by Garrido that when police arrived to investigate and arrest Garrido, they were met by Jaycee, who introduced herself with her false identity, “Alissa.” Police noted that while Dugard was aware that Garrido was a sex offender she said that he was a “changed man,” and was “a great person and good with her kids.”
When pressed for details, Dugard became “extremely defensive” and “agitated,” demanding to know why she was being “interrogated,” even lying to protect Garrido. She claimed to be a formerly abused wife who was in hiding from her violent husband at Garrido’s house. Police officer Ally Jacobs noted that Dugard’s two children, aged 11 and 15, appeared to be brainwashed by Garrido as well, as they stared at their father “like God,” adding, “They had this weird look in their eyes, like brainwashed zombies.”
It was only after Garrido’s arrest that Jaycee admitted, “I adapted to survive my circumstance.”
In 2014, 148 Kurdish boys were held hostage by the terrorist group knows as ISIS for five months in Syria. While Kurds and the Sunni ISIS are sworn enemies, the boys were subjected to such extreme brainwashing that even after their release, they still believe many of the teachings they received from their captors. Following his return, one boy (who gave himself the pseudonym Jan) said, “I must speak the truth. The Islamic State are right, and all the things they taught me are true.” He then added, “I am convinced they are right.”
The boys were brainwashed with constant forced education about the ISIS belief system paired with brutal torture, including being tied up and having members of ISIS “practice karate and kick-boxing” on the children. They were also forced to watch videos of the infamous ISIS massacre videos.
Jan explains that his liberal upbringing has kept him from joining ISIS now voluntarily, but admits that he still holds the beliefs he was taught to be true. “Sometimes I am confused in my mind,” he said. “But everything they said they proved using passages from the Koran.”
In a case that the FBI described as unparalleled in its brutality, Colleen Stan was subjected to such an unfathomable level of physical and mental torture that a mental break was likely the only thing her body and mind could do to protect itself.
After Cameron Hooker kidnapped Stan in 1977, he kept her in a coffin-sized box beneath his bed for seven years. Hooker kept Stan inside that box for 23 hours a day during the majority of her captivity, forcing her into sex slavery. Hooker had such control over Stan that she “signed” herself into sex slavery voluntarily in 1978. She was referred to as “K,” which served as her slave name, and was only allowed to call Hooker “Master.”
The root of Hooker’s control over Stan was his invention of “The Company,” which he convinced Stan was an evil organization that was watching her and would torture and kill her family if she should go against Hooker’s wishes or try to escape.
Stan was so afraid to go against Hooker that even when he brought her back to visit her family, she didn’t tell them the truth; “He left her alone with her family, but she never said a word about her ordeal. She claimed Cameron was her boyfriend and that she was happy. She spent the night, and the next morning posed for a picture with her abuser before leaving with him again.”
Finally, Hooker’s wife (who had been a willing accomplice in Stan’s kidnapping) grew guilty and helped Stan escape.
Cult brainwashing has also lead to horrifying ends. Heaven’s Gate was an American religious millenarian group that believed that Earth was about to be “recycled” by an alien race that was traveling in a spaceship behind the Hale-Bop comet, and the only chance to survive was to leave the planet immediately.
The group’s leader, Marshall Applewhite, convinced the group that suicide was not death, but a way “to turn against the Next Level when it is being offered.” The group believed that in order to reach the Next Level, “humans would have to shed every attachment to the planet.” These attachments included family, friends, money, and eventually, their own bodies.
Separation from their family and friends, and the constant brainwashing (or “thought reform”) of repeated lectures and drills about the “next level” desensitized the Heaven’s Gate members to the idea of death and suicide. Stanton Peele, a clinical psychologist specializing in addiction treatment and theory, compared the cult and its form of brainwashing to drug addiction, saying that while the group was ultimately destructive, it must have also been gratifying and their beliefs may have even had a narcosis-like effect similar to drugs or alcohol.
In the end, 39 members of the cult killed themselves in 1997, believing that it was the only way to survive the impending apocalypse they were anticipating.
10-year-old Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped as she walked to school alone for the very first time in Vienna, Austria. A man named Wolfgang Priklopil captured her and took her to a secret cellar where she stayed for more than eight years. During her time in captivity, she was beaten, mentally abused, and even starved – so that she would be too weak to escape.
Priklopil played intense mind games with Kampush. She recalled in an interview, “One of the worst scenes during my captivity was when he shoved me, wearing only a pair of panties, half-starved, covered in bruises and with my head completely shorn, in front of the front door and said, ‘Come on now, run. Let’s see how far you get.'”
She continued, “I was so humiliated and filled with shame that I couldn’t take a single step. He tore me away from the door, saying, ‘So you see. The world out there doesn’t want you anyway. Your place is here and only here.'”
Priklopil also convinced Kampusch that the windows and doors of his home were booby-trapped with high explosives. Eventually, when Kampusch was 18 years old, she seized an opportunity to escape. Her escape lead to Priklopil’s death, as he laid down on a railroad track and killed himself only hours later. A true sign of how he much he had warped Kampusch’s mind, when she heard of Priklopil’s death, she mourned for him.
11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck went out for a bike ride back in 2002 and wasn’t seen until four years later, when he was finally discovered by police inside the home of his captor, Michael J. Devlin. For four years, Hornbeck was subjected to abuse and molestation, despite the fact that he could have easily escaped if not for the brainwashing he was subjected to. During his imprisonment, Hornbeck even had access to the Internet, which he could have used to contact authorities.
In an interview with People Magazine, Hornbeck explained why he didn’t take his opportunities to escape. “You’re brainwashed. It’s as simple as that,” he said. ”I know people use that term a lot, but that’s what happens to you. It’s like you are on autopilot, only someone else is controlling all the switches. They control every little, minute detail in your life. Everything”
In perhaps the most infamous case of cult brainwashing, self-proclaimed guru Jim Jones brainwashed nearly all of his followers into committing suicide with the promise of salvation and paradise. I covered the story of Jonestown more in depth in a recent episode of Weird Darkness, I’ll link to it in the show notes.
Entire families lived in Jonestown, the cult’s complex, and the adult members not only willingly took their own lives, but killed their children as well – 300 of the 909 people who died were children. Children who didn’t voluntarily commit suicide were injected with cyanide.
In the haunting Jonestown death tapes, leader Jim Jones can be heard telling his congregation, “This is a revolutionary suicide. This is not a self-destructive suicide.”
The fact that they believed him enough to take their own lives (and those of their children) is a sign of how much power Jones had over his entire congregation.
Coming up… perhaps the most famous case of Stockholm syndrome – in which individuals who are kidnapped or taken hostage form feelings of trust and affection for their captors – is certainly the case of Patty Hearst. The granddaughter of former media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Patty was kidnapped in 1974 by the radical Symbionese Liberation Army. We’ll look at her story next on Weird Darkness.
Plus, we’ll step into the Chamber of Comments!
THE BRAINWASHING OF PATTY HEARST
A beautiful California co-ed was kidnapped in 1974 – and two months later, she burst into a bank with a machine gun. In the eyes of America, Patty Hearst quickly went from a sympathetic victim to a criminal terrorist. But was she truly guilty? Patty Hearst images showed her aiming a gun, barking orders in a bank robbery, and committing crimes next to domestic terrorists, but many argue that Patty Hearst suffered from the famous Stockholm syndrome.
Patty Hearst was a wealthy heiress, like Barbara Hutton, the original “poor little rich girl,” yet the jurors in Patty’s trial didn’t go easy on her, nor did they buy her claim that the radical leftists in the Symbionese Liberation Army forced her to commit crimes. And she definitely did commit a lot of crimes: Patty robbed three banks, fired a gun on a crowded LA street, and even made bombs to blow up the police.
But when the FBI finally captured Patty Hearst, she only weighed 87 pounds, and she’d lost a shocking 18 IQ points in just 18 months. Patty Hearst isn’t the only hostage who was brainwashed, and shockingly what happened to Patty Hearst could have happened to just about anyone. The true story of Patty Hearst’s horrifying ordeal is enough to convince anyone that she was innocent.
Patty Hearst, heiress to the enormous Hearst publishing fortune, was violently kidnapped on February 4, 1974. The kidnappers knocked on her door around 9 o’clock before they burst in with guns drawn. They grabbed Patty, a 19-year-old college student, and beat up her fiancé. Finally, they threw Patty into the trunk of their car and drove off.
Patty Hearst’s kidnapping became one of the biggest news stories of the 1970s. In the two years that followed, she appeared on the cover of Newsweek seven times. And Patty’s kidnapping was only the beginning. Soon, her kidnappers were sending recorded messages to the media, demanding millions of dollars for her release. And the story only got stranger after April 15, 1974, when Patty Hearst burst into San Francisco’s Hibernia Bank wielding a machine gun.
After she was dragged from her apartment and thrown into the trunk of a car, she was taken to a house where she was locked in a closet and left there for days. Her hands were bound. She was blindfolded. There was no light in the closet. For 10 days, Patty barely ate. She had no place to urinate or defecate except in the closet, which was only three feet wide. And she didn’t know anything about the people who had kidnapped her.
For a week, no one talked to Patty, except for one man who would come in to record her for ransom messages. When her kidnappers finally let Patty out of the closet, they told her that she was going to rob a bank with them.
Patty Hearst was the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a businessman who built a media empire at the end of the 19th century, and then built an enormous castle on the California coast in the 20th century that he named after himself. Orson Welles’s classic film Citizen Kane was based on Hearst’s life.
And it wasn’t a coincidence that Patty shared the last name of one of America’s richest businessmen. In fact, Patty was targeted by the SLA because she was a Hearst. The SLA hoped that the Hearst family’s wealth and power would convince the police to release two SLA members who had been arrested for killing Oakland’s first black superintendent. But Patty’s family was not as wealthy as her deceased grandfather – her father took out a loan of $2 million to have his daughter released, but the SLA refused to let Patty go.
While the FBI launched a massive search to find Patty Hearst, her kidnappers were whispering to Patty that her family had abandoned her. They told her that their organization, the Symbionese Liberation Army, or SLA, wanted to help the poor. They demanded that her family distribute $70 worth of food to every hungry Californian, which would have cost $400 million. When Randolph Hearst, Patty’s father, donated $2 million worth of food to impoverished people in the Bay Area, Patty only heard that her family had refused the demand.
Suddenly, the terrified teenager started to wonder if the SLA was right about the “capitalist state.” But she also didn’t have a choice – she had been kidnapped, and her captors were ordering her to work with them or die.
The leader of the SLA was a man named Donald DeFreeze, code name Cinque. He had been sent to prison in 1969 after robbing a bank. In 1973, DeFreeze escaped and founded the SLA. DeFreeze was the man who forced Patty to record ransom messages. He repeatedly threatened to kill his teenage captive. He also gave her SLA political tracts to read in her closet with a flashlight.
And in April of 1974, DeFreeze told Patty that it was time to make a choice. Patty Hearst later said, “DeFreeze told me that 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.” Patty decided that she wanted to live, so she said, “I accommodated my thoughts to coincide with theirs.” She promised to fight for the SLA, and they removed her blindfold and told her that she was an SLA member.
The SLA released the next tape of Patty Hearst on April 3, 1974. In the recording, Patty announced that she had joined the SLA. She believed in their cause, and she was going to fight for the freedom of oppressed people. In the tape, Patty said, “I have been given the choice of one, being released in a safe area, or two, joining the forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army and fighting for my freedom and the freedom of all oppressed people. I have chosen to stay and fight.”
Of course, the tape wasn’t completely accurate. Patty later said the recording was scripted and she was forced to read it. And the choice wasn’t between fighting or being released – her only other option was death. Even after she taped the message, Patty was raped by members of the SLA. Still, in the minds of many Americans, Patty had gone from victim to terrorist. And it was about to get even worse.
That’s how Patty Hearst found herself in the Hibernia Bank holding a machine gun on April 15, 1974. The SLA needed money, and they needed to show off their newest recruit – the high-profile heiress. In bank surveillance cameras, Hearst was shown clearly holding a rifle. During the robbery DeFreeze shot two people before successfully making off with more than $10,000.
But was Patty guilty? In her autobiography, she wrote, “I sensed that I had, in fact, crossed over some sharp line of demarcation. For me, suddenly it became plain: There was no turning back.” And the U.S. Attorney General agreed. After the bank robbery, he said that Hearst was a “common criminal.” Suddenly she wasn’t a victim; she was a criminal that the FBI wanted to apprehend by any means necessary.
The FBI manhunt to rescue Patty Hearst quickly turned into a search for the SLA – with Patty as its newest member. The SLA was classified as a domestic terrorist organization, and their activities didn’t stop with robbing the Hibernia bank. A month after the robbery, on May 16, 1974, Patty Hearst was spotted again in Los Angeles. But she didn’t look like a victim. She fired a gun on a crowded street outside a sporting goods store. Luckily, no one was injured.
The next day, the LAPD surrounded a house where SLA members were hiding. The entire saga was aired on live television as the police fired into the house and the SLA returned fire. No one knew if Patty Hearst was inside. Then the building burst into flames, killing six SLA members.
But Patty Hearst wasn’t one of them. In fact, she was watching the fiery shootout from a motel near Disneyland.
Patty Hearst spent the next year on the run from the FBI with other SLA members. After watching six SLA members die on TV, Patty was even more afraid. She had committed crimes with the SLA, and the FBI had no idea if she was in the house when they opened fire, eventually killing everyone inside. Clearly they weren’t trying to rescue her any more. In her autobiography, Patty wrote, “I was convinced there was no way I could come out in the open now, without the police or the FBI gunning me down as they had the others.”
The American public had stopped seeing Patty as a victim. The day after she helped rob the Hibernia bank, a homeowner removed the “God Bless You Patty” sign from outside his house. Patty herself may have even wondered if she was innocent during those long months running from the FBI. And she may have been right – as soon as she was captured, she was put on trial for bank robbery.
The FBI finally tracked down Patty Hearst on September 18, 1975, more than 18 months after she had been kidnapped. She had been on the run for over a year, trying to avoid capture. And she’d continued to commit crimes after the initial robbery of the Hibernia Bank. Patty robbed two more banks. She fired shots on a street in Los Angeles. She helped the SLA set off bombs in Northern California.
After the FBI captured her, Patty was arrested and charged with bank robbery and other crimes. By the following spring she was defending herself in court, in what was quickly becoming the trial of the century. But it still wasn’t clear if anyone would believe that Patty was innocent.
Patty’s trial focused on a central question: was she really a member of the SLA? Or had she only joined under duress? No one denied that Patty had been kidnapped in February of 1974. But by April of that year, images of Patty on grainy bank surveillance cameras were everywhere in the media. Patty was holding a gun. She was shouting orders. She was working with the same people who had kidnapped her.
Patty’s lawyer argued that she was brainwashed, that she was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. The head of UCLA’s psychiatry department testified that Patty had been “markedly damaged by the traumatic neurosis violently induced in her by the SLA.” Or, in simpler terms, Patty was a victim. She only committed crimes under the threat of death. And there was serious evidence that Patty had suffered. She had lost 18 IQ points. She weighed only 87 pounds. She was, according to an expert psychiatrist, “a low-IQ, low-affect zombie.”
But the jury didn’t believe Patty had been brainwashed. They saw her as a criminal, a committed member of the SLA. And the key piece of evidence in her trial was a tiny monkey charm that Patty was carrying when she was arrested by the FBI.
One of Patty’s captors was a man named Willie Wolfe. He was one of the men who raped Patty while she was being held in the closet. And, according to other SLA members, Patty fell in love with Willie. He gave her the monkey charm before he was killed in the LAPD shootout in May of 1974.
Patty kept the charm for over a year. Was it proof that she truly loved Willie? The jury believed it was. According to one juror, “Everyone’s heart went out to her. How could you help it? We felt overwhelming sympathy for her.” But as soon as the jury heard about the charm, everything changed. One female juror said, “That was what changed my mind. I really saw how much she was lying. It just had to be lying, through and through.”
In 1976, Patty Hearst was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Patty Hearst’s case is the textbook definition of Stockholm syndrome, where hostages begin to identify with their captors, often in order to protect themselves. In a matter of weeks, Patty went from being a normal college student, to a captive locked in a closet where she was raped and beaten, to a gun-wielding bank robber. Today, the shift in Patty’s behavior is understood as a response to psychological torment. But at the time, Stockholm syndrome was relatively new – it had only been identified in 1973, and the defense failed to convince the jury at Patty’s trial.
To those on her side, Patty’s conviction for bank robbery was simply another way she was victimized by society. The SLA was certainly guilty, but the FBI, the jurors, and the American public were all quick to see Patty as a “common criminal” rather than a teenage girl trying to survive a terrifying ordeal. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter commuted Patty’s sentence, freeing her after 22 months in jail, and President Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst on his last day in office.
After such a bizarre and unfathomable couple of years, it’s understandable Patty would want to retire from the public eye and try to live something of a normal life – as normal a life as a multimillion dollar heiress could have, anyway. Two months after her release from prison, she married Bernard Lee Shaw, a policeman who had protected her during her time on bail; they two remained married until his death in 2013. Together they had two daughters, Gillian and Lydia, the latter of whom married actor Chris Hardwick in 2016.
Patty released her memoir, Every Secret Thing, in 1981, and also appeared in a number of films made by director John Waters, including Serial Mom, Cry-Baby, Peckers, and Cecil B. Demented. Nowadays, Patty often occupies her time with dog-related activities, having competed in a number of dog shows, where she has taken home top prize more than once.