Tania’s World: The Inside Story, Part Two: People in Need – Rolling Stone
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Tania’s World: The Inside Story of the Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Part Two: People in Need

The newspaper magnate’s daughter became a gun-toting radical with the SLA — until she was captured

heiress, Patty Hearst, Steven Weed, kidnapping, Symbionese Liberation Army

American heiress Patty Hearst and her fiance, Steven Weed, posing outdoors prior to Hearst's kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army, circa 1973

Hulton Archive/Getty

Randolph Hearst was stunned. “Damnit! You went ahead without even talking to me. I can’t believe it!” His wife Catherine stared defiantly. The SLA had threatened to kill their 19-year-old daughter if Mrs. Hearst accepted an appointment to the University of California Board of Regents. On the afternoon of March 13th, 1974, then-governor Ronald Reagan phoned her with an offer.

“I can hold your appointment until this is all over,” Reagan said. “I don’t want to pressure you one way or the other. Do what you think is best for Patty.”

Catherine refused. “I don’t want it held up. I’ll take it right now. I’m not going to give in to a bunch of hoodlums.”

Randy (as he is called by his friends and employees), president of the San Francisco Examiner, the youngest son of William Randolph Hearst, heard about it on the radio. He confronted her late that night at their Hillsborough mansion: Patty’s life was at stake. Catherine was adamant; she knew the stakes and she had done the right thing.

Randolph Hearst swore at her and stalked out. At the SLA’s San Francisco hideout 20 miles north, Patty also heard the radio broadcast. It was the final evidence that her parents had abandoned her. It became the pivotal moment in her change from a Hearst to Tania.

Catherine had never forgiven Patricia for leaving Sunday mass, forsaking the Burlingame Country Club and moving in with Steven Weed, her one-time prep school tutor whom Catherine considered a charmless gold digger. It was Randy who indulged Patricia; he had been wrong to pay for her living with Weed then, and he was wrong now. It was his fault more than anyone’s: If Patty had not been let loose in the radical life of Berkeley, none of this would have happened.

Patty was his favorite daughter. She was known as “Randy’s spoiled brat.” From the beginning he had been willing to reach an accord with the SLA. He set up the $2 million food giveaway over Catherine’s objections. He liked the agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office and often invited him into the mansion for drinks. But he had little faith that the FBI could find his daughter … or bring her back alive.

With his political clout and the family fortune, he felt better equipped to find Patty himself. His daughter was apparently in the hands of radicals; so he tried to hire the left. He put the aging dean of San Francisco’s left-wing lawyers on a $50,000 retainer and recruited Sara Jane Moore because she hung around political activists.

Hearst wanted to handle the negotiations personally. In Berkeley’s radical circles the word went out: For the right information Randolph Hearst was willing to pay a handsome finder’s fee.

I

Steve Soliah took only a passing interest in the SLA. He spent his days painting houses and reserved his evenings for partying with friends and playing his guitar to tunes like the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.” Becoming Patty’s lover never crossed his mind.

But like many Berkeley people, Steve knew some of Patty’s kidnappers secondhand. A good friend had once roomed with Patricia “Mizmoon” Soltysik, and his older sister, Kathy, had waited tables with Angela Atwood.

Then on May 17th, 1974, Los Angeles police surrounded a grubby bungalow where the SLA was holed up. As the news spread through Berkeley, several friends and neighbors gathered with Steve in front of a black-and-white television set at the old house he shared with friends near the University of California campus. Mizmoon’s former roommate arrived and slumped into a chair, her face averted so she couldn’t see the flames searing across the screen. But she could hear the barking of police gunfire long after there was no answer from the bungalow.

Steve moved next to her and tried to comfort her. He was 26 years old and had been living in the Berkeley area for three years. But this was the first time he’d felt sympathy for people he regarded as violent revolutionaries.

“I feel sick,” he said, flicking off the TV.

Kathy Soliah, a year older than Steve, felt a more personal outrage. Her good friend Angela Atwood was dead in the ashes, her body so burned that identification had to be based on her dental records. Kathy had met Angela a year before when both auditioned for roles in a local theatrical production of Hedda Gabler. Angela then had helped her get a waitress job at the Great Electric Underground restaurant in the basement of the San Francisco Bank of America world headquarters building. They had quit their jobs together after the restaurant manager refused to alter uniforms they felt were demeaning.

In the days following the L.A. shootout an anger welled up in the coffeehouses and communes of Berkeley. Many radicals initially had shunned comment about the SLA because of its violent tactics and because of suspicions that SLA leader Donald DeFreeze was a police agent. Now they spoke up at rallies that eulogized the six dead SLA soldiers as heroes in a progressive cause. Randolph Hearst saw the shifting mood and remarked acidly that, had the police not overreacted, the SLA members “wouldn’t have been martyrs but would have been seen as dingbats.”

Kathy Soliah was among those most affected by the shootout. At a memorial rally for the SLA on June 2nd, Kathy pledged solidarity with the group.

The Soliahs had grown up in Palmdale, a small town near Los Angeles, where their father coached the high-school football team and taught civics. Steve had played football under his father, then had become a track star and a sociology major at Humboldt State University in Northern California. Kathy had graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara and taught English at a private school. Both Steve and Kathy moved to Berkeley in 1971.

The two were close and liked to do things together. Steve felt protective toward his sister, whose blonde-haired good looks sometimes brought abuse from untoward strangers. When a man assaulted Kathy as she walked to a nearby liquor store one night a few weeks after the memorial rally, Steve heard her screams and came running out of the house. The man fled in a car but Steve, a burly guy, grabbed the car door and was dragged half a block before he let go.

Yet Steve had been slow to join Kathy’s growing involvement in militant politics. During the summer of 1974 she helped organize the Bay Area Research Collective (BARC), a tiny group of SLA sympathizers who pooled a few dollars to print homemade booklets filled with writings of the SLA and other underground groups. She began devoting her spare time to radical textbooks and long political discussions. During house parties, while Steve and others were enjoying the bonhomie, she would sit in a corner and talk politics with her boyfriend, 26-year-old James Kilgore.

Kilgore, who wore a bristling handlebar moustache that belied a mild-mannered, intellectual nature, also was a good friend and housepainting business partner of Steve. As Kathy and Kilgore both became more absorbed by the SLA, Steve was inexorably drawn in.

In the fall of 1974 Kathy helped plan a BARC conference entitled “Eat the Rich, Feed the Poor, SLA Knows the Score.” Only a few people attended. Four months had passed since the L.A. shootout and the indignation had dissipated. But the convention was a kind of homecoming rally for Patty Hearst.

Patty had spent the summer on a Pennsylvania farm with the other two SLA fugitives, Bill and Emily Harris. They had been harbored by Jack Scott, the controversial sports author who had wanted to write a book about the SLA. But the three had split with Scott because of his aversion to violence and, in late September, they returned to California.

Patty and the Harrises had left California after the shootout because they couldn’t find anyone willing to hide them. Standing up for the SLA at a demonstration was one step; risking a police siege by inviting the country’s most wanted fugitives under your roof was an incalculable leap beyond that. The situation had not changed by the fall — except for the emerging boldness of the Soliahs, Kilgore and a few close associates who formed the SLA’s “new team.”

The fugitives decided to set up a base in Sacramento, the California state capital only 90 minutes north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Two of their SLA comrades, Joseph Remiro and Russell Little, were awaiting trial for the SLA assassination of Oakland School Superintendent Marcus Foster and were expecting a change of venue to Sacramento.

With help from some members of the “new team” who knew the Sacramento turf, the Harrises moved into a dingy frame duplex about a mile from the Sacramento courthouse in November 1974. The front porch looked out onto the stark cement buttresses of Interstate 80. But the expressway noise, which sometimes shook the windows, helped prevent eavesdropping by a fellow tenant who lived on the other side of a thin wall dividing the house. Steve Soliah loaned the Harrises his 1962 turquoise Corvair, which they parked in the backyard next to a pile of plywood, broken chairs and other junk. The Harrises left the grass and bushes untrimmed, and the house’s peeling white paint blended into the unkempt neighborhood. Their only renovation was a bronze-plated mail slot in the front door to restrict any snoopy neighbors.

One of their correspondents was Wendy Yoshimura, the 32-year-old fugitive who had met the SLA fugitives through Jack Scott the previous summer. After sharing room and board at the Pennsylvania farmhouse, Wendy had returned to the Bay Area at the same time as Patty and the Harrises. She had been driven across country by 22-year-old Margaret Turcich, a tall brown-haired waitress and close friend of Kathy Soliah. Instead of joining the SLA in Sacramento, Wendy decided to stay in San Francisco with Turcich.

Turcich and Kathy Soliah kept working as waitresses in the Bay Area; Kilgore and Steve Soliah continued to paint houses. And the Soliahs and Kilgore kept their address in Berkeley.

Patty moved to Sacramento with the Harrises but, as another security precaution, took an apartment nearby. She regularly visited the Harris house, pedaling there on a ten-speed bicycle. The Harrises also bought bikes a few months later when Soliah’s battered Corvair broke down and had to be abandoned.

Patty still regarded the Harrises as her family — they were her big brother and sister. For months they had protected and cared for her. But Patty began seeing a lot of Steve Soliah. The two became close friends and lovers. When Patty became depressed or tense, Steve could change her mood. Nothing seemed to upset him. A couple years before, a woman roommate had dumped a stack of dirty dishes in his closet because she felt Steve’s sexism kept him from remembering to clean up the kitchen. Steve had shrugged off the incident without an argument. Since then his awareness of sexual politics had heightened. But he was still as easygoing. Walking with him down a street full of panhandlers was a maddening experience as he took the time to hear almost any story and hand out a few coins.

Since her kidnapping Patty had been living with intense, serious-minded people. Steve’s capacity for humor was a welcome change. He was full of smiles and hugs. He had a full beard and golden hair to his shoulders. Friends called him a big teddy bear. He liked to get outdoors, go jogging or cycling. With him Patty had fun and seemed somehow divorced from the reality of the SLA.

II

Randolph Hearst’s well-bred ability to adapt to his guests and a self-deprecating sense of humor charmed nearly every radical who met him during his search for Patty. “I’ve never put in an honest day’s work in my life,” he liked to joke. “I don’t really know what it’s like out there.” But during the long months of 1974 he called upon all the resources under his command: a newspaper, some considerable political influence and his Hearst inheritance.

In the first weeks after the kidnapping, Winnebagos and TV sound trucks clogged the street outside his Hillsborough mansion. The press had encamped for what they thought would be the duration. Someone at one of the television networks hit on the idea to nail a portable phone on a convenient tree. So the other two networks quickly installed phones on their own trees.

Hearst stayed calm through all this, shaking hands and chatting with anyone who might have word of Patty. He hired three secretaries to answer all letters and phone calls no matter how irrelevant they seemed. Several offers of help came from psychics, mystics, seers and ESP experts. Hearst expressed interest. Soon he was entertaining a host of ripoff artists. One swami set up an altar on the dining room table, using one of Patty’s shoes for inspiration. After a week of unanswered prayer he moved into the San Francisco Hilton where he ran up a $300 liquor bill on Randolph’s tab. Another psychic asked to be thrown into the trunk of a car and driven away in a reconstruction of Patty’s abduction.

Hearst didn’t believe in the hocus-pocus. But he scrutinized the con men with the shrewd assumption that someone among them might be a real SLA informant dressed up like a Mama Crystal Ball to get past the FBI.

Hearst was willing to try almost anything for Patty. He debated one plan that involved hiring an ex-CIA agent to infiltrate the underground. The spy was to contact the SLA and offer an all-expenses-paid trip to Cuba, where they would be safe from the FBI. But Catherine vetoed the idea. She was afraid Patty might become a Communist. Catherine, however, wasn’t around for most of the scheming. The constant tension unnerved her and doctors ordered her to a sickbed.

Hearst’s biggest clout was at the San Francisco Examiner, the leading survivor of the newspapers established by his father. Initially he tried to placate the SLA by printing its long treatises. He also censored stories about Donald DeFreeze’s history as a police informer and ordered one reporter not to investigate the SLA.

Later, another Examiner reporter used an old underworld contact, Mickey Cohen, to look for Patty. Mickey talked to a numbers racketeer in Cleveland who claimed to have seen her. But Mickey dropped out of the chase because, he said, he didn’t want to see Patty end up in prison.

Most of Randolph’s hope, however, was devoted to the world of political radicals. “Radicals may think I’m a reactionary asshole,” he told one, “but at least I’m a reactionary asshole who will talk to radicals.”

Hearst personally phoned the presiding judge at the Wounded Knee trial to obtain permission for defendants Russell Means and Dennis Banks to fly to California. In secret meetings with Hearst, the two Indian leaders agreed to act as intermediaries with the SLA, but only if Patty chose to surrender on her own.

Joanna Harcourt-Smith, the girlfriend of Timothy Leary, approached Hearst with a prospective trade: the imprisoned Leary for the kidnapped Patty. Joanna claimed that 48-year-old Clifford Jefferson, a San Quentin inmate known as Death Row Jeff, could set up the deal. Death Row Jeff was considered a godparent of the SLA. He had introduced Cinque to some of the original SLA members and, according to his own court testimony, had approved the SLA assassination of Marcus Foster.

Randolph quickly sidestepped Leary and Joanna and hired attorney Vincent Hallinan, the 77-year-old hero of the Thirties labor movement and the Fifties anti-McCarthy movement. Hallinan visited Death Row Jeff and for a while the connection seemed promising. Jeff, hoping that Hearst’s intervention might make life behind bars more bearable, agreed to help. But negotiations broke down with no visible result.