Traffic was surprisingly light as I drove across a bay bridge to Marin County’s San Quentin State Prison on the sunny afternoon of February 11. While not on my Searching for Patty Hearst author tour schedule, the prison hobby shop showroom just outside the front gate was my intermediate stop enroute to Book Passage. 

Fifty years after the famous Symbionese Liberation Army Hearst kidnapping, I was unexpectedly fact checking a breaking news story. I had done my interviews with first-hand sources, reviewed an affidavit from February 1974, crossed checked and double checked untold stories that had never appeared in any of the many books about the case. 

As I photographed the hobby shop, an amusing and well-armed guard was waving in ministers on their way to church services.

“Wish I could let you into our museum,” she said pointing to the closed history center across the way. “But it was shut down for Covid. I don’t know if they will ever reopen it.”

Searching for missing history is a big part of my life and fortunately that hobby shop was in the public domain. 

I had left Michigan three weeks earlier intending to bring bookstore and library audiences my golden anniversary insights of this famous case. After all, Patty Hearst was the only kidnapping victim in American criminal history to go to jail for bank robbery. 

I was the perfect candidate for appearances and interviews, as well as articles from the Washington Post to Nu?Detroit. No doubt about it — this case was America’s Rorschach test.

For decades, I’ve had a ringside seat to the kidnapping and its memorable aftermath as a journalist and author. From the day the 19-year-old art student was taken from her Berkeley townhouse, I have never stopped searching for the truth.

After all, I was the only author who had lived with Patty Hearst’s fiancé Steve Weed,who was badly beaten during the kidnapping.

After I reached page 275 on our book project, he canceled our nearly finished work in progress (and moved out of my house). Later I went to the opening day of Patty’s bank robbery trial and interviewed the coroner who autopsied the six SLA members who died in a firefight with the Los Angeles Police. 

Later I did the first long interview with Patty’s kidnapper Bill Harris. My grandmother’s brother-in-law, Mark Brandler, presided over a trial where Patty was charged with joining the kidnapping of a high school student. She pled no contest. This prison stopover on my way to Book Passage was a step back in time to my early reporting days on her three California bank robberies, an Inglewood shootout and that kinder, gentler kidnapping of a high school student. She only served 22 months in jail for one of these crimes, the San Francisco bank robbery.

With the statute of limitations well behind them, Hearst case eyewitnesses and other insiders were now eager to shed new light on the case. Some surprised me at my events stretching from Los Angeles to Sacramento. Others were in touch via phone, text and email. 

Their leads led to deep dives that turned up documentary evidence as well as breadcrumb trails leading to insiders. Among them was a woman who was an eyewitness to the kidnapping getaway at the Hearst’s Berkeley townhouse.

On the road, I learned about the FBI’s failure to track down one of her hideouts on the Hearst ranch at San Simeon. In the Sacramento area, I discovered that Patty’s dad Randy had written a big check to help settle a potential civil action against her. This suit was threatened by the family of a woman who died during a bank robbery Hearst helped organize. Patty rode “shotgun” on the getaway. 

Now, on the basis of irrefutable evidence, I was nailing down an incredible story of a secret midnight meeting at the venerable San Quentin hobby shop. 

This narrative centered on a potential deal with two inmates, Joe Remiro and Russ Little, eager to help free Patty from her Symbionese Liberation Army captors in exchange for 15 minutes of national television time. All the prisoners wanted was a public chance to plead for better prison treatment and a fair trial. This deal, orchestrated by the director of the California Department of Corrections, was shot down by two judges. 

You can read about these stories, along with my new interview with Patty’s kidnapper Bill Harris and much more here.

50 years later, Patty Hearst is still making news - Local News Matters
In the first of two parts, this Local News Matters/Bay City News special report follows the January 2024 release of Roger Rapoport’s novel “Searching for
‘The spontaneous act of a true comrade’: Patty Hearst’s SLA kidnapper Bill Harris on the day she may have saved his life - Local News Matters
In the second of two parts, this Local News Matters/Bay City News special report follows the January 2024 release of Roger Rapoport’s novel “Searching for

These surprising new details were a bonus for the sophisticated audiences on my tour. There was just one little problem at Book Passage: The Lions.

Their loss a week earlier to the 49ers — many of the Californians I met were rooting for Detroit — meant that on February 11, I was Super Bowl counterprogramming. Undaunted by stiff competition including endless Super Bowl parties around her, the store’s intrepid Cheryl Bronstein, put up a signboard: “Bet On This Event” and added this note on a placard:

“Thanks for Not Telling Us the Score. We are Watching Later.”

Turns out true crime beats out football in some places. Like other talks from Pasadena to Sacramento, there were many questions about Patty Hearst’s dilemma. Her decision to risk her life by joining the SLA was triggered by the decision of her father, chair of the multibillion dollar Hearst Corporation, to not ransom her for what amounted to petty cash.

Although Patty Hearst and her extended family were not available for comment, kidnapper Bill Harris showed up near the end of a Green Apple bookstore event in San Francisco with his dog Frisco. He was quickly recognized by the husband of an attorney he once worked for. Turns out Bill babysat their children.

Crossing the thin line between “fact” and “fiction,” I was reminded how hard it was to find a reliable narrator when a kidnapped media heiress starts robbing banks. Even her veteran legal team had a hard time figuring out how to defend. 

Life was even harder for her fiancé Steve Weed who lived in my house for months as we wrote a book on their three year love story. It all began when she was his 16 year-old private school student. 

After I finished 275 pages, Weed and I broke up. He rewrote our manuscript into a book that left out some of the details of his marijuana dealing at Princeton (“Get Your Weed From Weed’) and Patty’s attacks on her racist, N-word spewing mother.

Weed’s own self-redacted book was published three days before his beloved went to trial for bank robbery. She was convicted, sentenced to seven years in jail and paroled after serving 22 months thanks to President Jimmy Carter’s commutation. She dismissed what Weed told me as lies and has never spoken to him again. 

A much wider debate between other key figures in the case, the prosecution and the defense, journalists and authors inevitably widened the controversy. Patty herself ran into the ultimate test when director Paul Schrader said the ending to a film based on her 400-page nonfiction book didn’t work. Convinced audiences wouldn’t buy her ending, he made up one of his own. Patty tried and failed to talk Schader out of this imaginary scene with her father and has to accept his made up “truth.”

The flood of misinformation, half truths, outright lies and self serving analysis, is often seen as disinformation. Another way to appreciate the problem is to understand that stress distorts memory.

It’s not uncommon for two people in the same room at the same time to present conflicting stories. In the case of Patty’s early 1974 captivity with the SLA, nine people cooped up in a 1,200 square foot safe house for more than 50 days had many conflicting stories.

It’s been a pleasure speaking about this challenge during my Searching For Patty Hearst tour. By offering all the key players in this true crime story a chance to tell their own version of events readers have a chance to do their own due diligence and come to their own conclusions about her guilt or innocence. 

I have read many book-length accounts on this case and have yet to find one that fully stands the test of history. As new facts emerge it’s impossible to keep up with the moving target called the truth. New information supersedes old news. 

Particularly today, when so many self-proclaimed oracles are out there insisting that they alone can solve the world’s problems, and, by inference your own, all of us need to study differing points of view. 

As established facts were knocked down by informants, I was able to cross check, I came across a cautionary tale that makes my point. To my complete amazement I discovered that one of the most widely accepted facts, that one SLA member Joseph Remiro, remained in prison, was dead wrong.

In fact, he was released from prison in 2018. Check this out on the web and you will find that even though this error was corrected by me a month ago, the usual reliable sources are dead wrong. 

This is why we need agile publications (like Nu?Detroit) where writers are constantly cross checking and encouraging you to do your own research. Never forget that when someone tells you that they alone have all the facts, chances are they don’t know what they are talking about.

Roger Rapoport’s book Searching for Patty Hearst (Lexographic) is available at bookstores, online and from You can reach him at