ABDUCTION: FICTION BEFORE FACT
(Introduction to the book by Al Ellenberg)
Grove Press, Inc. - paperback, 1974
Front cover (photo)
"Someone had kidnapped her, and kidnapping always had a reason, no matter how twisted it might be..."
Thus begins a novel, published in 1972, which could have served as the scenario for the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst the night of February 4, 1974. It is an interracial, ideological scenario for sexual terror that abounds in parallels which even the FBI found startling enough to investigate. Whether coincidence or not, the gnawing similarities between the fiction and the actuality of America's first political kidnapping are urgent enough to command the attention of every reader who has followed the headlines in the nation's press. Here is the full, amazing story--together with the text of the prophetic novel of what may turn out to be the kidnapping of the century.
* * * * * INTRODUCTION
Sometime in 1972, a furtive publishing outfit based in California issued a shabbily produced paperback novel entitled Black Abductor. The cover crudely depicted two men--one a ruggedly handsome, Afroed black, the other a sandy-thatched white--roughly handling the splayed, nude form of a young brunette in transports of ecstasy or terror, or both.
The 188-page novel was true to its cover. Black Abductor could be summarized as an interracial sexual scenario for ideological terror. The terms are interchangeable; it would be just as apt to describe the narrative as an interracial ideological scenario for sexual terror. Ideology, sexuality, and terror are the linchpins of Black Abductor.
By early April, 1974, these same words had been brought to bear in public speculation about another abduction, this one as real as urgent headlines and newscasts: the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst. The plot of the fictional abduction defies credibility; so, too, do the known developments in the case of Patricia Hearst. Both the fictional and the factual versions read like the daydream ramblings of a frustrated campus--or ghetto--revolutionary.
When you place the fictional precursor against the real-life drama, though, the laws of probability become a statistician's nightmare. One could imagine a computer reduced to sputters by the following match-ups:
The fictional kidnap victim is named Patricia. So too is the real victim. The fictional victim is the daughter of a prominent, wealthy, politically conservative figure. Randolph A. Hearst is the prominent, wealthy chairman of the Hearst Corp. and editor of the conservative San Francisco Examiner.
The fictional Patricia is a junior at Cordell University, a campus similar in description and ambiance to the University of California at Berkeley, where Patricia Hearst is enrolled as an art student.
Both kidnappings take place at night, not far from the campus.
In both abductions, the victim is dragged away half-naked.
Both Patricias are with boyfriends when seized, and both boyfriends survive bad beatings.
Both boyfriends are initially regarded as suspects, but later cleared.
The abductors are a multiracial, ragtag clutch of ideologists, of both sexes, led by an embittered young black man.
Fictional and actual abductors use the mails to communicate with the anguished parents.
Fictional and actual abductors mail Polaroid pictures of their victims along with their messages.
The fictional abduction is described as the United States' "first political kidnapping." That description has frequently been employed to describe the Hearst case.
Both the fictional and the real-life abductors model themselves after Latin American terrorists who have used kidnapping as a revolutionary technique.
The fictional terrorist band includes a woman who is more interested in sex with women than with men. At least two women reputed to be members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the nonfictional guerrillas, are known to have lived together as lovers.
The fictional Patricia, depicted as a political ingenue with fairly conventional sexual experiences, joins the revolutionary cause after submitting--with increasing willingness--to a variety of sexual impositions at the hands of her captors. According to taped communiqués from Patty Hearst and the SLA, her mildly political consciousness has been transformed into revolutionary activism.
There are, of course, ample divergences--in tone, detail, and plot--between Black Abductor and what we know about the abduction of Patty Hearst. But the similarities challenged probability sufficiently to have prodded the FBI into obtaining a copy of the novel after the parallels were listed in a New York Post story on February 15, 1974. The similarities between the book and the case "kind of shake you up," acknowledged Charles Bates, the special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco office.
But the dissimilarities are important if for no other reason than the possibility that Black Abductor might possibly provide an insight into the self-legitimizing mental processes of the contemporary urban revolutionary in the United States. Here, in outline, is a look at both scenarios, the fictional and the real.
First, Black Abductor:
Patricia Prescott, known as Trish, daughter of Sen. Allison Truebridge Prescott, an ultra-conservative, extremely wealthy law-and-order advocate, is dragged late at night from a parked car not far from Cordell University. She is drunk and disheveled after a strenuous sexual bout with her boyfriend, a Cordell University quarterback, Abe Petersen. Petersen is beaten into unconsciousness, Trish is chloroformed.
Her abductors, numbering four in total, are a campus-based, independent terrorist cell intent on ransoming Trish to free Bolivar Gunter, a Panther-style revolutionary being held for the murder of a National Guardsman. The kidnappers are led by Dorian Palmer, a black campus firebrand endowed with Lincolnesque bearing and athletic prowess. The other cell members are Dallas Wade, a poor white-trash type; Jacob Horowitz, the effeminate dialectician of the group; and Angela Casavota, dark-haired, light-skinned, devoted to Palmer and to sex with women.
The kidnappers hold Trish in an abandoned mansion, less than a mile away from her parents' home. ''Her kidnappers might reason that no one would think of looking for her so nearby," Trish, bound hand and foot, despairingly ponders, "and they could have been influenced by the relative ease of communication that such a hiding place could afford."
The gang has taken Polaroid shots of the nude and unconscious captive, which they have sent with their initial communication: "Holding Senator Prescott's daughter. Pics verify. Will not ask for money. Will communicate."
The abductors follow this note up with a second one, accompanied by more Polaroid snapshots showing Trish in ecstasy under the orally sexual ministrations of Horowitz, whose face has been blacked out. The second message reads: "Prescott's daughter alive and active. Can stay that way only if Bolivar Gunter released and given safe passage to Algeria. Expect early decision."
In a characteristic moment of reflection, Palmer muses about the oppressive social "system" he is dedicated to overthrowing, and about kidnapping as a device for achieving his goal:
There was no way to modify such a complex machine. You just had to break it down and replace it with a new, streamlined one. That was what the revolution was all about. And using the Prescott girl to smash Gunter's trial was part of that. These bastards in South America had come up with one of the best revolutionary weapons yet. It was impossible to understand why the Prescott thing was the first use of the technique in the U.S. It wouldn't be the last....
The establishment would overreact, like Trudeau had.... When the smoke cleared, there'd be a new system, one where the greedy bastards with their investments and their strangleholds on the lower-class debtors wouldn't have the system doing their dirty work for them....
And they'd picked a type in Trish Prescott. She was as naive and conventional as they came. She was WASP inhibitions personified. There was going to be time to kill while the establishment was running in circles, before they made up their minds that they were going to have to give in. Maybe it would be amusing to give this dumb broad an education. It might be fun to see her wake up to the fact that sex was like everything else in life--that it took different switches to turn on different people. Or maybe that everyone has switches that don't get used much.
The original plan called for killing their hostage after they had secured the release of Gunter. But Trish's sexual/ideological education is so successful, she literally becomes a member of the tiny guerrilla family. "Shit, you act like you're a house guest, instead of a hostage. How come?" asks Angie after the two women and the black leader have consummated a ménage a trois athletically worthy of finely conditioned acrobats.
"Something happened," Trish responds. "I found out it was fun to do things different.... I'll never be able to go back to where I was. People use the system to hide behind, so that they won't have to care."
"Christ, Trish!" Angie marvels, "You're sure as hell one of us!''
There is another, strategic consideration behind sparing their hostage's life: the credibility of kidnapping as a revolutionary technique. "A guy had to be sure he had all the angles covered," Palmer reasons, "especially if he was in the top echelons of a revolutionary movement. If he killed Trish after Gunter was freed, the establishment would have a powerful excuse for turning down the next hostage deal. They could say that the hostage was going to get it anyhow and what was the use of giving in when it would do no good. No, he couldn't show his co-leaders a shiny new weapon and then destroy all the ammunition. Trish would have to get out of this healthy and kicking."
Instead of Trish dying, two members of the original kidnapping band meet violent ends. Horowitz is gunned down by police after he panics on the street, and Wade, who turns informer, is knifed to death by a revolutionary sympathizer a block from a police station. The novel ends on a note of primitive sexual and revolutionary romanticism. The "Establishment" has capitulated, freeing Gunter and sending him on his way to Algeria, "where the Panthers have work for him." Trish, a successful product of Palmer's "soul-wrecking" indoctrinational methods, helps her black abductor and Angie escape, while keeping the revolutionary faith under a guise of WASP establishment respectability.
In fact, Trish's conversion to seeing and doing "things different" is so complete, she is able to overcome her deep-seated sexual inhibitions and plunge into a guilt-free incestuous liasion with her brother, Will, who, it turns out, has been a revolutionary all along.
The drama of Patricia Hearst's kidnapping began the night of February 4, 1974, when two black men and a white woman dragged the nineteen-year-old granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst screaming from the duplex Berkeley apartment she shared with her fiancé, Steven Weed, twenty-six. Weed had been beaten over the head with wine bottles.
Three days later, Patricia's parents received their first contact from the Symbionese Liberation Army through a letter sent to radio station KPFA. The message had the form and tone of a military communiqué, and described Patricia Hearst as a "prisoner of war,'' and promised "further communications."
On February 12, Randolph Hearst received another SLA communiqué demanding seventy dollars worth of food for every needy person in California, calculated at four hundred million dollars. There was also Patty's voice on the first of the tapes the Hearsts were to receive. ''I just hope you'll do what they Say, Daddy, and do it quickly," Patricia urged her father in a drained, occasionally faltering monotone.
Two days later, SLA leader "Cinque" was identified as Donald David DeFreeze, thirty, the first of eight children of a Cleveland ghetto family. DeFreeze had a long police record for weapons-related crimes. A prison psychological report described DeFreeze as "an emotionally confused and conflicted young man with deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy. His fascination with firearms and explosives makes him dangerous." Late in 1973, DeFreeze was inexplicably given one of the few jobs in Soledad prison in an unguarded, unfenced area, and he simply walked away.
Also named as SLA members were Thero Wheeler, who had served time with DeFreeze in Vacaville prison, and Nancy Ling Perry, who was once a Barry Goldwater campaigner. By 1973, after a broken marriage to a black piano player, she was working as a topless blackjack dealer and selling bottled sodas from an outdoor stand.
The food distribution program, which had been whittled down to a more realistic two million dollars, began amidst near-riots on February 22. Fifteen days later, the second tape arrived, in which Patty blames her parents for shortchanging the poor with only eight dollars' worth of food instead of the seventy dollars' worth originally demanded. "I don't believe you're doing everything you can, everything in your power. You said it was out of your hands; what you should have said was that you wash your hands of it." In a hint of things to come, Patty also says that she has been armed with a ''12-gauge riot shotgun, and I have been receiving instructions on how to use it. While I have no access to ammunition, in the event of attack by the FBI I have been told I will be given an issue of cyanide buckshot in order to protect myself, because it is the federation's opinion and my own from observation that, if the FBI does rush in, then they will be doing it against the wishes of my family and in total disregard for my safety.
"In fact, they will be doing it to murder me."
On March 26, in an act of desperation, Randolph Hearst, with aid from the Hearst Corp., put an additional four million dollars in escrow to finance a food giveaway program if his daughter is released unharmed by May 3. The maneuver seemed to work: on April 2, in a message tucked into a bunch of roses, the SLA hinted it would release their hostage within seventy-two hours.
The euphoria of the Hearsts was crushed within a day. In a taped diatribe against her parents and the corporate state, Patricia announced that she has joined the revolutionaries. "I have been given the name Tania after a comrade who fought alongside Che in Bolivia for the people of Bolivia. I embrace the name with the determination to continue fighting with her spirit. There is no victory in the half-assed attempts at revolution. I know Tania dedicated her life to the people, fighting with total dedication and an intense desire to learn which I will continue in the oppressed Amercian people's revolution. All colors of string in the web of humanity yearn for freedom."
Accompanying the tape was a Polaroid picture of Patty in her new persona: military khakis, revolutionary-style beret, a machine gun slung from her neck. Predictably, the snapshot became an instant poster and, within days, appeared on the Berkeley bulletin board with the fond salute, "We Love You Tania."
The SLA impressarios of guerrilla theater had at least one more stanza with which to confound both the public and the law. On the morning of April 15, the automatic camera in the Hibernia Bank branch in San Francisco's Sunset district captured with chilling clarity the movements and faces of five heavily armed robbers--a black man and four women. The man, in slouch hat, leather coat, and scruffy beard, was Donald DeFreeze. One of the four women, with an automatic rifle slung beneath her knee-length coat, was Patricia Hearst. While DeFreeze fired covering rounds which wounded two men, the robbers fled in military formation with $10,960. The most vivid impression they left behind, for bank guard Edward E. Shea, was Tania shouting, "Keep down, or we'll shoot your motherfucking heads off."
For Randolph Hearst, it was an image almost beyond his ability to absorb. "It's one of the most vicious things I've ever seen. Sixty days ago, she was a lovely child. And now, there's a picture of her in a bank with a gun in her hand."
The remorselessly clicking bank cameras had also, authorities claimed, captured two other members of this happenstance coagulation of revolutionaries. One was Camilla Hall, twenty-nine, the social worker daughter of a Lutheran minister, described in the press as a "suggestible" artistic romantic; the other was Patricia Soltysik, twenty-four, a one-time Berkeley resident (like her lover, Camilla Hall), reputedly one of the SLA's key ideologues.
There are suggestions that the SLA has been as effective in its own indoctrination of Patty Hearst as has Trish Prescott's prototypical abductor. Residents and storekeepers in downtown San Francisco have reportedly confided that they have seen Patricia Hearst shopping unaccompanied in the neighborhood prior to the bank robbery. But there is countervailing testimony, particularly by those few victims of terroristic kidnappings who have survived their ordeal.
"The only thing I'm sure of is this," affirms Melvyn Zahn, a suburban Chicago executive kidnapped in the summer of 1973 and held captive for two days before he managed to escape even while one-and-a-half-million-dollar ransom was being prepared. "I would have done whatever my captors wanted me to do. When you're in a situation where your life is at stake, there really is no choice. You do what you're told to do, to save your own neck. Nothing else matters.
And there are suggestions that the kidnapping was, in fact, a staged piece of politic theater with the victim herself a willing performer. George V. Higgins, a novelist and former assistant U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts, doesn't think it was a kidnapping. He offers as a fragment of evidential support for his hunch the use of a credit card and driver's license by the SLA to substantiate their custody of Patty Hearst. Postulates Higgins: "We are thus confronted with two possibilities: either Miss Hearst habitually carried her wallet and identification in her bathrobe, or else her abductors, smashing glass doors, firing rifles, hurting Miss Hearst blindfolded into the trunk of a car to carry her off, paused in the midst of beating up her fiancé either to grab her purse, or let her go get it."
Doubts abound, and there's scant--if any--illumination to be found in even a speculative exploration of Black Abductor. The differences are as marked as the parallels.
For one, the comparatively feeble band that abducted Trish Prescott was pathetically defenseless; considering their chosen stance against the entire law enforcement establishment of the country. The only weapon of any kind in Dorian Palmer's little army was a handgun carried by the hapless Horowitz. Compare this to the known arsenal of the SLA.
There is barely a suggestion of the SLA's giveaway food program, unless you include Palmer's self-derisive description of his band as "Robin Hoods, maybe, because we do what we say we're going to."
There's nothing at all to be made of Black Abductor's incest theme; Patricia Hearst has no brothers.
For a while, there was speculation that the SLA's goal, in exchange for Patty, was the liberation of army members Russell Little and Joseph Remiro, who were awaiting trial for the murder of Oakland's liberal black school superintendent Marcus Foster, a proclaimed SLA victim. This would have provided a fairly neat parallel to Palmer's obsession with the liberation of Bolivar Gunter. But the SLA never distinctly moved in that direction, despite Patty's insistence in her taped messages that Little and Remiro were as guiltless as herself.
There are no daring bank robberies in Black Abductor, and no public proclamations by Trish of her new-found revolutionary fervor.
But the gnawing, categorical similarities between fiction and actuality remain to be confronted. There are three possibilities: coincidence, imitation, intention.
Coincidence. Possible, particularly if you subscribe to the sociological-literary persuasion that a society's psychic realities are "in the air." The massacre at Kent State in the spring of 1970 was still a running sore in 1972, just as it is in 1974. The conception of guardsmen firing into a host of students, of martial law cracking down on campus communities, of university radicalism galvanizing the nation, was not without credibility. The nation had heard its President describe student activists as "bums." At the same time, the image of the urban guerrilla had become romantically vogueish, celebrated in publications and posters on campuses across the country. That this consciousness should find expression in pornography is not all that surprising. Steven Marcus, in The Other Victorians, has demonstrated the correspondences between the pornographic imagination and social realities.
Imitation. A more convincing possibility in view of the SLA's hypothesized literary leanings. It is likely, for instance, that the Symbionese tag was inspired by Sam Greenlee's mention of "symbiology" in his 1959 novel about an urban commando unit, The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Greenlee derived his word from "symbiosis," a biological term for dissimilar organisms living together in a mutually beneficial relationship.
And columnist Jack Anderson reports that the SLA is believed to have followed a Maoist text which "suggests that the kidnap victims should be ransomed to feed the poor." Black Abductor could possibly have provided the inspiration and rough scenario for the SLA's kidnap operation.
Intention. A mind-boggling and very unlikely prospect. It would imply that the person or persons involved in the authorship of Black Abductor had selected, in 1972, their plans, running the risk of exposure. Only the author(s) can resolve this question, with possibly an assist from the publisher.
Reporters for the New York Post made elaborate efforts to track down both the publisher and author of Black Abductor, and ran into a dead end. The only address given for Regency Publishing Co. is a San Diego Post Office Box--20756. The U.S. Postal Service said that Regency had moved the box to Burbank in February, 1972. A spokesman for the San Diego Police Department's vice squad said Regency had specialized in adult sex books and magazines, distributing them through the San Diego News Service. Both Regency and the distributor have since vanished.
According to Burbank postal officials, Regency still leases P.O. Box 6729 through a Rita Williams Loob. She is not listed in the telephone directory, and she has not responded to attempts by reporters to make contact with her.
Also a mystery is the identity of the man behind the pseudonym of Harrison James. The Post did locate one writer of erotic material in California who acknowledged that he wrote under the pseudonym of Harrison James. He denied that he was the author of Black Abductor.