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1974: Hearst 'ransom' provokes violence
There have been near-riots in Los Angeles as the food distribution demanded as a ransom for kidnapped newspaper heiress, Patty Hearst, turned into farce.

The $2 million (870,000) food handout has been called the most bizarre ransom ever paid, and was in response to demands from Miss Hearst's kidnappers, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

Distribution points were set up in slum areas throughout Los Angeles and San Francisco at the request of Randolph Hearst, Miss Hearst's father and the son of flamboyant tycoon William Randolph Hearst

I just value human life a little higher than a bag of groceries
Los Angeles resident
Long queues formed as up to 1,000 people gathered to collect bags containing turkey, bread, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

The handouts were organised through charitable organisations, but in at least two of the food banks, fighting broke out and there were clashes with the organisers and police.

In Oakland, California, the 5,000-strong crowd grew angry when organisers threw food from a window to them as they waited below.

One policeman was stabbed and one man in the crowd was knocked unconscious as people began throwing cans of food back again.

Many of those who were meant to benefit turned down the food aid, saying they were horrified at the SLA's tactics.

"I'm not a wealthy person, but if I needed some food I wouldn't accept that food," said one woman. "That's a lousy way to get food, you know, at the expense of other people's happiness."

"I wouldn't accept it," said another resident of one of the poorer areas of Los Angeles. "I just value human life a little higher than a bag of groceries."

The SLA's demand for the handouts came accompanied by a taped appeal from Patricia Hearst herself earlier this month.

Miss Hearst has been held captive for over two weeks by the shadowy underground group.

In the tape, she sobbed and told her parents her captors were "perfectly willing to die for what they do".

She begged, "I want to get out of here, but the only way is if you do what they say and do it quickly."

The organisation of today's food distribution, however, was dismissed by another tape recording yesterday - the fourth sent by the SLA.

In the tape, which contained a short recording of Miss Hearst's voice, a member of the gang calling himself Cinque described Mr Hearst's efforts as "a few crumbs".

He demanded a further $4m (2.6m) in food handouts within one week.

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The SLA
The SLA sent a series of taped ransom demands to Randolph Hearst

Images from the food distribution fiasco


In Context
Randolph Hearst agreed to pay the extra $4m - but only once his daughter was released.

While negotiations over the ransom continued, the SLA was apparently brainwashing Patty Hearst into accepting their ideas.

Finally, in April 1974 she was caught on closed circuit television helping them to rob a bank.

She went on the run, but was caught by the FBI. After a sensational trial, she was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, but was released after three years. She was pardoned in January 2001 by President Clinton.

Hearst married her police bodyguard, Bernard Shaw, and now lives in Connecticut with two daughters.

Six of the SLA's 11 members died two months after the kidnapping in a police shootout. Among them was leader Donald "Cinque" DeFreeze.

The remaining five members lived quietly under assumed names for over 20 years, until the FBI tracked them down.

The last SLA fugitive, James Kilgore, was arrested in Cape Town in South Africa in 2002. All are now in jail.

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