Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders

PM Press has published my latest book, Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders, and has arranged for me to take part in their free event on Thursday, April 2, 7 p.m. at the Green Arcade, 1680 Market St. (near Octavia) in San Francisco. I’ll be there by the grace of Skype. Tikkun invited me to contribute some excerpts, and I’m pleased to accept that offer.

Paul Krassner speaking on a pay phone

PM Press recently published "Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials," a book by Paul Krassner, who covered both the Parry Hearst and Dan White cases. Credit: Paul Krassner.

The SLA Leader as Double Agent

In 1975, I covered the trial of heiress Patty Hearst for the Berkeley Barb. She had been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and was forced at gunpoint by her abductors to participate in their robbing a bank. In a taped communiqué, Patty – re-named Tania – spoke directly to her parents. She said, “I want you to tell the people the truth. Tell them how the law-and-order programs are just a means to remove so-called violent  – meaning aware  – individuals from the community in order to facilitate the controlled removal of unneeded labor forces in this country, in the same way that Hitler controlled the removal of the Jews from Germany.”

At the end of the tape, Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze – the African-American leader of the all-white SLA members — came on with a triple death threat, especially to one Colston Westbrook, whom he accused of being “a government agent now working for military intelligence while giving assistance to the FBI.” This communiqué was originally sent to San Francisco radio station KSAN. News director David McQueen checked with a Justice Department source, who confirmed Westbrook’s employment by the CIA.

Conspiracy researcher Mae Brussell traced Westbrook’s activities from 1962, when he was a CIA advisor to the South Korean CIA, through 1969, when he provided logistical support in Vietnam for the CIA’s Phoenix program. His job was the indoctrination of assassination and terrorist cadres. Brussell was an extraordinary researcher. Ironically, while her father, Edgar Magnin, senior rabbi at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, was entertaining the anti-Semitic President Richard Nixon at his Beverly Hills home, Mae was busy revealing Nixon’s rise to power as an incredible conspiracy

After seven years in Asia, Colton Westbrook was brought home in 1970, along with the war, and assigned to run the Black Cultural Association at Vacaville Prison, where he became the control officer for DeFreeze, who had worked as a police informer from 1967 to 1969 for the Public Disorder Intelligence Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.

If DeFreeze was a double agent, then the SLA was a Frankenstein monster, turning against its creator by becoming in reality what had been orchestrated only as a media image. When he snitched on his keepers, he signed the death warrant of the SLA. They were burned alive in a Los Angeles safe-house during a shootout with police. When Cinque’s charred remains were sent to his family in Cleveland, they couldn’t help but notice that he had been decapitated. It was as if the CIA had said, literally, “Bring me the head of Donald DeFreeze!”

The Mysterious FBI Warning

In 1969, Charles Bates was a Special Agent at the Chicago office of the FBI when police killed Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark while they were sleeping. Ex-FBI informer Maria Fischer told the Chicago Daily News that the then-chief of the FBI’s Chicago office, Marlon Johnson, personally asked her to slip a drug to Hampton; she had infiltrated the Black Panther Party at the FBI’s request a month before. The drug was a tasteless, colorless liquid that would put him to sleep. She refused. Hampton was killed a week later. An autopsy showed “a near fatal dose” of secobarbital in his system.

In 1971, Bates was transferred to Washington, D.C. According to Watergate burglar James McCord’s book, A Piece of Tape, on June 21, 1972 (four days after the break-in), White House attorney John Dean checked with acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray as to who was in charge of handling the Watergate investigation. The answer: Charles Bates -– the same FBI official who in 1974 would be in charge of handling the SLA investigation and the search for Patty Hearst. When she was arrested, Bates became instantly ubiquitous on radio and TV, boasting of her capture. Six weeks later, I received a letter by registered mail on Department of Justice stationery

Dear Mr. Krassner:

Subsequent to the search of a residence in connection with the arrest of six members of the Emiliano Zapata Unit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Francisco, has been attempting to contact you to advise you of the following information:

During the above indicated arrest of six individuals of the Emiliano Zapata Unit, an untitled list of names and addresses of individuals was seized. A corroborative source described the above list as an Emiliano Zapata Unit “hit list,” but stated that no action will be taken, since all of those who could carry it out are in custody.

Further, if any of the apprehended individuals should make bail, they would only act upon the “hit list” at the instructions of their leader, who is not and will not be in a position to give such instructions.

The above information is furnished for your personal use and it is requested it be kept confidential. At your discretion, you may desire to contact the local police department responsible for the area of your residence.

Very truly yours,

Charles W. Bates

Special Agent in Charge

But I was more logically a target of the government than of the Emiliano Zapata Unit –- unless, of course, they happened to be the same. Was the right wing of the FBI warning me about the left wing of the FBI? Did the handwriting on the wall read Co-Intelpro Lives? (Co-Intelpro was their Counter-Intelligence Program.) Questions about the authenticity of the Zapata Unit had been raised by its first public statement in August 1975, which included the unprecedented threat of violence against the left.

Jacques Rogiers -– the aboveground courier for the underground NWLF (New World Liberation Front) who delivered their communiqués — told me that the reason I was on the hit list was because I had written that Donald DeFreeze was a police informer. “But that was true,” I said. “It’s a matter of record. Doesn’t that make any difference?” It didn’t.

“If the NWLF asked me to kill you,” Rogiers admitted, “I would.”

 “Jacques,” I replied, “I think this puts a slight damper on our relationship.”

So my 11-year-old daughter Holly and I moved elsewhere. On one hand, there was Mae Brussell, dedicated to documenting the rise of fascism in America. On the other hand, there was Holly, standing on her best friend Pia Hinckle’s front porch, yelling, “Hitler!  Hitler!” That was the name of Pia’s cat, so named because of a square black patch under its nose, just like the mustache on Adolf Hitler’s face.

I asked Holly,

“Do you know who Hitler was?”

“Didn’t he lead the Jews out of Germany?”

“Well, not exactly . . .”

The next book Holly read was The Diary of Anne Frank.

The Double Assassination

In 1979, I covered the trial of ex-cop Dan White for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He had resigned from the Board of Supervisors because he couldn’t support his wife and baby on a salary of $9,600 a year. He obtained a lease for a fast-food franchise at Fisherman’s Wharf, planning to devote himself to working full-time at his new restaurant, The Hot Potato. He felt great relief. However, he had served as the swing vote on the Board, representing downtown real-estate interests and the conservative Police Officers Association. With a promise of financial backing, White changed his mind and told Mayor George Moscone that he wanted his job back.

At first, Moscone said sure, a man has the right to change his mind. But there was opposition to White’s return, led by Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was openly gay. Milk had cut off his ponytail and put on a suit so that he could work within the system, but he refused to hide his sexual preference. He warned the pragmatic Moscone that giving the homophobic White his seat back would be seen as an anti-gay move in the homosexual community, for White had cast the only vote against the gay rights ordinance. Even a mayor who wants to run for re-election has the right to change his mind.

White learned that, and he was reeking with revenge. When his aide, Denise Apcar, picked him up at 10:15 a.m., he didn’t come out the front door as he normally would; he emerged from the garage. He had gone down there to put on his service revolver, a .38 special, which he always kept loaded. He opened a box of extra cartridges, which were packed in rows of five, and he put ten of them, wrapped in a handkerchief so they wouldn’t rattle, into his pocket.

Because of rumors that People’s Temple assassins had been programmed to hit targets back in the U.S., metal detectors were now set up at the front doors of City Hall. When White went up the stairs to the main entrance, he didn’t recognize the security guard monitoring the metal detector, so he went around to the side of the building. He entered through a large basement window and proceeded to the mayor’s office.

After a brief conversation, Dan White shot George Moscone twice in the body, then two more times in the head, execution-style, as he lay on the floor. The Marlboro cigarette in Moscone’s hand would still be burning when the paramedics arrived. After murdering Moscone, White hurriedly walked across a long corridor to the area where the supervisors’ offices were. His name had already been removed from the door of his office, but he still had a key. He went inside and reloaded his gun. Then he walked out, past Supervisor Dianne Feinstein’s office. She called to him, but he didn’t stop.

“I have to do something first,” he told her.

Harvey Milk was in his office, thanking a friend who had just loaned him $3,000. Dan White walked in. “Can I talk to you for a minute, Harvey?” White followed Milk into his inner office. White then fired three shots into Milk’s body, and while Milk was prone on the floor, White fired two more shots into Milk’s head. George Moscone’s body was buried. Harvey Milk’s body was cremated. His ashes were placed in a box, which was wrapped in Doonesbury comic strips, then scattered at sea. The ashes had been mixed with the contents of two packets of grape Kool-Aid, forming a purple patch on the Pacific. Harvey would’ve liked that touch.

Weak Prosecution

Prosecutor Tom Norman, in his opening statement, told the jury that White had reloaded his gun in the mayor’s office, but not according to the transcript of White’s tape-recorded confession:

Q. “And do you know how many shots you fired [at Moscone]?”

A. “Uh, no, I don’t, I don’t, I out of instinct when I — I reloaded the gun, ah — you know, it’s just the training I had, you know.”

Q. “Where did you reload?”

A. “I reloaded in my office when, when I was — I couldn’t out in the hall.”

Which made it slightly less instinctive.  Norman sought to prove that the murders had been premeditated, yet ignored this evidence of premeditation in White’s own confession. If White’s reloading of his gun had been, as he said, “out of instinct,” then he indeed would have reloaded in Moscone’s office. And if it were truly an instinctive act, then he would have reloaded again after killing Milk.

One psychiatrist testified that White must have been mistaken in his recollection of where he reloaded. The evidence on this key question became so muddled that one juror would later recall, “It was a very important issue, but it was never determined where he reloaded — in Moscone’s office or just prior to saying, ‘Harvey, I want to talk with you.’”

And yet, the heart-wrenching confession was contradicted by White’s former aide, Denise Apcar. In his confession, White said that after shooting Moscone, “I was going to go down the stairs, and then I saw Harvey Milk’s aide across the hall . . . and then it struck me about what Harvey had tried to do [oppose White’s reappointment], and I said, ‘Well, I’ll go talk to him.’” But Apcar testified that while she was driving White to City Hall, he said he wanted to talk to both Moscone and Milk.

The Twinkie Defense

In a surprise move, Dan White’s defense team presented a bio-chemical explanation of his behavior, blaming it on compulsive gobbling down of sugar-filled junk-food snacks. This was a purely accidental tactic. Dale Metcalf, an attorney, told me how he happened to be playing chess with Steven Scherr, an associate of Dan White’s attorney.

Metcalf had just read Orthomolecular Nutrition by Abram Hoffer. He questioned Scherr about White’s diet and learned that, while under stress, White would consume candy bars and soft drinks. Metcalf recommended the book to Scherr, suggesting the author as an expert witness. In his book, Hoffer revealed a personal vendetta against doughnuts, and White had once eaten five doughnuts in a row.

During the trial, psychiatrist Martin Blinder stated that, on the night before the murders, while White was “getting depressed about the fact he would not be reappointed, he just sat there in front of the TV set, bingeing on Twinkies.” In my notebook, I scribbled “Twinkie defense,” and wrote about it in my next report for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The San Francisco Chronicle confirmed that I had coined that phrase.

In court, White just sat there in a state of complete control bordering on catatonia, as he listened to an assembly line of psychiatrists tell the jury how out of control he had been. One even testified that, “If not for the aggravating fact of junk food, the homicides might not have taken place.” And so it came to pass that a pair of political assassinations was transmuted into voluntary manslaughter.

In the wake of the Twinkie defense, a representative of the ITT-owned Continental Baking Company asserted that the notion that overdosing on the cream-filled goodies could lead to murderous behavior was “poppycock” and “crap” — apparently two of the artificial ingredients in Twinkies, along with sodium pyrophosphate and yellow dye — while another spokesperson for ITT couldn’t believe “that a rational jury paid serious attention to that issue.”

Nevertheless, some jurors did. One remarked after the trial that “It sounded like Dan White had hypoglycemia.” Doug Schmidt’s closing argument became almost an apologetic parody of his own defense. He told the jury that White did not have to be “slobbering at the mouth” to be subject to diminished capacity. Nor, he said, was this simply a case of “Eat a Twinkie and go crazy.”

Disparate Sentencing

Patty Hearst was sentenced to 35 years for armed robbery, but that was reduced to seven years, and after serving 23 months in prison, her sentence was commuted by then-President Jimmy Carter. Whereas, Dan White had not been kidnapped, kept hostage and brainwashed, yet he wasn’t really held responsible for assassinating two government officials –- voluntarily, after blatant premeditation — and he was sentenced to seven years.

In January 1984, White was released from prison. He had served a little more than five years for assassinating Moscone and Milk. The estimated shelf life of a Twinkie is seven years. That’s two years longer than White spent behind bars. When he was released, that Twinkie in his cupboard was still edible. But maybe, instead of eating it, he would have it bronzed. In October 1985, White committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his car in the garage.

He taped a note to the windshield, reading: “I’m sorry for all the pain and trouble I’ve caused.” That included me. In the post-verdict riot at City Hall, I got caught by cops who were running amuck in an orgy of indiscriminate sadism, swinging their clubs wildly and screaming profanely hateful homophobic epithets. Triggered by that beating, now, three-and-a-half decades later, I need a walker just to get from one room to another, so I don’t travel anywhere anymore. I go to the local gym three times a week, and use the treadmill, but they won’t let me put my walker on it.

Paul Krassner at a microphone.

Credit: Paul Krassner

 

Paul Krassner published The Realist (1958-2001), co-founded the Youth International Party (Yippies), and was inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame. He’s received awards for his satire (Playboy) and one-person show (the LA Weekly) as well as the ACLU Upton Sinclair and PEN Lifetime Achievement Awards.
 
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