Skip to Main Content

True Crime Book Club - Past Titles: Feb. 2024

Trigger Warning: Take a look through our previous titles from our True Crime Book Club.

"American Heiress" by Jeffrey Toobin

  1. Manipulation and Stockholm Syndrome:

    • How did Patricia Hearst's experiences with the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) reflect the dynamics of manipulation and Stockholm Syndrome?
    • In what ways did the SLA exploit Hearst's vulnerability, and how did this influence public perception of her actions?
  2. Media Influence:

    • Discuss the role of the media in shaping the narrative surrounding Patty Hearst's kidnapping and trial.
    • How did media coverage impact the public's perception of Hearst and the SLA?
  3. Legal and Ethical Questions:

    • Explore the legal and ethical dilemmas raised during the trial of Patty Hearst. Were there moments where you questioned the fairness of the legal proceedings?
    • How did the defense and prosecution handle the complexities of the case, and what impact did it have on the outcome?
  4. Social and Political Climate:

    • How did the social and political climate of the 1970s contribute to the story of Patty Hearst and the SLA?
    • In what ways did the political context influence public opinion about the radical groups of that time?
  5. Identity and Transformation:

    • Analyze Patty Hearst's transformation during her time with the SLA. How did her identity change, and to what extent was this a survival mechanism?
    • What challenges did Hearst face in reclaiming her identity after her release?
  6. Impact on the Hearst Family:

    • Explore the impact of Patty Hearst's kidnapping on her family, particularly the Hearst media empire. How did they respond to the crisis, and how did it affect their public image?
  7. Legal Defense Strategies:

    • Evaluate the defense strategies employed during Patty Hearst's trial. Were they effective in presenting her as a victim of circumstances?
    • How did the legal team navigate the complexities of Patty Hearst's involvement with the SLA?
  8. Public Perception and Sympathy:

    • Discuss the public's perception of Patty Hearst during and after her trial. Did public sympathy shift over time, and if so, why?
    • How did the case contribute to discussions about crime, punishment, and the concept of coercion in legal contexts?
  9. Legacy and Reflection:

    • Consider the long-term impact of the Patty Hearst case on the criminal justice system, media coverage of high-profile trials, and discussions about radicalization.
  10. Author's Perspective:

    • Reflect on Jeffrey Toobin's approach to telling this true crime story. How did his background as a journalist and legal analyst shape the narrative, and did it influence your understanding of the events?

Early Life: Patty Hearst was born into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the United States. Her grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, was a media magnate who owned the Hearst Corporation, a vast media empire. Patty grew up in a privileged environment, attending private schools and living a life of luxury.

Kidnapping by the SLA: On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by the SLA, a left-wing revolutionary group. The group demanded that the Hearst family distribute millions of dollars' worth of food to the poor in exchange for Patty's release. During her time in captivity, Patty underwent a radical transformation, adopting the name "Tania" and appearing in propaganda videos supporting the SLA's cause.

Criminal Involvement: In April 1974, Patty Hearst was caught on surveillance video participating in an armed bank robbery with members of the SLA. This event marked a significant turn in the case, as it raised questions about whether Hearst had willingly joined her captors or if she was acting under duress.

Capture and Trial: In September 1975, Patty Hearst was captured by the FBI. During her trial, she claimed that she had been brainwashed and coerced into participating in criminal activities by the SLA. Despite her defense's argument, she was convicted of bank robbery and using a firearm during a felony. She was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Imprisonment and Commutation: Patty Hearst served approximately 22 months of her sentence before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence in 1979. She was released from prison on February 1, 1979. Later, President Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon on January 20, 2001.

Post-Imprisonment Life: After her release, Patty Hearst returned to private life. She has been involved in various philanthropic activities and has worked as an actress. She married Bernard Shaw, a former police officer and her former bodyguard, in 1979. They have two children together.

Patty Hearst's case remains a complex and controversial chapter in American legal history, raising questions about coercion, identity, and the impact of trauma on an individual's actions. The circumstances surrounding her involvement with the SLA continue to be a subject of debate and analysis.

Why Did Patty Hearst Side With her Kidnappers? - Historic Mysteries

Early Life: Jeffrey Toobin was born on May 21, 1960, in New York City, USA. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American History and Literature. Toobin then attended Harvard Law School, where he earned his Juris Doctor degree in 1986.

Legal Career: After completing law school, Toobin embarked on a legal career. He worked as an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh during the Iran-Contra affair investigation. This experience provided him with insights into high-profile legal cases.

Journalism and Writing: Jeffrey Toobin transitioned to journalism and became a prominent legal analyst and commentator. He joined The New Yorker as a staff writer and has contributed numerous articles on legal issues and profiles of figures in the legal and political arenas.

Toobin's writing also extends to books, where he has authored several critically acclaimed works. One of his notable books is "The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson," which delves into the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Another well-known work is "American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst," which explores the Patty Hearst kidnapping case.

Television Appearances: Toobin has been a familiar face on television, providing legal analysis on various news programs. He became a senior legal analyst for CNN and was a regular contributor to the network. His insights and commentary covered a wide range of legal and political topics.

Controversy: It's important to note that Jeffrey Toobin faced controversy in 2020 when he was suspended from The New Yorker and took a leave of absence from CNN after an incident during a Zoom call. He later apologized for the incident.

Jeffrey Toobin

American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson (writer)

O.J. Made in America (self)

Get Me Roger Stone (writer)

Patty Hearst

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst

The Ordeal of Patty Hearst

Cecil B. Demented

American Woman




Westwood Public Library

Main Library

660 High Street
Westwood, MA 02090
Email Main Library

Islington Branch

273 Washington Street
Westwood, MA 02090
Email Branch Library