Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mickey Cohen

Mickey and the SLA

Kidnapped Patricia Hearst with SLA logo in background (CORBIS)
Kidnapped Patricia Hearst
with SLA logo in background
Mickeys relationship with the Hearst family put the aging gangster back in the limelight for a final time after heiress Patricia Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a group of American terrorists who viewed successful capitalists as the enemy of the people. The Hearst family was a prime target for the SLA, as the familys media empire stretched from coast to coast and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars.

Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (AP)
Newspaper magnate
William Randolph
Hearst (AP)
Shortly after Patty was snatched in 1974, Mickey was approached by a representative of the Hearst family for assistance. They wanted him involved because he was well thought-of in the black community, he wrote.

I was involved in gambling in other days in the black community, Mickey wrote. I have a lot of friends there that love me and that I love dearly.

The friends Mickey referred to, of course, were the numbers runners and others connected to the black underground who might have been able to get a line on SLA leader and former convict Donald DeFreeze.

Mickey Cohen, later in life
Mickey Cohen, later
in life
Cohen visited one possible link in Soledad Prison, but nothing came of that. After DeFreeze died in a Los Angeles shootout, Cohen was again contacted to see if he could intervene.

"I reached three young people who were SLA members or at least associated with them," he wrote. "It became a real cloak and dagger operation. We met at night in different places, changing cars all the time."

Cohen had four meetings with people connected with Patty Hearst when she was on the run from the law and used his underworld connections, both black and white, to try to track her down.

"I kinda had a sixth sense and a hunch, so the next day (after one meeting) I called some people in Cleveland," Cohen recounts. "Can you run it down and see if that little girl, Patty Hearst, happens to be around there anywhere?

"A day-and-a-half later, goddamn if the word don't come back to me about her maybe being there..."

Cohen then negotiated with his SLA contacts, but it became clear Patty who was in Cleveland as Cohen suspected wasn't coming back willingly.

PICTURE4 When the SLA implied that Mickey's people were looking at another shootout, self-interest took over and he backed off.

"I'm on parole, and that's all I needed for a goddamned shootout to happen and somebody getting killed," he said.

The whole thing fell apart, Mickey said, when Catherine and Randolph Hearst, Patty's parents, told him they didn't know if bringing Patty back was such a good idea, because they couldn't guarantee she wouldn't go to prison.

Cohen's mobster ethics took over and he ended his involvement then and there.

"I don't want to be rude," Cohen told the family. "But I got to beg off this thing. If the situation is such that you folks don't know whether she's going to prison or not, I don't want no part of it."



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