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Kidnapped: Seven Who Survived It

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Of the millions who have followed the news of Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping, seven people on these pages can perhaps understand it best. They share with Patty Hearst the same terrifying human experience: all have themselves been victims of a kidnapping. Drawing upon unsuspected reserves of strength and courage, these seven survived their ordeal and returned to give the chilling details of their experience. They have no special knowledge of the Hearst case, but they do have some intensely personal insights into the strange kinship that develops between captive and captor. And a few have some strong opinions about what has happened to Patty.

‘I never felt secure’

Claude Fly, 68, an American agricultural expert serving in Montevideo, was dragged from his office on August 7, 1970 by five Uruguayan Tumpamaro guerrillas and held for 208 days, during which time they forced him to pose with some of their weapons (above). After spending much of his captivity in a wire cage, Fly suffered a heart attack and was released. In a letter to Randolph Hearst, Fly wrote that no method is too severe if it might bring the terrorist-kidnappers to their knees. “Put up a million dollar bounty for the capture of these goons or $50,000 per head on those who may have taken part in the kidnapping.”

Of his own ordeal, Fly says: “There was never a minute I felt secure or safe…there were several times when I thought I had breathed my last breath.” He has no sympathy for his captors. Says Fly emotionally: “This nest of vipers must be eliminated before they strike again.”

‘God was just good’

Mrs. Eunice Kronholm, 46, the wife of a St. Paul, Minn. banker, was abducted last March. She was released three-and-a-half days after her husband (pictured praying with her, below) paid $200,000. Three alleged kidnappers were captured and are now awaiting trial.

“I kept continually feeling the presence of God the whole time,” she says. “Sometimes you feel you can’t control your mind, but you can. I refused to think about the things that were ugly and the things that might happen to me. And, well, God was good. He just was good, that’s all.”

Among other things, her captors let her listen to a Sunday religious broadcast, on which the announcer said that thousands were praying for her safe return. “You can’t imagine what that made me feel like.”

After her release, she thought of trying to reassure the Hearst family, but gave up the idea. Her husband reports she still suffers from nightmares, sleeplessness and depression.

‘We tried to agree’

Mrs. E.M. Nelson, a Methodist minister’s wife from Jonesboro, Ga., was kidnapped Nov. 21 with her 16-year-old daughter by two men who sought the release of a prisoner. The women were freed the next day.

Mrs. Nelson says she can understand Patricia Hearst’s behavior. “She is doing it to protect her life,” she says. “I believe you would do most anything to protect your life. We tried to agree with everything they said. Whatever they wanted, we followed their instructions. I can see how a kidnap victim could be brainwashed into thinking anything. You will believe anything they tell you is true. You are constantly playing for time. You do anything to humanize them. As long as you’re alive, you feel you’re still in the ball game and you’ve got a chance of winning it.”

When Mrs. Nelson’s kidnappers were caught and convicted, she appeared at their trial and appealed for leniency, in the hopes, she said, that it might influence the California kidnappers to set Patty Hearst free.

‘I got more desperate’

Mary Ann Velcich, a 4’11”, 100-lb. junior at Western Illinois University in Macomb, was about the same age as Patty Hearst when she was kidnapped on April 2, 1973 from a shopping center near the campus. She escaped four days later in West Burlington, Iowa. The two young men who abducted her are now serving 15-year sentences.

“I was only held four days, but I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever get home. Every day I got more and more desperate. When I think about being held two months, I think I would have just fallen to pieces. I don’t see how anyone could survive what she [Patty] is going through. I don’t think they’ll ever let her go.”

‘I’d rob bank’

Melvyn Zahn, suburban Chicago drug executive, was kidnapped last summer. He managed to escape after two days, just before a $1.5 million ransom would have been paid. The kidnappers were caught and sentenced to 12-15 years. “But they’ll be eligible for parole some day soon,” a frightened Zahn believes. “You think I’d know about it if they were paroled?”

In an interview with Bob Greene of the Chicago Sun-Times, Zahn offered the following insights: “The only thing I’m sure of is this: I would have done whatever my captors wanted me to do. There is a tremendous desire to make them like you. I kept asking the two men who kidnapped me if they had any children. You just keep thinking: ‘If I can make them think of me as a human being instead of an object they’re holding for ransom, maybe they won’t be so quick to blow my head off.’ If I were in Patty Hearst’s situation…I would do anything they told me to do. Anything at all. Rob a bank, make a tape recording—anything. I could do all my explaining later. The only thing that would matter would be to keep them from killing me.”

‘The plan must not fail’

Reg Murphy, Atlanta Constitution editor, was held for two days last February by a man and wife kidnap team. He was released after payment of $750,000. The kidnappers were caught.

“The first thing,” says Murphy, “you are in a desperate attempt to see that the kidnapper’s plan does not fail. If his plan does not succeed there is no chance for you to get out alive. So the success of the kidnapper is of the utmost importance to you. You will even help him.

“Second, psychologically, you begin to develop an affinity for the person involved. I was striving for ways to keep him from thinking of me as a non-person. We spent the time telling jokes and sharing experiences.

“Third, the kidnapper needs to feel himself to be the dominant person. I asked him everything—from what he thought about coffee, drugs, and alcohol to the Symbionese Liberation Army. I let him be the dominant person. You must build his ego.

“Personally, I don’t think Patty Hearst cooperated, but began to identify with the SLA goal. She would begin to identify with the goal if it would mean her getting away. She’s a 20-year-old girl and not all that psychologically knowledgeable.

“I can certainly empathize with Patty Hearst. I don’t care what she says on the tapes. How she felt a month prior to the kidnapping and how she feels two months later are quite different. How she feels a month from now will be different. The pressure is tremendous.”

‘I wouldn’t resist’

Victor Samuelson, 37, an American oil executive, was abducted last December 6 from the refinery he ran near Buenos Aires. His Marxist People’s Revolutionary Army kidnappers later received $14.2 million in ransom from Exxon, and Samuelson was released in good health after 144 days of captivity. “I made up my mind not to resist,” he says. “I did far more things with my mind than with my hands.” He knew Patty Hearst had been kidnapped too, but few of the details.