By Lois Armstrong
October 06, 1975 12:00 PM

Driving a pickup loaded with power mowers, hoses, rakes and hoes, gardeners Frank and Fumiye Yoshimura were greeted by reporters as they pulled into their modest Fresno home. One newsman poked a microphone into Fumi Yoshimura’s face and asked, “How do you feel about your daughter being caught with Patty Hearst?” Wendy Yoshimura’s parents, who had not yet heard of their fugitive daughter’s dramatic capture, were stunned. “Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness,” sputtered Mrs. Yoshimura apologetically, “she’s…a good girl.”

It takes a certain saintliness to think so. The 32-year-old Japanese-American artist has long been a trial to her mother and father. A veteran student radical, she dropped out of the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1969 to harvest sugar cane in Cuba. Returning to the U.S., she eventually went into hiding in 1972 after explosives were discovered in her Berkeley garage. This led to charges of conspiring to blow up the naval architecture building at the University of California.

As it turned out, it was Yoshimura who inadvertently led authorities to the last fugitive members of the terrorist Symbionese Liberation Army. Earlier this year, when the FBI tracked Hearst and SLA comrades William and Emily Harris to a Pennsylvania farmhouse, they found Yoshimura’s fingerprints, a decisive clue in breaking the case. In the San Francisco flat shared by Patty and Wendy police found a seven-page letter to the Harrises. Neatly written by Yoshimura and signed by both women, it condemned some of the Harrises’ more militant activities—an indication that Yoshimura and Hearst were softening their radical position.

“I am relieved, but it is a shock,” said Fumi, 57. “I didn’t believe she was with Patty Hearst.” To be sure, other than their fugitive status, the heiress and Wendy Yoshimura had little in common. Born in a Japanese relocation camp near Fresno in 1943, Wendy, an only child, was 3 when her American-born parents went to Japan after World War II. The family lived near Hiroshima for 10 years while Frank, now 63, served as an interpreter for the British Occupation Forces.

Returning with her parents to California at the age of 13, Japanese-educated (and bilingual) Wendy was assigned to the second grade—”but she never complained,” her parents say. Because Fumi had heart trouble, Wendy was left pretty much on her own. “She was very friendly and had a lot of playmates,” recalls Fumi. Her father says, “She always brought home stray animals. She had compassion.” A poor student, Wendy graduated from high school when she was 20 and attended Fresno City College for one year. Hoping to develop their daughter’s artistic talents—Wendy had won an award in high school for a painting—her parents sent her to the College of Arts and Crafts. She later lived in a woman artists’ collective, freelanced for an advertising firm and gained a reputation for her feminist and antiwar posters.

When it came to politics a friend described Wendy as “more emotional than intellectual.” Another said, “If anything, she was nonviolent and not very mature.” Some say she was greatly influenced by her boyfriend, Willie Brandt, who is serving time in Soledad Prison for a Berkeley bomb plot.

Several years ago, after apparently being cured of thyroid cancer, Mrs. Yoshimura joined the Seicho-no-le, or Truth Movement, a nondenominational sect. “If I didn’t believe in God,” says Mrs. Yoshimura of the three years her daughter was missing, “I would have gone crazy. I was praying all the time to God and he rescued her. Now she’s in prison and she’ll have a chance to study the Bible.”

Yet when they visited her in bleak Santa Rita, a county jail (federal charges against her were dropped), Wendy refused religious literature from her mother. “Maybe later,” she said. Unlike the Hearsts, who were permitted in the same room with Patty, the Yoshimuras had to talk with their daughter through a small screened window. “Why can’t I hug my mother and father?” Wendy pleaded, tears welling in her eyes. “Those,” replied the guard, “are the rules.” The Yoshimuras had no hope of raising the $250,000 bail. They brought her clothing, money and fruit, including table grapes she had once asked them to boycott.

As Wendy waits to be tried on state charges of possessing explosives and a machine gun, her transformation from quiet artist to firebrand is a mystery to the unsophisticated Yoshimuras. They feel she was “used” by her friends. “She was a good girl,” explains Fumi, “who was always for the underdog.”