Muskegon author writes book about heiress’ kidnapping

On the 50th anniversary of the Patty Hearst kidnapping, Roger Rapoport’s new novel takes an inside look at the unanswered questions surrounding the abduction of William Randolph Hearst’s teenage granddaughter from a Berkeley apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Rapoport was one of the lead reporters covering the Patty Hearst kidnapping in 1974 and 1975 for New Times and other publications. The story captivated the world. Hearst was arrested 19 months after her abduction and tried for crimes committed with members of the revolutionary group. 

Now, a half-century later, the Muskegon resident has a book, “Searching for Patty Hearst,” coming ahead of the anniversary of the famous kidnapping. The book tour is launching at Muskegon’s Hackley Public Library on Jan. 17 at 5:30 p.m. ( Reservations requested.) Other  West Michigan book signings are planned for Feb. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, and March 6 at 5:30 p.m. at White Lake District Library in Whitehall.

Close to the story

After the kidnapping, Rapoport wrote a book with Hearst’s fiancé and former high school math teacher Steve Weed, who began an affair with Hearst when she was 16. But the book was never published because Weed canceled this project to do his own version for another publisher. 

After covering the 1975 San Francisco bank robbery trial in which Hearst was a defendant with two of the SLA members, Rapoport went on 13 years later to score an exclusive interview with Bill Harris, the man who kidnapped Patty Hearst and fled cross country with her and his wife, Emily Harris. 

“Since that time I have continued to follow this story, which led to “Searching for Patty Hearst,” Rapoport says. He has also kept busy with other projects, such as adapting Norton Shores resident Peter Ferry’s award-winning novel, “Old Heart,” into a play performed at Muskegon Community College. He was the producer, director, and co-writer of the award-winning film “Coming Up for Air,” which was filmed along the Lakeshore, drawing attention to the critical role caregivers play in promoting family wellness.

The Lakeshore recently caught up with Rapoport for a Q&A to learn more about his new book and why this high-profile kidnapping has kept his attention for more than 50 years.

The Lakeshore: You have given so much time to this project. Why have you remained committed to telling this story?

Roger Rapoport: The most controversial kidnapping in American history, the Patty Hearst story sheds light on many of the key trends in our country as they relate to domestic violence, political insurrection and the #MeToo movement. Although she was convicted for bank robbery and the kidnapping of a 17-year-old with her Symbionese LIberation Army kidnappers, she only served 22 months of her seven-year sentence, which was commuted by President Jimmy Carter.  She was later pardoned by Bill Clinton.  People want to know if a poor minority person who did not come from a powerful media family would have gotten off early. 

TL: Patty Hearst’s story has received a lot of attention over the years. What new information does your book uncover?

RR: I have had a ringside seat on this case since Patty was kidnapped.  In addition to covering the story for newspapers and magazines, I wrote an unpublished book with her fiance, Steve Weed, who lived in my house for months after she was kidnapped.

I was the first journalist to interview her kidnapper, Bill Harris, at length after he was paroled.  I also interviewed Los Angeles coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who autopsied the six Symbionese Liberation Army members who died in a Los Angeles Police Department firefight. A relative, Mark Brandler, was the superior court judge in her Los Angeles kidnapping case. The book offers a broad, fictional look at the story from the point of view of all the protagonists, including many who have never had an opportunity to present their point of view. 

TL: You are releasing this book on the 50th anniversary of Patty Heart's kidnapping. Do you think this story will appeal to people who have never heard of Patty? Why?

RR: Just about everyone has heard of the legendary Hearst castle built by Patty’s grandfather at San Simeon. “Searching for Patty Hearst” is an opportunity for younger people to learn about this legendary story from all the key players.  In the process, they will have an opportunity to weigh conflicting accounts and come to their own conclusions about what really happened.  

“Searching for Patty Hearst” lets each of the key players tell the story from their own vantage point. In this novel, many of the principals go public for the first time. The great thing about historical fiction is that it can make an unbelievable story believable. I hope that when younger people finish this book, they will be inspired to do their own due diligence, never taking one person’s word as the literal truth. This is what journalists do, listening to all sides and then fairly presenting disagreements between what people saw and did, even when they were in the same room at the same time. Keeping an open mind is central to our democracy. We always need to listen carefully to people we think we disagree with. 

TL: You are launching your book at Hackley Library. Why did you choose this venue?

RR: I grew up in Muskegon, and the Hackley Library was and is one of my favorite places. It’s a classic Carnegie library with beautiful Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and stained glass windows. The Julia Hackley room is a treasure, and I love this Michigan landmark. This event is much more than a homecoming for me, as I met my wife, Marty, here when she was the library director. It’s the perfect place to launch a tour for this book, which was inspired by Megan Trank, an editor I worked with here when she was just beginning her publishing career in Muskegon. Everyone loves this library. 

TL: Has Patty read your book? What's her reaction? If not, what reaction are you hoping for?

RR: The book is out Jan. 16. I expect she will have a look when it’s available and look forward to her response. My hope is that she will recommend the book to younger people who want to read an account that actually does justice to this story. In so many ways the story has been damaged by misleading accounts. Understanding the family dynamics that contributed to the devastating ransom impasse with the SLA is critical. In the process, the book is a sympathetic look at her story and the story of her family.  

TL: Can you tell us about your background as a writer and your connection to Muskegon? 

RR: I lived in Muskegon from 1958 to 1964, attending North Muskegon schools, where I edited the high school paper. After graduating from the University of Michigan, where I edited the Michigan Daily, I moved to California, where I wrote books and magazine articles, worked for San Francisco Bay Area papers, and covered the Hearst case. 

For 17 years I was the publisher of RDR Books.  After moving back to Muskegon in 2004, I  went on to produce and co-write three award-winning feature films, all shot in the Muskegon area and the Midwest.  My most recent film was the mental health drama “Coming Up For Air.” My play “Old Heart,” adapted from Peter Ferry’s novel, premiered in Michigan in 2022 and 2023. My new web series "In The Time They Have Left”  (on Vimeo) about Putin and Trump just won the grand prize at the Culver City Film Festival. All of these films and “Old Heart” feature local actors and crew.  It’s a great honor to showcase our west Michigan talent.  

There is more about the book at and more about me at,
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