Who Ran The SLA?
By Dick Russell
The February 1974 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Campbell Hearst by an organization calling itself the “Symbionese Liberation Army” (SLA) provided daily newspapers throughout the country with a windfall of sensational headlines, under which the papers reprinted the SLA’s lurid “communiques” and depicted the episode as the romantic adventure tale of the decade.
The May shootout in Los Angeles, where what was then thought to be the majority of SLA members perished in flames, and the September 1975 capture of Ms. Hearst herself, along with traveling companions William and Emily Harris, provided another several days’ supply of shocker headlines.
While San Francisco FBI Bureau chief Charles Bates picked up ample publicity, and various ultra-Left groups in the Bay Area made the SLA a cause celebre, rumor and speculation abounded concerning the scenario’s origin in one government conspiracy or another. The whole thing seemed so bizarre – could it really be a grandiose official plot designed to discredit the left in the eyes of the American people?
Such rumors went unsubstantiated until three West Coast investigators published this account of their findings to date in the December issue of Argosy Magazine. Donald Freed, author of the film Executive Action and currently working with the Campaign for Democratic Freedoms on the investigations of the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy; Lake Headley, previously the chief investigator in the Wounded Knee incident, hired by the family of slain SLA member Willie Wolfe to investigate the shootout; and Rusty Rhodes, executive director of the Committee to Investigate Political Assassinations, have documented a story which characterizes the popular Ms. Hearst as a pawn in a much larger game than any heretofore suggested. Among the government agencies deeply enmeshed in the SLA scenario, according to the three investigators, are the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles Police Department, and last, but far from least, the California Department of Corrections.
Argosy reporter Dick Russell’s account describes Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze, the SLA leader, as an experienced informant for police and the FBI in Cleveland, Newark, and Los Angeles, who received extraordinarily preferred treatment everywhere despite a long string of arrests for capital offenses. Finally jailed in California, DeFreeze continued to receive exceptional privileges. He received initial encouragement and assistance for his “prison reform” groups from known CIA operative Colston Westbrook, who facilitated the participation of several white Berkeley radicals, including Ms. Hearst. According to Rhodes, who has affidavits from several California inmates close to the activities of DeFreeze’s groups, Hearst carried on a private relationship with DeFreeze during her prison visits, under minimal security, and discussed with him the kidnapping of her younger sisters.
At Vacaville, San Quentin, and Soledad prisons, California Department of Corrections officials recruited leaders from their populations, under threat of the worst consequences, to enlist inmates in the SLA. According to the investigators, prison guards and inmate gang leaders contributed to several “death lists” of the SLA, which have so far resulted in thirteen fatalities and numerous close calls within the California prison system. DeFreeze and Thero Wheeler, who later split from the SLA, were apparently allowed to escape, and offers of escape were made to other SLA “officers” if they would join DeFreeze’s organization on the outside.
This organization, apparently rooted in the CIA’s “Operation CHAOS” – a general effort to infiltrate left groups and then, evidently, provoke them to terror and violence was the recipient, according to a reliable source, of funds and weapons from a notorious Los Angeles area operative who helped encourage its members to embark upon a mind-boggling series of projected acts of terrorism. Even before DeFreeze’s escape, the SLA, in addition to the Hearst kidnapping, was discussing assassination of both Black Panthers and establishment political figures; nuclear blackmail; and other schemes.
After DeFreeze fingered Westbrook as a government agent and marked him for death in the SLA’s initial “communique” following Hearst’s abduction, the head of the elite LAPD unit which formerly directed his activities called him “a dead man – there’s no way he can live.” In June, a former FBI informant who had returned from assignment at Wounded Knee stated publicly that DeFreeze was a runaway agent who had to be eliminated; that he had been asked to take DeFreeze’s place in the organization; and that he had contacted Ms. Hearst underground.
All of this points to a complex scenario, hatched by government agencies, in which Hearst and the slain SLA members, including DeFreeze, and upwards of 200 California inmates played out roles of which they had but a dim conception. As the intricate web began to come undone, inmates who were talking to the investigators or asking for help from outside law enforcement agencies began to be subjected to death threats, actual attempts on their lives, and brutal harassment. According to Rhodes, CDC officials are presently scattering the remnants of the SLA throughout the prison system, hoping to quiet the investigation, which threatens to uncover one of the most subtle, vicious, and far-reaching programs of official political provocation and deception in recent history.
While we realize that the facts presented in this article provide something less than a complete picture, of this operation, and that much remains to be substantiated, we do feel that the evidence assembled herein by the three investigators more than justifies our worst suspicions concerning the real nature of the SLA. Clearly, susceptible individuals were pressured, manipulated, and deceived by government agents to undertake a course of action which would – when reflected in the straight media – lead to the association, in the public mind, of left-wing political activity with violence and terrorism, generating a climate of panic and justifying increased police repression. Several lives have already been sacrificed toward this end.
Consequently, we applaud the arduous and extremely hazardous efforts of Freed, Headley, and Rhodes in assembling this account, and support them in their call for a thorough, no-holds-barred, independent investigation of the events recounted here.
The history of the SLA begins with a onetime CIA employee named Colston Westbrook, a burly, fast-talking 36-year-old specialist in Black English now teaching at the University of California at Berkeley.
Early in 1966, Westbrook was hired as a “personnel administrator” by a civilian firm – Pacific Architects and Engineers, Incorporated, of Los Angeles – which was operating out of South Vietnam. According to Washington intelligence sources, Pacific Architects was a subsidiary of the Pacific Corporation, a multi-national consortium headquartered in Delaware and wholly owned by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Says SLA investigator Donald Freed: “There is no such thing as not being a CIA employee if you work for Pacific Architects.” Westbrook’s specialty was “agent handling, training and indoctrination.” Among his company’s major tasks, Freed says, was logistical support for the CIA’s Phoenix program – political assassination of so-called Viet Cong sympathizers – then run by current CIA Director William Colby.
On September 19, 1969, Westbrook severed his ties with Pacific Architects. His return to America coincided with the start of a new CIA program conducted inside the United States – Operation CHAOS. The June 1975 Report to the President by the Commission On CIA Activities Within the United States identifies Operation CHAOS as a collector of information on “dissident” Americans. Its “Project 1” was titled: “Acquiring Assets in the Peace and Black Power Movements in the United States.”
“Project 2 of Operation CHAOS,” begun late in 1969, read in part: “Individuals without existing dissident affiliation would be recruited and, after recruitment, would acquire the theory and jargon and make acquaintances in the New Left while attending school in the United States.” The idea was to recruit “agents” who could penetrate the various radical groups. There were no better recruiting grounds than the black power movements inside the prisons.
Colston Westbrook, who moved in as a teaching assistant in a Berkeley Afro-American Studies program, soon volunteered his services as a tutor to the Black Cultural Association, a prison project meeting twice weekly inside Vacaville prison.
Westbrook encouraged visitors, especially young white Berkeley students interested in prison reform. One was William Wolfe, son of a prominent Pennsylvania physician who shared Westbrook’s Class at Berkeley.
At the time, Wolfe was living in a Berkeley collective called Peking House with Russell Little and Joseph Remiro. Remiro had a girlfriend, Nancy Ling Perry. All these young people had one common bond with Colston Westbrook: a friendship with black convict Donald DeFreeze, secretary of the Vacaville prison BCA.
Donald DeFreeze was a man with a past and a perfect candidate for the CIA’s “CHAOS” plan. Between 1965 and late 1969, while constantly on probation as a convicted felon, he had been arrested for nine different crimes. His offenses included robbery, assault, grand larceny, escaping arrest and possession of explosives and a cache of 200 firearms.
In Cleveland, Newark and Los Angeles, DeFreeze assumed the pose of a Black Panther. There is even evidence linking him to Ron Karenga, the leader of Los Angeles’ “US” (“United Slaves”) Organization, which has been linked by the Church Committee to an FBI (COINTELPRO) operation as well as to the murder of four Panthers. DeFreeze – and prob-
Continued on SLA-2
Continued from page SLA-1
Cinque was a marked man. He would be killed because of what he knew and who he had been. “He ‘s a dead man, there’s no way he can live,” said the head of the LAPD unit which first recruited DeFreeze as an informant.
ably Karenga – were both working for the Los Angeles Police Department.
DeFreeze, as an informer for a special Public Disorder Intelligence Unit, did not want for “useful” tasks. During the fall of 1969, police sources recall DeFreeze informing on the Charles Manson family concerning a planned arms burglary. He next surfaces in Cleveland on October 11, where police grabbed him atop a bank building brandishing two pistols and an eight-inch dagger, with a burglar’s kit and a hand grenade nearby. Released on $5,000 bond, he returned to Los Angeles, where he continued to operate while serving an unheard-of three probations concurrently.
One month later, after attempting to cash a stolen $1,000 cashier’s check, DeFreeze was wounded in a gun battle outside a Bank of America branch. This time, he did not get probation. Donald DeFreeze was charged, convicted and sentenced to “5-to-life.” On December 3, he was ordered imprisoned at Vacaville Medical Facility. It was there that he met Colston Westbrook.
“I became fairly close to Don at Vacaville,” Westbrook later admitted. “He could sit down and talk to me a lot easier than he could other people, it seemed. Especially whites. Don was a racist. He hated white people with a passion.” De Freeze adopted the African name “Cinque.” [The original “Cinque,” leader of a slave ship rebellion en route to America, became a slave trader after being returned to Africa.]
Yet it was Westbrook, “outside guest coordinator,” who cultivated the friendship of Willie Wolfe and drew him close to DeFreeze, the man who supposedly “hated white people with a passion.”
But DeFreeze suddenly broke away from Westbrook and the BCA. Some prisoners say he was dis-invited because of his increasingly militant views. Whatever the reason, the prison let him set up a program all his own. Its label was “Unisight,” its alleged concern the problems of black inmates’ families.
Patty’s Prison Visits
“DeFreeze’s group had it pretty good,” a Vacaville inmate recalls, “which was unusual and somewhat incomprehensible, because they really had no security on them. They even had sexual intercourse with female visitors at these ‘Unisight’ meetings sometimes, and the security guards didn’t care.”
One of those ‘Unisight Visitors’ was an 18-year-old heiress by the name of Patty Hearst. In 1972, according to a statement by investigator Lake Headley, she first began visiting Vacaville using the alias and identification papers of a Mary Alice Siems. Siems was very similar in age, stature, even facial appearance to Patty Hearst, and, like the heiress, she was a Berkeley student. Siems’ interest in the Vacaville prison group was an inmate named Thero Wheeler. Patty’s interest would become Donald DeFreeze.
There are trailers set up at Vacaville for the privacy of trustees’ wives when they come to visit their husbands. Somehow, DeFreeze was granted access. He apparently had private meetings there with Patty Hearst, Nancy Perry and another eventual SLA comrade, Patricia Soltysik.
Then, in December 1972, Colston Westbrook resigned from the BCA in supposed outrage at the visiting “self-taught commies.” DeFreeze was transferred to Soledad. He had been inside Vacaville, normally a 90-day holding tank for prisoners in transit, for three years. At Soledad once again he would gain access to a “trustee visitation house”-and renew a brief relationship with Patty Hearst. Once again, he would be the leader of a prison group – this time, the SLA.
The Soledad SLA was an already-created organization that initially seemed no different from any of the other five gangs – the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, Aryan Brotherhood, American Nazis and Black Liberation Army – all of which were established along strict racial lines.
The SLA, though, was a mixed bag. It possessed no ethnic foundation or guiding philosophy. The only integrated group, it seemed to have little conscious purpose. Its cobra symbol was borrowed from both a black nationalist group and the Ku Klux Klan. And its very name – SLA – could be found in a pulp novel, The Spook Who Sat By the Door.
But the most bizarre thing about the Soledad SLA was Cinque himself.
“He talked crazy sometimes. I looked in his locker one day and found a big bottle of Eferol. They use this drug on the inside for thought control. But Don was taking these pills of his own free will. Like candy,” says General Khan, the new Field Marshal of the SLA and, at that time, DeFreeze’s right hand man.
As far back as 1968, General Khan had known DeFreeze on the streets of San Francisco. Khan was then peddling weapons to the Venceremos Brigade (listed on the CIA’s books as a group to be infiltrated), and was regarded as one of the biggest speed and cocaine merchants in Northern California. DeFreeze had been among his drug clientele. Busted for manslaughter and possession of narcotics, Khan found himself inside Soledad – close to DeFreeze.
DeFreeze began talking at length to General Khan about his relationship with Patty Hearst. Alone in the Soledad trustee rooms, DeFreeze had told her that his old “Unisight” program had transformed here into the SLA, a revolutionary cadre dedicated to the cause oi the oppressed.
‘There is evidence that Patty gave sums of money,” writes investigator Donald Freed, “and even aided in the purchase and storage of SLA ammunition.”
According to Lake Headley s statements: “Discussions were held between Patricia Campbell Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army concerning a kidnapping (not her own).” The planned kidnapping, DeFreeze told Khan, was of Patty’s two younger sisters – Vicki and Anne. They would be taken to Colorado and held for ransom from her millionaire parents. But Patty balked at the suggestion of her own kidnapping and, finally coming to feel that DeFreeze was being frivolous, dropped the subject entirely.
DeFreeze was not joking.
“Don said he wanted to hit Hearst, for the recognition that would be involved,” General Khan told investigator Rusty Rhodes. “He said he wanted to see her beaten and broken to the lowest thing on earth, lower than even himself.
“We discussed the (S.L.A.’s) complete plan of action early in 1973. It was obvious Don was going to split Soledad, that he had a lot of help. He would set up ‘safe houses’ in Berkeley, and once that was done I would get word and lead the ‘second wave’ out. There were eight of us who would escape and make our way to San Francisco, and we’d all meet Don at a flophouse next to the Greyhound bus station.
“Don and his group would snatch Patty. The second wave, my command, would grab the two younger Hearst girls. Both commands would then set up in the area, but I’d go to Colorado and find a place, l used to live in Colorado, and would get a place outside Denver. I would notify the command units in two or three weeks, and they would hit the road with the three Hearst girls. This was the plan I expected to follow until I happened upon some new Information.”
Despite their partnership, General Khan had his doubts about DeFreeze. They went back to their first days together on the street, when Khan was approached by police about turning informer not long after he met DeFreeze. Those doubts continued because of DeFreeze’s privileged liaisons with white female visitors in prison and his SLA leader’s role. There was talk that DeFreeze worked with certain guards as an intermediary in drug deals. Or as an informer on other gangs.
“I caught DeFreeze and Lieutenant James Nelson talking in the custody room,” Khan says. “They were discussing the SLA when Nelson saw me and ordered me into the recreation yard. De Freeze told Nelson, “No, let him stay. He knows everything, he’s the second man.” So then Nelson looked at me and told me I was going to escape. I didn’t trust Nelson. I quietly started warning some of my people that the Department of Corrections knew our plans.”
Outside the prison walls, though, De Freeze’s credentials as a revolutionary were already well-established among a number of Berkeley students. They knew him as a dedicated leader in three prison programs – the BCA and Unisight at Vacaville, and now the SLA in Soledad. It would be easy for him to move inside the radical scene. That was, after all, what the CIA’s “CHAOS” was all about.
In March 1973, Cinque “escaped” from Soledad. “Don had been sent to South Soledad where there’s no security,” says General Khan, “It’s a holding facility for parolees. His first night, Don was dropped off by a guard. When the guard returned an hour later to check on him, he was gone.”
A month later, correctional officer C.T. Coker submitted to the Soledad Classification Committee a request that the custody of General Khan be reduced to minimum. Describing Khan as a “dependable worker, able to function with a minimum of supervision, attitude toward authority is excellent,” Coker’s report also asked his transfer to the same South facility. Khan refused.
General Khan was not the only one pressured to leave Soledad and join the SLA outside. Damyon Tomita, with De Freeze at Vacaville before his transfer, found himself called into the office of Lieutenant Nelson late in August of the same year.
“He said, ‘DeFreeze tells me you’re going to be leaving soon,’” Tomita writes in a signed statement. “You’ll be notified. You’ll be a new recruit of DeFreeze’s. Either accept this, or suffer the consequences here.”
In August, Thero Wheeler was given the job of maintaining a baseball field outside the Vacaville walls. Wheeler had known DeFreeze well in the BCA. And Wheeler’s girlfriend, Mary Alice Siems, had given her ID to Patty Hearst. Thero Wheeler walked away from Vacaville on August 2, and met with DeFreeze and his new SLA followers “at least 20 times” in the Oakland area. A breach developed between them over future plans. Wheeler, who went his separate way, was apprehended in Texas in 1975 and returned to the California prisons.
Assassination and Terror
The breach between DeFreeze and Wheeler may have come over a scenario of devastating terrorism being formulated by – or for – the SLA. At the same period of Wheeler’s escape and the refusals of Khan and Tomita to make theirs, investigator Rusty Rhodes learned of the SLA’s plans:
“We have learned from a former SLA member that in August of 1973, weapons and money began to be supplied to the SLA on a regular basis. The supplier of these goods attempted to involve Chicano, American Indian and Black prison reformers with the SLA. The supplier also promised a million dollars from an Arab nation if they would blow up domestic oil facilities.
“Further information tells us that De Freeze and the SLA planned to kill Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton and destroy the Black Panther Party. Prior to the Hearst kidnapping, it is known that Bay area police and CIA officials possessed an SLA diagram of Newton’s apartment and other valid information concerning a conspiracy to murder Newton.”
“There was also, in 1974, a plan to kill then Vice President Gerald Ford.
“Also, a reliable source tells us the SLA would threaten to use a portable armed nuclear device against a major urban center unless maximum demands were granted. We have learned that the SLA is not in possession of any such nuclear device.”
As long ago as 1967, DeFreeze had been actively working for the Los Angeles police against the Black Panther Party. At the Vacaville meetings, DeFreeze and Westbrook had allegedly condemned the Panthers. The Panthers, too, were on the “subject files” list of Operation CHAOS.
The plan to kill Panther leader Huey Newton never came off. But at the Vacaville BCA meetings, they began to talk about a black man who was drawing uncomfortably close to granting reform demands from a Black Panther chapter. This was Dr. Marcus Foster, Oakland Superintendent of Schools.
On November 12, shortly after he agreed to go along with Panther wishes for school reform, Dr. Foster was gunned down by a cyanide bullet. Witnesses saw two “blacks” fleeing down a city street.
On November 7, Symbionese Liberation Army Communique No. 1 Claimed credit for the assassination, out of “love for the people.”
On January 10, 1974, two young Berkeley residents were arrested and charged with the Foster murder. They were Joseph Remiro and Russell Little, old roommates of Willie Wolfe, old comrades of the Vacaville BCA. The day of their capture, Nancy Ling Perry – old girlfriend of Remiro and prison visitor of DeFreeze – set fire to an SLA “safe
There are trailers set up at Vacaville for the privacy of trustees’ wives when they come to visit their husbands. Somehow, DeFreeze was granted access. He apparently had private meetings there with Patty Hearst, Nancy Ling Perry, and Patricia Soltysik.
The abduction of Patty Hearst came about on February 4, 1974. Screaming, “Not me! Oh, God! Not me!”, Patty was dragged half-naked by two black men and a white woman from her Berkeley apartment. She was the first known political kidnapping victim in American history.
“My name is Cinque,” DeFreeze’s first taped message began. “I am a black man and representative of black people. I hold the rank of General Field Marshal in the United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Today I received an order from the Symbionese Liberation War Council to verify that Patricia Campbell Hearst is alive and safe.”
On April 3, calling herself “Tania” [the KGB agent who joined Che Guevara] and quoting from Che, Patty Hearst announced: “I have chosen to stay and fight.” In that same tape, Cinque identified Colston Westbrook as an “enemy of the people ... a government agent now working for military intelligence while giving assistance to the FBI.” Westbrook and two other FBI informants, he said, would be shot on sight.
On May 10, SLA investigators Lake Headley and Don Freed called a press conference, and warned that Field Marshal Cinque was a marked man. He would be killed because of what he knew and who he had been. “He’s a dead man, there’s no way he can live,” Headley quoted an L.A. police intelligence agent as telling him. That agent was the head of the Public Disorder Unit that first recruited DeFreeze as an informant.
Exactly one week later came the legendary shoot-out in Los Angeles. Six SLA members lost their lives in the flaming holocaust. DeFreeze was the first to fall to a barrage of 6,000 police rounds.
Again, Headley and Freed moved to speak out. At a meeting of the L.A. City Council, they presented a 14-page report asserting that police had prior knowledge of the group’s presence and could have avoided the slayings. Film footage showed two German shepherd dogs trained to detect Patty Hearst being brought in before the attack to make sure she wasn’t inside. The films also proved that fire units were kept away until the house was completely leveled, and that the attack was directed by the Criminal Conspiracy Section, an elite intelligence arm of the LAPD.
Under oath, Freed charged that the CIA had heavily infiltrated the LAPD and made the city its “testing ground” for police repression. He also charged the LAPD intelligence unit with keeping blackmail dossiers on numerous city officials. An attempt to forward the investigators’ testimony to a Grand Jury was thwarted by the City Council’s liaison man with the police department.
It was hardly the end of the SLA. Patty Hearst remained at large. Her name alone could be used to keep the SLA from fading from public view.
Within the California prisons, it was a time of limbo. A time to ensure that no prisoner made waves about the SLA’s past – or its future.
Robert Hyde is a tall, thin, whitehaired man in his early fifties, serving a 15-year term for aggravated assault. Recognized as a lawyer by the California Bar, he was known as a brilliant prison organizer. In 1971, he had formed a group called PROBE inside San Quentin that offered legal aid to inmates.
“The California Department of Correction approached me about a deal to recruit ‘snitches,’” Hyde would recall. “They wanted me to enlarge my legal assistance efforts to include all races and organizations inside the prison, so I could bring them ‘tips.’ At first I refused, but their ‘goon squad’ beat me and threw me into isolation. I stayed there for seven months. I knew I couldn’t get out alive unless I made a deal, so I agreed. I took orders from Lieutenant James Nelson.
“In late 1971, Nelson ordered me to begin recruiting inmates for a new organization called the Symbionese Liberation Army. I was very successful. I personally recruited 100 or more SLA members. When I became suspicious of all this recruitment, I got word to Charles Bates, the head of the FBI in San Francisco. He didn’t respond, but in early 1972 a Secret Service agent named Miller came in to see me and I gave him all the information I had.”
Why the Secret Service? Hyde doesn’t know. But by the time he was transferred from San Quentin to Soledad in 1973, his original SLA was being commanded by DeFreeze.
Late in 1973, Hyde contacted the FBI again. Two men were sent to question Hyde. “The day after I talked to agents Pat Beatie and Carl Gosting,” he wrote to San Jose attorney Elliott Daum, “I was taken to segregation (O-wing – the hole) . . . it has been decided I know too much and must be silenced.”
Terrible things started happening to Robert Hyde. First, he was blinded in one eye when “eyedrops” in a medicine bottle turned out to be acid. Then, on
Continued on page SLA-7
Continued from page SLA-3
April 24, 1974, he was transferred to Vacaville Medical Facility. In desperation, he wrote attorney Daum: “I am scheduled for psychosurgery (brain-section removal), all my papers and property have been taken from me.”
California Congressman Ronald Dellums was also alerted to Hyde’s situation. When Dellums’ office sought official explanation for Hyde’s removal to Vacaville, Hyde was quietly returned to “the hole” in Soledad.
It was there that Rusty Rhodes made contact with him. “Once I had authorization,” says Rhodes, “I could Claim attorney privilege and question inmates by saying they were material witnesses.”
But once Rhodes’ visits began, the efforts to silence Hyde intensified. On May 31, a letter arrived in the offices of attorney Daum. It had been smuggled out of Soledad:
“Around May 20th of this year I was propositioned a second time by CDC guards to kill somebody,” it began. “A guard came to my cell around two in the morning and told me . . . it was an old guy which had been causing problems . . . his name was Robert Hyde, he’d move in next to me in a few days and they wanted whatever Hyde would tell me in regards to what he was doing . . . I don’t regret my decision to write this letter because my conscience really feels good for once.”
One month later, a second letter was passed to Hyde himself. It came from a convicted murderer, serving a life sentence. “Mr. Hyde, I have been told to kill you,” it said. “On June 19, after the noon meal, Sergeant Christy took me to the chow hall and offered me a parole if I murdered you. Sergeant Christy gave me a knife and told me to think about it . . . Mr. Hyde, I think you are a good man, because you have helped a lot of convicts out . . . I only hope that after you’ve finished reading this letter, maybe you can do something to save my life . . . because I feel that I know too much for them to let me go free.”
A Sacramento examiner was called in to give the inmate a polygraph test. He passed. Now Washington was alerted. Two friends of Rusty Rhodes – one in the Attorney General’s office and one in the Internal Security Division of the Justice Department – promised a full investigation if Hyde were killed.
Along the grapevine, word passed that Rhodes had saved Hyde’s life.
The SLA in the Joint
The next to talk was General Khan, the new Field Marshal of the SLA. After DeFreeze left Soledad, Khan found himself the inheritor of DeFreeze’s false crown on the inside. But Khan was not stupid. He knew his fate really rested in the hands of the prison authorities. He controlled the SLA. He had his top colonels, captains and lieutenants. He had his cordon of bodyguards and an army of about 200 men ready to follow his bidding. But the guards still owned him.
“You can’t separate the SLA from narcotics inside the joint,” says Rhodes. “And those narcotics are being brought in by the guards, in most instances. Not that many guards are involved. But they’re so Clannish that one won’t turn on another. So there’s no chance to clean it up.”
The SLA’s other main activity is murder. Since 1970, more than 200 inmates I have been killed and 400 more have been stabbed inside California’s prisons. “We’ve lost control,” CDC Director Procunier admitted in 1973. “We’ve become so used to it, we hardly even pay attention to a fatal stabbing anymore.”
The SLA slipped a copy of their “Death List” to Rusty Rhodes sometime in late July, 1974. “The commander [General Khan] ordered one of his soldiers to let me see it. It was handwritten on legal size paper. It’s my understanding that names are put on it by both gang leaders and guards-more often by guards,” Rhodes says.
The Death List contained 244 names. Thirteen of them, asterisked by three stars, had already been killed.
(Though his name was not included on any list. an offer was allegedly made to three different SLA soldiers to kill Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, who is currently being held in solitary confinement inside San Quentin.)
After his meetings with Hyde and General Khan, Rhodes began circulating among other prisoners in Soledad, Folsom and San Quentin. By the time he finished, he had cross-checked Khan’s charges with thirty other men. “I was going in with the hard attitude that cons will con you,” he says. “I still think that’s the right attitude. But when you’ve got so many men saying the same thing – men from different wings and institutions who can’t possibly talk to one another – then you’ve got to start giving it all some
“The SLA is just one in a series of names. A lot of the lower groups are actually being manipulated at this point and channeled in some sophisticated way. What I want to know is: who’s pulling the strings on certain people?”
credence.” Rhodes soon had even more reason to believe the story.
It wasn’t long before Soledad was doing everything it could to curtail his investigation. First it was long waits before Rhodes could get inside, then demands that he give forty-eight-hour notice about whoever he wanted to see.
“I’d send in a list of six inmates. By the time I was allowed to see them they’d be stoned out of their minds – on something.
“I was informed on one visit that a contract had been let out on my life by a group of guards,” Rhodes says. “Whoever would pick it up would be paid $2,000, plus parole. I honestly don’t know who ordered it.
“Finally, I was physically removed from Soledad. I struggled with the guards for a moment, demanded why, told them to take their hands off me. One said: ‘Perhaps you shouldn’t talk to any more newspaper people.’”
Rhodes filed a protest to the California Department of Corrections, but received no formal reply. His only contact since then with Hyde, Khan and other prisoners has been though occasional mail. But unless the letters are somehow smuggled out, which is rare, the information is necessarily scant. From Khan, this was the last message he received:
“It’s hot, and it’s getting hotter.”
“I think every effort will be made to destroy the SLA now,” says Rhodes. “I’m sure that the commander has become a target. They’ve been reshuffling personnel, leaving the soldiers at maximum security places like Soledad and Folsom, but sending various officers to places like California’s Men’s Colony. They’re separating the head from the body. Too much is surfacing about what’s really been going on.”
Los Angeles Free Press City Editor Tommy Thompson has learned that General Khan may indeed have been placed in isolation. “He says he was knifed. They say he poured blood on himself to get into the hospital. They’re beginning to move him around.”
This past spring, from Folsom prison where Robert Hyde had been transferred, another letter was dispatched to his attorney, Elliott Daum.
“By the time you read this,” the sender wrote, “Robert Hyde will be dead. I’m going to kill him tomorrow morning . . . I was notified of his transfer back to Folsom mainline several days before he arrived. At the same time, I was told I could win my release by eliminating him, and that I could count on not ever getting out of prison alive by any other means. In view of my sentence, my personal experience, and what I’ve seen happen to others – I know my keepers are ready, willing and able to make good on either promise.
“I don’t know if any other individuals have been put under this kind of pressure to assassinate Bob, but I do know every active tip (gang, group – whatever) here has been watching him closely and at least two of them have already made dry-run rehearsals of his execution . . . I know I’ll need legal assistance. I hope you’ll be willing to help me, but I don’t expect you to.”
It was too late for attorney Daum to warn his client, or take protective measures. Several weeks passed before Hyde penned the following message:
“After more than two weeks recovering in the Folsom prison hospital I am now writing from ‘the hole’ at Folsom’s adjustment center. I was stabbed several times April 15...”
As far as can be known, at this writing Robert Hyde is still alive. Now, with the capture of Patty Hearst, the investigation of the SLA has once again intensified. The effort to cover up the truth is being intensified, too.
Reached by telephone, Don Williamson, assistant to the superintendent at Soledad, issued this statement: “To our best knowledge, there is no army, clique or group of people connected with the SLA. I would certainly hope not.”
The FBI, claims Rusty Rhodes, has approached the families of several of the original SLA members’ and told them that Rhodes, Freed and Headley were radicals pursuing a line of investigation they knew not to be true.
Yet, in Los Angeles, another mysterious figure has surfaced with a direct connection to the FBI, and the SLA. He is Wayne Lewis, a former FBI undercover agent, currently suing the Bureau for $53,800 he says is due him in back pay. Letters from both FBI Director Kelley and assistant director William A. Sullivan acknowledge that Lewis had been in the FBI’s employ. Through a tip from Lewis’ lawyer’s office, on June 20 SLA investigator Lake Headley established contact with him.
A statement sworn by Headley on June 22 says that Wayne Lewis is ready to testify in court to the following information:
* That he made contact with Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze on several occasions in San Francisco in 1974 – after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst – as an informer operating under orders of Donald L. Grey, of the FBI’s Los Angeles bureau.
* That Grey told Lewis that Donald DeFreeze was an FBI informant who had gotten out of hand and had to be “removed” as part of the SLA.
* That Grey asked Lewis to take DeFreeze’s place as head of the SLA once DeFreeze was eliminated, and Lewis agreed.
* That, after a trip to South Dakota working for the FBI on the Wounded Knee incident, Lewis returned to Los Angeles after the SLA shoot-out and was told by Grey that the way was now clear for him to step in.
* That, in June, Lewis succeeded in making telephone contact with Patty Hearst and arranging a meeting, but that his FBI cover was blown when his landlady learned of his position with the government agency.
Wayne Lewis, says Headley, also told him that between 1968 and 1974 he had served for a time in Central and South America as a liaison between the FBI and the CIA.
There is no evidence that Patty Hearst stayed in further contact with any undercover authorities, or the prison SLA. Like DeFreeze and the five who died with him, she was more a pawn than an embarrassment. Yet her conversion to radical beliefs was apparently genuine. To this day, she probably knows little about the origin of Donald DeFreeze and his mentors.
The intricate fabric of deceit and treachery is beginning to come undone. At Berkeley, where he still teaches, Colston Westbrook is a cautious man.
“I have to be very careful about what I say now,” he explained by telephone. “Because a lot of things are happening. The situation is extremely delicate. Same old shit. Goddamn FBI and everybody else subpoenaing me for this and that. In fact, this situation’s been so blown out of proportion that I called up the CIA and asked if I worked for them. I have a letter from them saying that I’ve never worked or been associated with the CIA.”
Colston Westbrook says he is no longer in hiding from the SLA. But a close associate of Westbrook’s, also a one-time lecturer on Afro-American studies and an organizer of visits to Vacaville, has suddenly turned up as “people’s enemy No. 1” on an SLA communique found in the apartment where Patty Hearst was arrested. The former Henry Crump, who now goes by the Africanized name of Maalik El-Maalik, believes “people may have been planted very close to me to kill me.
“The SLA is just one in a series of names,” he says. “There are forces out there being utilized to get to me, subtle forces. A lot of the lower groups are actually being manipulated at this point, I believe, and channeled in some sophisticated way. Who they are, I don’t know. Things are at a level of subtlety now that cuts dry fact. What I want to know is: who’s pulling the strings on certain people?”