Donald DeFreeze

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Donald DeFreeze
FBI file photo showing DeFreeze robbing the Hibernia bank
Born (1943-11-15)November 15, 1943
Cleveland, Ohio
Died May 17, 1974(1974-05-17) (aged 30)
Los Angeles, California
Other names Field Marshal Cinque, Cinque Mtume
Movement Symbionese Liberation Army

Donald David DeFreeze (November 15, 1943 – May 17, 1974), also known as Cinque Mtume, was the leader of the American far-left militia group Symbionese Liberation Army, a group operating in the mid-1970s, under the nom de guerre "Field Marshal Cinque".

Early life[edit]

DeFreeze was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Louis and Mary DeFreeze, the eldest[1] of eight children.[2] His mother was a registered nurse at a convalescent home.[1] His father was a violent man who punished him three times as a child by breaking both his arms.[3] He dropped out of school in the ninth grade at age 14 and ran away from home. He moved to Buffalo, New York, where he lived with the Rev. William L. Foster, a fundamentalist minister, and his family.[1] He became a street gang member in Buffalo.[3] The Rev. Foster would say of him later:

"He was a get up and go kid... he had a heart that was as big as a house. But some of boys he used to hang around with, I didn't care for. You just knew they were 99 and 44/100 percent bad."[1]

He was arrested for stealing from parking meters and stealing a car. He was sent to the state reformatory in Elmira, New York.[4] In 1970, DeFreeze wrote of his time here, which he called a prison or a mental institution:

"Life in the prison, as we called it, was nothing but fear and hate, day in and day out... I would not be part of any of the gangs, black or white...I didn't hate anyone, black or white, and they hated me for it."[1]

DeFreeze moved to the Newark area. In 1963, he married Gloria Thomas, who had three children from a previous marriage. DeFreeze and Thomas had three children together.[4] In 1964 his wife had him arrested for desertion.[5] In 1965 DeFreeze moved with his family to California, where they settled in Los Angeles.[4] He said that the worries of trying to support the children engulfed him. He wrote, "I just couldn't take it anymore. I was slowly becoming a nothing".[1]

Prior arrests, warnings and probations[edit]

In 1964, police stopped DeFreeze while he was hitchhiking on the San Bernardino Freeway near West Covina, California, and found a tear-gas pencil bomb, a sharpened butter knife, and a sawed-off rifle in his suitcase.[4]

In 1965, DeFreeze was arrested for firing a gun in the basement of his home. "I started playing with guns and fireworks", he would later write.[1] "Just anything to get away from life and how unhappy I was".[1] The charges were dropped and DeFreeze took his family to California.

In 1967, the police stopped DeFreeze for running a red light on his bicycle. The police said that when he was searched, they found a homemade bomb in his pocket, and in the basket of the bicycle, another bomb and a pistol. DeFreeze said he had found them and was trying to sell them because of his family's needs. He was given three years of probation.[4] The probation officer who interviewed DeFreeze wrote that the youth was "deeply troubled by this case".[1] He said, in recommending probation:

"...The difficulties which the defendant has encountered in his life are real and serious. He feels his responsibilities deeply and is overcome when he cannot meet them. He appears to have a warm relationship with his wife and children... The type of behaviour encountered in the present offence appears to be the defendant's way of compensating for feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness... The defendant is potentially dangerous if he again encounters such severely threatening circumstances as he was encountering at the time of the offense."[1]

An early probation report described DeFreeze as, "a schizoid personality with strong schizophrenic potential" who had "a fascination with firearms and explosives".[4] Psychiatric officials at the prison testing center where he was sent briefly, recommended that he be jailed "because his fascination with firearms and explosives made him dangerous".[4][1]

Despite these recommendations, Los Angeles police gave him a further five years' probation.[4]

In 1969, DeFreeze and an accomplice were arrested for the kidnapping of a caretaker of a synagogue. His accomplice was tried and acquitted. A memorandum from the prosecutor's office said that it was decided to drop charges against DeFreeze since by then he was jailed in California.[4]

On October 11, 1969, Cleveland, Ohio, police spotted DeFreeze on the roof of a bank carrying two pistols and an 8-inch dagger. Police said they found a burglar's tool kit and a hand grenade nearby. He was able to pay the $5000 bond money and then left for Los Angeles.[4]

Imprisonment and the Black Cultural Association[edit]

On November 17, 1969, DeFreeze was injured in a gun battle with police outside a bank in Los Angeles. He was convicted of having stolen a $1,000 negotiable cashier's check and sent to Vacaville Prison.

Those who remember him in prison[who?] considered him an unimpressive criminal.[citation needed]

While incarcerated at Vacaville Prison, DeFreeze joined the Black Cultural Association,[4] convened through the University of California, Berkeley by Colston Westbrook. Berkeley students were allowed to attend the prison to help with tuition and political discussions. People from beyond the university also attended. DeFreeze met with some far-left radicals who were working as volunteers in the prison and was converted[citation needed] to their political ideas.

DeFreeze moved away from the Black Cultural Association to set up his own small group, Unisight. Two of the white radical visitors who joined this group were Willie Wolfe and Russ Little. A former Black Panther, an inmate by the name of Thero Wheeler, was also in the group.[5] This is believed to be the beginnings of the Symbionese Liberation Army.[4]

DeFreeze adopted the name Field Marshal Cinque (pronounced "SINK-you"), having taken this name from Joseph Cinqué, the reported leader of the slave rebellion which took over the Spanish slave ship Amistad in 1839.[6] He adopted the surname Mtume from the Swahili word for "prophet".[citation needed]

He was transferred to Soledad Prison in Soledad, California, in December 1972.[4]


DeFreeze escaped from Soledad Prison on March 5, 1973.[7] He made his way to Oakland, where he was hidden by white friends from the Vacaville BCA.[5] He was taken to the house of Patricia Mizmoon Soltysik, with whom he then lived for several months. Through Soltysik, DeFreeze met Camilla Hall, a Berkeley artist. By late summer the SLA roster also included Joe Remiro, a Vietnam veteran activist who was a friend of Little and Wolfe. As DeFreeze's circle of politically aware friends widened, he also came to know Angela Atwood, 25, who had been a friend of the Harrises in Indiana.[5]


DeFreeze, along with Patricia Soltysik, founded the Symbionese Liberation Army and soon recruited members for his group. The group perpetrated a number of crimes, the most infamous being the murder of Oakland Schools Superintendent Marcus Foster and the abduction of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. DeFreeze is primarily suspected of having murdered Foster and shooting Assistant Superintendent Robert Blackburn.[8]

Evidence of police informing[edit]

At an earlier probation hearing, Morgan M. Morten, the attorney representing DeFreeze, said that it had been "indicated that he [DeFreeze] had been cooperating with the police".[4]

When Willie Wolfe's father, Dr Wolfe, learned of his son's involvement in the SLA, he hired private detective Lake Headley, to provide him with more information. On May 4, 1974, thirteen days before the younger Wolfe's death in a shootout and fire, Headley, along with freelance writer Donald Freed, held a press conference in San Francisco. They presented 400 pages of documentation of their findings, some of which included evidence that, a year before the kidnapping, Patty Hearst had visited DeFreeze.[9] He provided evidence for the following:

DeFreeze's arrest records[edit]

Records showing that DeFreeze had set up the arrest of an associate in a case involving a stolen gun. The Los Angeles Police Department officer who handled the case became a key intelligence officer who handled informants involving black militants.[4]

Police records also showed, according to Lake Headley's research, that between 1967 and 1969, DeFreeze had remained on probation despite a series of encounters with the police. These included arrest for possession of weapons, a kidnapping charge in New Jersey, an attempted bank robbery in Cleveland, and a gunfight with Los Angeles police and bank guards.[4]

On March 10, 1968, DeFreeze was charged with burglary in Inglewood, California. There was no disposition of the charges. On August 16, 1968, he was charged with stealing a motorcycle. There was no disposition. On March 20, 1969, he was picked up with a loaded 9-millimeter semiautomatic rifle with 32 rounds in the magazine. There was no disposition, although his probation had been modified, on December 13, 1968, to forbid possession of firearms or bombs.[4]

Work of DeFreeze's prison tutor with police units[edit]

Evidence showed that DeFreeze's tutor, Colston Westbrook, had worked closely with Los Angeles Police Department's Criminal Conspiracy Section (CCS) and the State of California's Sacramento-based CII (Criminal Identification and Investigation) unit.[10]

Links of CIA to police departments[edit]

There was evidence of links of the CIA to police departments.[11][12]

On May 17, 1974, The New York Times ran the story with some of this information.[4] However, the story was largely overlooked[according to whom?] due to this being the day of the shootout and conflagration that killed DeFreeze and five other members of the SLA.

In the 1993 book Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective which he co-wrote with freelance writer William Hoffman,[13] Lake Headley also presented evidence that Donald DeFreeze was a police informant and an agent provocateur.[14]


On May 17, 1974, the Los Angeles Police Department surrounded a house where DeFreeze and five other SLA members were staying. The stand-off quickly escalated into an all-out battle with both sides trading fire using automatic weapons[citation needed]. The house caught fire during the shootout (possibly from a smoke grenade). DeFreeze and others crawled through a hole in the floor into a crawlspace beneath the house, where they continued to fire at police until the crawlspace likely caught fire. Apparently burning alive, DeFreeze committed suicide by shooting himself in the right side of his head with a pistol. His corpse was so severely burned that his family did not initially believe the remains belonged to DeFreeze.[citation needed]

DeFreeze is buried in Highland Park Cemetery in Shaker Heights, Ohio.[15]

References in media[edit]

As stated by Stephen King in his book Danse Macabre, he was one of the sources of the recurrent character Randall Flagg:

I sat there for another fifteen minutes or so, listening to the Eagles on my little cassette player, and then I wrote: Donald DeFreeze is a dark man. I did not mean that DeFreeze was black; it had suddenly occurred to me that, in the photos taken during the bank robbery in which Patty Hearst participated, you could barely see DeFreeze's face. He was wearing a big badass hat, and what he looked like was mostly guesswork. I wrote, "A dark man with no face," and then glanced up and saw that grisly little motto again: Once in every generation the plague will fall among them. And that was that. I spent the next two years writing an apparently endless book called The Stand.[16]

There is also a reference to DeFreeze and the SLA in the 1976 film Network in which a television show is created using the members of the fictional version of the SLA as the stars.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Patty Hearst's Chief Captor Emerges As a Man Capable of Love and Violence, The Danville Register, April 14, 1974, p. 6A
  2. ^ Caldwell, Earl, 'Marshall Cinque' is Buried in Ohio, The New York Times May 24, 1974, p. 38
  3. ^ a b Shane, Peter M, The SLA: Revolutionary Irresponsibility, The Harvard Crimson, May 29, 1974;
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Kifner, John, Cinque: A Dropout Who Has Been in Constant Trouble; School Dropout On Welfare Wanted to Sell Bombs Recommendation Ignored Cooperation Indicated Charges Dropped,The New York Times, May 17, 1974
  5. ^ a b c d McLellan, Vin, "The Man and the Mystery Behind the Sla Terror", People, April 29, 1974
  6. ^ Coleman, Martha, "Death Threat Taken Seriously", Daily Mail, April 12, 1974, p 18
  7. ^ Les Payne and Tim Findley, with Carolyn Craven, The Life and Death of the SLA; New York: Ballantine Books, 1976
  8. ^ Taylor, Michael (November 14, 2002). "Forgotten Footnote: Before Hearst, SLA killed educator". San Francisco Chronicle. pp. A–17. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  9. ^ Langley, W, "Patty Hearst - urban guerrilla brought to heel", The Telegraph, 17 February 2008
  10. ^ Churchill, Ward & Vander Wall, Jim, Agents of Repression: The FBI's secret wars against the Black Panther Party, 2002
  11. ^ Brussell, Mae. "Patty Hearst article (part 1)". Retrieved November 24, 2015. 
  12. ^ Russell, Dick, "Who Ran the Sla?", Argosy, Ann Arbor Sun, January 22, 1976,
  13. ^ Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective
  14. ^ Headley, L and Hoffman, W, Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective, Thunder's Mouth, 1993
  15. ^ Vigil, Vicki Blum. Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio. Cleveland: Gray & Company, Publishers, 2007
  16. ^ King, Stephen (1981). Danse Macabre. Everest House. ISBN 978-0-89696-076-3.