Donald DeFreeze

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Donald DeFreeze
Donald David DeFreeze mugshot 1973.jpg
Mugshot from 1973
Donald David DeFreeze

(1943-11-16)November 16, 1943
DiedMay 17, 1974(1974-05-17) (aged 30)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
Other namesField Marshal Cinque, Cinque Mtume
MovementSymbionese Liberation Army

Donald David DeFreeze (November 16, 1943 – May 17, 1974), also known as Cinque Mtume and using the nom de guerre "Field Marshal Cinque," was the leader of the Symbionese Liberation Army, an American far-left group.

Early life[edit]

DeFreeze was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to African-American parents 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 of 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 the 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 there, 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]

Following his release from prison, 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 briefly sent recommended that he be jailed "because his fascination with firearms and explosives made him dangerous".[4][1] Despite these recommendations, he was given 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 $5,000 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.

While incarcerated at Vacaville Prison, DeFreeze joined the Black Cultural Association,[4] a group with contact at the University of California, Berkeley through professor Colston Westbrook. Through this group, Berkeley students were allowed to visit the prison to help prisoners with educational and political discussions. People outside of the university also attended. Through this organization, DeFreeze met with some far-left radicals who were working as volunteers in the prison and was converted[citation needed] to their political ideology.

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

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


An FBI wanted poster for DeFreeze from April 1974

DeFreeze escaped from Soledad Prison on March 5, 1973.[6] He made his way to Oakland, California, 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.


FBI file photo showing DeFreeze robbing the Hibernia bank

DeFreeze, along with Patricia Soltysik, founded the Symbionese Liberation Army, and soon recruited members for his group, which he was the leader of.[7] DeFreeze adopted the name Field Marshal Cinque (pronounced "SINK-you", though this is not how the name is historically pronounced), having taken this name from Joseph Cinqué, the reported leader of the slave rebellion that took over the Spanish slave ship Amistad in 1839.[8] He adopted the surname Mtume from the Swahili word for "prophet".[9][10] 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 William and Emily Harris (later members of The SLA) in Indiana.[5] 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 the primary suspect in the murder of Foster and the shooting of Assistant Superintendent Robert Blackburn.[11]

Informant allegations[edit]

At an earlier probation hearing, Morgan M. Morten, the attorney representing DeFreeze, said that it had been "indicated that [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.[12] He provided evidence for the following:

DeFreeze's arrest records[edit]

Records showed 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]

BCA contact worked with LAPD unit targeting radicals while DeFreeze was a possible LAPD informant[edit]

Evidence showed that Colston Westbrook, BCA's main contact at UC Berkeley, 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.,[13] during the same period when DeFreeze was receiving unusually lenient treatment from the Los Angeles County criminal justice system. The implication is that leniency towards DeFreeze arose from his agreeing to be an informant.

On May 17, 1974, The New York Times ran the story with some of this information.[4] However, the story may have been 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,[14] Lake Headley also presented evidence that Donald DeFreeze was a police informant and an agent provocateur, and that the Black Cultural Association was used to monitor radicals among students and prison inmates. Upon meeting radicals after his prison escape, DeFreeze was known for his eagerness to sell firearms, explosives, and related items, raising suspicions that he was trying to set up sting operations. His means of acquiring weaponry has remained unexplained.[15]

CIA assassination squad theories[edit]

Building on the work of Headley, some authors in alternative media developed theories that the SLA was a fully controlled CIA assassination squad with the Black Panther Party as its main target. Under that narrative, the SLA originated within California prisons with active recruitment by authorities, the assassination of Oakland Schools Superintendent Marcus Foster was approved by the squad's handlers, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst was a cover operation, and the squad was eliminated in the Los Angeles shootout because their operation security had been compromised.[16][17]


On May 17, 1974, the Los Angeles Police Department surrounded a house at 1466 East 54th Street where DeFreeze and five other SLA members were staying, and demanded that occupants surrender. Following the exit of an elderly man and a child, a tear gas canister was fired through a window and answered with bursts of automatic weapons fire. During the shootout the police were outgunned by the SLA's automatic weapons and the SLA's gas masks rendered the tear gas ineffective. The house caught fire during the shootout, possibly from an outdoor-type combusting tear gas canister. 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. He was the final fatality during the shootout. His corpse was so severely burned that his family did not initially believe the remains were his.[citation needed]

DeFreeze is buried in Highland Park Cemetery in Highland Hills, Ohio.[18]

References in media[edit]

As stated by Stephen King in his book Danse Macabre, DeFreeze was one of the inspirations for recurring 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.[19]

The Stand contains a reference to DeFreeze, where it is implied that Randall Flagg was the driving force behind the radicalisation of DeFreeze and gave him the idea to kidnap Patty Hearst and to indoctrinate her rather than to kill her or receive a cash ransom for her.

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.

In Paul Schrader's 1988 film Patty Hearst, DeFreeze is played by Ving Rhames.

The Camper Van Beethoven song "Tania" from Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart references DeFreeze by his nom de guerre "Field Marshal Cinque" in the lyrics "A Polaroid of you, Cinque/With a seven-headed dragon/In a house in Daly City".


  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. ^ Les Payne and Tim Findley, with Carolyn Craven, The Life and Death of the SLA; New York: Ballantine Books, 1976
  7. ^ "The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army". PBS. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  8. ^ Coleman, Martha, "Death Threat Taken Seriously", Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland), April 12, 1974, p 18
  9. ^ "mtume in English Wiktionary". Retrieved 2020-09-13.
  10. ^ "mtume in dictionary". Retrieved 2020-09-13.
  11. ^ Taylor, Michael (November 14, 2002). "Forgotten Footnote: Before Hearst, SLA killed educator". San Francisco Chronicle. pp. A-17. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  12. ^ Langley, W, "Patty Hearst - urban guerrilla brought to heel", The Telegraph, 17 February 2008
  13. ^ Churchill, Ward & Vander Wall, Jim, Agents of Repression: The FBI's secret wars against the Black Panther Party, 2002
  14. ^ Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective
  15. ^ Headley, L and Hoffman, W, Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective, Thunder's Mouth, 1993
  16. ^ Brussell, Mae. "Patty Hearst article (part 1)". Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  17. ^ Russell, Dick, "Who Ran the SLA?", Argosy, Ann Arbor Sun, January 22, 1976,
  18. ^ Vigil, Vicki Blum. Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio. Cleveland: Gray & Company, Publishers, 2007
  19. ^ King, Stephen (1981). Danse Macabre. Everest House. ISBN 978-0-89696-076-3.