A cowardly man with large ambition, weak ability and a large pile of explosives — stop me if you have heard this story before.
It is almost always a man responsible.
The story is more common than we care to admit.
They slither out from under rocks every few decades, from anarchists in the 19th century to racists in the 1950s to militant radicals in the 60s.
Sometimes we remember the location — an Olympics in Atlanta, a federal building in Oklahoma, a church in the south and now a marathon in Boston.
Sometimes we remember the names of the perpetrators; sometimes they become a joke, a questionable Halloween costume. You’ve seen it: dark glasses, hooded sweatshirt.
Unlike Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan or a dozen other places around the globe, most of us don’t think this could happen here, but it does.
When it happens within our borders somehow the violence seems more real and senseless but we all bleed the same way.
In the hours after the event cable television news is filled with the same five minutes of information playing on a thoughtless loop, a hamster wheel of fear. This must be as good as it gets for a small cowardly man.
But investigators are sifting the debris, reviewing video and checking records. Chances are they will find the cowardly man.
Hearst Castle was struck by a group calling itself the New World Liberation Front on February 12, 1976. The initials NWLF were scraped into a redwood sign on the Castle gate. and was brought to the attention of authorities by Cambria editor Ralph “Scoop” Morgan and Telegram-Tribune photographer Wayne Nicholls.
The bomb was placed at a location not on any tours. According several internet sources the NWLF was responsible for at least 30 bombings after it was formed in 1970 in the Bay Area. It was at war with corporate power and law enforcement agencies and targeted utility companies and sheriff’s cars.
San Mateo County sheriff’s deputy Robert Outman was wounded when he apparently broke up an attempt to bomb a utility tower near Redwood City Feb. 13, 1976.
At one point the NWLF planted a bomb at the home of then-San Francisco Supervisor Dianne Feinstein that failed to detonate.
Today we still pay utility bills and have sheriffs. Hearst Castle has increased security and surveillance. Most people have forgotten the New World Liberation Front.
The other related big news the day of the bombing was testimony in the Patty Hearst trial.
A different terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, had kidnapped the granddaughter of Castle builder and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
At some point during her captivity she changed her name to Tania, posed in a photo with a machine gun and joined the SLA in a bank robbery. Patty/Tania was captured along with SLA members William and Emily Harris.
The prosecution was wrapping up its bank robbery case almost the same time as the bomb exploded at the Castle’s center guest house, Casa Del Sol, a few hundred miles from the courtroom.
This story was one of three related stories that were published in the Telegram-Tribune on Feb. 13, 1976:
Terrorist group takes credit for castle blast
By Pete Dunan and Bruce Kyse Staff Writers
An underground revolutionary group claimed late Thursday it planted the bomb which caused an estimated $1 million damage and narrowly missed a tour group of 55 people at Hearst Castle Thursday.
There were no injuries in the explosion, which heavily damaged artifacts and furnishings in the C Cottage of the palace built by William Randolph Hearst.
The bomb, placed in a veranda of the three-story cottage, blew a three-foot hole through a concrete wall six inches thick.
The Castle was closed to tours Thursday, but reopened today.
The FBI said today the New World Liberation Front, an underground group linked to several bombings of utility towers, in phone calls to the media Thursday night claimed responsibility for the blast.
A woman called a San Francisco television station and said: “Listen carefully, this is the NWLF. We are taking credit for the bombing of San Simeon as a move against the Hearst style of justice.” Then she hung up.
Earlier Thursday the Hearst family blamed the attack on radical “maniacs” trying to “terrorize Patty.” The Hearsts are in San Francisco at the trial of their daughter, who is charged with robbing a bank when she was with the Symbionese Liberation Army.
San Luis Obispo Sheriff John Pierce said the bomb was probably placed by someone not on a tour. He also said it was meant to kill, not just damage the Hearst cottage.
“The bomb was meant to destroy people,” he said. “To think it was to attract attention only—with that short of a time span between the time the last tour went through and the explosion—we’d be fooling ourselves.”
The bomb exploded about 10:20 a.m., moments after a tour group of 55 left the ornate Spanish Gothic guest house.
Pierce said it would have been difficult for someone on the tour to slip away unnoticed to place the bomb, and he suspects it was placed on the veranda sometime during the night. It’s a 5- to 10-mile hike up the “Enchanted Hill” to the famous castle.
Although sheriff’s deputies at the scene said the bomb might have been “dynamite with a time fuse,” the Los Angeles Times quoted an investigator as saying the bomb was possibly nitroglycerin or plastique because the force of the bomb disintegrated bomb components.
About 40 minutes after the explosion Thursday, the Highway Patrol stopped a 24-year-old woman about 30 miles north of San Simeon. She reportedly had been on one of the last tours to go through the cottage before the bomb went off.
Sheriff and FBI officials tested her hands for signs of nitrates, which most bombs contain. She was released after four hours of questioning, however, test results won’t be known for 30 days, investigators said.
The FBI officially joined the case after the announcement by the terrorist group Thursday night. Combing the shattered rounds of the guest house are sheriff’s detectives and investigators from the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau.
Pierce said today the damage was in excess of $1 million to art work and furnishings alone. The extent of damage to artifacts — some dating back to the 12th century — won’t be known for several weeks.
The bomb exploded on the top level of the 18-room guest house, used by Hearst for visiting movie stars and heads-of-state in the 1920s and 1930s.
The force of the explosion sent furniture flying across the room. A couch beneath the window overlooking the veranda was knocked halfway across the room, crashing into a desk and a 17th century Venetian chair.
Glass throughout the cottage was shattered. Doors on both ends of the building were blown from their hinges. The ornate, famous Spanish Gothic ceiling and window frames were heavily damaged.
The hole in the concrete wall was large enough for two adults to walk through side by side. The explosion threw particles of marble 30-feet away.
Tours today passed the cottage, but well out of the way of detectives sifting through the jumbled building.