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Donald DeFreeze

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, the Californian Che Guevara, 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 1
  • SLA 2
  • Death 3
  • References in media 4
  • References 5

Early life

DeFreeze was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Louis and Mary DeFreeze. He began his criminal career at age 14, after he ran away from home and became a street gang member in Buffalo, New York,[1] before moving to California. From December 1969 to January 1972, he was serving a sentence in Vacaville Prison for armed robbery. Those who remember him in prison considered him an unimpressive criminal. He was first arrested for stealing $10 from a prostitute and framed his friend as having committed the crime.[2]

While incarcerated at Vacaville Prison, DeFreeze met with some far-left radicals who were working as volunteers in the prison and was converted to their political ideas. He was transferred to Soledad Prison in Soledad, California, in January 1972, from which he escaped on March 5, 1973.[3] 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. He adopted the surname Mtume from the Swahili word for prophet.


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.[4]


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 all out battle with both sides trading fire using automatic weapons. 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.

DeFreeze is buried in Highland Park Cemetery in Shaker Heights, Ohio.[5]

References in media

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.[6]

There is also a reference to Donald 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. ^ Harvard Crimson, May 29, 1974;
  3. ^ Les Payne and Tim Findley, with Carolyn Craven, The Life snd Death of the SLA; New York: Ballantine Books, 1976
  4. ^ Taylor, Michael (November 14, 2002). "Forgotten Footnote: Before Hearst, SLA killed educator". San Francisco Chronicle. pp. A–17. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  5. ^ Vigil, Vicki Blum. Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio. Cleveland: Gray & Company, Publishers, 2007
  6. ^ King, Stephen (1981). Danse Macabre. Everest House.  
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