Fugitive Hijacker Caught After 40 Years

Sep 27, 2011 2:29pm
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This arrest photo taken Feb. 15, 1963 shows George Wright while in custody for the 1962 murder of a gas station owner in Wall, N.J. Wright was arrested Sept. 26, 2011, by Portuguese authorities at the request of the U.S. government after more than 40 years as a fugitive, authorities said Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.

After more than 40 years on the run, a member of a group that forced FBI agents to deliver ransom money at a Miami airport in nothing but their swimsuits has been caught. George Wright, on the lam since 1970, was  arrested by authorities Monday in Lisbon, Portugal.

Wright, 68, broke out of a New Jersey prison in 1970 while serving time for murdering a World War II hero, Walter Patterson, during a robbery in 1962.  He then joined up with the Black Liberation Army, hiding out for a couple years.  He allegedly returned to his criminal ways in Detroit in 1972, boarding Delta Airlines flight 841 bound for Miami with several other armed conspirators.  Wright was dressed as a  priest and allegedly carried a hollowed-out Bible with a gun hidden inside.

When the flight landed in Miami, the hijackers demanded $1 million in exchange for the passengers to be released safely, authorities said.  The ransom demand was one of the largest in its day and one of the most unusual. Suspect Wright and the other hijackers demanded that the FBI agents deliver the ransom in their swim trunks so the hijackers could be sure that the agents were not hiding any weapons as they approached the plane.

Once they had their money, the hijackers flew to Boston where the plane refueled before they flew to Algeria, where the team had requested asylum.  The hijackers were briefly detained but were released and they fled. The U.S. government eventually recovered the plane and the money. Wright’s associates were eventually arrested in France in 1976 but he remained a fugitive, according to authorities.

Wright was arrested Monday on a provisional arrest warrant in a joint operation with the FBI, the U.S. Marshals and the Portuguese Judiciary Police.

“The investigation into George Wright serves as an example of law enforcement strength and tenacity,” said Michael Ward, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark division.

“Even after 40 years, the commitment of law enforcement is unwavering and through the vast contributions of a multitude of people in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Portugal, Wright was successfully taken into custody. This case should also serve notice that the FBI’s determination in pursuing subjects will not diminish over time or distance.”

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