Home Newark Press Releases 2011 International Fugitive Captured After More Than 40 Years

International Fugitive Captured After More Than 40 Years

FBI Newark September 27, 2011
  • Special Agent Barbara Woodruff (973) 792-3020

NEWARK, NJ—The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Marshals Service, New Jersey Department of Corrections, and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office jointly announce that George Wright, a fugitive for over 41 years, was arrested yesterday by Portuguese authorities, pursuant to a provisional arrest request from the United States. The United States is seeking his extradition from Portugal to serve the remainder of a 15- to 30-year sentence for a New Jersey state murder conviction.

On November 23, 1962, George Wright and three associates were involved in the commission of multiple armed robberies. During the second of these robberies, Wright and an associate shot and killed Walter Patterson, a World War II veteran and Bronze Star recipient, during the robbery of the Collingswood Esso gas station in Wall, New Jersey.

Wright was arrested two days later and was indicted on state charges along with his associates on December 13, 1962. On February 15, 1963, Wright entered a plea of “no defense” to the charge of murder. Wright was subsequently sentenced to 15 to 30 years’ incarceration.

On August 19, 1970, George Wright and three other men escaped from Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey. Subsequent to his escape, Wright traveled to Detroit and became affiliated with the Black Liberation Army. On July 31, 1972, five adults, accompanied by three small children, hijacked Delta flight 841 en route from Detroit to Miami. Subsequent investigation identified Wright as one of the hijackers.

Upon landing in Miami, Wright and his associates demanded a $1 million ransom in exchange for the passengers—the largest ransom of its kind at that time. After releasing the passengers, Wright and his associates forced the plane to fly to Boston for refueling and the addition of another pilot, and then proceeded across the Atlantic to Algeria where they sought asylum. At the request of the United States government, the money and plane were eventually seized and returned by Algeria to the Unites States. Wright and his associates were briefly taken into custody but were eventually released after a few days.

On May 26, 1976, Wright’s associates were located and arrested in Paris, France by the French National Police. The four adults were tried and convicted in French court. Since that time, George Wright has remained the lone fugitive, on the run since his escape on August 19, 1970.

Michael Ward, Special Agent In Charge of the FBI’s Newark Division, remarked: “The investigation into George Wright serves as an example of law enforcement strength and tenacity. 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.”

Juan Mattos, United States Marshal for the District of New Jersey, added: “The United States Marshals Service recently celebrated its 222nd year of constitutional authority, and this investigation of George Wright, with our partner agencies, the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Judiciary Police in Portugal, defines our relentless pursuit of felon fugitives both domestically and internationally. This was a perfect example of interagency cooperation. I want to acknowledge the remarkable investigative efforts of the United States Marshals Service NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force. Over the course of nine years, their tenacious resolve has proven to be very powerful in seeking justice and closure for the victims.”

Gary M. Lanigan, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, also added: “Inmate George Wright was convicted of killing Walter Patterson, a gas station owner, 48 years ago. The crime left two young girls without a father. Despite the passage of time, justice has been served, and George Wright will pay for his crime. I commend members of the U.S. Marshals Service and our Special Investigations Division’s Fugitive Unit, as well as the FBI and the many other law enforcement bodies in the United States and Europe, for their untiring efforts in following leads over the years and locating this fugitive.”

This capture is the result of persistent, dedicated work by investigators from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, and the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. Additional vital assistance was provided by the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. Most importantly, Portuguese authorities, specifically the Judiciary Police, have been very instrumental in this matter. Without their friendship, cooperation, and assistance, the success of this investigation could not have been realized.

Media Contacts:

FBI: Bryan Travers, 973-792-3020

New Jersey Department of Corrections: Matt Schuman or Deirdre Fedkenheuer, 609-292-4224 (or 9340)

U.S. Marshals Service: Mike Schroeder, 973-390-7307