George Wright (fugitive)

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George Edward Wright
Born (1943-03-29) March 29, 1943 (age 74)
USA
Nationality USA, Portuguese
Other names José Luís Jorge dos Santos
Larry Burgess

George Edward Wright (born March 29, 1943)[1] is a Portuguese citizen of American origin[2] who, in 1961, graduated from Mary Bethune High School in Halifax, Virginia.[3] Originally arrested and convicted for murder in 1962 and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, George Wright escaped from prison in 1970 and hijacked a Delta Air Lines flight in 1972 with a number of accomplices. On September 26, 2011, he was arrested in Portugal.[4] The FBI requested Wright's extradition from Portugal to the United States, but was denied on the grounds that Wright is a Portuguese citizen.[5]

New Jersey offenses[edit]

Murder conviction[edit]

On November 23, 1962, Friday night, the day after Thanksgiving, George Wright, then 19 and from East Orange, New Jersey, and three accomplices: Walter McGhee of Sylvan Avenue in Asbury Park, Elizabeth Roswell (McGhee’s live-in girlfriend), and Julio DeLeon of Munroe Avenue in Asbury Park; were involved in the commission of multiple armed robberies.

The four suspects first robbed the Sands Motel in Englishtown of $200. They then made their way to the Collingswood Esso gasoline station on eastbound Route 33 in Wall. At around 9:25 PM, during the second robbery, McGhee fatally wounded Walter Patterson, a 42-year-old World War II veteran and Bronze Star recipient who lived in Howell. Patterson was a father of two teenage daughters. Patterson, who earlier that evening had relieved his brother Harry C. Patterson Jr. and sent him home to have dinner with his family, was taken to Fitkin Memorial Hospital in Neptune, where he died from the gunshot wound two days later.

Wright, armed with a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle, and McGhee, armed with a .32-caliber pistol, were both wearing women’s pantyhose over their faces when they assaulted Patterson. McGhee fired two shots during the robbery.[6] Patterson was shot once in the abdomen before the four got away with $70 in cash. Police later determined it was a shot from McGhee’s pistol that led to Patterson’s death.[7]

The four were arrested two days later.[8] On December 13, 1962, Wright was indicted on state charges along with his associates. McGhee, as the triggerman, was charged with Patterson’s murder and sentenced to a life prison term in February 1963, but was paroled in August 1977. Wright, as one of the holdup men, was also charged with murder.

On February 15, 1963, Wright reportedly changed his plea from Innocent to No Defense to the charge of murder,[9] in order to evade a jury trial that could have resulted in the death penalty. Wright was subsequently sentenced to 15 to 30 years’ incarceration.[10]

Escape from prison[edit]

On August 19, 1970, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., after serving over 7 years and 6 months of his sentence, Wright joined three inmates and "just walked out" between bed checks[11] from a state prison farm at Leesburg State Prison, now known as the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey.[12] Wright escaped with his future hijacking accomplice, George Brown, who was serving a three to five-year sentence for a 1968 armed robbery conviction. Allegedly they stole the prison warden’s car to get away. They made their way to Detroit, where they became affiliated with the Black Liberation Army.

On August 26, 1970, federal complaints were issued in Atlantic City, charging Brown and Wright with unlawful flight to avoid confinement.[13]

Federal offenses[edit]

Hijacking and extortion[edit]

On Monday July 31, 1972, Wright, then 29, together with:[14][15]

  • George Brown, then 28, of Elizabeth, NJ, (alias Harry Singleton) with whom Wright escaped from prison
  • Joyce Brown (aka Tillerson), then 31, of Spartanburg, SC, accompanied by her 2-year-old daughter
  • Melvin McNair, then 23, born in Greensboro, NC
  • Jean Carol Allen McNair, then 25, from Winston-Salem, NC, accompanied by her 1-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son[16]

boarded Delta Air Lines Flight 841 in Detroit. The DC-8 flight was bound for Miami.

Wright was dressed allegedly as a priest and, using the alias the Rev. Larry Darnell Burgess, he smuggled a handgun aboard the flight in a hollowed-out Bible.[17] One passenger described the apparent ringleader as a black male, about 30, wearing a black mohair suit which others described as a clerical outfit.[18] The pilot of the hijacked Detroit-Miami flight, Captain William Harold May, then 41 and a 20-year Delta employee, said Wright was the group's leader.

The hijackers, allegedly members of the Black Liberation Army, seized the plane as it approached Miami, where they demanded that FBI agents (dressed only in bathing suits) deliver $1 million ransom to the plane; the FBI complied. The hijackers allowed the 86 hostage passengers to leave the plane in Miami, but kept the flight crew. They then ordered the plane to fly to Boston, where they refueled and took on an international navigator. They then directed the plane to Algiers, the capital of Algeria, where they sought political asylum since that government had shown compassion towards those struggling for liberation.

May told reporters that two of the hijackers smoked marijuana continuously during the flight, and commented, “They said they were revolutionaries, that America is a decadent society and they didn’t want to live here anymore.” Upon arrival in Algeria, Melvin McNair had parting words for his pilot: "We're famous," he said, "Send us a copy of your paper."

On Wednesday August 2, 1972, federal complaints of air piracy charges were filed in Miami, naming the five accomplices as defendants.[19][20]

Asylum in Algeria[edit]

Wright and his associates were briefly taken into custody but were released after a few days. Reportedly, Wright and his group were taken in by the American writer and prominent Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, whom Algeria's sympathetic Socialist government allowed to open an office. Cleaver wrote an open letter to the then Algerian President, Houari Boumediene, in part:[21]

In humbleness and all sincerity, I think it would be consistent with the Algerian tradition of struggle and revolution to continue welcoming American revolutionaries ... whether they come to your shores or your airfields, penniless or with millions of dollars. ...
To carry out our struggle for the liberation of our people, we must have money. Without the money to finance and organize the struggle, there will be no freedom.

This hijacking represented the final test of the Third World nation's commitment to supporting some contingents of the African American freedom movement.[22] At the request of the U.S. government, the Algerian government confiscated and returned[23] the $1 million in ransom money to the U.S. After the hijackers' calls to have the ransom money restored to them were ignored by the Algerian government, Wright and his associates disappeared. Allegedly in early 1973, the group traveled by ship to France and lived and worked there with new identities.[24]

Apprehension and refused extradition of accomplices[edit]

On May 26, 1976, Wright’s four associates were located in Paris and arrested by the French National Police for carrying false U.S. passports. Facing extradition to the United States, the four issued an appeal to the French people on October 11, 1976, claiming that while they were “ready to face the consequences of our act,” they could not expect a fair trial in America and “would be condemned to spend the rest of our days in infernal prisons.” French authorities declined the American extradition request in November 1976, holding the four defendants in the Fleury-Mérogis prison, awaiting trial on hijacking charges. On November 24, 1978, the Fleury 4 were convicted by a French court for the hijacking. All received five-year sentences, but two years were suspended from the women's terms. In the United States, they would have faced a minimum of 20 years.[25][26] The jury had found them guilty but noted "extenuating circumstances".[27] George Brown and Melvin McNair were released in 1981.

In 2012, a documentary titled Melvin & Jean: An American Story[28] was made by director Maia Wechsler.[29] Melvin McNair and his wife, Jean, work at an orphanage in the French town of Caen, where reportedly they have turned their lives around completely.[30] McNair is known for coaching American baseball, teaching youth the art and strategy of the sport.

In 2010, a documentary titled Nobody Knows My Name[31] was made about the hijacking. According to Mikhael Ganouna, producer of the film, Wright's hijacking accomplice, George Brown, lives in Paris but isn't worried about being extradited because he has already served his sentence.[32]

Extradition in a similar preluding hijacking[edit]

The Flight 841 hijacking was a copycat of a similar incident two months earlier, involving the hijacking of Western Airlines Flight 701 from Los Angeles to Seattle on June 3, 1972 by Willie Roger Holder, a black Vietnam veteran, and Catherine Marie Kerkow, his white girlfriend. The hijackers claimed they had a bomb in an attache case and demanded $500,000. After allowing all 97 passengers to get off in San Francisco, they flew to Algeria where they were granted political asylum. The Algerian government confiscated and returned $488,000 of the ransom money to US officials. On January 25, 1975, the two hijackers, carrying passports under the names Leavy Forte and Janice Ann Forte, were arrested on illegal entry charges by French police. On April 15, 1975, a French court refused a US extradition request for the pair on grounds the hijacking was a political act. In July 1986, French authorities moved to deport Holder to the US after he completed his sentence for 1984 assault charges. Kerkow went missing, was never extradited, and her whereabouts and status remain unknown.[33][34][35][36]

International fugitive captured[edit]

After the apprehension of his four accomplices, Wright remained the lone hijacker at large. The elusive fugitive is known to have made his way to France, Guinea-Bissau (a former Portuguese colony) and finally to Portugal. While living in Guinea-Bissau in the 1980s, Wright allegedly used his real name and worked as logistics manager of the Belgium-based nonprofit Iles de Paix.[37][38]

Apprehension[edit]

On September 26, 2011, Wright was arrested in Mem Martins, Portugal[39] after 41 years on the run, as the result of a combined task force that introduced cold-case evidence from New Jersey. The task force matched Wright's fingerprints from the New Jersey prison with the fingerprints on the ID card issued by the Portuguese government. The United States sought his extradition, with the possibility that he will finish the remaining 22 years of his sentence.[40][41] However, the request was denied on the grounds that Wright is a Portuguese citizen.[42]

Life in Portugal[edit]

Wright, who lived under the name of José Luís Jorge dos Santos,[43] had no known occupation, but allegedly at one point owned a BBQ chicken restaurant, sold items at a stall along a popular tourist beach, worked as a bouncer at a local bar and, similar to Melvin McNair, coached youth in American basketball. He married a Portuguese-English translator who was 13 years younger and, together, the couple had two children. His neighbors knew his first name was George, but did not know his history, assuming he was African, not American.[44]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "INTERPOL Red Notice Listings From the United States". Retrieved April 6, 2011. [permanent dead link]
  2. ^ "Foragido George Wright apanhado em Portugal através de chamada telefónica convicted kidnapper and murderer". SIC Noticias. September 26, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Awaiting Extradition U.S. Fugitive Is Far From His Hometown In Halifax". News & Record. October 3, 2011. 
  4. ^ "U.S. Officials Reportedly Knew Fugitive Was in Africa". Fox News. Associated Press. September 29, 2011. 
  5. ^ "George Wright 'wins extradition case in Portugal'". BBC.co.uk. November 17, 2011. Retrieved November 17, 2011. 
  6. ^ Grant, Jason. "Ambassador had no idea 41-year fugitive was escaped convict during encounters in Guinea-Bissau". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  7. ^ Webster, Charles. "Fugitive's arrest brings relief to N.J. family 49 years after killing". MyCentralJersey.com. Retrieved Oct 1, 2011. 
  8. ^ Webster, Charles. "Wall gas station attendant killer captured in Portugal after 41-year manhunt". Asbury Park Press. Retrieved September 28, 2011. 
  9. ^ In a process similar to what is called Alford plea.
  10. ^ "International Fugitive Captured After More Than 40 Years". FBI Newark. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  11. ^ Fournier, Holly. "Capture pulls Detroit hijacker from shadows". The Detroit News. Retrieved October 5, 2011. 
  12. ^ "US fugitive wants to serve time in Portugal". Associated Press. Retrieved Sep 30, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Escaped Murder Convict Among Skyjackers Of Jet". The Morning Record. Aug 3, 1972. 
  14. ^ Newton, Michael (2002). "The Encyclopedia of Kidnappings (Facts on File Crime Library)" (PDF). Facts On File, Inc. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 25, 2012. 
  15. ^ "FBI Charges 5 - Escaped Convicts in Hijacking Plot". The Spokesman-Review. Aug 3, 1972. 
  16. ^ "FBI Lists One Of Hijackers Fugitive Convicted Slayer". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Aug 3, 1972. 
  17. ^ Portugal nabs N.J. killer/hijacker on the run since 1970, Michael Winter, USA Today, September 27, 2011
  18. ^ "Hijackers Order Jet to Algeria". The Palm Beach Post. Aug 1, 1972. 
  19. ^ "Hijackers Fled "Decadent America"". Indiana Evening Gazette. Aug 3, 1972. 
  20. ^ "Cleaver Urges Algeria To Allow Ransom Be Kept". Daily Messenger. Aug 3, 1972. 
  21. ^ "Cleaver Calls on Algerian President To Keep Black Skyjackers' $1 Million" (PDF). Aug 7, 1972. 
  22. ^ Meghelli, Samir (2010). "From the Algiers Motel to Algiers, Algeria: Black Power in Transnational Perspective, 1962–78". Columbia University. 
  23. ^ "Algeria: Panthers on Ice". Time Magazine. September 4, 1972. 
  24. ^ Heiser, Jürgen (October 6, 2011). "Nach 41 Jahren in Portugal verhaftet: Der frühere Black-Panther-Aktivist George Wright kämpft gegen seine Auslieferung in die USA". AG Friedensforschung. 
  25. ^ "Persecution or Prosecution?". David Icke's Official Forums. 
  26. ^ "Black Militants Get Prison Terms In Hijacking Case". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. November 25, 1978. 
  27. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1876&dat=19781125&id=IIYsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=rs0EAAAAIBAJ&pg=2878,5736617
  28. ^ http://melvinandjean.com
  29. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1372421/ IMDB bio
  30. ^ "Retired Triad pilot recalls 1972 hijacking of airliner". Associated Press. September 29, 2011. 
  31. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1693798/ IMDB page
  32. ^ "US officials knew fugitive in Africa". Associated Press. October 1, 2011. 
  33. ^ "Hijack suspects seized in Paris". The Miami News. Jan 27, 1975. 
  34. ^ "Hijack Suspects Arrested". Ocala Star-Banner. Jan 26, 1975. 
  35. ^ "Skyjacker Wants To Return Home". Merced Sun-Star. May 7, 1977. 
  36. ^ "France hands over suspect in 1972 hijacking". The Deseret News. Jul 27, 1986. 
  37. ^ "Fugitive hijacker George Wright 'socialised with US envoy in Africa'". guardian.co.uk. London: Guardian. September 30, 2011. 
  38. ^ "US fugitive lived openly in Africa". Associated Press. October 2, 2011. 
  39. ^ Location of Wright's final capture in Portugal
  40. ^ Associated Press (September 28, 2011). "George Wright, fugitive US hijacker, caught in Portugal after 40 years | World news | guardian.co.uk". London: Guardian. Retrieved September 28, 2011. 
  41. ^ "US killer George Wright held in Portugal after 40 years". BBC News. September 27, 2011. 
  42. ^ Barron, James (March 1, 2012). "Deadline Past, Portugal Says It Won't Send Killer to U.S.". New York Times. 
  43. ^ "Longtime fugitive U.S. hijacker caught in Portugal". Usatoday.com. August 19, 1970. Retrieved September 28, 2011. 
  44. ^ "AP Exclusive: US fugitive hid in Portugal hamlet - Yahoo! News". News.yahoo.com. Retrieved September 28, 2011. 

See also[edit]