YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A manhunt that lasted more than 40 years ended in a town outside Lisbon, Portugal, where state and federal authorities from New Jersey caught George Wright, a Black Liberation Army murderer who escaped from the Leesburg prison and humiliated the FBI in one of the most notorious hijackings in U.S. history.
Wright, left, became one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives after he escaped and fled in August 1970 while serving a 30-year sentence for the 1962 Thanksgiving week murder of World War II Bronze Star recipient Walter Paterson during a $70 holdup at a Wall Township gas station.
After stealing the Bayside State Prison warden’s car, Wright and two other inmates went straight to Atlantic City and then on to Detroit, where they hooked up with the BLA. Wright spent two years working as a model with a new name before he and five others hijacked a plane to Miami, bringing three children along with them.
Wright dressed as a priest and hid a gun in a compartment he cut out of a Bible, authorities said.
Agents who were required to wear bathing suits delivered a suitcase filled with $1 million on the tarmac. And although the hijackers let the passengers go, the held onto the crew as they headed to Boston, refueled, then flew on to Algeria.
The Algerians got the money and the plane back but eventually released the hijackers. Congress later ordered scanners at every U.S. airport.
And although his four accomplices were later picked up and prosecuted in France, Wright — now 68 — kept moving.
Recently, the FBI — along with U.S. marshals from New Jersey and investigators from both the state Department of Corrections and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Officer — got on his tail after Wright contacted loved ones here.
Portugese officials officially arrested him yesterday “pursuant to a provisional arrest request from the United States,” said Bryan Travers of the FBI’s Newark Field Office. An extradition request is pending.
“The investigation into George Wright serves as an example of law enforcement strength and tenacity,” Michael Ward, Special Agent In Charge of the FBI’s Newark Division. “This case should also serve notice that the FBI’s determination in pursuing subjects will not diminish over time or distance.”
Ward also gave credit to United States Marshals Service NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force.
Juan Mattos, New Jersey’s top Marshal, added that the squad showed “tenacious resolve” that he said “has proven to be very powerful in seeking justice and closure for the victims.”
He also called the case “a perfect example of interagency cooperation.”
NJ Corrections Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan brought it down to an even more personal level, noting that Patterson, the murdered gas station owner, had two young girls.
“Despite the passage of time, justice has been served, and George Wright will pay for his crime,” Lanigan said.
He also applauded Portugese authorities, noting that Wright wouldn’t have been nabbed without their “friendship, cooperation, and assistance.”
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