A 1970s militant who escaped from a murder sentence in New Jersey and carried out one of the most brazen hijackings in U.S. history was captured in Portugal after more than 40 years as a fugitive when the case suddenly unraveled after police matched his fingerprint to a resident ID card, authorities said Tuesday.
George Wright, 68, was arrested Monday by Portuguese authorities in a town near Lisbon at the request of the U.S. government, said a member of the fugitive task force that had been searching for him for nearly a decade.
il,4l,0p,130,5p Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of a gas station owner in Wall, N.J. Authorities say Wright and three associates had already committed multiple armed robberies on Nov. 23, 1962, when he and another man shot and killed Walter Patterson, a decorated World War II veteran and father of two, during a robbery of the Collingswood Esso gas station in Wall.
Wright received a 15- to 30-year sentence and had served eight years when he and three other men escaped from the Bayside State Prison farm in Leesburg, N.J., on Aug. 19, 1970. The FBI said Wright then became affiliated with an underground militant group, the Black Liberation Army, and lived in a "communal family" with several of its members in Detroit.
On July 31, 1972, Wright, dressed as a priest and using the alias the Rev. L. Burgess, hijacked a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Miami accompanied by three men, two women and three small children from his communal group, including Wright's companion and their 2-year-old daughter, according to Associated Press reports.
When the plane landed at the Miami airport, the hijackers demanded a $1 million ransom to free the 86 people on board. After an FBI agent delivered a 70-pound satchel full of money -- wearing only a pair of swim trunks, per the hijacker's instructions -- the passengers were released, according to AP accounts. The hijackers then forced the plane to Boston, where an international navigator was taken aboard, and the group flew on to Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum.
The group was taken in by Eldridge Cleaver, the American writer and activist, who had been permitted by Algeria's Socialist government to open an office of the Black Panther Movement in that country in 1970.
Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the United States at the request of the American government, and briefly detained the hijackers before letting them stay.
Michael Schroeder, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, said he has not been told what, if anything, Wright said when he was caught.