Considering the number of active criminals in the US – Sans the murder conviction, I’m not sure why spending time and resource chasing this guy down in Portugal after 40 years makes much sense (Where in the world is D.B. Cooper?)…
Reporting from New York— The FBI agents wore swimsuits — the better to ensure they were unarmed as they delivered $1 million in cash to the hijackers. The criminals wore beatific looks, traveled with young children and were “polite as possible,” a passenger on the ill-fated Delta flight recalled at the time.
For one man, it was the perfect crime — for nearly 40 years.
But on Tuesday, the FBI said it had caught up with the last hijacker, a convicted killer named George Wright who had escaped from prison in 1970 and resurfaced two years later when he joined members of a radical black nationalist group in forcing the jet to fly to Algeria.
Wright, now 68, was picked up outside his home in Portugal as he headed to a neighborhood cafe, said Michael Schroeder, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in New Jersey.
“Can you imagine?” Schroeder said, envisioning Wright’s surprise when Portuguese police, who had Wright under surveillance and were working in collaboration with U.S. officials, captured the fugitive.
Officials planned to request his extradition to New Jersey to finish serving his sentence of 15 to 30 years for shooting to death a gas station employee during a robbery the day after Thanksgiving in 1962. It was unclear whether Wright could also face trial for the hijacking, which made headlines with its radical perpetrators, record-setting ransom and wild costumes. In addition to the FBI agents in swimsuits, news reports at the time said that one of the hijackers — alleged to be Wright — wore priestly robes and hid his gun in a hollowed-out Bible.
“It read like a Hollywood script,” Schroeder said of the case, which had gone cold until 2002, when he said the marshals service created regional fugitive task forces throughout the country. Wright’s case, with its dramatic flair and heroic victim — the man killed at the gas station was a 42-year-old decorated World War II veteran named Walter Patterson — quickly became a priority.
Witnesses and relatives of Patterson were re-interviewed. Old reports were scoured. Age-enhanced sketches and busts were created to show how Wright might look today.
“Our guys really blew the dust off this case,” Schroeder said. “The key was working every lead.”
An address in Portugal was one such lead, and it paid off Monday when Wright was arrested without incident.
It marked the apparent end of a life on the lam whose chapters hark back to an era when hijackings were a common tool of militants, when it was possible to board a plane without being patted down or putting your carry-on through X-ray machines, and when $1 million was enough to make five hijackers happy.
In July 1972, when the three men and two women of the Black Liberation Army commandeered the flight from Detroit to Miami, $1 million was the most ever paid for the release of airplane hostages. The $50 and $100 bills were stuffed into a briefcase, which was tied to the end of a rope dangling out the jet window at the Miami airport. After it was hoisted inside and all of the approximately 90 passengers were freed, the Delta DC-8 made its way to Algeria.
Algerian officials seized the plane and the money and returned them to the United States, but the hijackers were let go. Several years later, four were captured in France, but the fifth — who had used the name Larry Burgess but whom FBI agents at the time identified as George Wright — remained missing.
The FBI said Wright had joined up with the Black Liberation Army after fleeing prison and moving to Detroit. In subsequent years, the BLA would be accused in a number of violent crimes and sometimes worked with members of the Weather Underground, another radical group.