Eleven years a fugitive, drunk driver who killed retirees on Easter Sunday is captured

Saturday marks the 16-year anniversary of the morning that retirees Victor and Olga Lisabet arose early and climbed into a car with fellow parishioners to drive to a sunrise Easter mass in South Miami-Dade.

Olga and Victor Lisabet, left, were killed by a drunk driver in South Miami-Dade in April 2003. The driver, Henry de la Hoz, right, was sentenced to prison but fled the country. He was captured in Costa Rica and was returned on April 16, 2019, to a Miami-Dade jail

Olga and Victor Lisabet, left, were killed by a drunk driver in South Miami-Dade in April 2003. The driver, Henry de la Hoz, right, was sentenced to prison but fled the country. He was captured in Costa Rica and was returned on April 16, 2019, to a Miami-Dade jail

Saturday marks the 16-year anniversary of the morning that retirees Victor and Olga Lisabet arose early and climbed into a car with fellow parishioners to drive to a sunrise Easter mass in South Miami-Dade.

They did not know that, later that day, their son planned to break big news: He and his wife were finally expecting a child.

But Victor and Olga Lisabet never made it to Easter mass. Nor did they learn about their coming grandchild. Instead, they died when a drunk driver who’d spent the night drinking at a Pinecrest sports bar smashed into their car on South Dixie Highway.

But even though the drunk driver, Henry de la Hoz, was captured at the scene, any hopes for justice seemed dashed. After five years of legal wrangling, de la Hoz pleaded guilty but then promptly fled the United States on the eve of sentencing.

It was not until last month that authorities in Costa Rica captured de la Hoz, who this week was turned over to the custody of U.S. marshals and returned to Miami.

Now, de la Hoz, 46, will be headed to a Florida state prison to begin serving a 12-year prison sentence, meted out in absentia while he was on the lam.

“I didn’t lose hope,” said Victor J. Lisabet, 63, the couple’s son. “I was going to spend the rest of my life looking for him.”

De la Hoz was booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on Tuesday, and made a brief court appearance on Friday. He’ll return to court on Monday so his fingerprints can be double-checked before he is transferred to the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections.

“Henry would like to tell the family that he is sorry,” said his defense attorney, Sabrina Puglisi. “He knows his leaving was the wrong thing to do. He is here to serve his sentence.”

De la Hoz’s path to prison was long and winding.

The crash happened on April 20, 2003. De la Hoz, then 30, was down from Gainesville visiting family in Miami. He’d been drinking at Hooligan’s, a popular sports bar on South Dixie Highway. He fell asleep in his car, then woke up and drove off — crashing into the car of churchgoers while he was trying to make an illegal left turn at Southwest 62nd Street.

Three other parishioners in the car were seriously injured. Killed were the Lisabets, who grew up in Oriente, Cuba, and came to Miami in the early 1970s. They had three children. Victor Lisabet worked as an accountant at several high-end hotels. Olga Lisabet worked at a hotel too, cleaning rooms.

By 2003, they were retired in Miami, gardening, attending church and doting on their growing number of grandchildren.

“They were very wholesome,” said Victor J. Lisabet, their son. “I couldn’t have asked for better parents.”

Even though de la Hoz’s blood tested conclusively for alcohol, the case became bogged down in court, going through several prosecutors and judges before a plea agreement was finalized in 2008.

On Sept. 8, 2008, de la Hoz pleaded guilty to a slew of DUI charges. Then-Circuit Judge Peter Adrien agreed to give him one week to get his affairs in order before he would decide on a sentence of between eight and 12 years in prison.

On the day of sentencing, prosecutors Suzanne Von Paulus and Lody Jean (now a judge) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving liaison Diane Holmes gathered in the courtroom. The Lisabet children prepared to read statements to the judge, to detail the lives of their parents. His then-defense lawyer, Arturo Alvarez, was there too.

Except de la Hoz never walked through the door.

“We were waiting and waiting and waiting,” Holmes said. “It became very clear he was not going to show up. It was another crushing blow for the family.”

Judge Adrien immediately issued a warrant for his arrest. Since de la Hoz had already pleaded guilty, Adrien sentenced him to the full 12 years behind bars.

De la Hoz’ whereabouts overseas were not immediately clear. Wherever he was, his lawyers filed an appeal on his behalf. A Miami appeals court rejected the appeal in 2009.

Von Paulus, the prosecutor, kept the case alive, checking for years with Miami-Dade warrants detectives and federal marshals. By March 2016, the U.S. Marshals Service had discovered he was living in Costa Rica. They began working with Interpol, the worldwide agency that helps coordinate the capture of suspects.

De la Hoz worked in construction in towns on the Pacific coast and also studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He also helped found Pura Vida Fighting for Kids, a foundation that helped low-income children learn about martial arts. He began working as a tattoo artist in Puntarenas, where he was married and had a 10-month-old son.

But his new life came tumbling down when Interpol arrested him in March. He fought extradition but lost. Costa Rica booted him from the country and U.S. Marshals flew to the Central American nation to pick him up.

Back in Miami, the call from the State Attorney’s Office informing them of the capture was bittersweet for the younger Victor Lisabet and his family. He named his daughter, Olga, after his mother. She is now 15. Victor’s son, James, is 13.

“The scars run deep inside and will never heal,” he said. “I think of my parents every day. It hurts like hell that my kids, Olga and James, never got to meet them and grew up without their love and affection.”

Fugitive for 21 years, heroin trafficker brought back to Richmond for sentencing after her personal Facebook page was uncovered

Bill Clinton was president and Saddam Hussein still ran Iraq when Ninorka Gisela Sencion failed to show up for her April 24, 1998 sentencing in federal court in Richmond.

Ninorka Gisela Sencion 

Ninorka Gisela Sencion 

Sencion, convicted of possession with the intent to distribute heroin, hid from authorities for more than two decades until she was tripped up by her five-year-old Facebook page under her real name, apprehended in the Dominican Republic and returned to Virginia earlier this month.

She is set to be sentenced on Feb. 21 by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne. This time, however, she was not allowed to remain free on bond pending sentencing as is being held at the Pamunkey Regional Jail.

Authorities did not immediately respond to a request for the maximum prison term she faces. The case is so old that the original complaint and indictment lodged against Sencion in 1997 could not be viewed on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records for the federal judiciary.

Now 45 years old, Sencion was 24 and living in Brooklyn, N.Y., when she fled.

Available records show she pleaded guilty on Dec. 18, 1997, before the late U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams. She was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond and ordered to surrender her passport.

The day after she failed to show up for her March 24, 1998 sentencing Williams issued a warrant for her arrest.

Brian R. Stalnaker, a deputy U.S. Marshal, said Thursday that Sencion was born in the Dominican Republic and was a legal permanent resident of the U.S. He said initial efforts to locate her in New York failed and the case grew cold.

Last year the U.S. Marshals Service was reviewing old fugitive cases and discovered a Facebook account she created in the Dominican Republic, he said.

While the last posting on her Facebook account was made in 2013, investigators ultimately tracked her down after identifying other persons appearing on her Facebook page who may have had contact with her.

In May 2017, a request to locate and hold her pending extradition was made through INTERPOL. Then earlier this year extradition documents were given to authorities in the Dominican Republic and she was taken into custody on Aug. 21, Stalnaker said.

After extradition proceedings, she was returned to the U.S. by the Marshals Service on Nov. 8, he said. Records show she appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Novak on Nov. 14 and before U.S. Magistrate Judge Roderick C. Young on Nov. 19.

Young set the sentencing date and ordered her held pending her sentencing before Payne.

Life on the Run Still Offers Long-Term Fugitives Abundant Ways to Blunder

The Hamiltons seemed to make for an enviable family.

Bernard C. Welch Jr.

Bernard C. Welch Jr.

They lived in a sprawling brick house in Great Falls, Va., and drove around in a silver Mercedes. Neighbors knew the father of the family as Norm, a successful real estate investor and antiques dealer who shared stock market tips with his friends. The Washington-area police had a different name for him: a one-man crime wave.

Norm Hamilton was the unobtrusive creation of Bernard C. Welch Jr., a serial burglar who escaped from the grounds of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., decades before Richard W. Matt and David Sweat burrowed their way out last week. In 1974, Mr. Welch and a fellow inmate staged a less elaborate break, scaling a 20-foot cyclone fence and taking off for the anonymity of the Washington suburbs.

That other inmate, Paul Maturano, was caught in 1976 in West Virginia, but Mr. Welch parlayed the guise of Norm Hamilton, wealthy suburbanite, into a dodge that lasted until 1980. When the police searched Mr. Welch’s home, they seized 51 boxes of valuables. The loot, with an estimated value of millions, included candelabras, antique clocks and porcelain Hummel figurines.

The two most recent Clinton escapees are unlikely to be living so lavishly at the moment, but as the clock ticks, experts say, the men are increasingly likely to evade capture for a substantial period.

“A lot of escapes are spontaneous and the guys get tripped up because they don’t know where to go,” said Terry Pelz, a former warden with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “These guys know where to go. Most guys get caught after a few hours because they don’t have a plan. These guys planned their escape and planned it well, so it could take much longer to catch them.”

And escapes are increasingly rare. Discovery News reported that they have dropped even as the states’ prison population has swelled; in 1993, 14,305 of 780,357 prisoners escaped or were reported absent without leave. That figure shrank to 2,538 out of 1.35 million prisoners by 2012.

Given its rarity, and the mystery surrounding fugitive life, there is an understandable dearth of analysis and data on the subject. Still, some cardinal rules have emerged for living off the grid.

“Your first priority is finding a secure place and a source of money,” said Darrin Giglio, chief investigator for the private agency North American Investigations. “You don’t want anything traceable, so you’ll either have to establish a new identity or get paid off the books, maybe as a day laborer.”

Frank Ahearn,believes the key is found in disinformation.

“The idea is to combat the information you’re leaving behind,” Mr. Ahearn said. “I’d start by creating false data on your location, data and banking.”

Cellphone, credit cards, surveillance cameras and other products of modern technology have added new layers of complication and possibility for both fugitives and law enforcement.

“If they’re smart, fugitives can really take advantage of technology,” Mr. Ahearn said. “They can buy prepaid cellphones and credit cards. Their apartments, cars and bank accounts can be set up under anonymous corporations. They can live almost entirely virtually. That wasn’t possible in the past.”

To combat such trickery, police departments have access to increasingly sophisticated and far-reaching forms of search and surveillance.

“It’s easier than ever to comb through enormous amounts of data,” Mr. Giglio said. “And with surveillance cameras all over the place, the only way to avoid detection might be changing appearance. Some people even get plastic surgery.”

He added, “If fugitives ever slip up using technology or social media, they’ll get caught right away.”

And of course the fugitive life takes its toll.

“It’s like being in the witness protection program,” Mr. Giglio said. “To be successful, you have to give up your entire past. Most people can’t do that.”

Under such agonizing circumstances, there is no shortage of ways to blunder. According to Martin Horn, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, escapees often return home or place phone calls to friends and family members, whom the police might be tracking. Other times it is an escapee’s suspicious behavior that tips off bystanders.

“A lot of inmates who are legitimately released encounter a confusing new life,” Mr. Pelz said. “They don’t know how to drive cars, use cellphones, use credit cards. They need to re-educate themselves. That can trip up escapees too. Even if it’s a well-planned escape, people get sloppy.”

Occasionally, fugitives are caught when they return to criminal activity. Mr. Welch was taken back to prison in 1980, after he shot Michael Halberstam, a cardiologist and the brother of the journalist David Halberstam, during an interrupted burglary. A bleeding Dr. Halberstam tried to drive himself to the hospital, but when he spotted his assailant fleeing down the street, he ran him down, wounding Mr. Welch before crashing the car.

Dr. Halberstam died on the operating table, but the police soon found Mr. Welch, with his tools, huddling in the bushes.

Mr. Welch was convicted and sentenced to 143 years in prison. Having succeeded once in escaping, he tried again, and succeeded. In 1985, he absconded out the window of an Illinois prison, lowered himself down a 75-foot electrical cable, and made it all the way to Pittsburgh, where he was arrested again after he illegally parked a stolen car.

“The public will put up with the fact that we don’t successfully rehabilitate people,” Mr. Horn said. “They will not put up with escapes.”

George Wright: the one that got away

Convicted of murder in 1962, George Wright hijacked a flight out of Miami. Then he disappeared – until last year. Now we can tell the complete story

 July 1972: a case containing a $1m ransom is delivered by an FBI agent wearing only swimming trunks on the orders of onboard hijackers, including George Wright.  Photograph: James Kerlin/AP

 July 1972: a case containing a $1m ransom is delivered by an FBI agent wearing only swimming trunks on the orders of onboard hijackers, including George Wright. Photograph: James Kerlin/AP

t's past 10pm in the evening, a rude hour to knock on someone's front door, but George Wright's attorney has assured me that this is the best time. The TV cameras have gone away. The newspaper reporters have quit. For the man whose recent capture, after 41 years on the run, ended one of the longest unsolved fugitive cases in criminal history, there might be some semblance of normalcy. So I stroll by moonlight through a wooden gate, down the cobbled entryway of a whitewashed cottage in a Portuguese village, and I knock.

There's a faint padding of footsteps; a porch light flips on. I find myself suddenly anxious. Before my trip, I'd asked an FBI agent who helped orchestrate Wright's arrest how it was possible for a man to vanish for four decades. The agent said that Wright was an intelligent and conniving con artist, probably a compulsive liar, who would not hesitate to use violence or charm or subterfuge to worm his way out of any situation. Perhaps, the agent hinted, he was a sociopath. In 1962, he participated in a robbery at a gas station in New Jersey, in which he left a man bleeding to death while he went out to dinner. Later he broke out of prison and worked with the Black Panthers.

He was also, said the FBI agent, a domestic terrorist. In 1972, Wright held a gun to the head of a pilot on a plane packed with 86 passengers. He received a million dollars in cash – the largest ransom ever paid in an airplane hijacking in the United States – and forced the plane to fly to Algeria. Then he disappeared. In September 2011, he was caught. Wright deserved, the agent said, never to see the outside of a prison again, and I found myself nodding in agreement.

When I phoned Wright's attorney, Manuel Luís Ferreira, he insisted that Wright was now a completely different man, kind and gentle to a fault; a caring father, a devoted husband, an active humanitarian – organiser of banquets for the homeless, basketball coach to inner-city kids. He was a threat to no one, said the lawyer, and not deserving of any punishment at all.

"A person can change, you know," Ferreira explained. I said I wasn't so sure. The FBI agent had mused that a man like Wright can only pretend to change. I said I wanted to meet with Wright himself. The attorney, after some thought, offered to drive me to his house.

The cottage's bright yellow door swings open, and there, shadowed behind a curtain of brown beads – unable to venture farther because of the electronic monitor strapped to his right ankle – is George Wright.

"Come in," he says. I step through the beads.

The mug shot of Wright – the picture that's in my mind – shows a 19-year-old kid with a modest Afro, his jaw set, his eyes cold and challenging. Before me now is a 68-year-old man. His name is no longer George Wright. He's José Luís Jorge dos Santos. Jorge for short. Glasses hang around his neck. White hairs spring from his eyebrows. His head is shaved; crow's-feet pleat his eyes. He's wearing grey sweatpants and black slippers and a navy blue sweatshirt. His handshake is warm and enveloping.

He leads me through the living room, books stacked everywhere, a shelf of knickknacks – an ostrich egg, a collection of dried gourds – and into the kitchen. He pours me a cup of coffee. Wright's wife, Rosário, wanders in. They have two children, a 25-year-old son, Marco, and a 20-year-old daughter, Sara. Rosário is wearing a tan sweater and blue sweatpants and pink Crocs. Her hair is trimmed in a casual bob. She affixes me with a judgmental look.

I join Wright at the kitchen table. He folds his hands over the blue tablecloth, jiggling a vase of cut flowers. A batik depicting the Last Supper hangs on the wall.

He asks me what I want. I say I'd like to hear his life story. He says he's never told the whole thing, not even to his wife. His voice is deep, still inflected with a southern twang. He's partial to using the phrase "you dig" as conversational filler. It's probably time to tell it, I say. He's quiet a moment.

"You know," he says, "this is a matter of life or death to me."

I nod. After his capture by Portuguese police acting on instructions from the FBI, Wright was jailed for three weeks, then released, placed under house arrest. Now what's happening is three Portuguese judges are, in essence, evaluating his life, stacking all of Wright's good deeds on one side of the judicial scale and all his bad ones on the other, and seeing where the pans settle. There are no court hearings, no in-person testimony; Wright's lawyer provides all his arguments in written form, as do the Portuguese attorneys representing the United States.

This triumvirate of judges playing an earthly version of St Peter will render a verdict that will either condemn Wright to spend the rest of his life in a US prison or allow him to pull off his greatest escape ever: he'll be completely absolved by the Portuguese government, all charges dropped. There seems to be no middle ground.

As I sit with Wright, both of us nibbling bits of soft Portuguese cheese, he has no idea when a decision will come. He is in limbo. Each day, he knows, could be the last he'll ever see his house or sleep with his wife or hug his children. No surprise that he looks weary and burdened. I can sense that he wants to speak, to finally represent himself, in his own words. He draws a breath, arching his shoulders as if stretching a bowstring, flexing the muscles of time, of distance, of memory.

Where do you want to begin?" he asks.

We start with the moment that changed everything. It happened just outside the Collingwood Park gasoline station on the eastbound lane of Route 33 near Asbury Park, New Jersey. It happened when Wright pulled a brown seamless stocking over his face. His partner, Walter McGhee, did the same. Wright carried a sawed-off Winchester .22-calibre pump-action rifle. McGhee held a five-shot revolver. They had just fortified themselves with swigs of vodka. It was a little before 9.30pm on the Friday after Thanksgiving 1962.

The two men strode into the gas station's office, guns drawn. Inside were three vending machines – soda, cigarettes, candy – a phone booth, several chairs, and a wooden desk. Sitting at the desk was 42-year-old Walter Patterson, who was leasing the station. He wore a dark green uniform that said Walt in embroidered script on the breast pocket. He was the father of two girls, ages 14 and 13. He was white; his assailants were black.

"As soon as the guy saw us coming in the door, I recall him saying, 'Get out of here with that shit, get out of here,'" says Wright. It's 50 years after the crime, but his hands are clenched atop the kitchen table, and he won't make eye contact with me. "It just, you know, went bad. It wasn't the plan. The guy refused to give up. Everything happened in a minute."

Wright's recollection of that minute is hazy. But I was able to speak with a retired FBI agent named R J Gallagher, who hunted Wright for 17 years. Gallagher had access to all the original police reports, to the suspect-interview transcriptions, to every scrap of evidence. He was able to reconstruct the crime down to its tiniest detail.

After Patterson told the two men to get out, according to Gallagher, it was Wright who responded.

"Motherfucker!" he said, "you'd better give up the money." Patterson had no intention of surrendering anything. He approached the intruders, and immediately there was a physical confrontation. Patterson wasn't a big man, but he was uncannily strong. He could reach into the hood of a car and lift out the motor by himself. In the Second World War he'd won a Bronze Star for combat valour. But unarmed and outnumbered, he was soon pummelled about the head and shoulders with the guns, beaten so badly that the person who later found him reported that he'd been shot in the head.

There was no cash register in the gas station; typically Patterson kept most of the money crumpled in his pocket. At some point during the beating, he emptied his pocket and threw the bills on his desk. There was a total of $70.

Then McGhee shot him. The gun was about six inches from Patterson's waist. The bullet passed through his liver and kidney and stopped a few inches above his left hip. Patterson fell to the floor. "My mind just froze up on me," says Wright. "I was shaking like crazy. I grabbed the money, I grabbed it out of there, I grabbed it." Wright and McGhee fled. They went to a place called the Belmont Inn, where Wright ate two cheeseburgers and played bar shuffleboard. Patterson died in the hospital two days later.

We've uncorked a bottle of Portuguese red wine, Wright and I. It's very late. The house's rafters groan in the ocean wind. His wife, Wright says, is really the night owl. He prefers mornings. His pancakes, with his homemade batter, are a family favourite.

"Want to try them?"

I do.

He tells me to return in the morning.

By day, I can see what attracted Wright to rural Portugal. Green hills ascend to the clouds; a couple of stone castles nestle amid the trees. There's a salty whiff in the air. Wright's house, in the village of Casas Novas, is a short walk from Adraga Beach, with sea-carved caves and velvety sand. Lining his front walkway is a small garden: spinach, kale, cilantro, strawberry. A ceramic sign, in English, reads welcome friends and neighbours.

I eat with Wright and Rosário. I finish a dozen pancakes, maybe more. I ask Rosário how she's been able to handle the situation. She responds with a question of her own: how long have you been with your wife? Ten years, I tell her, and she calls me a "rookie". She says I couldn't even begin to understand the depth and power and complexity of love in such a short period of time. She's been with Wright for 33 years.

"How," I wonder, "are the kids holding up?"

Tears build in Rosário's eyes. "We don't watch the news anymore."

Their son, sleeping late, gallops down the stairs. Marco works at a nearby restaurant. His head is shaved bald, as if in solidarity with his dad. I mention the tattoos covering his arms, and Marco rolls up a sleeve while his father frowns. "They're multiplying," Wright says with a sigh.

Sara meanders in, shy beneath a nimbus of golden brown ringlets, and begins peeling a pomegranate. When she sees her father, she grasps his waist and starts patting his head. Wright literally has to work his way out of her embrace.

Once the breakfast dishes are cleared, Wright continues his story. "If I hadn't made that choice," he tells me – the decision to go into the gas station – "I would've had a whole different life. A parallel life."

I feel like he's thought quite a bit about this alternate existence. A life on the run – a life in which no one can ever poke into your past, where you can't call attention to yourself – eliminates the opportunity for a real career. Wright has worked only a succession of short-term jobs: artisan, food-cart owner, disc jockey. Rosário has taught kindergarten and served as a Portuguese-to-English translator. When I ask Wright what he imagines he'd be doing in his parallel life, he shrugs

Rosário, reading a book in the living room, shouts that he would've been a celebrated painter. She shows me one of his canvasses – an impressionistic sunset over a shimmering lake. "Painting," says Rosário, "is his true calling."

"You don't think," I say to Wright, "you were destined to be involved in criminal behaviour?"

Not at all, he insists. Until the murder, Wright claims the worst thing he'd ever done was sneak into his high school gymnasium to play night-time basketball with his friends. Wright and his younger sister, Edwina, grew up in the Baptist farming community of Halifax, Virginia, not far from the North Carolina border. His father, a drinker, left the family when Wright was five. His mother died of rheumatic fever several years later. He was raised primarily by his grandmother.

Wright was accepted to college at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, where the famous sit-ins took place at the Woolworth's lunch counter the year before he arrived. But he dropped out a month into his sophomore year.

"I was uncertain about everything," he says. "My life, where I was going, all of that." He caught a bus to New Jersey, rented a room for $4 per week, found a job as a short-order cook, and started dating a girl in Asbury Park.

One morning, he used the communal showers in his guesthouse but left his room door open. He says that when he returned, his wallet was gone. He needed $1.25 to catch the bus to his job, which was several towns away. He asked his girlfriend for a small loan. No luck. He asked her uncle. Not possible.

"I knew this fellow McGhee," says Wright. "I went to his house, and I asked him."

Wright says that McGhee didn't have any money either, but he knew how they could get some.

"How's that?" asked Wright.

"Take off a store," McGhee said. "There ain't gonna be no problem. Just go in and put the gun up in the guy's face."

"Shit," said Wright, who seemed to possess a wild and self-destructive impulsiveness. "I ain't got nothing else." He agreed to accompany McGhee into the gas station.

This, Wright tells me several times, is an essential point: it was McGhee's gun that fired, not his. The police never disputed this. "When the gun went off, I didn't even look at the guy," Wright says. "I don't even recall him falling. I was just desperate. You dig? I didn't want to lose my job. It was a stupid, non-thought-out process. I just needed a dollar and a quarter for the bus."

I found Wright's excuse implausible – murder someone for bus fare? – but as Wright himself told me, it's crucial to consider the racial atmosphere at the time. During my stay in Portugal, I reread James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, which was originally published in the New Yorker two weeks before the gas-station crime. "White people," Baldwin wrote, "had robbed black people of their liberty and... profited by this theft every hour." Therefore, he added, "I certainly could not discover any principled reason for not becoming a criminal."

Two days after the robbery, Wright was arrested in a third-floor room at his boarding house. The stocking he'd used in the crime, with eyeholes snipped out, was still on his head, rolled up and worn as a cap.

He was charged with murder. His grandmother hired a lawyer, a white man who advised him to avoid a jury trial at all costs. So he pled "no defence" – he didn't admit guilt but did not contest the charges – and was handed a sentence of 15 to 30 years. It may have been good legal advice. The judge in the case, Elvin Simmill, told him, "I would've sent you to the electric chair if the jury returned a verdict of guilty."

Wright was shipped to a New Jersey state prison a few weeks before his 20th birthday. "They closed the doors behind me," he says, "and it seemed like the end of the world."

For a while, he thought about escaping. But he was in a maximum-security facility. So he did what he could to occupy himself. He played a lot of chess. He took a course in typing, another in sociology. He read philosophy books. He became a follower, for a while, of Elijah Muhammad, the mentor to Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. He made licence plates.

After four years in prison, Wright saw the parole board for the first time. "I told them I was sorry for what I had done, that I was rehabilitated, please let me go home. What else could I say?"

Parole was denied. All his friends from the outside world had faded away. His grandmother had visited him one time, but never again. "It was too far," Wright says. But soon he was transferred to Leesburg State Prison, a medium-security work farm on 1,100 acres in southern New Jersey – a transfer, according to one FBI agent, that may have been due to a clerical error. Security at Leesburg was relatively loose. There wasn't even a perimeter fence.

On the afternoon of 19 August 1970, a couple of men approached Wright. Their names were Jimmy and Jumbo. Wright was working in the prison laundry at the time. The men said they'd had enough of prison and wanted to do something about it. "They asked me," says Wright, "if I was interested."

"You guys kidding me?" said Wright.

"No," they said.

"Yeah," said Wright. "I'm interested." They talked about it. "I ain't going nowhere walking," Wright added.

"We're going to get transportation," they said. Jimmy mentioned that he was a skilled mechanic, expert at hot-wiring cars.

Wright figured that if he did get out, he'd need cash to restart his life. There are always wheeler-dealers in prison who have money, and Wright knew one of them, a man named George Brown, who was serving three to five years for armed robbery. Brown promptly joined the team. They agreed that they were going all the way: either they'd escape or they'd be shot. Freedom or death.

There were inmate counts every hour at Leesburg. Sometime after the 10pm check, the four men disappeared, unarmed, into the night, avoiding the guards by hiding in a cornfield. When the 11pm count came up short, the alarm sounded. A few minutes later, the warden of the prison discovered that his own car was missing.

It turned out that Jimmy had hot-wired the warden's vehicle. The four of them drove 30 miles north, to Atlantic City. They wore their jail uniforms – khaki tops and bottoms printed with an inmate number – inside out. The car was found four days later. In it was a single shoe, one prison-issued sock, and a hot-wire kit.

The group split up in Atlantic City. Jimmy and Jumbo were swiftly recaptured. Wright and Brown hid near the bus station for two nervous hours. Then they boarded a Greyhound to New York City. Wright had spent seven years, seven months, and 25 days behind bars.

Soon after Wright arrived in New York, he realised it was an unsuitable place for a fugitive. "I began to see too many people I knew from high school," he says. He needed anonymity. So he and Brown moved to Detroit. There he held a couple of menial restaurant jobs and enrolled in a course to become a male model. He even landed a few paying gigs but had to quit: "I'm on the run and having my picture taken a lot."

He and Brown were sharing a house on Detroit's east side with Wright's girlfriend, her daughter (by another man), and a couple named Melvin and Jean McNair, who had two small kids. All three men were wanted – Wright and Brown for the jailbreak and McNair for deserting the army. They were out of work, on the lam, and desperate for something that would get the heat off them for good.

They often discussed joining the Black Panthers. Highly active in Detroit, the Panthers sought an end to police brutality and the release of black inmates from prisons. Wright had grown up in an era of overt racism. He recalls using water fountains labeled COLORED ONLY and not being allowed to sit on the main floor of a cinema and, if he needed to see a white doctor, having to sneak around back and beg to be allowed in. But he couldn't officially join the Panthers. Nor could any of his housemates. To do so would mean greater scrutiny by the police.

Then someone in the house brought up the idea of Algeria. Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panthers' spokesperson, had recently established an office there. Cleaver had fled to Algeria after jumping bail on assault charges following a shoot-out with Oakland police two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

A plan was hatched. Everyone in the house was in on it; weeks of effort were involved. Brown knew someone who worked at Detroit Metro Airport. They needed a plane that could travel long distances but did not have a hatch that connected the luggage hold and the passenger cabin. It had to be inaccessible from underneath. Brown's friend found them the ideal plane. Wright dyed his hair gray and studied the airport's security procedures. Weapons were procured.

Reservations for the three men, two women, and three children were made over the phone. They booked coach class, near the rear of the plane, on Delta flight 841, a Detroit-to-Miami non-stop scheduled to leave on 31 July 1972, at about 9am.

The men boarded the plane in outfits that they anticipated would not arouse suspicion. Brown dressed as a dishevelled student. McNair was a businessman. Wright was a priest. He wore black vestments and a clerical collar and held a Bible in his hand. He'd booked his ticket under the name Reverend Larry Darnell Burgess.

They were quiet for the first two hours of the flight. Food was served and collected. In addition to Wright's eight-person party, there were 86 passengers and seven crew members. After the meal, says McNair in a soon-to-be-released documentary film called Melvin & Jean: An American Story, a flight attendant passed through the plane. Wright tapped her on the shoulder. They were flying over Savannah, Georgia, about an hour from landing.

"Excuse me," Wright said. "Can I ask you something?"

The flight attendant ducked down to speak to him, and Wright displayed his gun. It had been hidden in the hollowed-out Bible. At the time, Delta did not use metal detectors in Detroit. The others' weapons, it's theorised – Wright won't confirm this – were concealed in a baby carrier and inside a portable radio.

When the flight attendant saw Wright's gun, she jumped back. "Keep cool," Wright told her. "Just take us to the cockpit." And he followed close behind her, up the aisle.

The hijacking is a touchy subject for Wright. He's never been brought to trial for the crime, and if the Portuguese judges rule against him, Wright knows that the United States will likely prosecute him for it. Domestic terrorism can be punished with the death penalty. Wright doesn't deny being on that airplane, dressed as a priest. But any details he provides, he explains to me, could only hurt him.

The pilot of the plane, a DC-8, was William Harold May. He was 41 years old at the time. He's now 81, but his memory of the event seems impeccable, his voice retaining the jargony, confident-verging-on-cocky rhythm of a captain on the PA. He spoke to me for hours.

May told me he wasn't in the cockpit when the hijacking started. He was using the bathroom. "When I came out," he says, "this fellow turned around" – it was probably McNair –"and he had what looked like a .45 and kind of stuck it in my belly and said, 'They want you up front.' So I go in the cockpit, and everybody up there is white as a sheet."

Wright was already in the cockpit, according to May, with a flight attendant as his hostage. "He had his arm around her neck and a revolver pointed at her head, cocked," says May. "I thought she was going to faint."

"Uncock the gun and we'll talk," May said to Wright.

"The gun's all right," he replied.

"No," said May, "I'm not going to talk to you until you uncock that gun. Those things go off."

Wright uncocked the gun. "My knees were kind of weak," recalls May. "I said, 'Let me get in my seat.' " Wright moved aside, and May sat at the controls.

"What do you want?" May asked.

"We want a million dollars," answered Wright. "And we want to go to Algeria."

From the pilot's seat, May managed to surreptitiously enter a set of numbers into the dashboard transponder. Miami air-traffic control responded through his headphones.

"Are you squawking 7500?" That's the code for a hijacking in action.

"Affirmative," replied May, and Miami International began preparations to receive the flight.

After they landed, May taxied the plane to an abandoned runway. He tried to talk Wright out of his plan. "You know," May told him, "this airplane won't fly to Algeria. It doesn't have the range. We'll probably go down in the ocean, and everybody's going to drown. Are you ready for that?"

This wasn't entirely a lie. Despite all the preparation Wright and his team had done, they'd failed to realise that there were two types of DC-8s. The international version had more fuel tanks than the domestic model – 10 instead of eight – and specialised water-emergency equipment. Even more daunting, May himself had never piloted an overseas flight; he'd never even left the United States on vacation.

But Wright was committed. Asked if they were prepared to die, Wright said, "Yes, we're Black Panthers."

The Delta ramp supervisor at the time, in charge of loading and unloading baggage, was Buster Cooper. He was 27 years old, in the operations center, listening to the radio chatter. The FBI was trying to persuade Wright to release the passengers. Then, says Cooper, he heard a statement over the radio that will forever be seared into his memory. It was Wright speaking from the cockpit.

"If you don't bring us the money," Wright said, "we're going to throw some motherfucking heads out the motherfucking door."

"Everybody in operations," says Cooper, "went, 'Whoa, this is getting serious.' " The First National Bank of Miami was contacted, and soon the money was on its way.

The bills, fifties and hundreds, were placed in "a cheap-ass suitcase" plucked from customer service, recalls Cooper. The black case, with a Delta Air Lines luggage tag, bulged at the sides.

There was discussion in the cockpit about how, exactly, the handoff would occur. Wright was worried about an ambush. "I want that man to come out here nude," he told May.

"Be reasonable," said May. News of the hijacking had spread, and dozens of people were rubbernecking just beyond the airport's chain-link fence.

The plane's copilot, Darl Henderson, had an idea: "What about a skintight bathing suit?"

Wright agreed. So a Delta employee ran over to the men's store in the airport and purchased two swimsuits, with dark vertical stripes and a thick white waistband.

Cooper changed into the suit. An FBI agent named Bob Mills did the same. Then Cooper drove the mobile stairway out to the plane. He stopped twenty feet away. They'd promised to arrive unarmed, but in fact Mills kept a six-shot revolver on the seat.

"If I had my way," says Mills in Melvin & Jean, "I would've shot them. Because I didn't think they deserved to live."

He didn't get his way. Wright shouted instructions through the partially opened side window of the cockpit – the only way for him to communicate with Cooper and Mills. He made each of them walk away from the truck, barefoot and shirtless, then turn around to verify they were unarmed.

Mills dragged the suitcase to the base of the plane. One of the flight attendants opened a door and tossed out a length of red vinyl "escape tape". Mills tied it to the suitcase. The attendants hauled it up and handed the million dollars over to the hijackers.

The passengers were released, driven away in two buses. After more than three hours in Miami, the plane, with the hijack team and flight crew and all the passengers' luggage, took off. May had convinced Wright about the plane's travel capabilities, and the hijackers agreed to fly to Boston, where they could take on an international navigator and also shorten the trip to Algeria by a thousand miles.

They landed at Logan Airport, rolled to the end of the runway, and parked. Eight sharpshooters were posted nearby, some dressed as airline workers.

Two white Mobil fuel trucks arrived, the refuelers wearing swimsuits, and 13,800 gallons were pumped into the plane. The navigator, also in a bathing suit, arrived carrying a satchel filled with maps and clothing. He propped an aluminum ladder against the plane and climbed aboard. Then one of the hijackers kicked the ladder away and sealed the door.

May had specifically requested that he didn't want any funny business here; he needed a real navigator, someone who could guide him on his first trip across the Atlantic. "I didn't want some FBI guy to come on with guns blazing," he says.

But May took one look in the navigator's bag – the maps were uselessly large-scale, and the uniform was wrong – and he realised the FBI wasn't playing this straight. After the plane took off, the man instructed May to activate the alternating-current isolation switch. Once he did, warning lights would flash all over the control panel.

"What's the motive, man?" May asked.

"Tell them we're having an emergency and have to go back to Boston," he said. "Tell them we'll have another airplane waiting." May understood that when the hijackers were transferring planes, the snipers would have a shot at them.

The plan was flawed. "The last time I actuated the AC isolation switch," May said, "I lost all the flight instruments." This could cause a genuine emergency, and May wasn't willing to risk it. "Let's just get on with it," he said.

So May continued east, over the Atlantic. In the first-class section there were seats that faced each other with a table between. The suitcase, May remembers, was on this table, opened up. "They were like children around that money," says May. "One of them took a pack – it had this money band that said $20,000 – and handed it to me and said, 'Here's a tip for the crew.'" May turned down the offer.

Because the plane was equipped for domestic travel, it had only a VHF radio. Its range was less than 200 miles, so the plane was soon completely out of contact. There was still no water-emergency gear. Stormy weather raged over the Atlantic. May, for his inaugural international flight, hadn't slept in more than 20 hours and had eaten only a Charleston Chew. A gun was frequently pressed against his head by a man dressed as a priest. "It was not the best set-up," says May.

Still, with the help of Spanish air-traffic controllers May contacted as the plane skimmed Europe, they landed at Dar el Beida airport in Algiers. An official drove out with a set of stairs. The hijackers opened the door.

"We want to see Eldridge Cleaver," said Wright.

The Black Panthers lived in a white stucco villa in the wealthy outskirts of Algiers, a mansion donated by the Algerian government. Cleaver adorned the place with two brass plaques engraved with leaping panthers. But for the hijackers, any visions they had of Algeria as utopia swiftly crumbled.

First, there was the matter of the money. The hijackers were allowed to stay with the Panthers, but the government seized the suitcase before it left the plane. Cleaver sent a letter to Algeria's president, Houari Boumedienne. "Without the money to finance and organize the struggle," he wrote, "there will be no freedom." Yet the case was returned to the United States. The hijackers did not keep a single dollar.

Then there was Cleaver himself. "The only thing that interested him was the money," says Brown in a documentary film about him called Nobody Knows My Name. "They weren't dealing with the struggle. They were women-hunting in Algeria." Neighbours of the mansion complained about all-night parties. While his wife was away, Cleaver apparently initiated an affair with a local teenager. "We risked our lives for believing in the cause," says Brown. "When we got there, the cause wasn't there. They fucked it up."

After a few months, the entire hijack team decided to leave. They had no real plan. "We moved around the world a little bit," says Brown. They lived in Germany, where they blended in with US soldiers, then settled in Paris. Wright took a job as an electrician's assistant, learned French, and used a new alias, Alvin.

Though he had help from French sympathisers – people who viewed the hijackers as freedom fighters – it was difficult for Wright to shake a sense of paranoia, that someone was always around the corner looking for him. "Sometimes I would feel the weight of it," he says, "and I would have to be alone, work it out myself, try to get past it." As it turned out, there was good reason for his fears.

Wright returning home on bail in 2011.

Wright spent his time in France studying what he calls the "theory of revolution". He examined Marxism. He looked into Leninism. "I began to question a lot of things," he says – the methodology of the black-power movement, the motivation of his fellow hijackers. "I wanted to change my life. So one day I just said, 'That's it, I'm out of here.'" He broke up with his girlfriend and drifted away from the hijack group.

The timing was ideal. French authorities had indeed identified them, and in May 1976 every adult who'd hijacked the airplane was arrested – except Wright. Nobody knew where he was.

The other hijackers were jailed. Their French lawyers argued, successfully, that racism was so rampant in America that they could not receive a fair trial there, so the proceedings were held in France. They were found guilty, but the men spent only three years in prison, the women two and a half. The children were sent home to America.

"After they were arrested," says Wright, "I came to the conclusion that it might not be healthy for me to stay around." About this time, wars were being fought in Portugal's African colonies – Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau – and a stream of black immigrants was flooding into the country. Wright saw an opportunity to camouflage himself. "So I made the decision," he says, "to come to Portugal."

A fugitive's life is rarely simple and almost never conducive to long-term relationships. But on New Year's Eve 1978 into 1979, outside a nightclub near Lisbon called the Manhattan, Wright met a young woman named Maria do Rosário Valente. It wasn't quite love at first sight, says Rosário, but the feeling was so powerful she still recalls exactly what he was wearing: a green wool sweater he'd knitted himself, denim bib pants, and a green stocking cap. An earring was in his left ear. He introduced himself only as "Jorge".

Darkening the first stages of the love affair was Wright's sense – the same suspicion he'd had in France – that he wasn't safe. He'd heard that Guinea-Bissau, a newly independent nation in Africa's western bulge, often granted asylum to political exiles. So Wright left Rosário behind and flew there. The expatriate community in Guinea-Bissau was small and politically well connected, and he soon met the nation's vice president, Vasco Cabral, who viewed him as a hero of the American civil rights movement.

Cabral helped him gain citizenship and arranged a new identity: José Luís Jorge dos Santos. The name was chosen, Wright says, because it's completely ordinary; it doesn't call attention to itself at all. His identity papers included fake names for his parents. He settled into a mud-brick house with no window panes – just screens – in the capital city of Bissau. Rosário soon joined him. She took a job teaching elementary school. They learned the local language, an Afro-Portuguese blend called Krioulu. It was Wright's fourth language. They often camped on the country's palm-covered islands. They married in a colourful civil ceremony. Marco was born in 1986, Sara in 1991.

And it was here Wright discovered what he'd long been seeking – a way to assist people of colour in a manner that felt like he was making a difference. It began with basketball. Wright landed a position at the national physical-education school, charged with introducing basketball to the youth of Guinea-Bissau.

He had a natural talent for coaching. Kids flocked to him. He staged the country's first-ever international tournament. "Playing together as a team, shaping them as people – I didn't even consider it work," says Wright.

He also accepted a position with a Belgium-based non-profit organisation called Islands of Peace. The aid agency taught impoverished fishermen how to build wooden boats and fashion netting; it introduced efficient farming skills and better sewing techniques – anything to create sustainable jobs.

Rosário takes down a photo album devoted to their time in Africa. There's Wright, with a bushy beard, swimming in the ocean with his kids, spitting a stream of water. Another snapshot shows him spoon-feeding his infant children. Bathing his daughter in a sink. Curled in a crib with his son. "Marco couldn't fall asleep any other way," recalls Rosário.

His fear of being captured started to fade. "There were times I didn't think about it anymore." The violence, the running. "It was a part of my life that was finished. I had moved away from that. So why should I keep pulling my past with me?" He felt happy, fulfilled. He had healthy children, a beautiful wife. They lived in Guinea-Bissau for 13 years.

The wrights returned to Portugal in 1993, to the white house in the seaside village, chiefly for their children's education. Wright painted houses. He ran a restaurant he called Chicken in the 'Hood. He made jewellery boxes and sold them on a stall near the beach. He marketed women's cosmetics.

He became involved in a local congregation – Grace Church – and was baptised in the Atlantic Ocean. Many of his neighbours thought he was an immigrant from Africa. He spent a great deal of time volunteering for a Portuguese charity called Serve the City. He refurbished an outreach center for HIV-positive kids; he cleaned graffiti in Lisbon and planted public flower beds. He helped organise dinners for homeless people: "We had tablecloths, candlelight. We wanted to give them dignity. We'd serve them. Volunteers would sing and play instruments."

Years rolled by. His kids grew up. Wright became a senior citizen. The fact that he was a fugitive was never fully forgotten – he described it as "living with a shadow" – but the passage of time lent his thoughts a different hue. "It's not a comforting feeling, knowing you've been involved in something where a ma's life has been taken. You cannot imagine how many times I've thought about that day. Every day I regret I did that."

He says he's still attempting to make peace with himself. "I've been working on it for all these years, and I'm still working on it, trying to accept who I am. I made a decision a long time ago to do something constructive for the rest of my life wherever I can. You dig? It's part of my repentance, to get rid of the regret, the suffering that I made other people go through, to be able to balance the scales."

He's seeking absolution elsewhere as well. "I've asked God to forgive me for this every night, every day, several times a day. And I think God has forgiven me. But the law – the law says other things."

"Do you know anything about a guy named George Wright?" It was a simple question, posed to the FBI by the New Jersey Department of Corrections, which was trying to close the book on old escape warrants. Agent R J Gallagher fielded the query. This was in 1994.

The Wright case, says Gallagher, "had slid off the radar." FBI agents retired, and their replacements had their own investigations. Computers were introduced, systems upgraded, and sometimes old cases weren't properly transferred. "All I had was a name and a date of birth," says Gallagher. "We didn't even know if he was alive."

Gallagher sent investigators to Europe and Africa. He had profilers create sketches that might approximate what Wright now looked like. He issued an Interpol Red Notice – a worldwide arrest warrant. He worked the case, with an almost fanatical compulsion, until he retired in July 011, by which time he was closing in on Wright.

An examination of the phone records of Wright's sister – she occasionally called her brother – provided authorities with their first big break. A fingerprint in the Portuguese national database matched one on file for Wright. The Portuguese police set up a surveillance operation. The US Department of Justice prepared extradition proceedings.

On the morning of 26 September 2011, Wright met a friend at a local pastry shop. He ordered a ham-and-cheese croissant and a half coffee, half milk. "We were just talking about things. You know, life."

As he walked out the door, past plastic tables shaded by red-and-white umbrellas, he was approached by six Portuguese policemen. They told Wright they were investigating the Islands of Peace project he'd worked on in Guinea-Bissau. They called him by his Portuguese name, Jorge Santos. They needed him to take a trip to the station. He'd be back in a couple of hours, they promised.

"I felt a little unsure," Wright says. He sat in the back seat of an unmarked patrol car with an officer on either side and two in front. He was not handcuffed. A second vehicle followed them. In the car, the officers asked him innocuous questions. "How was I feeling, my health, stuff like that," says Wright. He became more suspicious.

They arrived at a Lisbon police station and went into the captain's office. They sat around a table, and the officers began with more pointed questions.

"Where were you before you came to Portugal?"

"Guinea-Bissau," Wright told them.

"Where were you before that?"


"And before that?"

"Nowhere," said Wright.

"What about Algiers?"

And Wright understood that the game was up. "OK," he replied. "Let's put the cards on the table."

They showed him the arrest warrant. "Are you George Wright?" they asked.

It was a name he hadn't heard in decades. "Yes," said Wright. "I've been waiting 40 years for this day."

Wright scoots his chair back from the kitchen table and stretches his legs, exposing the black monitor clamped to his ankle. It's taken him four days to tell me his story, interrupted by frequent visitors offering support. The owner of a local barbecue restaurant came by and grilled kebabs. Neighbours brought Tupperware meals, bags of fruit, a pile of chestnuts. Two friends delivered a blank canvas.

Letters championing his freedom have poured into his attorney's office – from friends, members of his church, fellow volunteers, people he'd met in his various travels. Former players of his from Guinea-Bissau have organised a charity basketball tournament in Lisbon and are raising funds.

This pro-Wright solidarity, authorities in the US complain, is rooted in anti-American sentiment. But something deeper is also at work. In much of Europe, there is abiding belief in the healing power of time, and in Portugal there is even a statute of limitations for murder – in Wright's case, 30 years. In the United States, homicide is never legally forgiven. If Wright is extradited, he'll almost certainly die while still imprisoned.

The Portuguese view Wright as someone who couldn't possibly pose a threat to society. He's nearly 70 years old, and in four decades he hasn't received so much as a parking ticket. They view him as a person who's been fully rehabilitated outside of prison. They don't even see him as George Wright. He's Jorge Santos, and has been for years. George Wright no longer exists. How can you punish a man who doesn't exist?

During the day, when the house is bustling, Wright is able to maintain a facade of good spirits. But at night, alone with his thoughts, things are different. The evening he finishes his story, he and I are the last ones awake. Wright, feeling chilled, sits before his fireplace on a tiny wooden stool he'd brought back from Guinea-Bissau. He begins crumpling sheets of newspaper.

"I couldn't sleep last night," he says to me. "Finally I got up. I turned on the TV, but there was nothing but sex and guns. I turned it off. I sat there listening to the sounds of the night."

Wright strikes a match. The fire slowly catches. He's silent for a moment, an old man with high blood pressure, bad knees, and glaucoma, facing the rest of his life in prison.

"Then I woke up Rosário. I held her. I told her how scared I was. Then we both cried."

During my flight back from Portugal, I try to sort out how I feel about Wright. I'm troubled, of course, by the gas-station crime – even if it wasn't his gun that fired, he still let an innocent man die. He never called for help. Still, he was a teenager at the time. You can no longer use youthful rashness as an excuse when you're 29, brandishing a loaded weapon on an airplane and holding more than 90 people hostage. That incident could've easily ended in disaster. Wright is fortunate it did not. And I am not entirely sure there aren't other crimes – crimes for which Wright wasn't caught. He may still have secrets inside him. We'll never know.

But after spending so much time with Wright, I'm convinced that a man can, indeed, change. He says that his younger self – the person who committed those crimes – feels like a stranger, and I believe him. He seems to be an amazing father; his family is heartbreakingly lovely, as kind and tender and giving as any family I have ever encountered. His daughter needs him. I would let him babysit my own children without hesitation.

And yet as the former FBI agent, Gallagher, tells me, running from a crime and staying hidden for a long period should not be rewarded. That sets a terrible precedent. And the lament that he'll be taken away from his wife and children does not stir Gallagher in the least, for that is precisely what Wright did to Walter Patterson, the man gunned down in his gas station.

Ann Patterson, Walter's daughter, is certainly not willing to pardon Wright. Her father's funeral was three days before her 15th birthday. "I just wanted him to sit up and tell us everything was going to be all right," she remembers thinking. Her mother, shattered by the crime, died a year later, leaving Ann and her younger sister orphans.

Until Wright's arrest, she never told her own children how their grandfather died. "It was painful for me to have to bring it up." When she closes her eyes, she says, she can still vividly picture the last moment she ever saw him alive. "He went out and got into the truck" – his green 1958 Chevy pick-up – "and I stood in the kitchen window. It was not quite dark. There were all the Thanksgiving leftovers on the table. And I waved good-bye."

Back home in the United States, I speak with Wright several times over the phone. He says he feels crippled that he can't leave the house and provide for his family. Rosário tells me the wait is further damaging his health. Nobody knows how long the court will take to rule. The crucial issue, his lawyer explains, is the matter of Wright's citizenship. If the judges decide Wright is Portuguese, he is unlikely to be extradited. If he's American, he'll promptly be shipped off to prison.

It turns out that it doesn't take long at all. On 17 November 2011, at 3pm Portugal time, a fax arrives at his lawyer's office. A legal decision. The three-judge panel is unanimous. Without question, with no reservations, Wright is Portuguese. He's lived in the country so long. He married a local woman. He hasn't set foot in the United States since 1972. Extradition is denied. The statute of limitations on all his crimes has been reached. He will receive no punishment.

A technician is immediately dispatched to Wright's house to remove his monitoring anklet. As the band falls away, it appears that Wright has eluded the law yet again. He remains concerned that US authorities will continue to fight for his extradition – but over the next few months, culminating with a final ruling on 28 February, every appeal is denied. The judges' decision is binding.

He'll likely never be able to leave Portugal; the moment he does, the FBI has told me, someone will be waiting to arrest him. "Fine with me," Wright says. But what he can do is stroll out the front door of his house, through the brown beads, beyond the hinged gate, and he can kick off his slippers and feel the sun-warmed cobbles on his feet, the sea breeze over his shaved head – for the first time in 50 years, a free man.

This is an edited version of a piece that first appeared in American GQ. Michael Finkel is the author of True Story.

US fugitive's wife thought jail break story was 'just a boast'


The wife of a convicted murderer wanted after escaping from a US prison and for allegedly hijacking a plane says she never quite believed he had broken out of prison.

THE WIFE OF captured American fugitive George Wright said her husband told her he escaped from a US jail but never revealed he had been convicted of murder or accused of a dramatic airplane hijacking.

July 1972 file photo of an FBI agent wearing only swim trunks, as per the hijacker's instructions, carrying a $1m ransom to the Delta DC8 plane in Miami. George Wright is wanted in connection with the hijacking.

July 1972 file photo of an FBI agent wearing only swim trunks, as per the hijacker's instructions, carrying a $1m ransom to the Delta DC8 plane in Miami. George Wright is wanted in connection with the hijacking.

Maria do Rosario Valente said she was shocked to learn about her husband’s past after his capture in Portugal last week after 41 years on the run. She said she thought the jail escape “was just a boast.”

“Now I’ve found out the rest,” she told Portugal’s TVI television in an interview broadcast late Sunday.

The US is trying to extradite Wright to serve the remainder of his 15- to 30-year sentence for a 1962 murder in New Jersey. The FBI also says he was part of a Black Liberation Army group that hijacked a US plane to Algeria in 1972.

Wright’s lawyer says the American will claim a new identity to prevent the US from extraditing him. The lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, told The AP that Wright became a Portuguese citizen called Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos in 1991 after marrying Valente.

New identity

Wright’s new identity was given to him by Guinea-Bissau’s government when it granted him political asylum in the 1980s, and that was accepted by Portugal, Ferreira said. At the time, Guinea-Bissau was a single-party Marxist state that looked kindly on black liberation movements.

That fact may weigh heavily on the US extradition request for Wright. Portuguese citizens convicted in another country may be able to serve their sentences in Portugal if family members are there.

Valente told TVI late Sunday she never really believed Wright’s jail escape story — until now.

“I didn’t really think much of it,” she told TVI. “I thought it was just a boast.”

Life on the run

Wright broke out of the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, on 19 August, 1970, after serving more than seven years of his sentence for killing a man in a 1962 gas station robbery. He was captured in a seaside village near Lisbon last week after decades on the run, and is being detained in the Portuguese capital while the court rules on his extradition.

Valente, who is Portuguese, met Wright in the late 1970s when he was living near Lisbon. According to Wright’s lawyer, they lived together in the 1980s in Portugal and in Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa.

Valente gave birth to a son, Marco, with Wright in 1986 and married Wright in 1990. They had a daughter, Sara, the following year.

Valente said she was visiting her parents last week when she was called into police headquarters in Lisbon and given an account of the charges against her husband.

“That day is blurry,” she said.

She said their children, now adults, “were grief-stricken” when they learned about their father’s past and wept with him all the way through their first jail visit last week.

She described Wright as a loyal husband and dedicated father.

“I’ve no cause for complaint,” she said.

Valente said her husband’s asylum process in Guinea-Bissau was overseen by Vasco Cabral, a hero of the tiny nation’s struggle against Portuguese colonial rule.

Cabral, who died in 2005, became vice president after the country became independent in 1974. Cabral was Wright’s friend and “gave him his new identity,” Valente told TVI.

John Blacken, a former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau from 1986 to 1989, told the AP last week he knew Wright and his wife during that time and that Wright lived openly under his real name for years there. Blacken said he had no idea Wright was a US fugitive.

Valente even worked as a freelance translator for the U.S. Guinea-Bissau embassy from 1984 to 1990.

Longtime American Fugitive Is Arrested Selling Time Shares at Airport in Mexico

When he fled the United States over two decades ago, Vincent Legrend Walters was considered a violent drug dealer, accused of killing a woman in a botched kidnapping before vanishing, presumably with a small fortune.

But when agents from the United States Marshals Service last week tracked down Mr. Walters, who was on their list of the 15 most wanted fugitives, they were surprised to find him in a more sedate career: selling time shares to tourists in the Mexican resort town of Cancún.

“We were under the impression that he left with a good amount of money and thought he would have stayed in the illegal drug trade,” Steve Jurman, a spokesman for the Marshals Service, said by telephone on Sunday. “Now it appears that he had to work for a living.”

At the behest of the Marshals Service, Mexican police officials took Mr. Walters, 45, into custody on Friday after a fingerprint analysis determined that he was the man federal agents had been seeking since September 1988. He was arrested at his workplace at Cancún International Airport.

It was an ignominious ending for Mr. Walters, who seemed to have an uncanny ability to elude detection even in plain sight. Only fugitives whose cases are under heightened scrutiny appear on the Marshals Service’s most wanted list, and Mr. Walters holds the record for being on the list longer than anyone else, Mr. Jurman said.

Mr. Walters, who was born in Mexico but grew up in California, was living in the San Diego area when he became mired in a dispute with other drug dealers over a cache of methamphetamine, according to the Marshals Service.

He had already appeared on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s radar, the Marshals Service said in a statement, for reportedly buying $20,000 worth of chemicals to make methamphetamine and then, unbeknown to him, entering into negotiations with undercover agents for more supplies.

The year was 1988. An associate of Mr. Walters, fearing arrest, gave his supply of finished methamphetamine to another dealer, who then passed it on to someone else.

Vincent Legrend Walters in an image from the U.S. Marshals Service Web site . CreditReuters

Vincent Legrend Walters in an image from the U.S. Marshals Service Web site. CreditReuters

Mr. Walters, though, wanted the drugs back, the statement said.

The Marshals Service said Mr. Walters kidnapped the dealer who initially passed on the drugs, a friend of the dealer and the friend’s girlfriend, a woman named Christina Reyes, and he offered to exchange them for the drugs, which were being held by a man named Jay Bareno.

Mr. Bareno agreed to the exchange and returned the drugs, the statement said. The two men were released, but Ms. Reyes died after she was gagged with a rag soaked in chemicals.

Mr. Walters disappeared after the episode.

It is unclear how he was able to escape, especially since he was already under surveillance.His brother, Martin Walters, was arrested almost immediately and was eventually convicted of participating in the kidnapping. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In July 1989, a federal grand jury indicted Vincent Walters on conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute crystal methamphetamine, carrying firearms during a drug trafficking crime and possession of unregistered firearms and explosives.

His mother, Martha Walters, and her sister, Carmen Elenes-Fonseca, were sentenced to 37 months in prison in 1990 for trying to hire a hit man to kill two witnesses in the case against the Walters brothers, according to The San Diego Evening Tribune.

Information detailing how the authorities were able to track down Mr. Walters remains classified, said Mr. Jurman, the Marshals Service spokesman. He said investigators were working to piece together the last 24 years of Mr. Walters’s life, trying to determine, for instance, whether he was ever again involved in the drug trade.

The Marshals Service said in its statement that Mr. Walters had bragged to others that he was a wanted fugitive in the United States. The authorities said he was living under the name Oscar Rivera and working out of a stall in the Cancún airport. A spokesperson for the airport could not be reached for comment.

The authorities in Mexico have transferred Mr. Walters to Mexico City, where he will undergo extradition procedures that are required because he is a Mexican citizen.

Given the horrendous violence associated with the Mexican drug trade these days and the seemingly intractable war with trafficking organizations, Mr. Walters’s crimes seem like a throwback to a bygone era. Nevertheless, federal authorities described his arrest as a victory.

“The U.S. Marshals are thrilled with the capture of this violent fugitive,” Steven Stafford, federal marshal for the Southern District of California, said in a statement. “This is a prime example of the sheer determination and persistence we have when tracking down a wanted criminal.”

US man Eminiano ‘Jun.’ Reodica 'defrauded Australians' while on the run

A CALIFORNIA businessman locked up in a Los Angeles jail accused of $A78 million fraud also wreaked financial havoc in Queensland while on the run from US authorities, a lawyer representing his alleged Australian victims said.

Filipino con man Roberto Coscolluela,left, (also known in the US as Eminiano Reodica and Jun Reodica) with his wife Letti, in 2004. Reodica lived in Queensland as a fugitive for two decades after arriving in the early 1990s and is accused of $US70 million in fraud in the US and Australia. Photo AAP Image/Supplied

Filipino con man Roberto Coscolluela,left, (also known in the US as Eminiano Reodica and Jun Reodica) with his wife Letti, in 2004. Reodica lived in Queensland as a fugitive for two decades after arriving in the early 1990s and is accused of $US70 million in fraud in the US and Australia.Photo AAP Image/Supplied

Eminiano “Jun.” Reodica, 69, was considered an American success story in the 1980s when he went from working as a busboy in LA restaurants to owning one of the largest car dealerships in the US. But when investigators began probing the business as it was collapsing in 1988, the Filipino-born Reodica vanished before reappearing in Queensland in the early 1990s under the name Roberto Coscolluela.

Coscolluela operated Richard Gardner Tax Agency and RC Insurance Pty Ltd in Brisbane.

Carl Desacola, a lawyer from Caloundra-based firm TayLAW Solicitors, is representing 26 people in Queensland who accuse Coscolluela of duping them out of as much as $A7 million. The lawyer estimates there could be up to 500 Australian families affected by the Filipino-born businessman.

In one case, Coscolluela convinced a widow to invest a $A250,000 superannuation and insurance payment she received after her husband died with the promise of a 10 to 15 per cent return. When she tried to collect her money, she discovered Coscolluela did not invest it where he said he would and refused to give it back, Mr Desacola said.

Despite alleged victims' complaints, Australian authorities have not charged Coscolluela. Queensland Police, ASIC and the Tax Practitioners Board all declined to comment.

“The only avenue we had left unfortunately was the civil process,” Mr Desacola said.

In November 2012, on the eve of the widow's case being heard in the Brisbane Supreme Court, Coscolluela and his wife Letti tried to fly to Canada. When the plane stopped in Los Angeles a fingerprint check at Los Angeles International Airport revealed he was the fugitive Reodica.

US prosecutors have filed a 51-count indictment against him alleging bank fraud and false statements on loan applications dating back to the 1980s. He allegedly defrauded his Grand Wilshire Group's lenders, which had extended $US300 million ($A333.3 million) in credit lines, of about $US70 million ($A77.8 million).

His trial is set for August 19 in Los Angeles and he faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. AAP

Australian Man Who Ran Third Largest Car Dealership in the United States and was Fugitive for 24 Years Pleads Guilty in $50 Million Scheme That Defrauded Multiple Banks in the 1980s

LOS ANGELES—An Australian man, who ran the third largest car dealership in the United States before he fled the country 27 years ago, pleaded guilty late yesterday afternoon to federal charges for bank fraud and lying to banks.


Eminiano “Jun” Reodica, Jr., 71, ran a fraud scheme that caused nearly $50 million in loss to the banks in the 1980s. At that time Reodica was the President of the Grand Wilshire Group of Companies, which included Grand Chevrolet, then the third largest car dealership in the country. The Grand Wilshire Group was headquartered in Glendora, California.

In his guilty plea yesterday, Reodica admitted to engaging in schemes to defraud and making false statements to at least five banks, including Union Bank, Imperial Savings, First Los Angeles Bank, Manilabank, and First Central Bank, from 1984 to 1988. Specifically, Reodica admitted to promising the same car contract as collateral to two different banks at the same time. This scheme involved directing employees to forge customer signatures on car contracts and then promising the forged contract to a second bank. The fraudulent conduct also involved repossessing and reselling cars without telling the banks. Reodica also admitted to hiding from the banks that customers were delinquent on their car loans. Reodica admitted that he made his employees sign for car loans for cars that they were not really buying so that Reodica could put more money into his businesses.

As a result of Reodica’s fraud and false statements, the Grand Wilshire Group and Grand Chevrolet collapsed into bankruptcy in August of 1988 while Reodica fled the United States to his native Philippines. He was missing for over 24 years until FBI agents arrested him at Los Angeles International Airport in November of 2012. At the time of his arrest, Reodica was traveling using an Australian Passport in the name of Roberto Coscolluela.

“The guilty pleas by this defendant should be a warning to all fugitives facing charges in federal court that the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office have a very long memory,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California.

Reodica pleaded guilty before United States District Judge S. James Otero, who is scheduled to sentence the defendant on February 1, 2016. At sentencing, Reodica will face a statutory maximum sentence of 79 years in federal prison and a fine of $6,500,000 or twice the loss resulting from his offenses.

The charges in the indictment are the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as investigation conducted by the FBI in the last three years.

Accused drug smuggling kingpin flown to US after living in Queensland for 30 years

Alleged US marijuana smuggling kingpin Peyton Eidson is locked up in a California jail cell after 30 years on the run as a fugitive in Australia.

Eidson's American lawyer, Erick Guzman, hopes the 72-year-old is offered leniency by US prosecutors.

Peyton Eidson was allegedly the leader of a sophisticated marijuana operation.  Photo: New York Times

Peyton Eidson was allegedly the leader of a sophisticated marijuana operation. Photo: New York Times

Eidson wants to return to Australia.

He will appear before Judge Sallie Kim on Friday (Saturday AEST) and is hoping to be released on bail with a relative who lives in southern California.

Eidson was escorted by Australian officials on a flight from Queensland to San Francisco International Airport on Thursday and was handed over to US Marshals, who had been hunting him since the 1980s.

"I'm going to request bail but I'm sure the government will ask to detain him which is very troubling because he's up in age, there's his health condition and the jails here are tough for anybody," Mr Guzman told AAP on Thursday.

"For someone that hasn't been in the country for almost 30 years it would be very traumatising for him to be held in custody while he fights his case."

US authorities have described Eidson as "the leader" of a sophisticated operation using fleets of vessels to secretly ship large quantities of high-grade marijuana from south-east Asia to northern California.

Eidson was indicted by a grand jury in the US in 1988 on a conspiracy to import marijuana charge and is also accused of fleeing to Australia with his family on false passports.

Eidson is accused of taking the identity of "Michael McGoldrick", a Nebraska-born man who worked in Las Vegas before dying in 1999.

He is also known to use the Christian name Patton while his wife Sonja, who went with the alias Anita McGoldrick, died in Australia from cancer last year.

The couple has a daughter named Maya.

The family began a new life in the quiet far north Queensland rainforest town of Julatten where they operated a popular health spa.

Federal MPs Warren Entsch and Bob Katter have offered their support for Eidson to be returned to Australia when his US legal issues are resolved.

"He wants to return to Australia and be with his family," Mr Guzman said."He has had nothing but positive things to say about the Australian government."

Eidson vanished along with other members of the drug operation in the late 1980s when US authorities began building criminal cases carrying maximum sentences of life in prison.

Two co-accused, Mark Gayer and Mark Wolosky, attempted an elaborate scheme in 1989 to fake their deaths by sinking a fishing boat off California, but the duo was captured in California in 2000 and sentenced to 11 years' jail.

Australian Federal Police arrested the Eidsons in North Queensland in 2011.

Fugitive 'Cocaine King' Finally Messes Up After 23 Years

He now faces 30-year sentence in Italy

Aerial view of the villa where Italian mafia fugitive Rocco Morabito lived in the resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017.    (AP Photo/Marcelo Umpierrez)

Aerial view of the villa where Italian mafia fugitive Rocco Morabito lived in the resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017.   (AP Photo/Marcelo Umpierrez)

(NEWSER) – A fugitive Italian crime boss is in custody after 23 years on the run following what seems to have been a major slip-up: Authorities in Uruguay say 50-year-old Rocco Morabito, once known as the "cocaine king of Milan," was found after he used his real name to enroll his young daughter in a local school. Authorities say Morabito's use of his real name triggered a six-month investigation that ended with his arrest at a hotel in Uruguay, the Guardian reports. Morabito had apparently been living in the Punta del Este resort area since slipping into the country in 2002 using a fake Brazilian passport with the name Francisco Capeletto.

Authorities say Morabito will be held in Uruguay for at least three months for offenses including using false papers. After that, he is expected to be extradited to Italy, where he has a 30-year prison sentence to serve. His wife, an Angolan national, was also arrested. Morabito was a member of the 'Ndrangheta crime gang, which controls much of the world's cocaine trade, reports the BBC. His lawyer says he has been leading a "normal life" since 1994, though a search of his possessions turned up 13 mobile phones, 12 bank cards, a 9mm pistol, $50,000 in cash, and another fake passport.

Left-wing radical who helped kidnap Patti Hearst and spent decades on the run posing as housewife breaks her silence to reveal she is now a grandmother

  • Kathleen Soliah, now known as Sara Jane Olson, served eight years in prison for attempting to blow up an LAPD patrol car
  • Soliah and members of the Symbionese Liberation Army are best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst
  • Soliah is now petitioning the White House to reduce disparities in prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine.


After serving eight years of a 14-year prison sentence for attempting to blow up Los Angeles police officers with pipe bombs in the 1970s, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army - the group of domestic, left-wing 'terrorists' best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst - is talking to reporters, and has revealed that, at age66, she is now a grandmother.

Until now, Sara Jane Olson - better known as bank-robbing pipe-bomber Kathleen Soliah - has done her best to stay out of the public eye. Following her release from a California prison in 2009, Olson has been living with her husband in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she lived as a fugitive with her family for nearly 25 years until her arrest in 1999.

Olson isn't saying much about her past, or her new role as a grandmother - she's more interested in spreading the word about her new cause: reducing disparities in prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine.


Grandmother: Sara Olson, left, works with her daughter Leila Peterson, right,The former radical was part of the Symbionese Liberation Army who kidnapped Patty Hearst

Grandmother: Sara Olson, left, works with her daughter Leila Peterson, right,The former radical was part of the Symbionese Liberation Army who kidnapped Patty Hearst

'I don't really like to talk about my personal experience in terms of my family and all that,' Olson said in an interview on Friday. 'But when I was [in prison], at some point I did adjust to it and I said, 'I have to learn something from this.'

Soliah joined the SLA in the mid-1970s after graduating from the University of California Santa Barbara. In 1974, she was a member of the group when it kidnapped Hearst to use as a bargaining chip with authorities in an attempt to get jailed SLA members released from custody.

In April 1975, Soliah was one of several SLA members who robbed Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California. During the robbery, Myrna Opsahl - a 42-year-old mother of four who was dropping off money for her church - was murdered. Additionally, Hearst later told police that Soliah had kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach during the robbery, causing her to have a miscarriage.

Different times: once a fugitive for attempting to blow up Los Angeles police officers, Kathleen Soliah - now known as Sara Jane Olson - is a grandmother

Different times: once a fugitive for attempting to blow up Los Angeles police officers, Kathleen Soliah - now known as Sara Jane Olson - is a grandmother

Four months after the bank robbery, in August of 1975, Soliah placed a pipe-bomb under an LAPD cruiser as it sat parked in front of an International House of Pancakes restaurant. Another pipe-bomb was found under an LAPD cruiser parked in front of a police precinct. Neither bomb detonated, and both were linked back to Soliah, who police believe planted the bombs in an effort to avenge the death of SLA members who'd been killed about a year earlier during a shootout with police. 

Olson pictured as a student radical in the Sixties

Olson pictured as a student radical in the Sixties

As an LAPD officer noted during Soliah's 2002 sentencing hearing, a little girl was playing near the patrol car when the bomb was left underneath it, and she could have been killed if Soliah and her co-conspirators had 'successfully carried out their terrorist acts.'

After being indicted for the failed bombings, Soliah relocated to Minnesota and changed her name to Sara Jane Olson. She married a doctor and had three children - and was active in the 'progressive' community.

In 1999, after appearing on America's Most Wanted multiple times, Soliah was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, possession of explosives, explosion, and attempt to ignite an explosive with intent to murder. She pleaded guilty in 2001 to two counts of possessing explosives with intent to murder. The other charges were dropped.

Justice delayed: Sara Olson was arrested in 1999 on a 23-year-old warrant charging her with planting pipe bombs under police cars in Los Angeles in 1975 while a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army

Justice delayed: Sara Olson was arrested in 1999 on a 23-year-old warrant charging her with planting pipe bombs under police cars in Los Angeles in 1975 while a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army

Now, Olson has returned to activism and - along with friend and next-door neighbor, Mary McLeod - filed a White House petition Thursday asking the president to exercise executive clemency for prisoners serving time under now-discarded sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine. In 2010, Congress cut those sentences to align more closely with those for powder cocaine, but that only applied to new sentences going forward. The women's petition says that left more than 5,000 prisoners still serving time longer than the new rules would require.

'Terrorists': this infamous photo shows newspaper heiress Patty Hearst wielding a gun during a bank robbery in California in 1975

'Terrorists': this infamous photo shows newspaper heiress Patty Hearst wielding a gun during a bank robbery in California in 1975

'There's just no good argument for that continuing to be the case, so we said let's see what we can do,' said McLeod, a retired attorney who moved into the house next door while Olson was in prison. The petition was McLeod's idea, and one of Olson's adult daughters is helping.

The interview occurred in McLeod's living room; Olson, now 66, looks fit, with long white hair and a deeply lined face. She is quick with statistics and opinions about the cause.

'The war on drugs is a politically convenient peg on which to hang a lot of things, and that has been done by a lot of politicians,' Olson said. She and McLeod, as many critics have done, said the differences in crack and powder cocaine sentences stem from stereotypes of crack as a drug for poor black people while powder cocaine is for rich white people.

Bargaining chip: Patty Hearst was kidnapped by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. She ultimately helped the 'terrorist' group commit multiple crimes

Bargaining chip: Patty Hearst was kidnapped by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. She ultimately helped the 'terrorist' group commit multiple crimes

In the petition, the women ask the White House to establish a panel to review individual cases of the prisoners in question, and then make recommendations to President Barack Obama about which of them deserve to be released. That would mimic the 1974 process by which President Gerald Ford commuted sentences of large numbers of Vietnam draft evaders.

Anyone can file a petition to the White House, but it requires 100,000 signatures in 30 days to trigger an actual White House review. And that's no guarantee of action, either. Olson and McLeod are trying to circulate it widely in activist circles, and have posted it on Change.org, an online petition platform. Two days after its posting, the petition — one of more than 100 on the White House site https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/ was nearing 100 signatures.

Comrades: The Symbionese Liberation Army wreaked havoc on California in the mid-1970s

Comrades: The Symbionese Liberation Army wreaked havoc on California in the mid-1970s

California drug suspect in custody after 30 years on the lam

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — U.S. officials say the leader of a California drug smuggling ring in the 1980s who was on the run for almost 30 years was brought from Australia to face charges.

Peyton Eidson

Peyton Eidson

The U.S. Marshals Service says 72-year-old Peyton Eidson, who lived in Queensland, Australia, was escorted by Australian officials and taken into custody Thursday at San Francisco International Airport.

Frank Conroy, supervisory deputy marshal for Northern California, said he doubted Eidson had an attorney.

Eidson was indicted in 1988 for importing tons of high-grade marijuana throughout the 1980s.

Authorities say Eidson had a false passport and lived abroad for decades. He was arrested in Australia in 2011 but had fought deportation.

Officials say two of his associates tried to fake their own deaths by sinking a fishing boat in the 1990s.

‘The Hippie Mafia’ of the Daintree revealed

AUSTRALIA’S deep north - an idyllic, tropical paradise - has a well-earned reputation as the home of the Hippie Mafia. “It’s God’s Own country for dope,’’ says north Queensland police drug squad chief Kevin Goan. “There’s some colorful characters.’’

Lee Lafferty aka Raymond Grady Stansel Jr. Picture: The Tampa Bay Times

Lee Lafferty aka Raymond Grady Stansel Jr. Picture:The Tampa Bay Times

Today The Courier-Mail can reveal a rogue’s gallery of some of the infamous alumni of the so-called Hippie Mafia who fled law enforcement in the United States to hide out in boltholes in far north Queensland.

These former drug kingpins once risked multimillion dollar smuggling operations and controlled the marijuana and acid trade of the “flower-power generation” of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The only thing they loved more than the high life and money of the criminal lifestyle was the cat-and-mouse game with authorities.

Lee Lafferty, 75, led a double life. Picture:  The Tampa Bay Times

Lee Lafferty, 75, led a double life. Picture: The Tampa Bay Times

For 40 years, US cannabis kingpin Raymond Grady Stansel Jr, a “soldier of fortune” out of Florida, lived a double-life as a crocodile tour guide on the Daintree River until he was unmasked after his death last year.

The 78-year-old fugitive boat skipper made millions out of trafficking tonnes of marijuana into the States before his arrest in 1974, then aged 37, as a poster boy for Florida’s pot smugglers.

He posted bail with a $500,000 cashier’s cheque and faked his death in a scuba diving accident in Honduras.

“It’s like chasing a phantom,’’ one US sheriff said. There were reported stories of him smuggling drugs in Honduras, Panama or out of some other port in Central or South America.“It was like sightings of Elvis or Big Foot,’’ a federal drug task force prosecutor told the Tampa Bay Times.

But Stansel had fled to Port Douglas, then a tiny fishing and sugar village, with his partner Janet Wood and assumed the identity of Dennis “Lee” Lafferty, where he became a beloved wildlife warrior.

“He was the folksy river captain, who knew every crocodile on the Daintree, and could fix any boat,’’ says former family friend Caroline Doan. “He was totally lovable, a lovable rogue. There are two types of criminals: the charming conman and the violent thug.

“Lee definitely fit into the charming category.’’

Doan, a former Olympic horseback rider, moved from the United States to the Far North in 1970 and knew many of the Hippie Mafia who exiled themselves to where the rainforest meets the reef. She says the allure of the tropics was an obvious fit for those who wanted to start afresh under a new identity.

“Back then the Daintree was off-the-edge of civilisation at the end of a dirt track, it was idyllic, it was beautiful. It was “No-Where-Ville”. “Locals had a live-and-let-live attitude, neighbours were never nosy or snoopy. They didn’t care if you smoked dope, got all hippy dippy, and danced nude around a campfire banging bongo drums.

US drug smuggler Raymond Grady Stansel Jr when he was arrested in the early 1970s. Picture:  The Tampa Bay Times.

US drug smuggler Raymond Grady Stansel Jr when he was arrested in the early 1970s. Picture: The Tampa Bay Times.

“There was this Aussie tradition of larrikinism, a freedom, and they celebrated outlaws like Ned Kelly.

“So the Yankee drug smugglers and pirates fitted right in.’’

Doan says she was sworn to secrecy about Stansel’s true identity and “kept her lip zipped for 25 years”. She has since fallen out with the family after a bitter custody battle between her brother who married and divorced Stansel’s eldest daughter Jessie.

“Daintree looks like a tropical paradise but underneath the surface it is full of crocodiles, both human and reptile, it’s like the movie Deliverance, a backwater with inbreds and duelling banjos.

“Lee tried to pass it off as a young man’s lark, a bit of a hoot, but he made millions and millions out of a serious criminal enterprise, and all the lies and secrecy caused a lot of collateral damage to the families.’’

Just 60km up the road, Californian drug smuggling kingpin Peyton Eidson, his wife Sonja and daughter Mia lived out their secret double lives under assumed identities for 25 years owning a health retreat in the rainforest hamlet of Julatten.

Eidson, 71, was described in US court records as the alleged “leader” of a sophisticated operation using fleets of vessels to ship tonnes of high-grade marijuana from Thailand into the States in the late 80s.

He and his wife, who entered Australia on fake passports of Mike and Anita McGoldrick, were only busted five years ago when the true owners of the identities died in the United States.

Eidson served time in Lotus Glen prison for fraud and identity theft and told The Courier-Mail how jail helped him lose about 10kg in weight and gave him time to work on his art and the “great novel”.

He declined to discuss if he still faces extradition over the alleged drug conspiracy.

Owsley "Bear' Stanley, left, with Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead in 1969. Picture: Rosie McGhee

Owsley "Bear' Stanley, left, with Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead in 1969. Picture: Rosie McGhee

But perhaps the most monumental figure of all was the late Owsley “Bear” Stanley - the LSD Millionaire, the Artisan of Acid, and one-time FBI’s Most Wanted - who mass produced the pyschedelic drug in the sixties.

Stanley supplied the US West Coast hippie scene with the hallucinogenic drug and gave acid to Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon as a key architect of the Age of Aquarius, before he emigrated to the far north to set up a commune in the remote Walsh River.

The 76-year-old described himself as a “freedom fighter in the war on drugs” before his death five years ago.

Like Stansel, he died in a single vehicle car crash.


How Michael Jon Hand, at the center of a mystery surrounding an Australian bank with ties to American intelligence officials that defrauded investors and then collapsed, was found in Idaho 35 years after disappearing.


It was one of the greatest disappearing acts of modern times. Amidst a swirl of allegations and rumors that the Nugan Hand bank was involved in arms smuggling, drug-running, and covert operations for the Central Intelligence Agency, the institution’s American founder vanished from Australia. Thirty-five years later, that man, Michael Jon Hand, was tracked to a small town in Idaho where he has been living under the name of Michael Jon Fuller.

Hand was found by an Australian writer, Peter Butt, whose just-released book, Merchants of Menace, discloses Hand’s whereabouts after decades of mystery.

If finding Hand, now 73, solves one mystery, it raises another. How could he have lived in the United States so long without being detected? He changed his name only slightly, from Hand to Fuller, and did not get a new social security number, according to Butt.

Hand’s company, G.M.I. Manufacturing, is registered with the Idaho Secretary of State. The company “now manufactures tactical weapons for US Special Forces, special operations groups and hunters,’’ Butt wrote. Has Hand/Fuller been brazen, foolish, or, as Butt asks, does he belong “to a protected species, most likely of the intelligence kind?”


Two years after fleeing Australia, in 1982, when the CIA was involved in a covert operation to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Hand was working as a military adviser in the region where the anti-Sandinista “contras” were based, according to an Australian intelligence document, which was de-classified earlier this year.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The CIA has previously denied that it had any links to Hand.

Hand had been a Green Beret in Vietnam and a CIA operative in Laos, before moving to Australia, where he and Frank Nugan, a wealthy playboy, established the Nugan Hand Bank in 1973, with $80. Hand fled Australia seven years later after Nugan was found dead inside his Mercedes Benz, his left hand holding the barrel of a .30-calibre rifle a few inches from his head, his right hand near the trigger.

During an inquest into Nugan’s death, Hand testified that the bank was insolvent, owing investors (large and small) some $50 million. The inquest ruled Nugan’s death a suicide, a finding that many Australians found dubious.

With depositors and law enforcement authorities in pursuit, Hand, with assistance from a former CIA officer, secured a forged Australian passport, donned a false mustache and beard, and fled Australia in June of 1980. He flew to Fiji, then on to Canada, from which he could cross into the U.S. without a visa.

The Sydney Morning Herald first reported on Butt’s findings last week. In a segment that aired recently, Australia’s 60 Minutes filmed Hand/Fuller emerging from a pharmacy at a shopping mall in Idaho Falls. He has a full beard, neck brace, and was wearing sunglasses and a blue checked shirt. He refused to answer any questions, or speak any words, when confronted by 60 Minutes reporter Ross Coulthart.

Suspicions about the bank’s links to the CIA arose almost immediately after Nugan was found dead. His wallet contained the business card of William E. Colby, who had been director of the CIA from 1973 to 1976.

Colby was forced to resign when it was reported that the agency had been engaged in illegal spying on American citizens. He became a legal adviser to Nugan Hand, and on the back of his business card were handwritten dates when someone, presumably Colby, would be in Hong Kong and Singapore.

As reporters began digging into Nugan Hand, they found that Colby wasn’t the only individual with an intelligence or military background involved with the bank.

“Nugan Hand had enough generals, admirals, and spooks to run a small war,” Jonathan Kwitny, an investigative reporter at the Wall Streeet Journalwrote in the definitive book about the bank, The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA.

The president was a retired Navy Admiral; the head of the Manila branch, a retired Air Force general; the head of the Washington office, a retired Army general; another retired army general ran the office in Hawaii.

In a review of Kwitny’s book in the New York Times, Howard Blum asks: “Why were so many honorable men working for such a blatantly corrupt organization?”

Several former CIA operatives also had links to the bank of one kind or another, including Frank Terpil and Edwin Wilson, who were indicted for selling explosives to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. (Terpil fled to Cuba, where he still lives. Wilson, who was convicted and sentenced to prison, died in 2012.)

In Australia, the collapse of Nugan Hand was the subject of several high-level investigations in the 1980s. They found, generally, that the bank was engaged in money laundering, tax evasion, and violation of Australian banking laws. One investigation found links between Hand and the CIA, while another did not. At the time, Australian investigators complained about the lack of help from the FBI.

Hand, who was raised in the Bronx, studied forestry for a year before enlisting in the Army in 1963. He was sent to Vietnam, where he was awarded a Purple Heart, Silver Star, and the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest combat medal. At some point, he became a contractor operative for the CIA, and did work with Air America, the agency’s front airline, according to one of the Australian investigations.

He visited Sydney on “R & R,”—“rest and recuperation,” the once-yearly out for American soldiers in Vietnam and eventually emigrated. He hung out at the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar, in King’s Cross, Sydney’s seedy vice district (then and now), where he met Frank Nugan. They began selling real estate, primarily to American servicemen in Southeast Asia, then trading in silver bullion, before opening the bank.

Nugan wrote the bank a check for $980,000, then covered it by writing a bank check to himself for the same amount. “Through this elementary accounting fraud, Nugan could claim that the company’s paid-up capital was a million dollars,” Alfred W. McCoy writes in The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.

From those humble and corrupt beginnings, grew a global goliath that attracted investors with promises of 16 percent interest on deposits, in off-shore accounts. By 1979, Nugan Hand had 13 branches around the world, and many of its depositors were drug traffickers, according to Australian investigators.

Hand told colleagues that it was his ambition that the bank “become a banker for the CIA,” according to the findings of one of the Australian investigations.

Efforts to reach Hand were unsuccessful.

World's most successful prison fugitive has been on the run for 60 years

John Patrick Hannan - who used knotted bedsheets to escape over walls of Verne Prison in Dorset in 1955 - notches up six decades at large

John Patrick Hannan escaped from Verne Prison in 1955  Photo: Ian Patrick / Alamy

John Patrick Hannan escaped from Verne Prison in 1955 Photo: Ian Patrick / Alamy

The world's most successful fugitive, who climbed over the walls of a Dorset prison using knotted bedsheets, has now been on the run for 60 years.

John Patrick Hannan holds the record for the longest escape from custody after he escaped from Verne Prison, in Portland, in December 1955.

He was 22 at the time of his breakout and has now notched up six decades at large, despite repeated police appeals.

"If you read this Mr Hannan please write in, we'd love to hear from you "Dorset Police newsletter

Although he is technically still a wanted man, Dorset Police gave up actively searching for Hannan almost 20 years ago after its last high-profile appeal yielded no results.

Although it has not been confirmed that he is still alive, Hannan would now be aged 81 and is believed to be living in his home country of Ireland. His time as a fugitive easily eclipses some of Britain's most notorious prisoners' efforts, such as the late train robber Ronnie Biggs who spent 32 years on the run before giving himself up.

The previous world record for the longest prison escape, of 45 years and 11 months, was held by Leonard Frisco from Nevada. However, this was broken by Hannan in 2001.

Hannan was sentenced to 21 months in prison at the Old Bailey in 1955 for car theft and assaulting two police officers.

Verne Prison in Portland   Photo: Jack Sullivan / Alamy Stock Photo

Verne Prison in Portland Photo: Jack Sullivan / Alamy Stock Photo

But, along with fellow inmate Gwynant Thomas, he scaled the prison walls using knotted sheets. The pair broke into a nearby petrol station and took overcoats, beer and cigarettes before fleeing the Isle of Portland.

Thomas, also 22 at the time, was arrested within 16 hours near Dorchester after the pair were spotted by a lorry driver.

However, Hannan evaded a major police manhunt - complete with a series of roadblocks and tracker dogs - to make his way to freedom. It is believed he travelled back to his native Ireland soon after his escape.

In 1998, Dorset Police appealed directly to Hannan to give himself up. In a force newsletter, officers said: "If you read this Mr Hannan please write in, we'd love to hear from you."

A Dorset Police spokesman said they were no longer actively searching for Hannan, but would treat any information about his whereabouts with "considerable interest".

When he escaped, Hannan was described as white, 5ft 7ins, with brown hair, blue eyes and proportionate build.