On the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1962, George Wright and another man walked into a gas station in NJ with the intention of robbing its owner, Walter Patterson. After a scuffle, Wright’s associate shot Patterson, wounding him severely enough he would die two days later. Ten years later, after escaping from jail, Wright helped hijack an airplane with 86 passengers, ransomed the passengers for $1 million, flew to Algeria, and disappeared for 40 years. Last year he was arrested in Portugal.
This profile in GQ by Michael Finkel is sympathetic, but fascinating. Wright is described as a positive member of the community, a man rehabilitated, which is supposed to be the purpose of prison. And yet, he’s never paid for his crimes. If pressed, I’d have to say I agree with how it ended up playing out.
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 ninety 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.
(via Long Reads)