WANTED! Can you help capture New Jersey’s prison fugitives?
Arthur Buckel’s escape from Bayside State Prison in Hammonton earlier this month set off a manhunt and frenzied statewide public search for the fugitive inmate.
Buckel, who was serving time for aggravated assault and burglary — and who once had done time for killing his girlfriend’s baby — was caught about a week later.
But other prisoners who’ve escaped from Jersey prisons over the years are still out there — and some may never be caught as long as they live.
The Garden State’s most notorious fugitive may be Joanne Chesimard, who now goes by the name of Assata Shakur in her adopted country of Cuba.
Chesimard was convicted in the 1973 murder of State Police Trooper Werner Foerster. She was sentenced to life in prison but broke out of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton on Nov. 2, 1979, with the help of three visitors who help up the guards at gunpoint.
The State Police and Gov. Chris Christie in the past year have spotlighted the state’s efforts to return Chesimard to justice as the United States has begun thawing its Cold War-era relations with the island nation’s communist regime.
Around the country, thousands of convicts escape or “walk away” each year, according to various estimates, but only a small fraction have been violent offenders from high-security prisons.
The state Department of Corrections’ escape list as of Memorial Day weekend included 38 names. Most of them are inmates who were housed in community residential facilities. Inmates in these facilities become fugitives when they walk out or fail to report at designated times.
But seven of the fugitives were convicts who bolted from prisons. The last one to do so and still remain at large — Enrique Silva — broke out of the former Riverfront State Prison in Camden on May 16, 1995.
Catch him if you can
One of the fugitives — George Wright — is essentially a free man.
Wright had been sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading no contest to a charge that he was part of a gang that shot and killed a gas station owner in a robbery in 1962 in Wall.
On Aug. 22, 1970, he and another prison inmate, George Brown, who was serving ime for armed robbery, simply walked out of Bayside State Prison in Cumberland County while guards weren’t looking.
Two years later they and several others hijacked a plane and held the passengers for $1 million in ransom — which they got.
They were allowed to switch planes in Boston and took a flight to Algeria, which returned the plane and ransom money, but gave cover to the hijackers.
Brown served time in France for air piracy but the United States was not able to extradite him.
Wright, meanwhile, was captured September 2011 in Portugal, where he had raised a family. A Portuguese court denied his extradition, saying he was a Portuguese resident and that the statute of limitations on his crime had expired.
Which means he'll never again sit behind bars in New Jersey as long as he lives out his life in Portugal.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.