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Retired LDS FBI agent recalls career in new autobiography

Published: Wednesday, March 10 2010 12:17 a.m. MST

SPRINGVILLE, Utah — Retired FBI agent James Wright weaves his Mormon faith into

his new book about the cases in which he worked to bring criminals to

justice.

Both are important, he says.

"My religion is my way of life," said Wright, who has written the

autobiography "FBI: Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity." "The cases were

important because I was in a position to defend this country and enjoy

what I was doing."

__IMAGE1__The FBI has a large number of agents who are members of The Church of

Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In one office of 20 agents where

Wright worked, five were LDS.

"(J. Edgar) Hoover liked LDS people," Wright said of the agency's first

director.

Many LDS FBI agents have language skills useful to the bureau from

serving missions in foreign countries, and "they

aren't likely to drink and smash up our cars," Wright said.

Wright won many awards for his work, including the Quality Incentive

Award, which he achieved for developing a long list of informants,

particularly among people from the Middle East living in the San

Francisco Bay Area.

"They would talk to me," he said, "and that developed sources for

(various) cases."

Among the cases Wright worked were the Patty Hearst kidnapping and its

ties to the Symbionese Liberation Army; the Chowchilla school bus

kidnapping case; the Unabomber; Jim Jones and the People's Temple mass

suicide; and the Montana Freemen case.

Now living in Springville, Utah, the former government agent and special

investigator used his own FBI file to write the autobiography, a process

that took 16 months.

Early on, Wright thought he was going to have a life as a schoolteacher.

After graduating from BYU on a wrestling scholarship, he landed a

teaching job in Centerville, Utah. But at the end of the school year, his

father suffered a heart attack. Wright returned to Woodbury, N.J., to

assist his family and was hired to teach at Woodbury Junior High School

and coach at his alma mater, Woodbury High.

In all, he taught four years.

Meanwhile, a secretary at the junior high suggested to Wright that he

would make a good FBI agent. Her husband was an agent and she said if he

would apply, she would type up the application. Then-FBI director Hoover

apparently agreed with her, and Wright was hired.

After graduation from FBI training, Wright was assigned to New Haven,

Conn., where he worked several cases before being sent to San Francisco,

where he spent 23 years. He was one of several agents to work the Patty

Hearst kidnapping.

"I believe Patty Hearst was legitimately kidnapped," he said.

She was held in a closet for weeks in early 1974 and was terrorized and

repeatedly raped. Then she joined her captors Bill and Emily Harris and

the SLA, he said.

Inmates in San Quentin formed the SLA, using taxpayer dollars and their

girlfriends to do their work on the outside, he said.

Wright said he believes Hearst was brainwashed into staying with the

group.

The Chowchilla kidnapping case could have turned into a tragedy.

Brothers Rick and Jim Schoenfeld and friend Fred Woods, all from wealthy

families, commandeered a Chowchilla, Calif., school bus of 26 children

in July 1976. They hid the bus, transported the children 100 miles away

and forced them into a moving van that they had buried in a rock quarry

about eight miles from Wright's home. Inside, they placed mattresses,

which the school bus driver and junior high kids used to stack on top of

each other to escape.

"They could have died in there (from the heat)," Wright said.

The perpetrators never could make their ransom demands because the

police telephone was so busy handling the calls of concerned parents the

kidnappers couldn't get through, Wright said.

The trio is still in prison, more than 30 years later. Wright said he

believes they have been repeatedly turned down for parole because of the

lack of concern they showed for the children, many of whom were

traumatized by the experience.

"FBI: Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity" was self-published in November

through iUniverse.


E-mail: rodger@desnews.com

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