The police called them “Bonnie and Clyde”
Blanche Wright was 20 when she met the love of her life. He was actually a contract killer who led her on a murder spree. And she took the fall.
Even on a night of surprises for Blanche Wright, the man in the suit stood out. She had headed across the Bronx to visit her sick aunt, but when she entered the apartment she found a roomful of people waiting for her: “Happy Birthday!” Then she was introduced to a friend of her aunt’s, an impeccably dressed lawyer from Philadelphia.
He seemed sophisticated, with a three-piece suit and a briefcase. His name was Willie Sanchez, and he wasn’t like any other man she knew. They talked and talked, and before he left he told her aunt, “I’d like to talk to her more.”
She turned 20 years old that day in 1979, with little to celebrate. She was struggling to stay afloat with a toddler son in her own apartment nearby, hiding from the boy’s father, a heroin addict and a thief who would be out of jail soon and looking for her.
But Willie Sanchez promised a new future. Blanche found herself pampered for the first time in her life, fitted for new clothes in nice stores, sampling expensive perfumes in beauty salons. She was swept up by it all.
This captivation would lead, as the months passed, to literal captivity, ending in a 71-day blur of cocaine, guns, terror and, finally, an ambush assassination that put one of them in prison and the other in the ground.
The police called them “Bonnie and Clyde,” a lazy tag that was easier than the truth.
Blanche Wright went to prison a broken human so traumatized that she did not talk for months. She had heard of Bonnie and Clyde, but she didn’t feel like Bonnie. It seemed to her that Bonnie had been luckier. Bonnie died.
What would unfold was a story that even veterans in law enforcement found remarkable, one of reckoning and rebuilding and redemption. Prison would be the first place in her life where Ms. Wright would feel needed, useful and — strange as it sounds — free. She was almost reluctant to leave when she was finally granted parole 10 years ago.
Now 60, Ms. Wright agreed to talk about her past, looking back at a brutal childhood and the series of crimes from the winter of 40 years ago. This account is based on hours of recent interviews with her, as well as a case history written in 2009 for her parole application by a nationally recognized expert on women who kill, who herself drew on interviews and police reports.
Ms. Wright now lives in a small apartment outside of New York City. The pain of rehashing those memories played across her face and stole her sense of security for days to follow, but she said she believes sharing her story is worth it if it might help others.
Willie Sanchez made it clear he wanted to see more of Blanche after her birthday party, but initially she resisted. “I’m not ready,” she told her aunt.
“This guy has it,” her aunt replied. “He has cars, I’ve seen him in different cars. He’s stable. He’ll take care of you and the baby.”
Weeks later, her aunt and Mr. Sanchez showed up at her apartment unannounced. It was dark in the apartment because Ms. Wright had not been able to pay the most recent power bill.
“This is where you live?” Mr. Sanchez asked. He left and went straight to pay her bill and returned with groceries. He asked her, “How about we make a date this weekend?”
They went to a Japanese steakhouse, and Blanche brought along a cousin. “It was fancy for us, like nothing we’d ever seen,” she said.
He visited often after that. He bought her clothes, perfume. She slowly, thoughtfully set aside her defenses. “He was my Prince Charming, and I worshiped him,” she said. “The first thing he did was to get me to get groomed. He took me to a beauty parlor and told the lady how to do my hair. For a long time we had a lot of nice dates. It was not a sexual thing. It was this awesome lawyer interested in me.”
Sometimes, she said, when they were in restaurants, men would approach Mr. Sanchez, and he’d walk away with them to talk privately. They were clients, he told Ms. Wright. Other times they met him in parking lots.
Each morning, get the latest on New York businesses, arts, sports, dining, style and more.
“Once, I saw a peek of a rifle in the trunk,” Ms. Wright said. “That’s when I began to get a little bit inquisitive about these friends.”
Mostly she kept her questions to herself. Lawyers, she knew, sometimes represented shady clients.
Then everything changed one day in November.
He was driving her around the Bronx. Specifically, he was driving around the same block, circling over and over. Mr. Sanchez explained that he was looking for a friend he was supposed to meet. Then he pulled over and pointed to a man about to walk into a building. Maybe I’m early, he said to her. Go ask that man for the time. She obeyed.
She approached the man and spoke, and he turned to her, and right then, behind her, she heard a “whisper of air.” The man fell. She turned and saw Mr. Sanchez holding a pistol with a silencer.
“Willie’s come and shot this man,” she recalled. “I feel him grabbing me and snatching me back. His features were totally different, scary.”
They got to the car. She asked him, Who are you?
“I’m the same man who’s been looking out for you,” he said.
A man looking out for her. Until then, the concept had been just that, an idea, as if from fiction. She never knew her father. Her mother, who was 16 when Blanche was conceived, had schizophrenia and sometimes locked Blanche in her bedroom while she wandered the streets. The girl was raised by a grandmother and violent uncles.
Other times, neighbors would find Blanche outside, partly clothed, and return her to her grandmother’s home, where her uncles beat her and tied her to a radiator to keep her from leaving. Social workers eventually investigated and pulled her out of her grandmother’s home. She was placed in foster care with an older couple.
Her foster father was in his 60s and owned a dry cleaners. Blanche was 8 when he began coming into her bedroom at night. She learned to wrap herself in her sheet, tight as a mummy, and kept quiet. He took her to the basement and abused her, explaining it was to “teach her what not to do with boys.”
She told herself it was happening to someone else. “Picture a radio with knobs, take the dial, and turn it off,” she said later, describing her mind-set. “‘This is not going on with me. That’s her, it’s not me.’”
Her foster mother discovered the abuse but blamed Blanche. When she was 13, her foster father entered her bedroom and climbed on her, and she resisted. He grunted and gasped for air, and collapsed. His wife drove him to a hospital, where he died. Blanche said she blamed herself for the man’s death and stopped speaking. The state sent her to a group home.
The home’s mother, addressed by the girls as Miss Richardson, took Blanche on as a personal project. She spoke endlessly to the mute girl, offering encouragement and praise. There were no unsafe men in the home. Slowly, Blanche began to speak again.
At 16, she went to a friend’s birthday party. The friend had a brother she had known for years. He invited her to a bedroom, where he raped her, she said.
“I’m done,” she recalled thinking. “I felt dirty.” She gave up on the dreams Miss Richardson had helped her see, she said. She listened to the older women around her, who said men act that way “because they love too much,” and she started dating the boy who had raped her.
A year later, she had a baby with him. They lived together in an apartment of their own for a time. She found needles in the bathroom and learned he was shooting up. She confronted him, and he beat her with an ironing board, knocking her out.
He was later jailed after a fight with one of her uncles, and she sneaked away with the baby, leaving with just the clothes on her back, and moved in with a cousin. She heard her baby’s father would be out of jail soon and that he would come looking for her. She chewed her nails to nubs.
She went to her aunt’s house: Surprise. Meet Willie Sanchez.
Two years earlier, Willie Sanchez wasn’t his name. At that time, he was known as Inmate No. 76-A-4463, and he was being held at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane north of New York City. His legal name was Robert Young, and a year earlier, he had climbed into the Bronx window of a 23-year-old woman to rape her, the police said. She resisted, and he shot her dead before sodomizing her, the police said.
Newspapers quoted a police psychologist calling him “the craziest killer I’ve ever seen.” He was 33.
One night in 1977, 10 inmates managed to cut through three sets of bars at the hospital, escaping in the darkness. One of them was Mr. Young. Bloodhounds and police helicopters swept that patch of rural Dutchess County, quickly finding a few of the inmates, who had split up. Mr. Young remained at large.
He was eventually arrested in St. Louis in 1978 — a hand grenade was reportedly found in his car — and transported back to Dutchess County to stand trial for the escape. In the courthouse, he was locked in a holding area on the fourth floor. Officers did not notice the jailhouse bedsheets he had hidden under his clothing.
Mr. Young made a rope with the sheets and, while other prisoners in the cell watched, climbed out a fourth-floor window. He lowered himself to an open window on the third floor and stepped inside, finding himself in the offices of the district attorney who was prosecuting the escape case. The room was vacant.
Mr. Young walked through a door and calmly asked a secretary for directions out of the building, as if he had become lost. She pointed the way out. Officers first noticed him missing after a head count an hour later.
Six months after his bedsheet escape, he walked into Blanche Wright’s birthday party.
After the shooting in the Bronx, Mr. Sanchez would not let Ms. Wright out of his sight. He made her leave her son at her grandmother’s and moved her out of her apartment. He moved her in with two of his friends, a couple named Rosie and Gene, because he didn’t want her alone. He said she wasn’t safe.
He locked Ms. Wright in a bedroom and left for days at a time. He’d return with bricks of cocaine, which Rosie and Gene would cut to sell.
Ms. Wright was always afraid. If she showed her fear around Mr. Sanchez, he’d explode in a rage, which made it worse.
Rosie used cocaine, and told Ms. Wright, “This is what helps me.” They offered her a fancy spoon.
“I tried it,” Ms. Wright said. “I just came up out of the completely trapped, gloomy feeling. ‘Oh, they do care about me.’ I felt strong. It took me out of this mousy feeling.”
Once, Mr. Sanchez took her to a Holiday Inn and handcuffed her to a bathroom sink. He closed the bathroom door and left. Later, Ms. Wright heard women enter the hotel room and talk. She wanted to call out for help, but hesitated. The women left.
The bathroom door opened — it was Mr. Sanchez. “You did good,” he said. “You didn’t make a sound. You can be trusted.”
She saw one chance to get help. There was the woman who ran the group home where Ms. Wright had stayed as a teenager — Miss Richardson, whom she trusted deeply. They had stayed in touch. Ms. Wright asked Mr. Sanchez to take her to the home to say hello, and he agreed.
Her plan was to get Miss Richardson alone and tell her what was going on. They arrived, greeted by Miss Richardson and a man who worked there, and she waited for her opportunity while the group made small talk.
Then Mr. Sanchez looked around the walls and ceiling of the group home, seemingly surprised at the lack of cameras. “I don’t see any security,” he said. “Anybody could come in here and kill all 12 of these girls and you two.”
Ms. Wright froze. He was onto her. “I knew then, I couldn’t allow anything to happen to this house,” she said. “I messed up.”
Miss Richardson must have noticed her troubled expression, and asked, “Is everything O.K.?” She added, “You have this great guy in your life.”
Ms. Wright and Mr. Sanchez returned to their car. “He said, ‘You know I’m God, right? I decide who lives and who dies.’ I knew then, I’m trapped. I can’t get out. I’m going to die with this guy.”
On Jan. 21, 1980, almost two months after the murder, Mr. Sanchez drove Ms. Wright to the home of a friend on Marion Avenue in the Bronx. The police would later describe this friend as a Colombian cocaine trafficker. The man was there with a woman. Ms. Wright sat and stared at their coffee table — an aquarium, with fish inside.
Soon after they arrived, an argument broke out in Spanish between Mr. Sanchez and the friend, and Mr. Sanchez threw the man to the ground and handcuffed him. He held a pistol with a silencer. Everyone was screaming except Ms. Wright, who froze.
Mr. Sanchez, very agitated, handed her a second pistol and ordered her to guard the handcuffed man. “If he moves, shoot him,” he ordered. Then he pushed the woman into a bedroom.
She heard the “whoosh-whoosh” of the silencer. Mr. Sanchez returned alone and saw the man squirming on the floor.
“Didn’t I tell you not to let him move?” he roared. He wrapped his hand around hers holding the pistol, and pulled the trigger. There were no other witnesses. There was a knock at the door, she said. Mr. Sanchez opened it, and immediately shot and killed the man who had knocked.
Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Wright left. The man on the floor would live, but the woman in the bedroom and the man at the door were both killed.
“He told me he knew I could do better,” Ms. Wright said. “If I wanted to live, I had to do better.”
Published By: Bella Land, The New York Times - Michael Wilson
Like what you read? Give a round of applause. Share it with your friends and family.
We are open for discussion. Let's keep the conversation going.
Do you have an article or story to share?
Interested in joining our Board? What Board do you want to serve? Contact us!
We want to work with all women and men who believes in equality!
Bellaland is a company for all people, good people who believes in a better world.
Join us. We are stronger together!
If you are lost, lone and miserable out there, you belong here more than anywhere else.
If you are sick and tired of fake selfish world, you belong here more than anywhere else.
If you are one of those sick fake ones, please stay away.
Do not make it difficult for us, here too.
Thank you! ~ Bella