You better come home, George Wilder, sang Howard Morrison about the elusive legendary prison escapee…

George Wilder

My post of earlier today about the flight of depraved killer and paedophile, Phillip Smith, to firstly Chile, and now believed to be in Brazil, reminded me of a small time criminal George Wilder, who escaped from prison a number of times and became almost a legendary public hero. He was a harmless sort of character, probably born in the wrong century, but became the target of a number of manhunts. During one he claimed he could have reached out and touched one of the police dogs tracking him. George was apparently a former bushman, and if the story was true, it figures. I think the last manhunt in which somebody was seriously injured during the prison escape, damaged George’s reputation. But the late Howard Morrison and his quartet brought out a song about George, “You better come home George Wilder”, the words went. Read the following historical account, and the links provided below.


George Wilder, 1962–63

Two of the most famous manhunts of recent times were those organised to search for the elusive George Wilder. On the night of 17 May 1962 Wilder, who was in New Plymouth Gaol serving a term of imprisonment for convictions of burglary, shopbreaking, and theft, scaled a high prison wall and escaped. He was not seen again until 10 July, when he was recognised at Ongarue, near Taumarunui. From then until his capture on 21 July, near Tutukau Mill, Whakamaru, Wilder’s amazing evasion of large parties of police caught the public imagination and lent a certain romance to his exploits. At the time of his capture he had been at large for 65 days.

On 29 January 1963 Wilder made his second gaol break, when, in company with three others, he escaped from Mount Eden Gaol. As on the previous occasion, the manhunt attracted widespread public attention. Although police parties sighted him in the Waitakere Ranges on 9 April, they were unable to catch up with him. Wilder was recaptured on 17 July 1963, when he was found in a hut at Rununga Bush, near Rangitaiki, 2 miles off the Napier-Taupo road and 35 miles from Taupo. He had been free for 172 days, during which time he had travelled 1,620 miles and committed 40 crimes.

On 4 February 1964 Wilder escaped from Mount Eden Gaol with two companions. Armed with a sawn-off shotgun, they kidnapped a warder and took refuge in a private home in Horeka Avenue, Mount Eden. After three hours of liberty, during which time they held the householders as hostages, they surrendered in response to a police threat to use tear gas. Wilder’s sentence was again increased as a result of this exploit. In July 1965 Wilder took part in the Mount Eden prison riot.

Howard Morrison



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