The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 4, 1983
No happy ending -
a story of a mother, her kids
Three weeks ago, about 10 p.m. on
a Thursday night, Jeanne Anne Wright bundled her four children in winter
clothes, told her mother that she was taking them to a party, and walked
them out the door of the apartment.
The steady rain had matted the litter on the parking lot outside the
brick, four-story building, part of a cluster of roach-infested rectangles
in East Camden, a public housing project known as Westfield Acres.
Several weeks before, the neighbors had complained about Wright's
having moved in with her mother, crowding the two-bedroom apartment. The
Camden Housing Authority notified the Wrights that their daughter's family
had to move on.
Her parents thought it peculiar that Wright would take her children out
in the rain at that hour, but she insisted, and the Wrights had long
before stopped questioning their daughter's occasional inexplicable
behavior and outbursts.
But Jeanne Anne Wright did not go to a party that night.
Instead, police say, she walked 16 blocks - about 1 1/4 miles - to an
isolated industrial section by the Cooper River. And there, in the still
of the night and the rain, police say, she dropped her offspring into the
water. The two youngest children drowned. The other two have not been
Wright was arraigned on Tuesday and charged with the murders of her
sons, Juan Jose, 11 months, and Jonathan, 34 months. Police said that
Wright, who is pregnant with her fifth child, admitted Monday night that
she had thrown all four of her children into the muddy water and watched
them drift away.
On Sunday a week ago, the Rev. Joseph Scott delivered his weekly sermon
to his congregation at Asbury United Methodist Church, about three blocks
from the Westfield Acres housing project.
He knew that Jeanne Anne Wright had reported to police that the father
of three of her children had abducted the children and that she had been
dejected during the last two weeks. While addressing himself to the
congregation's children - he preached about the need to prepare oneself in
this life for life after death - he included a prayer for the return of
He learned later from her family that Wright sat weeping throughout the
Several hours after the church service concluded, a gas station
attendant on Admiral Wilson Boulevard, wandering along the rocks at the
river's edge on a brilliant, warm day, found the body of a young child.
The child remained unidentified for nearly a day - until Monday, when
Irene Wright recognized the description of the clothing on the body as the
garments she had tugged on her grandson, Jonathan, two weeks before.
Until that Monday, Jeanne Anne Wright represented nothing more to the
Camden Police Department than a welfare mother who had reported a routine
But on Monday, Wright was detained at the morgue, where she arrived
wearing clothing smeared with mud. During her interrogation, she told
detectives about the alleged abduction. When detectives disputed the
contradictions in her story and told her they could prove that the mud on
her clothes was from the Cooper River - although they actually had no idea
why she was soiled - she broke down and told them, they say, that she had
thrown her children into the river.
Jeanne Anne Wright, 25, is the daughter of parents whose fortunes have
declined during the years. Her mother was a nurse's aide, her father was a
shipyard worker. They raised their family in a one-story ranch house in
the middle-class neighborhood of East Pennsauken, two blocks from a public
country club, miles from poverty.
Still, their neighbors recognized the Wrights as poor by comparison to
themselves. The children wore hand-me-downs and spoke a rougher language,
the neighbors say.
Jeanne Anne is remembered in the neighborhood as a scrapper who was
prone to engaging in shouting matches with students in the halls of George
B. Fine Elementary School and, later, Pennsauken Junior High School.
It was in this neighborhood, Mrs. Wright said, that her daughter, then
9 years old, received a high-voltage shock when she grabbed an exposed
wire leading to a telephone booth. Mrs. Wright, 58, said her daughter had
been diagnosed as an epileptic because of the shock. She offered the story
to reporters as one of the reasons her daughter might have disposed of her
In 1974, the Wrights moved to Camden, to an apartment above a
self-service laundry at 27th Street and Mickle Boulevard, which they had
been hired to operate. Jeanne Anne attended Woodrow Wilson High School,
but she dropped out eight years ago when she became pregnant with her
The father was Emilio Jaime Andujar, now 38, whom Mrs. Wright said her
daughter had met in a bar. Police described him as a drifter, but he is
more of a regional nomad, working little, living most recently in
Philadelphia, and wanted in Camden County in connection with a February
auto theft in Barrington, records show.
In a relationship the family described as turbulent - marked by
frequent fights and reconciliations - Andujar fathered Wright's three
oldest children, Janah, 7, Emilio, 5, and Jonathan. There were two other
pregnancies, one a miscarriage and another aborted - events Mrs. Wright
said also troubled her daughter.
Philadelphia police interviewed Andujar and concluded that he had had
no reason to abduct the children, much less the means to support them.
Another man, Juan Roldan, an officer on the Camden police, fathered the
youngest child, Juan Jose Roldan. Wright, who is expecting another child
in March, told police and relatives that the infant had had a heart
condition that required surgery.
Several years ago, Wright moved her family in with her youngest sister
in a peeling rowhouse on Sycamore Street in South Camden, where they
survived on their public-assistance checks. She later lived with neighbors
in a house up the street.
In the neighborhood of primarily black people, Wright, who is white,
got along amiably with her neighbors.
"She used to borrow money over at the junkyard where I work,"
said a man who identified himself as T. Williams, an employee at Star Junk
Dealer on nearby Chestnut Street. He said he last saw her on Nov. 16.
"She owed a couple of dollars to another guy. So when I saw her
(on Nov. 16) going into the welfare office downtown, I went over to her
and said, 'Billy was looking for you. He wants to know when you are going
to pay him.'
"We talked about that, and then she started telling me something
about how her ex-boyfriend had supposedly kidnapped her kids."
Williams and Larry Howard, who lived next door to the Wrights on
Sycamore Street, said they had seen no evidence that she had abused the
children. Howard said he thought Wright had been too lenient with them.
"They used to get away with a lot of things," Howard said of
the children. "I used to hear her yelling at them, but I never saw
her really abuse them. I've seen her whop them every once in a while, but
every kid needs that sometime."
They said that Wright had liked to drink beer, but that she had used no
drugs, although they were easy to acquire in the neighborhood.
About two months ago, Wright moved to Westfield Acres with her parents,
whose lives by now had become dependent on public assistance. Mrs. Wright
said that her daughter had enrolled in a computer-literacy course at
Camden County College's urban campus in Camden, and that she believed she
was about to turn around her life.
But since her grandchildren disappeared, Mrs. Wright said she had begun
to worry that her daughter's erratic behavior was more pronounced.
Neighbors on Sycamore Street and in Westfield Acres echoed the
characterization: Wright was volatile one moment, withdrawn the next.
But nobody described the woman that Assistant Camden County Prosecutor
Dennis Wixted described in court on Tuesday.
Wixted gave this account of what happened to the children: On the night
of Nov. 10, Wright walked her four children to a railroad trestle, where
two sets of Conrail railroad tracks cross the Cooper River, and sat on a
greasy pier below the bridge. She told investigators she had been hiding
from Andujar, the father.
She sat there for at least an hour, Wixted said, until 1 a.m. The rain
and the river made the air seem colder than the 55 degrees it was.
"She never said why" she dropped the children into the river,
a detective who interviewed her said. She only described the process, and
the order, of holding each child over the pier and dropping him or her a
few feet into the water.
Wixted said she had seen Juan Jose drowning, and had pulled him out by
the leg but put him back in the water when she realized that he was not
breathing. Then she walked back to Westfield Acres.
Mrs. Wright said that perhaps her child had "snapped."
Her minister, Mr. Scott, theorizes that Wright's problems with the
childrens' fathers, an ailing child, lack of a job and parents without
finances to fall back on could have overwhelmed the woman. "The kinds
of economic pressures for people living in the city, poor people, can
drive people to the point where they become very strong - or they
Mike Barth, spokesman for the Progressive Epilepsy Network in
Philadelphia, said the published descriptions of Wright's behavior matched
an epileptic's untreated grand mal seizures. "I can really see where
the pressures in her life forced this thing to happen," he said.
"To me, that's unimportant," said Wixted, the prosecutor.
"Her mother says she's an epileptic. We don't know that. We can
substantiate that she had a cold-blooded, well-thought-out plan to kill
Jeanne Anne Wright pleaded guilty to murder and
was sentenced to four concurrent life terms. She becomes eligible for
parole in 2014.
Eric Harrison contributed to reporting this