Details of Disappearance
Wright was last seen at his place of employment, the Shelby County Office of Construction Code Enforcement, in the vicinity of the 2500 block of Lamar Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee on April 17, 2001. He was giving a citation in a car lot at the time.
He did not return to his office to turn in his company log or his company truck, a Ford Ranger extended cab pickup with the license plate number GT4191, as he was supposed to when he ended his daily tour of duty. Wright has never been heard from again.
On April 19, two days after he disappeared, Wright's Code Enforcement identification and badge, and some other personal items of his, were found by a jogger in a creek in Olive Branch, Mississippi. On April 27, his company vehicle was found in a rural wheatfield in Marshall County, Mississippi.
The truck had been set on fire and completely destroyed. A photograph of it is posted with this case summary. There was no sign of Wright at the scene, but his personal identification and wallet were found in a nearby ditch. An extensive search of the area turned up no clues as to Wright's whereabouts.
A male individual was sought for questioning in Wright's disappearance. A sketch of the person is posted with this case summary. He was described as Caucasian and in his mid-forties, with salt-and-pepper hair parted in the middle and wrinkles around his eyes. The man had a large build and a tan complexion. He was wearing a light blue, short sleeved, button-down shirt and khaki pants.
A witness saw the man in Olive Branch, sitting inside what appeared to be Wright's company truck in a parking lot. There was a large bundle of blankets or sheets in the truck as well; the size and proportions of the bundle were consistent with a wrapped-up body. The truck was parked in the lot for about 45 minutes.
In 2004, Wright's family initiated the process to have him declared legally dead so they could collect on his life insurance policy and have offered the theory that Wright was murdered in Memphis by someone who got angry when he cited them for a code violation, and his body and truck were taken to Marshall County and disposed of. Wright's coworkers state that they were occasionally threatened when they cited people. A judge heard the Wright family's case and declared him dead.
In July 2004, police made an arrest in connection with Wright's disappearance. They received a tip that Dale V. Mardis might be involved in his case. After searching Mardis's home and questioning him, they placed him under arrest for Wright's murder.
Mardis owned several commercial properties in Memphis, including the one Wright visited the day of his disappearance, and the two had run-ins in the past. He had black eyes and broken ribs after Wright disappeared and never explained how he got the injuries. Three witnesses testified that he confessed to them that he killed Wright in self-defense when they were arguing and Wright reached for his gun. The witness who saw the man sitting in Wright's truck identified the person as Mardis.
Mardis admitted that he killed Wright, but said he only did so in self-defense. In April 2007, just days before his trial was scheduled to begin, Mardis took a plea deal in Wright's case. He pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Wright's family protested against the plea and the sentence and asked the judge not to allow it, saying it was too lenient, but the deal went through anyway.
As a condition of the plea, Mardis was required to reveal what he did with Wright's body. Mardis stated he dismembered Wright's remains, burned them in a 55-gallon drum, and put what was left into junked automobiles which were eventually crushed.
State prosecutors turned the Wright file over to federal authorities after Mardis's plea agreement was concluded; federal courts are allowed to prosecute racially motivated crimes as civil rights violations. In March 2011, Mardis pleaded no contest in federal court to Wright's murder. He was sentenced to life in prison in July. There is no parole in the federal prison system, so he will never be freed.
It was only a week before Mardis's federal sentencing that authorities learned he was also responsible for the 1998 murder of his friend Henry Ackerman. Mardis confessed that he beat Ackerman to death and disposed of his body in the same way he did Wright's. He pleaded guilty to this murder and was sentenced to an additional term of life in prison.
Wright was born in Chicago, Illinois. He is described as a mild-mannered, hardworking homebody and family man who does not often go out socializing. He may have had a .357 handgun in his possession at the time of his disappearance.
Wright's remains have never been found, but foul play is suspected in his disappearance due to the circumstances involved.