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Wall Gas Station Killer Nabbed Overseas After 41 Years

Man who killed owner of Collingswood Esso in 1960s arrested in Portugal

An escaped prisoner who killed a township gas station attendant in the 1960s was nabbed in Portugal after 41 years on the lam, authorities said Tuesday.

George Wright, now 68, was arrested in a town near Lisbon on Monday, FBI Special Agent Bryan L. Travers said.

Wright, then 19, was convicted of the 1962 murder of Howell resident Walter Patterson -- a WWII veteran, Bronze Star award recipient and father of two -- who was shot and killed during a robbery of what was then the Collingswood Esso gas station in the north end of town. 

Wright, along with several associates already had committed a series of robberies on Nov. 23, 1962 leading up to the murder, Travers said.

“There will finally be justice for daddy,” Ann Patterson, of Howell, told NBC New York. “Even if he is remorseful, he needs to come back and serve the punishment for what he did.”

Patterson was 14 when her father was killed.

“This case should also serve notice that the FBI’s determination in pursuing subjects will not diminish over time or distance,” said Michael Ward, Special Agent In Charge of the FBI’s Newark Division.

Wright was arrested two days after the murder and was indicted on state charges along with his associates on December 13, 1962. On February 15, 1963, Wright entered a plea of “no defense” to the charge of murder. Wright was subsequently sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.

On August 19, 1970, Wright and three other men escaped from Bayside State Prison in Leesburg. Subsequent to his escape, Wright traveled to Detroit and became joined up with the Black Liberation Army, underground militant group.

On July 31, 1972, five adults, accompanied by three small children, hijacked Delta flight 841 en route from Detroit to Miami. Wright, dressed as a priest and using the alias the Rev. L. Burgess, was one of the hijackers. There were 86 passengers aboard the plane.

The hijackers demanded $1 million ransom in exchange for the passengers of the flight – the largest ransom ever paid at the time. After an FBI agent delivered a 70-pound satchel full of money — wearing only a pair of swim trunks, according to the hijackers' instructions — the passengers were released, according to Associated Press accounts at the time.

Wright, on board with his companion and their 2-year-old daughter, along with the others forced the plane to Boston for refueling and another pilot before taking off for Algeria, where they sought asylum.

The hijackers had identified themselves to the airline passengers as a Black Panther group, police said at a news conference, according to AP reports at the time. They said the hijackers smoked marijuana continuously during the flight.

At the request of the U.S. government, the money and plane were eventually seized and returned by Algeria to the Unites States. Wright and his associates were briefly taken into custody but were released after a few days.

The group was taken in by Eldridge Cleaver, the American writer and activist, who had been permitted by Algeria's Socialist government to open an office of the Black Panther Movement in that country in 1970, after the Algerian president at the time professed sympathy for what he viewed as worldwide liberation struggles, according to the AP.

On May 26, 1976, Wright’s associates were located and arrested in Paris, France by the French National Police. The four adults were tried and convicted in French court. Since that time, George Wright has remained the lone fugitive, on the run since his escape on August 19, 1970.

He is awaiting extradition to the United States to finish out his sentence.

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