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48 HOURS: "The Hunt for Mr. Wright" to be broadcast Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, investigates Patterson's murder and follows the task force of FBI, U.S. Marshals and New Jersey Department of Corrections officers on the most intense manhunt of their careers. It's a story that spans five decades, involves a stunning airplane hijacking, covers three continents and touches multiple generations of one family shattered by the brutal murder.
"Put yourself in this situation – it was your father," says Task Force member Dan Klotz, of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. "You would hope that there's people out there that'll never give up."
One night in 1962, Walter Patterson went to work at the Esso station he owned in Wall Township, N.J., and never returned home. Patterson was beaten and shot during a robbery, according to authorities. He died two days later, but not before giving police descriptions of his attackers.
"I was 14 years old," Walter's daughter, Ann Patterson, says. "The nightmare was just beginning."
Soon after the attack, police arrested a pair of short-order cooks named George Wright and Walter McGhee. To avoid the death penalty, Wright and McGhee pleaded no contest to murder. McGhee got life because the fatal bullet matched his gun. Wright got 15 to 30 years behind bars.
"I felt safe because they were in jail," Ann Patterson tells 48 HOURS correspondent Susan Spencer.
The story should have ended there, but it was far from over. Eight years later, George Wright busted out of jail with a group of inmates and escaped after hot-wiring the warden's car. Two years after that, Wright dressed like a priest and smuggled a gun on an airplane in a hollowed-out Bible as part of an elaborate hijack plot hatched with members of a black militant movement. Together, they demanded $1 million in ransom – reportedly the largest for a hijacking at the time – and asked the cash be delivered to the plane by a naked agent to assure he was not armed. They later agreed he could wear a swimsuit. The hijackers also wanted a flight to Algeria, which they got, after a stopover in Boston. In a story CBS News has been reporting on for 40 years, Wright vanished soon after they landed. An international manhunt couldn't find him.
After a four-decade manhunt, authorities found Wright living under the radar in Portugal. But can U.S. authorities capture him and bring him to justice?
"It's a roller coaster ride," says Ann Patterson's daughter, Jackie. "You just wonder what's next, the next twist, the next turn."
Susan Spencer and the 48 HOURS team report on the search for George Wright using interviews with the investigators who never gave up, Walter Patterson's family, George Wright's friends, the pilot of the hijacked plane and an audiotape of Wright himself, recorded by a writer at GQ Magazine. 48 HOURS: "The Hunt for Mr. Wright" is produced by Josh Yager, Mead Stone and Jonathan Leach. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Al Briganti is the executive editor. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.