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The Hunt for Mr. Wright: A daughter's questions for her father's killer, on "48 Hours"

Ann Patterson with her father, Walter, in an undated photo.
Patterson family photo

(CBS) - Ann Patterson can't speak to her father's killer. But if she could, there are questions she would have for the man who changed her family's life forever.

George Wright has been on the run for 40 years. On Nov. 23, 1962, Wright and another man, Walter McGhee, burst into the gas station owned by Patterson's father, Walter, as he was closing up shop at his New Jersey gas station for the evening.

VIDEO: "48 Hours": "The Hunt for Mr. Wright"

The two men, both short order cooks, demanded money. Investigators say they brutally beat Walter Patterson, a WWII war hero, with their weapons. Then, Patterson was shot. Later, investigators would determine that the bullet matched McGhee's gun.

"No, I didn't even look at the guy, to tell you the truth," Wright, who was 19 at the time of the attack, said in an interview with GQ magazine. "I was shaking like crazy. And McGhee also. He had shot the guy. And he didn't know whether it had killed him or not."

Walter Patterson died days later, but not before he gave police enough of a description of the assailants for them to catch the men responsible. With the help of Patterson's description, the two men and the driver were caught less than 48 hours later. McGhee and Wright pleaded no contest to murder, and McGhee was sentenced to life in prison - Wright, 15 to 30 years.

But on Aug. 22, 1970, after Wright had spent nearly eight years in prison, the story would take a devastating turn for the Patterson family. Wright escaped from a minimum security New Jersey prison, hot-wired the warden's car, and began life on the run.

On July 31, 1972, he hijacked a Delta Air Lines flight headed from Detroit to Miami and flew to Algiers. There, he was granted asylum by Algerian officials. Ducking under the radar of investigators, he had moved to Guinea Bissau in West Africa by the early 1980s, and by 1993, he had moved to Portugal. During his time on the run, he married a Portuguese general's daughter and had two children.

In the fall of 2011, nearly 50 years after Patterson's murder, Wright's life as a fugitive came to an end when he was tracked down by authorities in a cafe near Lisbon.

However, in another devastating blow for the Patterson family, Wright was released days after his arrest. Claiming that he is now a Portuguese citizen, Portuguese courts have dismissed American calls for extradition.

Today, Ann Patterson hopes that George Wright will be brought back to the United States to face justice. Patterson would like to be able to ask George Wright why he committed the crime on that evening in 1962, she told CBS News' Crimesider. Not why the two men chose to rob her father's gas station, because she says she knows they wanted money -- he had $70.

She wants to know why Wright beat her father so severely that he was unrecognizable. Surgeons spent hours attempting to re-construct his skull.

"I keep zeroing in on the beating part," said Patterson, who lives in Freehold, N.J.. "I cannot wrap my mind around that at all. Why would anybody do that to another human being?"

Speaking with Crimesider, Patterson said she is haunted by the unanswered questions she has for her father's killer.

My sister and I would like to know why you did what you did. Not the robbery part, because obviously, you wanted to take what did not belong to you, but the horrible beating of my father you have admitted to. You took from us a loving daddy who could not be replaced and left us orphans.

Do the images of that night haunt you as they do me, as I picture you over and over again hitting my father with the stock of your gun?

Have you ever thought about the family of Walter Patterson and the impact that your actions had on so many of our family members? You went on to live a good and normal life, while we have gone without and struggled both emotionally and financially for over 50 years.

As a 70-year-old man looking back on your life, do you now feel that it would have been more worthwhile to complete your sentence than to live your life constantly on the run, wondering if and when the authorities will catch up with you?

Since you claim to be a changed man, how come you have not felt it appropriate to prove it by completing your sentence?

Ultimately, Patterson says, she sees Wright's flight from justice as an act of cowardice.

"I honestly think he ran for as long as he could. He probably thought he was home free," Patterson said. "Now that this has all come up again, if you put yourself in his shoes, I would be thinking about it over and over again."

Complete coverage of George Wright on Crimesider

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.

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