Saturday, September 26, 2009

Slaying of ex-MOVEr still roils feelings 7 years later

Philadelphia Daily News 856-779-3231

The execution-style murder of former MOVE member John Gilbride Jr. in Maple Shade, N.J., has resulted in seven years of theories, accusations and harsh words between his father and his former wife.

The two have never seen eye-to-eye, even before John was shot to death in his car on Sept. 27, 2002.

The murder remains unsolved, but Gilbride's father, Jack, believes that MOVE, the organization his son followed and later fled, has blood on its hands.

Faced with those accusations, MOVE matriarch Alberta Africa, now known as Alberta Wonderlin, continues to claim that her former husband is alive, forgoing any contact with the son he was fighting for in court for a life of seclusion, courtesy of the U.S. government.

"Maybe he went off the deep end or something and is hiding somewhere. He seemed like he was deeply involved in the government," she said recently, standing behind the door of the Cherry Hill home she once shared with Gilbride and their son, Zackary.

Jack Gilbride, 70, said it's hard to believe that Alberta still makes that claim to reporters, particularly since he identified his son's body, attended his funeral, and buried his cremated remains.

"I could only wish," he said during a recent phone conversation from his home in Virginia. "She knows more than anyone else that it isn't true."

Investigators at the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office have made no arrests in the case and the office declined to be interviewed for this story.

"It is still an open investigation and we continue to put forth our best effort toward solving Mr. Gilbride's murder," spokesman Joel Bewley said in a statement.

When asked to comment on Alberta Africa's theory, Bewley said, "John Gilbride was found shot inside his car. He was pronounced dead at the scene."

Gilbride, a baggage supervisor for U.S. Airways, was found dead inside his Ford Crown Victoria at 12:08 a.m. outside the Ryan's Run apartment complex in Maple Shade, authorities said.

The killer, they said, fired multiple bullets into Gilbride's head and chest at close range from an automatic weapon, then disappeared into the tangle of highways adjacent to the complex, leaving Gilbride's personal belongings.

"He's coming home from work late at night, going to his apartment, and they were there at that perfect time. Somebody had to know his schedule," Jack Gilbride said. "The purpose was to take his life, nothing else."

Later that afternoon, John Gilbride was scheduled to have his first unsupervised visit with his son, an action Alberta and other MOVE members had threatened to stop, Jack Gilbride claims.

"John told me he felt his life was at risk. He knew he was taking a big gamble," he said.

Before she married John Gilbride, Alberta Africa was the widow of John Africa, founder and leader of the controversial radical group MOVE. John Africa and 10 other MOVE members died in May 1985, when Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on their Osage Avenue home after a standoff and shoot-out.

Given the group's turbulent history, Alberta said police would have arrested MOVE members by now for John Gilbride's death if they had evidence.

"We are not murderers," she said.

John Gilbride first mingled with MOVE as a student at Temple University in the late 1980s, his father said, and later joined the organization and married Alberta against his family's wishes.

John Gilbride filed for divorce in 1999 and engaged in years of heated court battles over custody of their son.

The timing of the murder and the custody dispute is more than a coincidence, Jack Gilbride says, and he claims investigators have searched into his son's background for other motives and found nothing.

The theories presented by MOVE members themselves, namely that John's death was part of a murky government plot, have been easy for him to dismiss.

"That stuff is so far-stretched," he said.

In past interviews with newspapers, however, Philadelphia Police Capt. William Fisher, commander of the Civil Affairs Unit, has stated that John Gilbride's murder seemed like a textbook mob hit.

Jack Gilbride said Fisher, who suggested that his son had a gambling problem and other enemies, did a disservice to the investigation and was simply trying to ease the department's relationship with MOVE.

"He's just doing his job to protect the city of Philadelphia," he said.

Fisher, reached by the Daily News, said he could understand Jack Gilbride's pain, but still doubts that MOVE was involved.

"He wants to think that MOVE did it because that solves his problem," Fisher said. "I'm a parent too, and it's an emotional thing."

A gunman, particularly a professional one, could have known of John Gilbride's problems with MOVE, and could have timed the murder to cast blame on the group, Fisher said.

If MOVE was involved, Fisher said, they would not have outsourced the job to someone outside their organization.

But former MOVE supporter Tony Allen, who runs an anti-MOVE blog, said MOVE would never have put someone in their closest family circles at risk by killing Gilbride.

He believes that MOVE would have given that task to a supporter.

"My hope is that there's people in and about MOVE whose consciences will eat away at them," Allen said.

Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi, in a past interview with the Inquirer, mentioned that MOVE members had been questioned in the investigation, but he did not comment on motives.

Jack Gilbride said he speaks with investigators there about every three weeks but acknowledged "they get tired of telling me there's nothing new.

"They have looked at everything, and the one thing that hasn't been dismissed, the only thing that hasn't been resolved, is the custody issue," he said.

The hard truth, Jack Gilbride claims, is that his son's death resolved the custody issue for MOVE.

Zackary Gilbride, the little fair-haired boy at the center of the custody issue in 2002, is now a "big boy" of 13, his mother said.

Alberta Wonderlin said the former child model is a happy home-schooled teen, active in swimming and fencing.

"He has a life," she said. "I don't keep him locked up in here."

But Wonderlin admitted that her son has unresolved feelings about his father, and they resurface occasionally.

"We were looking at some baby pictures and we found a picture of his dad, and he just fell into me," she said. "He's a big boy, but he was in tears."

Alberta says the tears she cried for John were real in 2002 and she still feels his absence today.

"I'm still hurt about this. I do what I have to do to get by, but don't think we aren't hurt," she said."

Wonderlin said she remarried after John's death, not out of love, but to give her son a stable home.

Jack Gilbride said his life has been anything but stable since his son's death. His wife, Fran, died of cancer two years after his son was killed, and he speaks to Zack only once every three to six months.

Wishing his son were still alive is pointless, Gilbride said, so he focuses on resolving the case and hoping that the truth and time will someday bring Zack back into his life.

"That's really my last hope," he said. "He's been raised by MOVE his whole life. I hope when he gets older, he'll ask questions. I want him to know that his father fought for him."

Anyone with information about the death of John Gilbride can contact the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office at 609-265- 7113.


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