On Sept. 16, 1979, after a Sunday spent tending to his many liturgical duties, Father George C. Pantelis returned to his office in Delaware Avenue’s stately Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. He had plans to meet with a student for a tutoring session, before heading home to his wife and two teenage sons.
Pantelis telephoned his family just after 9 p.m. “I’ll be home in about an hour,” the priest told his son before hanging up.
Unfortunately for Father George, as his flock lovingly referred to him, the violent events about to unfold in his office would prevent the 40-year-old Greek Orthodox priest from keeping that pledge.
Moments after hanging up, Pantelis heard a noise coming from a small room adjoining his office. Thinking he was alone in the building, the priest opened the door to investigate the sound.
Hiding inside the room were two startled and intoxicated burglars: 22-year old William Royle and 19-year old Joseph Mann, who had both spent that evening drinking beer and taking LSD before deciding to break into the church to steal some “easy money,” the Buffalo Evening News reported on Oct. 23, 1979.
According to William Royle’s later confession, a confused Pantelis walked forward to confront the young pilfers.
The sudden movement prompted Royle to hastily brandish his vintage .38 caliber revolver and unload five rounds into the priest, four shots through his torso and the fifth through his wrist.
The two thieves then fled with the $10 in change they’d stolen from the secretary’s desk, leaving behind a fatally wounded priest.
Twenty-one-year old Elizabeth Shorr, Pantelis’ friend whom he’d planned to tutor that evening, arrived minutes later for her lesson and discovered Father George bleeding to death in his office. She immediately called 911.
“He was lying next to his desk. He was all twisted. I smelled gunpowder,” Shorr later recalled in court.
Upon their arrival, authorities found Shorr “on the back steps of the church screaming for help,” according to testimony from responding officers.
The priest, who was alive but unresponsive when paramedics first arrived, was transported to Buffalo General Hospital, where he died a short while later.
While the shaken Greek Orthodox community mourned the loss of Father George, it would take authorities nearly a month to trace the mysterious crime back to Royle and Mann.
By Oct. 13, police lamented to The Buffalo News that the Pantelis murder “may be one of the crimes we never solve” and had ruled out burglary almost entirely, due to the fact that the thieves had stolen such an undetectable sum of money and had left the priest’s office undisturbed.
Authorities' big break came just two days later, when a 15th Street resident discovered the murder weapon lying on the lawn of his West Side home while taking out his garbage. William’s older brother, Dennis, had dropped the gun the night before in a drug deal gone wrong, not realizing the role it had played in a recent murder.
Police ran a photo of the distinct Harrington and Richardson revolver in local newspapers, prompting an anonymous caller to phone in a tip, linking the gun to the unruly Royle brothers of 14th Street.
When questioned by police, William’s younger brother, Kevin, initially took credit for the crime, despite the fact that he was not present at the time of the murder. Kevin did so in order to protect William, who had a lengthy history of violence and several prior convictions for robbery, according to a News article from Oct. 26, 1979.
Unwilling to let his little brother take the blame for him, William confessed to the killing, providing authorities with ample details of the crime.
William Royle was eventually tried and convicted of burglary, larceny and second degree murder, and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Joseph Mann, Royle’s accomplice the night of the murder, was tried and convicted on lesser charges of burglary and petit larceny, and was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
According to New York State Department of Corrections records, William Royle is serving out his sentence at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. He will be eligible for parole in 2018.
Father George C. Pantelis’ legacy is still upheld each year when Buffalo celebrates its annual Greek Fest, which he founded just a few years prior to his untimely death.