updated 8/7/2006 4:49:51 PM ET 2006-08-07T20:49:51

The Rev. Bernard T. Pagano, a Roman Catholic priest wrongly accused of being the “Gentleman Bandit” who pulled a string of holdups in 1979, has died at 81.

Pagano died Aug. 1 after a stroke, according to The (Wilmington) News Journal.

He was suspected of committing nine robberies in Delaware and Pennsylvania in which a polite, middle-aged man pulled a gun on store clerks and demanded money. A woman who claimed to have been his lover told authorities he may have been the robber.

During his trial in 1979, a string of witnesses said the priest was responsible for the robberies. Then, in a dramatic turn, Ronald W. Clouser, a man from Philadelphia, came forward in the middle of the trial with a lawyer and admitted he was the real Gentleman Bandit.

Prosecutors dropped the case against Pagano and apologized. Clouser pleaded guilty and went to prison.

The story was told in a 1980 made-for-TV movie, “The Gentleman Bandit.”

After the trial, Pagano moved to New Jersey, where he was an advocate for people wrongly accused of crimes and a parish priest in New Brunswick. He retired a few years ago and had been living in a mobile home in Wind Gap, Pa.

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