The three Briley brothers, Linwood, James Jr., and Anthony were polite and helpful to their neighbors. At school, it was a different story. They harassed and bullied the others. In 1971, Linwood committed his first killing at age 16. This was the start of the group's killing spree and they eventually went to prison. Their shenanigans didn't really stop there. Two of the brothers ended up becoming ring leaders in a six-inmate escape from death row.
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This is the story of the Briley brothers and the state is Virginia.
The three Briley brothers were Linwood, born March 26th, 1954, James Jr., born June 6th, 1956 and Anthony, born February 17th, 1958. They were raised in Richmond's Highland Park neighborhood. The three boys would often help repair cars and mow lawns. They were known for collecting exotic pets, such as tarantulas, piranhas, and boa constrictors. They also liked to save newspaper stories about gang activity.
The Briley family seemed happy to outsiders. When the boys were preteens, they helped their senior neighbors with their yards and would help start their cars. The neighbors thought the brothers were polite and helpful.
At school, the boys were described quite different. They harassed and bullied the other kids and didn't seem to care if they were punished at school. There was one person the boys actually feared and that was their father, James Sr. It didn't take long for the tables to turn in this situation. Bertha and James Sr. got a divorce and it was amicable and they both remained very involved with their kids. Linwood had a lot of influence over his brothers and they began acting out. James Sr developed a fear for his sons and started worrying about his safety and got a padlock for his bedroom door.
In 1971, Linwood committed the first killing at age 16. Linwood was home alone and fatally shot Orline Christian, an elderly neighbor across the alley, with a rifle from his bedroom window as she was hanging laundry to dry on the clothesline. No one noticed the gunshot and it was assumed that Orline died from stress because her husband had recently died. This crime almost went unidentified, but her relatives noticed a small bloody mark under her armpit at the viewing and asked a funeral director to re-examine the body. Upon a second examination, a small caliber bullet wound was discovered.
A detective went back to Orline's yard and used a sheet of plywood to represent her body with a hole cut out to represent the wound. He was able to determine that the bullet came from the Briley residence. The murder weapon was found and Linwood admitted to the crime by saying, “ I heard she had heart problems, she would have died soon anyway.” Linwood was sent to reform school to serve a one-year sentence for the murder. When James turned 16, he was also sentenced to time in juvenile hall for firing at a police officer during a pursuit.
TIMELINE: This is when shit really gets started.
In 1979, the Briley brothers and an accomplice, Duncan Eric Meekins, began the seven-month series of random killings that would terrify the city. On March 12th, 1979, Linwood knocked on the door of a couple named William and Virginia Bucher. He claimed that he had car trouble and needed to use their phone to call Triple A. William said he would make the call and asked Linwood for the Triple-A card. He opened the screen door to get the card, Linwood rushed the door and he eventually forced his way into the home, held the couple at gunpoint and waved Anthony inside. The brothers tied up the victims and robbed the house, dousing each room with kerosene after stealing all of the valuables. As they left, they lit a match and tossed on the fuel. William Bucher was able to free himself and his wife from their restraints and they both escaped.
On March 21st, Michael McDuffie, a vending machine serviceman, was assaulted, murdered, and robbed in his home that was located near the Briley's. Two weeks later, on April 9th, the brothers followed 76-year-old Mary Gowen across town from her babysitting job. They followed her home to rape and murder her and took her valuables when they left. Mary survived the attack initially, but slipped into a coma the next day and died a few weeks later.
On July 4th, the brothers spotted a seventeen-year-old, Christopher Philips near Linwood's parked car. They suspected that he may be trying to steal the car so they surrounded him and drug him to a nearby backyard. The brothers wrestled him to the ground and Linwood killed him by dropping a cinder block on his skull.
On September 14th, a disc jockey named Harvey “Johnny G.” Gallaher was performing with his band at a South Richmond nightclub. He was stepping outside to take a break in between sets and it was the classic, wrong place, wrong time. The Briley brothers had actually been looking around town for a victim, but weren't having any luck. The brothers spotted Johnny G., Linwood assaulted him and put him in the trunk of his own car, a Lincoln Continental. They drove him out to the ruins of a paper mill, removed Johnny G from the trunk of his car and shot him in the head at point blank range. They removed six dollars from his wallet, divided up the money and dumped Johnny G.'s body into the river. His remains were discovered two days later.
On September 30th, 62-year-old private nurse Mary Wilfong was on her way home to her Richmond apartment. The brothers followed her and were able to surround her outside the door. Linwood beat her to death with a baseball bat. The brothers went into her apartment and took her valuables.
Five days later, on October 5th, 79-year-old Blanche Page and 59-year-old Charles Garner were murdered by the brothers and it was only two blocks away from the Briley home. Blanche was bludgeoned to death and Charles was fatally assaulted by various weapons, including a baseball bat, five knives, a pair of scissors and a fork. The scissors and fork were left in his back.
On October 19th, the brothers committed their final murders. They targeted the family of Harvey Wilkerson who was a longtime friend of theirs. On this particular morning, James Briley promised a judged that he would stay out of trouble while out on parole. The brothers were out on the streets and saw Harvey Wilkerson, who lived with his 23-year-old wife Judy Diane Barton. She was 5 months pregnant and they also had a 5-year-old son named Harvey Wayne Barton. When Harvey Wilkerson noticed the brothers, he closed his door and locked it. The brothers took notice of this action and walked up to the door. Harvey was worried about how the brothers would respond if he refused to let them in, so he opened the door. Harvey and his wife, Judy were bound and gagged with duct tape. Linwood raped Judy, drug her back to the living room and stole the valuables and left the house. The remaining gang members covered their victims with sheets and shot and killed them.
At this time, police happened to be in the area and saw the gang members bolting away. They didn't know where shots had been fired and the bodies weren't discovered until three days later. The police were asked to do a welfare check on Wilkerson and Judy. When they approached the apartment, they found the front door slightly ajar. The scene was hard fort he police officers to handle. The Briley brothers had apparently let Wilkerson's pet snakes out after they committed the murders. There were also two Doberman puppies inside the apartment so they had to contact animal control before the investigation began. Unfortunately, the crime scene was badly compromised by the puppies and a lot of evidence was ruined.
Since the Briley gang was seen leaving the apartment on the day they were murdered, that made them the prime suspects. An arrest warrant was issued for the three brothers and Meekins. When the police attempted to serve the warrants, Linwood, his father and Meekins took off in a car with the police following close behind. Linwood refused to pull over and kept going. The police were concerned about public safety and ended up forcing the car into a pole. Once the car crashed, Linwood tried to take off, but was soon captured. The other two Briley brothers turned themselves in.
The police offered Meekins (the gang member that wasn't their brother) a plea agreement in return for turning against the Briley brothers. He was 16-years old and took the offer, providing full details of their crime spree. Meekins came from good home, he was a good student and attended church regularly. His parents encouraged him to accept the plea deal. As a result Meekins was able to escape the death penalty and was incarcerated at a Virginia prison away from the Briley brothers. At the time, the police only knew that the Briley brothers were involved in the Wilkerson murders, but Meekins provided details about the other unsolved murders.
One of the interesting things here is that the murders happened in different areas around town. The race, sex and ages of the victims were very random.
The investigators were very frustrated during the interrogation of the Briley brothers. They were arrogant, defiant, and pushed their patience. When Linwood was questioned about the murder of Johnny G Gallaher, he mocked the investigator and told him he would never be convicted of the murder because there was not evidence linking him to it. They eventually brought in a retired detective to interrogate Linwood and he had been a longtime friend of Johnny G. As the interview began, the detective noticed Linwood was wearing a turquoise ring that belonged to Johnny G and it was one that he often wore. In fact, the detective had been with his friend when the ring was purchased. This was helpful and evidence was slowly uncovered.
Meekins was given a life sentence plus 80 years. At the time of the conviction, this actually made him eligible for parole after serving 12-15 years.
The youngest brother, Anthony Briley, was given a single life sentence due to his limited involvement in the killings.
Virginia had a “triggerman statute” meaning, in most cases, they allow capital punishment only for the person who does the actual killing and the accomplice can't be executed. Due to this law, both James and Linwood received numerous life sentences for all the murders that were committed during their spree, but they only faced capital charges only in cases where they had physically committed the actual killing of the victim.
Linwood was sentenced to death for the abduction and murder of Johnny G. Gallaher.
James received two death sentences for the murders of Judy Barton and her son Harvey. Both James and Linwood were sent to death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center in 1980. This isn't where the story ends though....
Linwood and James Briley ended up being profitable on death row by selling drugs and weapons. The prisoners and guards attempted to stay on Linwood's good side and the prison had one of the most sophisticated security systems in the state. Linwood paid attention to how things worked, the wording the guards used when they made requests to other units, and which guards were the least attentive and he even knew which guards were friendly towards the inmates. The Briley brothers eventually became ringleaders in a six-inmate escape from death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center in Virginia on May 31st, 1984. On this day, Linwood was able to get a guard to keep the door of the control room open long enough for another inmate to rush in and release the locks on the death row cells. This coordinated effort allowed them to overtake 14 guards, and they were ordered to strip down. Linwood, James and four other inmates put on the guard uniforms and both of the Briley brothers were expressing that they wanted to kill the captured guards by dousing them with rubbing alcohol and tossing a lit match. A death row inmate convicted for murder, Willie Lloyd Turner, actually stepped in the way and blocked them from doing this. Another death row inmate, Wilbert Lee Evans, convicted of murder, prevented Linwood from raping the female nurse.
The original plan was for the group to escape and head to Canada. Two inmates, Lem Davis Tuggle Jr. who was convicted of raping and murdering a woman and Willie Leroy Jones who was convicted of two capital murders almost made it, but were captured in Vermont. The Briley brothers split off from the others in Philadelphia and went to live near their uncle. They were captured on June 19th who were able to place wiretaps on their uncle's phone line to determine their location.
Several weeks before execution, James Briley ended up marrying Evangeline Grant Redding on March 28th, 1985 in a prison ceremony and his father, James Sr. attended.
Linwood was executed on October 12th, 1984.
James was executed on April 18th, 1985.
Anthony was given the life sentence with possibility of parole because it was never proven that he was directly responsible for any of the murders.
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The Murder Brothers: The True Story of the Briley Gang
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