The Briley Brothers (Linwood Briley, James Briley and Anthony Briley) were responsible for a killing spree in Richmond, Virginia, in 1979. The city and the surrounding suburbs were terrorized for seven months by the killing spree, which struck victims both black and white, suburban and urban, well-to-do and humble.
Early Lives of the Briley Brothers
The brothers were born to a stable home with two parents on the Northeast side of Richmond. With their younger sibling Anthony, Linwood and James were regarded by older neighbors as people who would help neighbors fix cars or mow lawns.
However, a surreal and dark world existed inside their house on Fourth Avenue. The three boys collected deadly pets, such as tarantulas, piranhas, and boa constrictors. The boys gleefully fed live mice to their boa constrictor. Their father, James Briley, Sr., was unnerved enough by their behavior that he kept his bedroom door padlocked from the inside overnight. James Sr. was the only person the brothers feared.
In 1971, the first killing was committed by the then 16 year old Linwood. While alone at home one day, he took aim with a rifle from his bedroom window and fatally shot Orline Christian, an elderly next door neighbor, as she passed by her window sill. The crime almost went undetected; however, her grieving relatives noticed a small bloody mark on her back at the viewing and asked the funeral director to re-examine the body. Upon a second examination, the director found a small caliber bullet wound in her back. Police investigators were contacted and they sought to find the source of the gunshot. Standing at the open window in her home where Mrs. Christian had been killed, a detective used a sheet of plywood to represent her body, with a hole cut out to represent the bullet wound. He soon determined that the bullet could only have come from the Briley home next door. There, the murder weapon was found and Linwood admitted to the crime with indifference: “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 killing. His young brother, James Briley followed in his path at the same age, having been sentenced to time in juvenile hall for having pulled a gun and fired upon a police officer during a pursuit.
In 1979, the three Briley brothers, and an accomplice, Duncan Meekins, began the seven month spree of random killings that terrified the city and the surrounding region.
Their first attack came on March 12th, when Linwood knocked on the door of Henrico County couple William and Virginia Bucher. Claiming that he had car trouble and needed to use their phone, Linwood was allowed into their home. At this point, he pulled a gun on the couple and waved his brother Anthony inside. The two Briley’s tied up the couple and looted the house, dousing each room with gasoline after picking it clean of valuables.
As they left, a lit match was tossed on the fuel. The two hurriedly packed their stolen loot – a television, CB radio, and jewelry into their trunk and sped off. They were not around when Mr. Bucher managed to free himself and his wife from their restraints and escape just before the house became engulfed in flames. They would be the only survivors of the rampage.
Michael McDuffie, a vending machine serviceman, was murdered by the gang members at his suburban home on March 21st with use of force. The gang shot him dead and then stole his valuables.
On April 9th, the gang followed 76 year old Mary Gowen across town from her babysitting job, then raped, robbed, and shot her outside her home.
17 year old Christopher Philips was spotted hanging around Linwood Briley’s parked car on July 4th by the gang members. Suspecting that he might have been trying to break into the vehicle, the gang surrounded him and dragged him into a nearby backyard. There he was pinned to the ground by three members. When Philips screamed for help, Linwood murdered him by dropping a cinder block on his skull, crushing it.
On September 14th, disc jockey John “Johnny G.” Gallaher was performing with his band at a South Richmond nightclub. Stepping outside between sets for a break, he inadvertently came right into the hands of the Briley gang, who had been looking around town for a victim all night without success. They decided to lie-in-wait for whoever might happen to step outside.
Gallaher was jumped by Linwood and then manhandled into the trunk of his own Lincoln Continental. He was then driven out to Mayo Island in the middle of the James River, where the remnants of an abandoned paper mill stood. There, he was removed from the trunk of his Lincoln Continental and shot dead at point blank range. His body was then dumped into the river. The remains were found two days later. When arrested months later, Linwood was still wearing a ring stolen from Gallaher’s hand.
On September 30th, 62 year old private nurse Mary Wilfong, was followed home to her Richmond apartment. The gang surrounded her just outside the door and Linwood crushed her skull with a baseball bat. The gang then entered her apartment and looted it of valuables.
Blanche Page and Charles Garner
Several days later on October 5th, just two blocks from the Briley home on 4th Avenue in Richmond, 79 year old Blanche Page and her 59 year old boarder Charles Garner were both brutally murdered by the gang members. Page was bludgeoned to death while Garner was fatally assaulted with a variety of weapons, which included a baseball bat, five knives, a pair of scissors, and a fork. The latter two were left embedded in Garner’s back.
The final crime of the spree occurred against a long time neighborhood friend of the brothers, Harvey Wilkerson. On the morning of October 19th, having promised a judge earlier that day that he was staying out of trouble while out on parole for a 1973 robbery and malicious wounding conviction, James Briley led the gang on the prowl for yet another victim that night.
Upon seeing the gang’s presence down the street, Wilkerson, who lived with his 23 year old wife Judy Barton (who was five months pregnant at the time) and her 5 year old son Harvey, instinctively closed and locked his door. This action was noticed by the gang, which then walked over to Wilkerson’s front door and knocked. Terrified by their response if he refused them entry, Wilkerson allowed them in.
Both adults in the home were overpowered, bound and gagged with duct tape. Linwood Briley then manhandled Judy Barton into the kitchen, where she was raped within hearing distance of the others. Fellow gang member Duncan Meekins continued the sexual assault, after which Linwood dragged Barton back into the living room, briefly rummaged the premises for valuables, and then left the house.
The three remaining gang members covered their victims with sheets. James Briley told Meekins, “you’ve got to get one”, at which point Meekins took a pistol and fatally shot the adult Harvey Wilkerson in the head. James Briley then shot Barton and the 5 year old boy to death.
Police happened to be in the general vicinity of the neighborhood, heard the shots, and later saw the gang members running down the street at high speed. They did not know where the shots had been fired. The bodies were not discovered until three days following the crime, but the gang members were rounded up soon afterwards.
Capture and Incarceration
During interrogation by police, Duncan Meekins was offered a plea agreement in return for turning state’s evidence against the Brileys. He took up the offer and offered a full detailing of the crime spree. As a result, he escaped the death penalty and was briefly incarcerated at a Virginia prison away from any of the Briley brothers.
A single life sentence, with parole eligibility was handed down to Anthony Briley, youngest brother of the trio, due to his limited involvement in the killings.
Because of Virginia’s triggerman statute, both James Briley and Linwood received numerous life sentences for murders committed during the spree, but 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 John Gallaher, while James Briley received two death sentences, one each for the murders of Judy Barton and her son Harvey.
A Richmond judge presiding at one of the trials summed up the case following the verdict, “this was the vilest rampage of rape, murder and robbery that the court has seen in thirty years.”
Both were sent to death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center near Boydton in early 1980. There, they were disruptive inmates who used their guile and physical prowess to threaten both fellow inmates and guards. A flourishing drug and weapon trade operated in the prison under their command.
Linwood and James Briley were the ringleaders in the six inmate escape from Virginia’s death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center on May 31, 1984. During the early moments of the escape, in which a coordinated effort resulted in inmates taking over the death row unit, both Briley’s expressed strong interest in killing the officers that they had taken hostage. They went so far as to douse captive guards in lighter fluid and were prepared to toss in a lit match to complete the action. Willie Lloyd Turner, another death row inmate, stepped in the way of James Briley and forbade him from doing so. Meanwhile, cop killer Wilbert Evans prevented Linwood Briley from raping a female nurse who had been taken hostage while en route to delivering medication to inmates in the unit. These events were featured on I.D. Channel in Escape from Death Row.
Splitting off from their two remaining free escapees at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Brileys went to live with their uncle in the north of the city. They were captured on June 19th by a heavily armed group of FBI agents and police. Returned to Virginia, few sought to plead for their lives to be spared.
In short order, the remaining appeals ran out for both brothers. They were executed in the electric chair at the Virginia State Penitentiary. Linwood was put to death in Virginia’s electric chair on October 12th, 1984. James Briley was executed in the same manner on April 18th of the following year.
Their younger brother Anthony remains incarcerated in Virginia’s corrections system and comes up for parole consideration every few years. To date, all his applications for parole have been denied by the state parole board.
credit murderpedia / wikipedia