12 October 1984 – Linwood Briley
A trio of notorious numbskulls frittered away the lives of others in a series of wrongdoings that was ultimately to cost them their lives too.
But one was to gain true infamy when he led a near-successful prison break, which ‘Time’ magazine termed ‘the largest death-row breakout in history’ back in 1984.
Linwood Earl, along with brothers James (‘JB’) and Anthony Briley rampaged their way through Virginia in a terror fest that earned two of them the death penalty. Didn’t matter whether the victims were black, white, rich or poor, it seemed like it was the thrill of the kill that appeared to motivate the sadistic siblings.
In the early days, such was their subterfuge that they’d persuaded the town where they lived that they were handy boys to have around – odd jobbers who could turn their hands to anything.
Yeah, well they were odd alright. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, their own dad had clocked that they were well dodgy and was so distrustful that he slept with his bedroom door locked. Their methods were ultra-violent – according to the ‘Syracuse Herald’, Linwood used whatever weapons he had at his disposal, including ‘smashing a woman’s skull with a ball’.
So what hope did the rest of Virginia have?
Linwood was the first to slump into the pit of depravity. At just 16 and alone in the house, he took a carefree pot shot at an elderly neighbour. Sadly his aim was bang on. And so came the first in a whole spate of killings, which were to make up the Brileys’ brace of bodies.
Amazingly, the sharpshooter very nearly got away with it. Of course, as the victim had been elderly, no foul play had been suspected. However, as Mrs Christian was lying in state, observant relatives saw a bloody mark and asked for another examination to be carried out.
The embedded bullet was revealed, which kicked off a whole load of tests and logistical evidence that pointed to a gun being fired from the Briley residence.
When confronted, the sullen 16-year-old callously came back with the claim that ‘I heard she had heart problems, she would have died soon anyway’.
Being a minor, the eldest Briley was marched off to reform school. But with such a supremely sadistic role model, what hope did his younger bruvs have? Needless to say, JB soon followed suit after he pulled the trigger on a cop.
On release, the brothers began their career in crime in earnest, roping in brother Anthony plus another mate. Together, they carried out a spate of vicious robberies, which left most of their victims murdered; except for one couple.
Having hoovered a house of hard-earned cash and valuables and doused what was left with petrol, the gang torched the gaff and scarpered leaving the incumbent couple for dead.
Thankfully, the sloppy scoundrels hadn’t paid enough attention to the knots binding the couple and they were able to work themselves free and escape with their lives, only to watch their livelihoods literally go up in smoke.
Yet others were not so lucky. The gang preyed on the vulnerable and became the terrifying scourge of the State, leaving several dead in their menacing wake. This culminated in the death of one of their mates. The boys were cruising like ‘Droogs’ looking for a fight.
A neighbour clocked them and before he could help himself he’d shut and locked his door.
Of course the gang saw all this and that was it. From that point on fate had found their next victim.
Harvey Wilkerson had a young family – a 23-year-old partner who was up the duff as well as a five-year-old son.
When the fateful knock at the door came, what was the guy to do? Wilkerson opened the door, which was a decision he never lived long enough to regret. The louts were all over the young family like a pestilence, raping the heavily pregnant woman before tying them up.
The gang members then goaded the newest member of their team to claim his first kill. Duncan Meekins did so in the shape of Wilkerson. JB then finished off the child and the girlfriend, plus the unborn baby (but more of him later).
This was the step too far for it just so happened that police were in the area, heard the gunshots and saw the boys legging it. Sadly they hadn’t seen where they’d come from, but a few days later the targets of the team’s shooting practice were revealed and the time had come to reel the gang in.
Down and out
The charges were rattled off with machine gun intensity from robbery to murder and JB went down for killing the last two victims. Meekins, on the other hand, did the indecent thing (depending on how you look at it). He stitched up the brothers in return for a lesser sentence. And given that he’d shot someone in a State that doles out the death penalty, he literally got away with murder.
That was more than can be said for the Brileys. Anthony got life, but his elder brothers both wangled one-way tickets to death row, Linwood’s victim being a DJ.
Even then the condemned pair tried to wheedle their way slimily out their allotted penalties. Along with four other inmates, they cooked up a prison break and nearly succeeded. But the bad apples never fell far from the family tree and the FBI finally caught up with Linwood and JB 19 days later near their uncle’s in Philly.
Banged up once again, naturally Briley appealed on the basis that he ‘had been discriminated against in sentencing because he [was] black and his victim was white’ according to a report in the ‘New York Times‘. But the third and final attempt never even got an airing. It was dismissed paving the way for the mass murderer’s actions to catch up with him finally.
Well Virginia didn’t hang around as Old Sparky was out in full force in 1984 – as a result, Briley was barbecued on this day, aged 30. His brother was to take his place in the same hot seat just six months later…