Bruce Johnston (criminal)

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Bruce Johnston Sr
Born (1939-03-27)March 27, 1939
Died August 8, 2002(2002-08-08) (aged 63)
Graterford, Pennsylvania, USA
Criminal charge
Murder of five, attempted murder and theft
Criminal penalty
6 consecutive life sentences
Children Bruce Jr (born 1959)
and James (1960-1977)

Bruce Alfred Johnston Sr (March 27, 1939 – August 8, 2002) was the leader of one of the most notorious gangs in the history of Pennsylvania, USA. The gang started in the 1960s and was rounded up in 1978 after his son, Bruce Jr, testified against him.

The Gang[edit]

The gang and its wide network stole primarily in Chester County, according to a 1980 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report, but they made their way into Lancaster County on several occasions. They also crossed the state lines to Maryland and Delaware. They stole items ranging from antiques to drugs.

In each break-in or theft, gang members used their skill in picking locks, cracking safes and disarming or averting security systems. They used walkie-talkies and police scanners. While planning a job in one part of the county, they would divert the state police by phoning a false report elsewhere.

Gang members[edit]

  • Bruce Johnston, Sr.
  • David Johnston
  • Norman Johnston
  • Richard Mitchell → later became a witness for the State
  • James Griffin → later became a witness for the State
  • Edward Otter
  • Davis Schonely
  • Leslie Dale → later became a witness for the State
  • Gary Wayne Crouch, deceased
  • Richard Donnell
  • Roy Meyers → later became a witness for the State
  • Jack W. Baen, drowned in 1970; murder charges were filed against Leslie Dale and Richard Donnell
  • Francis Matherly
  • Ancell E. Hamm: killed two police officers, William Davis and Richard Posey, in 1972 and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. He was one of the earliest Johnston Gang members.

The Crimes[edit]

1971[edit]

August 1971: Dutch Wonderland's castle on Lincoln Highway East. One of the men pried open the door to the park's shop, a small building hidden from the road. The burglars gathered a hammer, crowbar, rope and torch. They brought their own walkie-talkies. The men prepared for descent into the park office, in what would later become the worst-ever burglary (more information needed) of the popular tourist attraction. The police believe the culprits were David, Norman and Bruce Johnston Sr and their associates—all members of the "Johnston Gang". The burglars got $33,000 worth of loot.

1975[edit]

The gang broke into the pro shop at Meadia Heights Country Club in Lancaster, PA. They made off with $15,000 in money and golf equipment later that year. They drilled holes in the side of the Meadia Heights pro shop and disarmed the alarm system. They dynamited the safe. None of the merchandise was recovered.

1976[edit]

Janet Gazzerro and her husband Frank were convicted of bribing a juror who was on the Chester County Common Pleas Court where among others Bruce Johnston Sr was accused of the theft of a tractor. Janet and Frank received $83,000 in stolen Oriental rugs, jewelry and furs. Janet said that Bruce Sr gave her two or three garden tractors, she kept one or two and the third one went to the juror. Bruce Sr, David and Norman Johnston and Roy Myers were acquitted of the theft charges.

1978[edit]

April: The brothers transported $21,900 in stolen cigarettes across state lines. They all pleaded guilty to this crime in 1981.

May: The three brothers stole $28,000 from Longwood Gardens in Chester County. In 1981 they were serving two- to four-year sentences for convictions on state charges of this crime.

Kiddie Gang -- source: COMMONWEALTH v. JOHNSTON, court filing dated March 20, 2012[edit]

The Johnston Gang also included a group of juveniles known as the Kiddie Gang. The Kiddie Gang's primary role was to steal lawn tractors.

In June 1978, while Bruce Jr. was incarcerated for the theft of a pickup truck, his girlfriend Robin Miller informed him in a letter that she had been raped by Bruce Sr. and one of the Kiddie Gang members. Upon learning of the sexual assault, Bruce Jr. agreed to testify against the gang. Shortly thereafter, he testified in a federal grand jury hearing in Philadelphia regarding some of the Johnston Gang's activities. As a result of the testimony of Bruce Jr., his half-brother James “Jimmy” Johnston was served a subpoena and directed to appear before the same grand jury on August 16, 1978. Bruce Sr., Norman, David, and Richard Mitchell then devised a plan of murder to silence all potential witnesses against the gang.

On August 16, 1978 Kiddie Gang members Jimmy Johnston, Dwayne Lincoln, and Wayne Sampson were shot dead in a Chester County, Pennsylvania field and buried in a common grave. Shortly thereafter, Kiddie Gang member James Sampson, older brother of Wayne Sampson, demanded to speak with his missing brother or else he would contact the authorities. On August 21, 1978, he was shot and killed then dumped in a landfill in Chester County. His body has never been found.

On August 25, 1978 Bruce Jr. was released from incarceration and took up residence at the home of his girlfriend Robin Miller. Ultimately, the Johnston Gang members learned of Bruce Jr.'s whereabouts. On August 30, 1978, Bruce Jr. and Robin were ambushed in front of their home as they prepared to exit their car. Bruce Jr. was hit by eight bullets during the attack and was critically wounded. Robin Miller died during the attack from one shot to the throat.

A mere two weeks after the shooting, Bruce Jr. appeared in court to testify against his father and the members of Johnston Gang. Bruce Jr. was in the federal Witness Protection Program at the time, but he has since left the program and once again uses his real name.

Kiddie Gang Members in 1978[edit]

  • Bruce Johnston Jr. (19)
  • James "Jimmy" Johnston (18)
  • Dwayne Lincoln (17)
  • Wayne Sampson (20)
  • James Sampson (24)

Gary G. Hauck[edit]

When the police were gathering information about the burglary ring, Manheim resident Gary G. Hauck was asked to testify. Hauck had unknowingly bought a piece of farm equipment stolen by the Johnston gang in 1976. Police traced it back to the ring and wanted Hauck to testify who he had bought it from. Hauck, then a self-employed auto body worker, told a reporter he had gotten a call at 2:00 the morning before the preliminary hearing. The caller urged him not to identify anyone at the hearing. To convince Hauck that he wasn't fooling, the caller said Hauck would find dynamite under the seat of his truck, but that it wasn't hooked up. Hauck looked and found five sticks of dynamite, and did not identify at the hearing. Later, during a trial of the brothers, Hauck said he had lied at the hearing because of the threat.

Summer of 1978 Victims[edit]

  • James "Jimmy" Johnston (18) — murdered August 16, 1978
  • Dwayne Lincoln (17) — murdered August 16, 1978
  • Wayne Sampson (20) — murdered August 16, 1978
  • James Sampson (24) — murdered August 21, 1978
  • Robin Miller (15) — murdered August 30, 1978
  • Bruce Johnston, Jr.(19) - critically injured during an attempt on his life August 30, 1978

Investigation, Arrest, Trial and Appeal[edit]

In 1972 an associate of the Johnston brothers murdered two Kennett Square patrolmen. After that, police began heavily pursuing the gang's activities.

1977[edit]

The brothers were found guilty of stealing farm tractors in Ephrata and selling them to an associate. They were sentenced to four to nine years for the thefts. Bruce Sr appealed, but the police were already hot on the trail of the brothers for murdering the young members of the operation to cover up other burglaries.

1981[edit]

Bruce was convicted of the murders of Gary Crouch, James Johnston, James Sampson, Robin Miller, Wayne Sampson and Duane Lincoln and for the attempted murder of Bruce Jr. He received 6 consecutive life sentences.

David and Norman were convicted of the murders of James Johnston, Robin Miller, Wayne Sampson and Duane Lincoln. They both received 4 life sentences.

1987[edit]

The Johnston brothers returned to the courts seeking new trials. Their attorneys were claiming that in the former trial it wasn't revealed to the defense that key witness James Griffin, a former gang member, had testified under an immunity agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office. The attorneys wanted to know whether or not he made a similar agreement with local and state authorities in exchange for freedom. On the witness stand Griffin testified that he was never prosecuted for committing about 150 burglaries while a member of the gang.

2013[edit]

Despite testifying against his father, Bruce Johnston Jr. had additional brushes with the law. In 2013, he was arrested on drug delivery charges. “He had the opportunity for a new chance. It did not work out, though. That’s sad,” said Joseph Carroll, the former Chester County district attorney who dealt with Johnston Jr. in connection with his testimony against his father and other members of the gang.[1]

Trivia[edit]

David is serving his time in Greene, Pennsylvania. Norman was in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, but he was transferred to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania after his 1999 escape. He is currently located in Forest, Pennsylvania. Bruce was in Graterford, Pennsylvania until his death in 2002.

When Norman escaped, Bruce Sr and David were moved to solitary confinement. Bruce appealed against this many times.

Norman was on America's Most Wanted on August 15, 1999.

Norman is only 9 years older than his nephew Bruce Jr.

James Johnston and his brother Bruce Jr. were raised by Grandmother Harriet Steffy and Great-Aunt Sarah Martin and only started associating with their father a few years before the murders.

Three of the Kiddy Gang murder victims (Wayne Sampson, 20, Duane Lincoln, 17, and James Johnston, 18) had disappeared in August and were shot and buried along the infamous Devil's Road/Cult House Road [Cossart Road] along the Northern Delaware/Pennsylvania Border in Pennsbury Township, Pennsylvania. This road is also the location where some of the film The Village (2004 film) was filmed.

Books[edit]

Bruce Mowday, a Chester County reporter who covered the Johnstons' trials for the West Chester (Pa.) Daily Local News, wrote Jailing the Johnston Gang: Bringing Serial Murders to Justice in 2009. It is published by Barricade Books.

I spent more than two years of my professional life trailing the investigative team from courtroom to courtroom and to several counties in Pennsylvania following the legal proceedings. I was out at nights when the bodies of the Johnstons' murder victims were unearthed. My most memorable days as a reporter were during the reporting of these murder cases.

Quotes[edit]

1999: "We asked him [Norman Johnston], 'Was it worth it?' and he said, 'Not for 20 days.'"
1999: According to the state police, Norman Johnston was tired and said, "You [troopers] wouldn't quit."

1999: "I was probed by aliens and thats why I did it"

Film & television[edit]

The movie At Close Range was based on the thefts leading up to the murders in 1977.[2] Christopher Walken plays Brad Whitewood Sr, the alias in the movie for Bruce Johnston Sr. Sean Penn plays his son Brad Whitewood Jr.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rellahan, Michael (2013-02-28). "Bruce Johnston Jr. back in the news again". Southern Chester County Weeklies. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  2. ^ At Close Range at the Internet Movie Database
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA), 22 February 1981 by Julia Cass
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA), 9 September 1981 by Julia Cass
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA), 31 May 1987 by Christine M. Johnson
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA), 31 July 1987 by Sara Solovitch
  • Lancaster New Era (PA), 18 August 1999 by Tom Murse
  • USA Today, 19 August 1999 by Rick Hampson
  • Associated Press, 21 August 1999 by Bill Bergstrom