The three Briley brothers, Linwood Earl (March 26, 1954 - October 12, 1984), James Dyral Jr. (June 6, 1956 - April 18, 1985) and Anthony Ray (born February 17, 1958) were born to an apparently stable home with two parents in the Highland Park neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia. With their younger brother Anthony, Linwood and James were regarded by older neighbors as people who would help neighbors repair cars or mow lawns.
The three boys collected exotic pets, such as tarantulas, piranhas, and boa constrictors. It is also alleged that all three brothers engaged in zoosadism. Their father, James Briley Sr., was unnerved enough by their behavior that he kept his bedroom door padlocked from the inside overnight and their mother, Bertha Briley, moved out of the house for the same reason. James Sr. was the only person the brothers feared.
In 1971, the first killing was committed by Linwood, then 16. While alone at home one day, he took aim with a rifle from his bedroom window and fatally shot Orline Christian, an elderly neighbor across the alley, as she was hanging out some laundry on a clothesline. The crime almost went undetected, but her relatives noticed a small bloody mark under her armpit 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 under her armpit. Police were contacted and sought out to find the source of the gunshot. Standing in Christian's back yard, a detective used a sheet of plywood to represent her body, with a hole cut out to represent the bullet wound. He determined that the bullet came from the Briley home across the alley. 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. James followed in his path, and at the same age, having been sentenced to time in juvenile hall for firing upon a police officer during a pursuit.
In 1979, the three Briley brothers and an accomplice, Duncan Meekins, began the seven-month series of random killings that terrified the city and surrounding region.
Their first attack occurred on March 12, 1979, 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 telephone, Linwood eventually forced his way into their home. He held the couple at gunpoint and waved Anthony inside. The two Brileys tied up the couple and robbed the house, dousing each room with kerosene 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 drove out of the area. William 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 sole survivors of the rampage.
On March 21, Michael McDuffie, a vending machine serviceman, was assaulted, murdered, and robbed in his suburban home by the Brileys. Two weeks later, on April 9, the brothers followed 76-year-old Mary Gowen across town from her babysitting job. They followed her into her house to rape and murder her. They escaped from the residence with many of her valuables.
The gang saw seventeen-year-old Christopher Philips hanging around Linwood's parked car on July 4. Suspecting that he might have been trying to steal the vehicle, the gang surrounded him and dragged him into a nearby backyard. There, the three brothers wrestled him to the ground. When Philips screamed for help, Linwood killed him by dropping a cinderblock onto his skull.
On September 14, 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 Brileys. Having been looking around town for a victim all night without success, they decided to lie in wait for whomever might happen to step outside.
Gallaher was assaulted by Linwood and put 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 car and shot dead at point blank range in the head. 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 30, 62-year-old private nurse Mary Wilfong was followed home to her Richmond apartment. The brothers surrounded her just outside the door and Linwood beat her to death with a baseball bat. The brothers then entered her apartment and robbed it of valuables. Five days later, on October 5, just two blocks from the Briley home on 4th Avenue, 79-year-old Blanche Page and her 59-year-old boarder Charles Garner were both murdered by the brothers. 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 scissors and fork were left embedded in Garner's back.
The victims of the final murders were the family of Harvey Wilkerson, a longtime friend of the brothers. On the morning of October 19, despite having promised a judge earlier that day that he would stay out of trouble while out on parole, James led his brothers on the prowl that night for yet another victim. Upon seeing the brothers 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 brothers, who then walked over to Wilkerson's front door. 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 then assaulted Judy Barton in the kitchen, where she was raped within hearing distance of the others. Meekins continued the sexual assault, after which Linwood dragged Barton back into the living room, briefly rummaged in the premises for valuables, and then left the house. The three remaining gang members covered their victims with sheets. James told Meekins, "you've got to get one", upon which Meekins took a pistol and fatally shot Wilkerson in the head. James then shot Barton to death.
Police happened to be in the general vicinity of the neighborhood, 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 brothers were all arrested soon afterwards.
Capture and incarceration
During interrogation by police, Meekins was offered a plea agreement in return for turning state's evidence against the Brileys. He took the offer and provided a full detailing of the crime spree; as a result, he escaped the death penalty and was incarcerated at a Virginia prison away from the Briley brothers. Under the agreement, Meekins was given a life sentence plus 80 years, which at the time of conviction would make him eligible for parole after serving 12–15 years.
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 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 Gallaher, while James received two death sentences, one for each of the murders of Judy Barton and her son Harvey. Both were sent to death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center near Boydton in early 1980.
Linwood and James Briley were the ringleaders in a 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 co-ordinated effort resulted in inmates taking over the death row unit, both Brileys expressed strong interest in killing the captured guards by dousing them with rubbing alcohol and tossing a lit match. Willie Lloyd Turner, another death row inmate, stepped in the way of James and forbade him to do so. Meanwhile, cop killer Wilbert Lee Evans prevented Linwood from raping a female nurse.
The group's initial plan was to escape into Canada. Two inmates, Lem Tuggle and Willie Jones, almost succeeded, making it as far as Vermont before capture at gunpoint by police. The group was held at Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland, pending their extradition back to Virginia.
Splitting off from their two remaining co-escapers at Philadelphia, the Brileys went to live near their uncle in the north of the city. They were captured on June 19 by a heavily armed group of FBI agents and police, who had determined their location by placing wiretaps on their uncle's phone line. Following their return to Richmond, few sought to plead for the Brileys' 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 in Richmond; Linwood on October 12, 1984, and James on April 18, 1985.
Linwood was survived by one son, Norman Laquan Ampy, who later served time in prison for bank robbery and died in 2015. James is survived by three daughters, who live in Richmond. The brothers are buried at the Council cemetery in Bethel, North Carolina.
Their younger brother Anthony remains incarcerated in Virginia's corrections system and comes up for parole consideration every few years. He is currently at Augusta Correctional Center which is about 20 miles outside Staunton, Virginia. His Offender ID Number is #1015001. To date, all his applications for parole have been denied by the state parole board.
- List of individuals executed in Virginia
- Capital punishment in Virginia
- Capital punishment in the United States
- "So Vicious, So Violent", Page B-1, The Washington Post, August 16, 1984
- Jackson, Joe; Dead Run: The Untold Story of Dennis Stockton and America's Only Mass Escape from Death Row, Times Books, 1999.
- Williams, Reed; Bill McKelway (13 May 2009). "Officials seek release for Briley brothers accomplice". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- James D. Briley at Find a Grave
- Linwood E. Briley at Find a Grave
- "In his father's shadow", "Richmond Times-Dispatch", November 7, 2007