The Briley Brothers Killing Spree

Are Serial Killers the Result of Genetic Mutation?

Briley Brothers
Mug Shot

In 1979, Brothers Linwood Briley, James Briley Jr. and Ray Briley went on a seven month killing spree in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia. When they were finally caught, there were 11 people dead, although investigators believed that there were as 20 victims.

Childhood Years

James and Bertha Briley were a hard working couple when their first child, Linwood Earl Briley, was born in 1995.  Their second child, James Dyral Briley, Jr.

was born about 18 months later followed by their youngest and last child, Anthony Ray Briley.

From the outside looking in, the Briley family seemed well adjusted and happy. They lived in a nice two-story home located on Fourth Avenue in downtown Richmond. Unlike a lot of kids their age, the Briley boys came from an unbroken home where both parents were directly involved with their lives.

Helping Hands

During their preteen years, the boys would lend a hand to some of their senior neighbors by helping tend to their yards or help start a car. The general consensus around the neighborhood was that the brothers were polite, helpful and all around good kids.

That same opinion was not shared by their schoolmates. At school the brothers harassed and bullied the other kids. The brothers seemed indifferent towards adult authority and would tend to ignore whatever the punishment was that was handed out by a teacher or the principle.

But when they got home, their father James Sr., was clearly the one in charge and managed to invoke a level of fear in his sons.

Bertha Moves Away 

The Briley brothers had two major interests. They enjoyed collecting exotic spiders and snakes like tarantulas, piranhas, and boa constrictors and they habitually cut and saved newspaper stories about gang activity.

 

When the boys reached their teenage years, Bertha and James split up and she moved away. The split was apparently amicable and without drama. It was also during this time that James Sr. was weighed down with growing concerns about how Linwood was acting and the influence he had over the other boys.He developed a sense of fear of his sons. Worried for his own safety, he began locking his bedroom door at night from the inside with a deadbolt. 

Orline Christian

On January 28, 1971, Linwood Briley was 16 years old and home alone, when he saw his neighbor, 57-year-old Orline Christian, outside hanging up her laundry. For no apparent reason, Linwood got a rifle from the closet, aimed it out his second-floor bedroom window towards Christian, and pulled the trigger, fatally shooting Christian.

Somehow no one noticed that she had a gunshot wound in her back and it was assumed that stress led to her death after having recently buried her husband. Then during a viewing her body, some of her relatives noticed a spot of blood on her dress. Curious as to why, the family asked for a second examination. It was during the second examination that a bullet was found lodged in her back and a murder investigation was opened.

An investigation of the murder scene led the police straight to Linwood's bedroom window. A search of the house produced the murder weapon. With the solid evidence staring him in the face, Linwood confessed to the murder. In a flat, unemotional voice, the 16-year old said to the detective: "I heard she had heart problems, she would have died soon anyway."

Linwood was found guilty and sentenced to one year in reform school.

The Murder Spree Begins

In March 1979, the Briley gang had a plan to do a series of random burglaries and home invasions. The plan was that the group would get in and out fast and not leave any witnesses alive.

William and Virginia Bucher

March 12, 1979- The Briley gang went to Henrico County and randomly selected the home of William and Virginia Bucher. Linwood knocked on the Bucher's door, and when William answered it Linwood claimed that he had car trouble and needed to borrow a phone to call Triple A.

Williams said he would make the call and asked Linwood for his Triple A card, but when he opened the screen door to get the card, Linwood rushed towards him and forced his way into the house.

The rest of the gang followed behind Linwood and they took control of William and Virginia and tied them up in separate rooms. They then went through each room and took any valuable that they wanted and saturated the rooms with kerosene.

When they were finished stealing what they wanted, Linwood poured kerosene all over Williams legs, then lit a match as he was leaving the house. The Buchers were left tied up inside to burn to death alive. Somehow William Bucher managed to untie himself and he was able to get himself and his wife to safety. The Buchers are the only known victims of the Briley gang that survived their attack.

Michael McDuffie

March 21, 1979- Michael McDuffie was the victim of a home invasion. The Briley gang forced themselves into his home, assaulted McDuffie and robbed the home and then shot McDuffie to death.

Mary Gowen

April 9, 1979 - Mary Gowen was walking home from a babysitting job when the Briley gang spotted her and followed her to her home. They then forced their way into her home and beat, robbed and raped her repeatedly, then shot her in the head. The 76-year-old woman managed to survive the attack, but fell into a coma the next day and died a few weeks later.

Christopher Philips

July 4, 1979 - Christopher Philips, age 17, lingered around Linwood's car a minute too long. Assuming that he was planning on stealing it, the Bailey brothers forced the boy to a field where they beat and kicked him and then Linwood killed him by crushing his head with a cinderblock.

Johnny G. Gallaher 

September 14, 1979 - Popular disc jockey John "Johnny G." Gallaher was playing in a band at a nightclub when he went outside during a break. The Briley gang saw him and forced him into the trunk of his Lincoln Continental, then drove to an old paper mill out by the James River. Gallaher was pulled from the trunk, robbed and shot in the head at close range.

His body was discovered floating in the river two days later.

Mary Wilfong

September 30, 1979 - Mary Wilfong, age 62, was working as a private nurse when the Briley gang saw her and followed her home. Just as she was about to enter her apartment, the Brileys assaulted her, then beat her to death with a baseball bat, after which they burglarized her apartment.

Blanche Page and Charles Garner

October 5, 1979 - On Fourth Avenue, not far from the Briley home, the brothers assaulted then bludgeoned to death 79-year-old Blanche Page, then beat and stabbed to death her boarder, 59-year old Charles Garner. According to investigators, the beating and murder of Garner was one of the most brutal that the investigators had ever seen.

The Wilkersons

October 19, 1979 - Harvey Wilkerson and his wife, 23-year-old Judy Barton and her five-year-old son lived around the corner from the Briley's home. Wilkerson and the Briley brothers had known each other for years and were friends. The four would often talk about snakes since, like the Briley brothers, Wilkerson also owned pet snakes. 

On October 19, the Brileys were in a celebratory mood. J.B., the middle brother, had been paroled earlier that day. Throughout the day the brothers had been hanging out on Foruth Avenue, drinking and smoking pot, and as night fell they began to talk seriously about finding another victim that night. They decided on Harvey Wilkerson, possibly because they thought he had been dealing drugs and wanted the money or his customers or both.

Wilkerson was outside when he saw the Briley brothers and 16-year-old Duncan Meekins headed his way. He went inside and locked the door, but the group kept coming. When they got to Wilkerson's apartment, they knocked on the door and despite his fears, Wilkerson opened the door and let them inside.

As soon as the gang got inside they began attacking the couple. They bound them with duct tape and gagged them, and then Linwood Briley raped Judy while in close proximity to her son and husband. When he was finished, Meekins, who was considered one the gang, continued to sexually assault and sodomize the pregnant woman.

The gang then went through the house and took whatever personal belongs that they wanted. Linwood put J.B. in charge and left the apartment with some of the stolen goods. J.B. told his brother Anthony and Meekins to cover Wilkerson and his wife with sheets. They left 5-year-old Harvey on the couch. J.B. then ordered Meekins to shoot Wilkerson. Meekins grabbed a pillow and shot through it multiple times and killed Wilkerson. J.B. then shot Judy, killing her and her unborn child. Anthony allegedly shot and killed the boy.

The Brileys didn't know that the police had the area under surveillance and were aware that the gang had gone into Wilkerson's apartment. When the police heard gun shots go off, they could not tell where the shooting was coming from and started canvassing the area. They spotted Meekins and two of the Briley brothers leaving Wilkerson's apartment. They did not think that it was connected to the gun shots that they heard.

Arrest

Three days later the police received a request to do a welfare check on Wilkerson and Judy. As they approached the apartment, they found the front door was slightly ajar. Entering the apartment they walked into a macabre scene that, for even hardened police officers, was hard to handle. Apparently, before leaving the apartment the Briley brothers had let loose Wilkerson's pet snakes.

Also left inside for three days to fend for themselves were two Doberman puppies. Before the forensic team could begin their work, animal control had to come and clear the apartment. But the crime scene was so badly compromised by the puppies that much of the evidence collected was of little value.

Having seen the Briley gang leaving the Wilkerson's apartment on the day that the Wilkerson's were murdered, made them the prime suspects in the murders. An arrest warrant was issued for the three brothers and for Meekins. When the police went to serve the warrants, Linwood, his father and Meekins took off in a car with the police following close behind.

Linwood was the driver and he refused to pull over and continued to lead the police down several streets. Concerned about public safety, the police finally decided to force the car into a pole. Once the car crashed, Linwood continued to make run for it, but was soon captured. Later, they found out that the other two Briley brothers had turned themselves into the police.

Interrogation

At this point, the only crimes that the police connected the Bailey brothers to were the Wilkerson murders. With so much tainted evidence, they knew that their best shot for convictions would be if one of them would enter into a plea agreement in exchange for pointing the finger at the killers.

Duncan Meekins was just 16 year old and his background did not fit that of a cold-blooded killer. He lived with his parents in a nice home; he was a good student, and attended church regularly. With the encouragement of his parents, he accepted a plea deal where he would be given a life sentence with the possibility of parole in exchange for all the details surrounding the crime. If he kept himself out of trouble in prison, he was looking at doing 12 to 15 years behind bars.

As agreed, Meekins began talking and not just about the Wilkerson murders. He also provided details about other unsolved murders that had gone on during the worse crime spree that had ever hit Richmond. Prior to Meekins confession, investigators had not connected  what they thought were random acts of crime.

The rapes and murders happened in different areas around Richmond. The race, sex and ages of the victims seemed to be random. Victims of serial killers often share a physical quality. Gang related murders are usually rival gangs. When looking at the people raped and murdered by the Bailey brothers, the only major link that could be found was the brutality and viciousness that had been shown by the murderers themselves. 

Interrogating the Bailey brothers was frustrating. They were arrogant, defiant, and liked to push the patience of the interrogators. When questioning Linwood Bailey 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 no evidence linking him to it.

The investigators then brought in a retired detective to interrogate Linwood. He had been a longtime friend of Gallaher's. As the interview began, the detective noticed Linwood was wearing a turquoise ring that belonged to Gallaher and one that he always wore. In fact, the detective had been with his friend when he bought it. With that evidence and more that was slowly uncovered, the Bailey brothers were charged with various crimes and some of the murders.

Guilty

Linwood Bailey was found guilty and given multiple life sentences and the death penalty for the murder of Gallaher. J.B. Bailey was also given multiple life sentences and two death penalty sentences for the murders of Judy Barton and her son. Anthony Bailey was given a life sentence with possibility of parole. It could not be proven that he was directly responsible for any murders.

Linwood and J.B. Briley were sent to death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center. It wasn't long before the pair had a profitable drugs and weapons racket going on from the confines of death row.

Escape

It has been said that Linwood Briley had a certain magnetism about him and the prisoners and some of the guards liked to be on his good side. The guards probably thought it was of little consequence to keep him happy. After all, they were in a prison that had the most sophisticated security system in the state.

But Linwood had spent several years paying attention to how things worked, the wording that guards would use when making requests to other prison units, and which guards were the least attentive and those who were friendly towards the inmates.

On May 31, 1984, Linwood managed to get a guard to keep the door of the control room opened, just long enough for another inmate to rush in and release the locks on all of the death row cells. This allowed for there to be enough manpower to overtake the 14 guards that were assigned to that block. Ordered to strip down, Linwood, J.B. and four other inmates put on the guards' uniforms and after a series of events were able to drive away from the prison in a prison van. 

The plan was to go to Canada, but when the escapes reached Philadelphia, the Briley brothers separated from the group and met up with their uncle who had made arrangements for a place for them to stay. The brothers managed to stay free until June 19, 1984, when information retrieved from a wire tap placed on the uncle's phone left the authorities to their hiding place.

Executions

Within months of being returned to prison, both Linwood and James Briley exhausted their appeals and execution dates were set. Linwood Briley was the first to be executed. Depending on which version you read, he either walked to the electric chair without assistance or he had to be sedated and dragged to the chair. Either way, on October 12, 1984, Linwood was executed.

James Briley followed in his older brother's path as he had always done and was electrocuted in the same chair that his brother had died in months earlier. On April 18, 1985, James Briley was executed.

 

 Anthony Briley remains in a Virginia prison. All efforts for his release have been denied by the parole board.