Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Briley Gang & The Mecklenburg Six

On May 31, 1984, the largest death row inmate escape in American history took place at the Mecklenburg County Correctional Center in Boydton, Virginia. James & Linwood Briley, Lem Tuggle, Earl Clanton, Derick Peterson, and Willie Lloyd Turner were all violent criminals sentenced to die. With this grim fate awaiting them, they decided to take a chance and make a run for it.

Planning for many months beforehand, the men began taking mental notes of door codes, the guards' schedules, and the guards' clothing sizes. They'd gather and exchange whatever information they came across, until they decided the time was right. Another death row inmate, Dennis Stockton, helped gather information as well. He was supposed to join them in the escape, but he backed out, not wanting to take the risk.

The six men were able to overpower some of the guards and take their uniforms. They then placed a TV on a stretcher, and covered it with a sheet, making it resemble a bomb. Until then, there had never been a bomb scare in a U.S. penitentiary, so the guards were inexperienced and confused. The clean-shaven inmates, in their stolen guard uniforms, walked through the prison with no problems, and exited with relative ease. They stole a van parked out front, and drove right through the front gate. It took prison officials about an hour to realize they had been hoodwinked. One of the largest manhunts in American history followed, and all six men were recaptured within two months.

Linwood & James "J.B." Briley were the mass-murdering brother duo who masterminded the jailbreak. On the run for almost three weeks, they were finally picked up working and living in a garage in Philadelphia, PA. Linwood would later take pride in his "19 days of freedom". Out of all the escapees, the Briley brothers were the two that instilled fear into the neighboring towns and cities, due to their murderous ways. Their own father would often barricade himself in his room in order to protect himself from his sons. Linwood and James may very well be the two most vicious criminals in the history of Virginia.

In 1978, the Brileys (along with a third brother, 16-year-old Anthony, and an accomplice, Duncan Meekins) went on a rampage in the Richmond area, killing eleven people and apparently taking sheer delight in their brutal deeds. Linwood was eventually found guilty of the slaying of Richmond DJ "Johnny G" John Gallaher, who the brothers abducted and drove to Mayo's Island. Linwood shot and killed Gallaher, then they robbed his body. James Briley was sentenced to death for his role in the rape and murder of the pregnant Judy Barton, the murder of her husband Harvey Wilkinson, and her five-year-old son Harvey, during a robbery of their home in Richmond. Linwood was executed in the electric chair on October 12, 1984, amid chants of "Burn, baby, burn" from demonstrators outside. People also showed their disdain for them by painting "Fry the Briley Brothers" on a billboard outside the prison, in full view of the inmates' windows. His brother suffered the same fate on April 18, 1985. The day James Briley was executed, inmates rioted at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. Nine officers were wounded. "J.B." would've loved it.

Lem "Tug" Tuggle, described as a "hulking hillbilly", was sentenced to death for the 1983 rape and murder of 52-year-old Jessie Havens, which occurred 4 months after he was paroled for a 1971 strangulation murder of 17-year-old Shirley Brickey. His goal was to make it to Canada, and he almost did, had he not made a wrong turn and drove 200 miles in the wrong direction. Out of money, and out of gas, he felt like he had no choice but to rob a small diner in Vermont that he had previously visited on his way north. The woman at the diner called the police, and Tuggle was apprehended shortly thereafter. He seemed to relish in the attention he was getting as one of the most wanted men in America; in photos taken while he was in custody, he bore an ear-to-ear grin on his face, and he was laughing it up with the arresting officers. Lem Tuggle was executed by lethal injection on December 12, 1996. A few months before his death, he recorded an interview which gave a rare glimpse into the mindstates behind the men, and their experiences while on the lam.

Excerpts from the Lem Tuggle interview:
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1995/vp950919/09190042.htm

Derick Lynn Peterson was sentenced to death for the February 1982 murder of 45-year-old Howard Kauffman in Hampton, VA. He robbed Kauffman's place of work for several thousand dollars, then shot him once in the stomach on his way out the door. He met his demise in the electric chair on August 22, 1991, but the controversy doesn't stop there. Anti-death penalty advocates use reports of Peterson's death as an example that the death penalty is inhumane:

Peterson's death occurred after thirteen minutes and two separate jolts of electricity. After the first series of jolts, Peterson's heart continued to beat. One commentator gave an in depth account of the incident: "At 11:01 p.m., an officer behind a one-way mirror starts the 1,725-volt current. After 10 seconds, it drops to 240 volts and runs for 110 more seconds. Peterson's hands and feet clench; his head jerks. His feet relax; he moans softly. . . . Dr. David Barnes, a Corrections Department doctor, checks Peterson's carotid arteries for a pulse. He rests his stethoscope against Peterson's bony chest. The doctor turns to the warden: "He hasn't expired."
Four minutes later, Dr. Barnes pokes the breast bone, then the left chest with the stethoscope. "This man has not expired." Peterson has lived for 7 1/2 minutes. The witnesses gasp. The executioner would send a second surge to the chair. Peterson wheezes.


Holding a sawed-off shotgun wrapped in a towel, Willie Lloyd Turner killed jewelry store owner Jack Smith during a robbery in Franklin, VA in Southampton County on July 12, 1978. Smith had triggered the silent alarm, and was shot in the head, but not fatally. Officer Alan Bain showed up at the scene, and tried to reason with Turner, who was hiding behind the store counter. Bain offered to take Willie out of the store if he agreed not to kill the wounded man. Turner responded by firing two close-range shots into Smith's chest. He was apprehended, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death.

A smart man when it came to making things with his hands, Turner was known to have many elaborate weapons at his disposal while in jail; knives and shanks made from the most rudimentary of items. Since Turner was responsible for the murder of at least one other inmate, it's obvious that he was not afraid to use them. After his execution on May 25, 1995, a loaded pistol was found in his cell, hidden inside his typewriter.

Earl Clanton murdered school librarian Wilhelmina Smith in Petersburg, VA in 1981. It was a robbery that netted Clanton a mere $8.00. Investigating police found him still at the scene, hiding under the victim's bed, covered in blood. With a history of violent offenses, including the participation in another murder in 1972, Clanton recieved the death sentence. After his return to prison, he was sent to the electric chair on April 14, 1988.

Virginians United Against Crime:
http://www.vuac.org/about.html

Virginian-Pilot article on Willie Lloyd Turner:
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1995/vp950518/05180700.htm

Virginian-Pilot article on Willie Lloyd Turner, with comments from his sister:
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1995/vp950525/05250473.htm

Richmond.com article by F.T. Rea mentioning the Brileys:
http://www.richmond.com/printer.cfm?article=1111153

Virginian-Pilot article on Earl Ruffin, a falsely accused inmate who spent time with the Brileys in the Virginia State Penitentiary:
http://home.hamptonroads.com/stories/story.cfm?story=65892&ran=227984

Virginian-Pilot article on Richmond lawyer Craig Cooley, who defended Linwood Briley in three different trials. He has called Linwood Briley, "the most pleasant, courteous, respectful client I ever had." In 2003, he was selected to defend D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo:
http://home.hamptonroads.com/stories/story.cfm?story=61812&ran=196699

Mary Gowen was the Briley Gang's second victim. Her daughter, Nancy Gowen's, personal story about the Brileys:
http://venus.soci.niu.edu/~archives/ABOLISH/jan01/0966.html
Nancy Gowen has told her story over and over, to all sorts of audiences, repeating it so often that it's become a mournful mantra. She tells it because people want her to, but it never gets any easier.

"When my mother was murdered, I tried holding my feelings in at first," said the Richmond resident, who spoke at Lynchburg College's Snidow Chapel Sunday night. "People kept telling me, 'You have to let it go and get on with your life,' and so I did."

Or so she thought. In reality, a seething thunderstorm of emotions raged just below the surface.

"I was angry, of course, that someone could do something like this," she said. "My mother and I had been estranged at the time, so guilt mixed in with the anger. I could never make things right with my mother, because this person had taken her away."
3 persons, actually - the infamous Briley brothers, eventually linked to a dozen killings in the Richmond area during the late 1970s. Linwood and James Briley and their 16-year-old brother accosted Gowen's mother in a darkened parking lot one night in 1979, beat her, raped her, stole her wedding ring and shot her in the head. She managed to crawl up the stairs to the apartment she, her daughter and her 7 grandchildren shared before she lapsed into a coma from which she never emerged.

Linwood and James Briley were eventually caught, convicted and executed for this and other crimes. Linwood was identified as the triggerman in Gowen's mother's murder, so she went to his trial "and tried to position myself so that every time he turned his head, he would see me. I just eyeballed him, all morning. I wanted to make him uncomfortable. Then they had a recess, and I remember walking out into the sunshine and feeling a little better."

It didn't last. The death penalty machine slowly bore the Brileys to the electric chair in its creaky and halting manner, and every time one of their appeals surfaced in the media, Gowen would get sick to her stomach again.

"I went to my priest and asked, 'What can I do about all this anger?'" she recalled, "and he said, 'I don't know what to tell you.'"

Finally, the night Linwood Briley was to be executed (Oct. 12, 1984), Gowen heard about a vigil at a Catholic church in Richmond.

"Two days before," she said, "I had been told to write down all the unresolved stuff I had with my mother. Then I went to her grave and read it to her, and how I felt about her, and somehow I knew it was OK."

Something also told her to go to the vigil.

"I walked down the aisle and saw this table piled with hand-lettered signs, all anti-death penalty, and they were very repulsive to me.

"But they started talking about the families of the murder victims - that was me! - and then moved to the families of those who were going to be executed for those murders, and started weaving them together until there was no difference. It was a real expansion of my heart. Then they started talking about something I had never thought about before, and that was forgiveness."

When she left the church, Gowen said, she picked up one of the wooden signs and joined the procession to Spring Street prison.

"I looked up and saw that the sign said 'Thou shalt not kill,'" she said, "and I started to cry."

Gowen never met the Brileys, and an effort to meet their family went nowhere. Still, she says, "forgiveness is a gift that I gave myself. You can't just keep hating."




10 Comments:

Blogger keshane ellis said...

I AM DERICK PETERSON ONLY CHILD KESHANE VANHOOK I WAS THERE THE NIGHT THAT MY FATHER PASSED AWAY,IN FACT I TALK WITH MY FATHER RIGHT BEFORE IT HAPPEN HE CALL ME AT HIS LAWYER OFFICE AND SAID:DON'T CRY IT'S GOING TO BE OK I ENJOYED MY VISIT WITH YOU TODAY YOU ARE AND ALWAYS WILL BE DADDY LITTLE GIRL" I CRIED ALL THE WAY HOME,I COULD NOT STOP. I HAD CRIED SO MUCH THAT I COULD NOT CRY AT THE FUNERAL.I WILL 13 YEAR OLD , I REMEMBER EVERYTHING, I WILL NOT FORGET THE COLD,SAD NIGHT.NOW TWO NIGHT BEFORE IT HAPPEN MY GRANDMOTHER AND I WENT IN FRONT OF THE PRESS AND THEY ASK ME ONE QUESTION THAT I WILL NOT FORGET."WHY DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD LET YOUR FATHER LIVE IN PRISON? I SAID BECAUSE I WANTED I GET TO KNOW MY FATHER LONGER THEN 13 YEARS.I REMEMBER MY GRANDMOTHER GOING TO TALK TO THE GOVERNER ABOUT MY FATHER GETTING LIFE IN PRISON,BUT THE GOVERNER AT THAT TIME DID NOT HAVE TIME FOR US BECAUSE HE WAS TOO BUSINESS RUNNING FOR GOVERNER OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.WHAT I CANT UNDERSTAND IS THAT ANOTHER MAN HAVE GOT OFF THE FIRST TIME BY KILLING A 17
YEAR OLD GIRL GOT OUT ON PAROLE AND THEN KILL AND RAPED A 67 YEAR OLD LADY BUT MY FATHER COULDN'T GET LIFE IN PRISON NOW HOW DOES THAT LIKE? LIKE A BLACK AND WHITE THING TO ME, (BACK THEN ANY WAY). MY FATHER WAS AN GOOD PERSON WITH A GOOD HEART. WHY HE DID, WHAT HE DID ,I DONT KNOW.BUT I DO APOLOGIZE TO THE FAMILY THAT MY FATHER HURT ,I'M HURTING TOO. I,M HURTING THAT PEOPLE OUT HERE MAKING MONEY OFF MY FATHER AND HE DIED. WRITING BOOK ABOUT HIM AND EVERYTHING. HOW DO YOU THINK THAT MAKE ME FEEL? NO ONE IN MY FAMILY GAVE ANYONE PERMISSION TO TELL OR WRITE ANY THING ABOUT MY FATHER.PEOPLE THINK IT'S OK BECAUSE HE WAS STATE PROPERTY, NO HE IS MY PROPERTY,AND HE IS NOT WITH US NO MORE SO I'M TALKING FOR HIM.PEOPLE LABLED MY FATHER AS A STONE COLD KILLER HE'S NOT.BUT WHAT HE DID WAS WRONG, THERE NO EXCUSE FOR THAT.THOU SHOULD NOT KILL,I FEEL LIKE THAT GOES FOR EVERBODY.I GOT MARRIED ON APRIL THE 1ST WITH NOBODY TO GIVING ME AWAY, SO I CRIED THAT NIGHT TOO.MY KIDS WANT GET TO KNOW HIM.THEY ASK ME ABOUT HIM ALL THE TIME.ALL I CAN SAY IS HE WATCHING YOU FROM UP ABOVE.

5:15 PM  
Blogger keshane ellis said...

I HAD MESS UP SOME WORDS IN MY COMMENT CAUSE AS I WAS READING WHAT THEY WAS SAYING ABOUT MY FATHER PISSED ME OFF SO I DO APOLOGIZE FOR ANY MISTAKE

5:22 PM  
Blogger Reginald said...

excuse me if i don't shed no tears for your dead daddy. i used them all up crying for his victims.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Your father was a waste of life. If it was your family member that he murdered, I don't think you would be saying this...SAD!!!

9:04 AM  
Blogger cletus said...

I sympathize with Keshane, and from what I have read her father seems like the least sadistic of the six men described here. It was unnecessary for him to kill anyone as it obviously didn't help him escape; I can't say that he meant to do it, maybe he was scared, maybe he fired by accident, but in the end, he killed a man in the course of a robbery. When anyone decides to rob another person, the person doing the robbing consciously or unconsciously decide that their life is of equal or lesser worth to what they are robbing. If Mr. Peterson didn't want to die, he shouldn't have tried to take that which did not belong to him at gun point, and he especially shouldn't have ended someone elses life in the process. Maybe your father did have a good heart but what happened happened and the only person to blame for Keshane being fatherless is Derick Peterson.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Hunter said...

I know that this may sound insensitive and uncaring,but your father got what he deserve for killing those people.His death brought relief to his victims.

6:53 AM  
Blogger hopingface said...

I agree with Keshane.....her family has rights also. She can't be blamed for her fathers poor choices. I don't believe that anyone has a right to take a life other than God. He is the only one that can freely judge. She is a child who grew up without a father through no fault of her own; therefore she is grieving as much as the family's of the victims. Empathy and forgiveness go a long way in life.

2:39 PM  
Blogger analyze_this said...

Keshane, you got 13 years with your daddy. My dad never knew his father because he was killed in a robbery while my grandmother was pregnant.

So my daddy never knew his daddy. Not even for one day.

And my grandmother lost her husband of five years and raised two children alone.

And I never knew my grandfather, an educated, gentle, artistic woodworker and carpenter.

Your father tried to profit from murder, yet you are begrudging people who profit from exposing the story of his actions? Don't you dare, you don't have a single thing to say about that.

Your loss is terrible and I do feel your pain. Your daddy's actions are indefensible. Let others rage at the injustice of what happened to the victim, and you do the smart thing and keep whatever dignity you have left in silence.

5:23 AM  
Blogger Bria said...

Your going to get very little sympathy from the public because u don't have your dad any longer? The only reason u don't have him is because of your dads selfish & reckless violent act perpetrated on an his innocent victim resulting in the vitims death, this forfits his right to live. His victims life was given absolutely no regard or worth. How your dad came to his demise goes with the saying (u reap what u sow).

11:43 PM  

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