William Barnes Profile: This Man Shot a Cop

In a case that may change how we think of justice, the D.A. wants him to go to jail for it. Again

Barnes kept a grip on his door lock, then retreated to his cell. The next day, police arrived at the cell door. “I swear I had no part in this,” he said. But an officer told him, “Out, let’s go.” They stripped him, delivered a couple of blows to his head, and led him to a hold where four or five other inmates were all handcuffed together. “So I was in the hole for like 10 days, freezing my ass off, and we’d be huddling, you know you make friends fast when you’re exposed to the cold weather,” Barnes said. “And we’d hug and everything to keep warm, and take turns sleeping while other guys covered their bodies with our own.”

And so Barnes spent his youth. The state released him in 1966, and at age 30, he moved in for a while with his parents. His little brother, Jimmy, had been four years old the first time Barnes went to jail. Jimmy had never known his older brother as a free man; in school, when the children practiced writing letters, Jimmy sent his to William in prison. He had visited several times.

Now Jimmy had just turned 12, and watched his older sibling’s every move. After all those years of rough treatment at the penitentiary and elsewhere, maybe William Barnes had finally gone straight. Or maybe he had hardened into something altogether crooked.

One night a few months after Barnes’s return from prison — just after midnight on November 27th — the family sat watching the night’s final television programs, and Jimmy noticed his brother head out the door. He’d been drinking.

In the early hours of November 27, 1966, police officer Walter Barclay patrolled East Oak Lane with his partner, Robert Piatek.

Barclay was 23 years old, with lacquered hair and wide-open eyes. That particular November was a strange month for a rookie cop in Philadelphia. The city — the world, really — seemed to be moving toward something imminent, converging somehow. A Philadelphia band called the Magic Mushrooms had a song called “It’s a Happening” on the Billboard chart. Barclay’s peers tumbled toward Vietnam as America ramped up troop numbers there. Meanwhile, Philadelphia police inspector Harry Fox had just published an influential paper in a police journal that described how officers should penetrate protest groups to find out how “organizations are infiltrated, influenced or directed by hard-core communists and their sympathetic followers.”

The world stirred, but Barclay’s future seemed set. His father, William Barclay, had served as a police officer. Furthermore, the elder Barclay had been injured while chasing car thieves in Kensington many years before; there’s an extra measure of respect in the police community for officers hurt on the job, so the father’s footsteps seemed cast in concrete, waiting for the son to walk in them.

 

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  • Joe

    William Barnes committed a horiific crime but he DID NOT kill officer Barclay. The Phila. DA’s office is only trying to make a name for itself by having Mr. Barnes arrested for murder. I find it impossible for a bullet 41 years after the fact to be a cause of death when the officer was in numerous accidents andas denied benefits from the city and may have been ABUSED at the nursing home he was in at the time. That is who should be investigated not William Barnes. Tax payers you should be in an uproar over this. With God on William’s side hopefully he will be a free man this spring.

  • Helethan

    This is unbelievable

  • Helethan

    I hope this man is a free man this spring

  • Joe

    UNBELIVEABLE, i just read that 2 people were shot by Phila. police officers one unarmed the other an innocent bystander and died from their injuries. DA Lynn Abraham chose not to file charges against the officers but does in the case of Mr. Barnes. I guess if Mr. Barnes shot John Doe he wouldn’t have been charged. Shoot a cop who ends up dying 41 years later you get arrested a cop shoots a citizen within months of dying no charges. Lynn Abraham you were so WRONG for what you did to Mr. Barnes.

  • Diane

    Mr Barnes did not murder Mr Barclay, he went on to live for 41 more years. My Uncle should not be in prison as we speak. Lynn Abraham should be ashamed of herself wasting tax dollars money on a case that will not have a leg to stand on during trial. We, the Barnes family know that justice will prevail, but we will never get back the time that our Uncle spent in prison during his elder years. Lets just hope and pray that he lives for another 25 years!!

  • Jim

    You did a great job of impartial reporting on a difficult subject. Thank you.

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