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

About 3:30 a.m., a call came over the radio: a burglary, right in the neighborhood. Barclay and Piatek hustled to the scene. Piatek saw a hunched figure in the basement doorway of a place called Marvin Hairstyling Shop, and turned his flashlight on the shape. “Police!” he yelled. “Freeze!”

 From the top of the stairs, Barclay ordered the robber, who wore a black raincoat, to come up to street level. As the man did, he stumbled at the top, and then — CRACK — fired a pistol shot that hit Barclay’s thigh and spun him. And again — CRACK — a bullet hit his shoulder and lodged itself against his spine. The shooter fled, firing another, wild shot as Piatek pursued him. Piatek fired two shots of his own, and as the man tried to climb a tall fence, the officer fired three more times. At last the robber fell and lay motionless.

Piatek ran back to his partner’s side. Barclay lay at the entrance to the beauty parlor. Piatek stayed by his side as panic crept into Barclay’s voice. “I can’t move,” he said.

Meanwhile, other officers arrived, just as the burglar jumped back to his feet. He had faked the extent of his gunshot injury, and now fired a last shot that shattered a patrol car’s windshield. And then he escaped.


Police found William
Barnes hiding in a house just a hundred yards from Eastern State Penitentiary. The place seemed to have a grip on him. And now he’d shot and paralyzed a police officer.

When the other prisoners heard about Barnes’s exploits, they called him the Germantown Cowboy. But quietly, he felt a profound guilt. “My past is a shameful one,” he later wrote in a letter from prison. “I am deeply ashamed.”

Life in prison evolved parallel to life outside. In the 1960s the penitentiary desegregated, in a halting fashion, and Barnes made new acquaintances from black “turf.” They welcomed him into their dice games, and made particularly good wine using canned fruit, which they fermented in emptied gallon paint cans. Prisoners who drank it vomited soon after, but they all searched for anything — even vomit-inducing — to break the monotony of prison.
Barnes specialized in diet pills. The prisoners worked out a scheme in which their visitors would use cigarette packs to smuggle the uppers into the visiting area, then casually throw away the packs after the visits. The next day a prison worker would empty that wastebasket into a larger trash can in the officers’ mess hall. Barnes took a job cleaning the officers’ mess, and would dig through the big cans searching for the special cigarette pack, stuffed with diet pills.

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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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