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

Back on the cell block, Barnes and his pals would split up and distribute the pills, then go play a marathon game of handball outside. The conspiracies and preparation were elaborate for not much more than a peppy game in the courtyard, but much of the thrill came in the plotting itself. The prisoners sometimes persuaded their friends outside the prison to empty the stuffing from a softball, pack it with pills, and knock it over the penitentiary’s tall wall, where it would land unnoticed in an ongoing inmate softball game. A prisoner would simply pick up the ball and pocket it.

Eventually, Barnes — now facing many years for shooting Barclay, plus numerous years backdated for prior crimes — applied himself to larger schemes. At one point, the state transferred him to a prison outside Pittsburgh that he didn’t like — he wanted to return home to Philadelphia, nearer his family. During the wet December of 1969, Barnes noticed that as trucks left the prison, the guard inspecting them would only bend down to glance underneath, rather than soil his uniform by kneeling in the mud. So one day Barnes sneaked under a truck, climbed into the space above its drive shaft, and held on tight. The truck pulled to the gate, the guard gave the bent glance, and Barnes escaped. “Ten minutes later the truck stops, I get out from under, and I’m downtown,” he said. He strolled through central Pittsburgh in his prison uniform until he saw a fireman park his car outside a firehouse and run inside to pick up his paycheck. Barnes stepped into the running car and took off — then hit traffic, a block away. In the rearview mirror he saw five firefighters barreling toward the car. Before he could get away, they grabbed him and dragged him to a police officer standing on the corner.

Barnes left another trail of wreckage, of the emotional sort. Somehow, during his few months of freedom before he shot Officer Barclay, he had found a woman willing to overlook his past. And they shared something that lasted longer than Barnes’s liberty.

She named him Michael.

Young Officer Barclay fought to regain his feet, and for a while he made progress.

Within about nine months of the shoot-out, he had learned to walk short stretches with leg braces. He moved into a ground-floor apartment and took a job working as a dispatcher for the police department. He met and dated a young woman, Peggy, and eventually proposed. They married. Friends outfitted his car with special hand controls so he could drive, and that opened up the world.
“We would go to the drive-in movies. That was exciting,” his stepdaughter, Peggy Anne Keene, said recently. But on one icy day, Barclay’s car slid off the road, and he reinjured his spine. The police department placed him on permanent disability. His health began a slow downward drift.

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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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