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

“My dad had spasms, and they were scary,” Keene said. “I remember as a kid being very scared. All of a sudden his leg would start shaking, and then his whole body up to his neck would just shake. If he had something in his hand, you had to get it out of his hand.”

In the 1970s he took a job working at an information booth in 30th Street Station, but that didn’t last long. His body simply couldn’t bear the strain. He fell from his wheelchair in 1975, then survived another car accident soon after. His marriage crumbled under the weight of his need. The daily struggle simply to exist — to dress, to eat, to urinate — required enormous effort. Some days he spent entire afternoons in the bathroom, and passed the time playing cards with his stepdaughter under the bathroom door.

Eventually, Peggy Anne had children of her own, and Barclay felt the full weight of his injuries and illnesses. “It made my children scared, because they were little,” Keene said. “When Grandpops starts shaking like that, and you’re sitting on his lap, that is a very scary thing to a child. And that bothered my dad a lot. He would go into his room and say, ‘I don’t want to scare the children. I’m so sorry.’”

Slowly, Walter Barclay began to recede into a prison of his own.

For a few years, Michael’s mother took him to visit his father in prison. “She did that until I was six or seven,” he said recently. Then the visits tapered to nothing.

The mother and boy scratched out their lives in the Hill Creek housing projects. One childhood memory juts up above all others, in power and detail: police kicking in the door at their home, one night, during one of his father’s escapes. A demand for whereabouts, a search, a withdrawal.

In 1980 the state released William Barnes once more into society, and he tried to visit his adolescent son, but the boy’s mother refused. “There was a lot of family quarreling over that,” Michael said. “I wanted to see him. She didn’t.” Just months later, police busted Barnes for another armed robbery, and he returned again to prison, with another decades-long sentence. Michael made a decision as he entered young manhood that he would push all thoughts of his father from his mind. “Piece of shit,” he thought. “He shot a cop.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 < Previous Next >View as One Page

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • 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.

  • Sarah

    if you need an extra money and you a good writer then this is for you
    freelance writer

  • Sarah

    if you need an extra money and you a good writer then this is for you
    freelance writer

  • Sarah

    if you need an extra money and you a good writer then this is for you
    freelance writer