(Docu-drama 1 x 94 min) Movie of the week
Despite its electronic gates and high tech security, Mecklenberg, Virginia’s “escape-proof” Death Row is a cage, and the men who reside there are animals. But one Spring day in 1984, some of the animals got out…
In late October of 1983, a group of inmates slated for death launched the elaborate scheme that would set them free. Each of the six were assigned a specific task that included intelligence gathering, weapons fabrication, and intense strategy. On May 31, 1984, an inmate grabbed a guard and put a shank (a prison knife constructed from strips of metal) to his throat. It was 9:00 pm, and the escape had begun. The conspirators forced their captive to use the telephone to summon more guards, who were each taken hostage and ordered to strip and hand over all their cash. With a knife at his throat, Lt. Larry Hawkins ordered a van brought around to the prison gate. Meanwhile, the inmates changed into the guards’ uniforms, loaded a television onto a canvas stretcher, covered it with a blanket, and approached the front gate with the stretcher, yelling, “We’ve got a bomb here!” The disguised inmates sprayed the “bomb” with a fire extinguisher for dramatic effect and loaded it onto the van. Perimeter guards ran in terror as six condemned prisoners drove out the front gate of a maximum security prison in plain sight. It was the only mass escape from Death Row in U.S. history.
It was 30 minutes before the hostages could free themselves and raise the alarm. By then, all six escapees had made it to North Carolina, where they ditched the get-away van and split up into pairs. The entire East Coast of the U.S. was terrified for weeks, hoping the convicts would be caught before they killed again. Two of the six were apprehended at a coin laundry in the small town of Warrenton, while two others made it all the way to Vermont before being arrested after robbing a small store. Only the Briley brothers remained at large. Credited with 25 murders between them, Linwood and J.B. Briley were the deadliest of the escapees. Telephone records linked them to a run-down section of Philadelphia, and on the evening of June 19th, FBI Agents arrested the last two convicts in the mass escape. It would be their only escape attempt. All six would eventually die in the electric chair.