Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What's in a name?

The story behind William "Cowboy" Barnes

What's in a name?


Criminals have nicknames, as everyone knows. It’s almost part of the job description. Al Capone? Could be a barber. “Scarface” Al Capone? Couldn’t be a barber, at least not one you’d want to go to for a shave.

So it came to pass during Monday’s interview of William Barnes -- the recently paroled admitted shooter of Philadelphia police Officer Walter T. Barclay -- that the question arose: William “Cowboy” Barnes?

Barnes, 75, said he had nothing to do with it. It was awarded him during the 1960s by an anonymous writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, commenting on Barnes’ then-Old West-style disdain for the law.

“It caught on,” Barnes said, and pretty soon guys on the street, cops and more newspapers were referring to him as William “Cowboy” Barnes.

“I’ve always introduced myself as Bill, Bill Barnes,” he said. “But the nickname always stays with you.”


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About this blog
Inquirer reporter Joe Slobodzian covers the courts and writes about the people who find themselves there and what they face.

You can reach Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or Reach Joseph A. at

Joseph A. Slobodzian
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