Tuesday, August 13, 2002


Sat Aug 10, 1:52 PM ET

GRATERFORD, Pa. (AP) - One of suburban Philadelphia's most notorious murderers, whose killing spree became the basis for the movie "At Close Range," died of natural causes in prison, authorities said.

Bruce Johnston Sr., 63, had been serving six life sentences in Graterford Prison for murdering several of his criminal cohorts and his son's girlfriend.

The Chester County slayings were the basis for the 1986 film starring Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, whose character was based on Johnston.

Johnston was taken to Mercy Suburban General Hospital on Monday for complications associated with liver disease and was pronounced dead Wednesday, officials said.

Johnston and his brothers operated a multimillion-dollar burglary ring in the 1970s, stealing everything from cigarettes to tractors, authorities said.

According to police, Bruce Johnston Jr., who survived the attempt on his life, had begun talking about the gang because he believed his father had raped his girlfriend, police said. The girlfriend and the other victims were killed so they wouldn't cooperate with authorities, police said.

Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll, who called Johnston one of the county's "most notorious criminals," said he had deserved the death penalty but that was not available at the time.

"It's entirely appropriate that he died in prison," Carroll said.