Bonnie Parker (October 1 1910 – May 23 1934) and Clyde Barrow (March 24 1909 – May 23 1934) were notorious outlaws, robbers, and criminals who traveled the Central United States during the Great Depression. Their exploits were known nationwide. They captured the attention of the American press and its readership during what is sometimes referred to as the "public enemy era" between 1931 and 1935. Though the gang was notorious for their bank robberies, Barrow preferred to rob small stores or gas stations. The gang was believed to have killed at least nine police officers, among several other murders.
Though the public at the time believed Parker to be a full partner in the gang, and thus its crimes, her role in the Barrow Gang crimes has long been a source of controversy. Gang members W. D. Jones and Ralph Fults testified that they never saw Bonnie fire a gun, and described her role as logistical. Writing with Phillip Steele in The Family Story of Bonnie and Clyde, Marie Barrow, Clyde's youngest sister, made the same claim: "Bonnie never fired a shot. She just followed my brother no matter where he went." In his interview with Playboy magazine, W. D. Jones said of Bonnie: "As far as I know, Bonnie never packed a gun. Maybe she'd help carry what we had in the car into a tourist-court room. But during the five big gun battles I was with them, she never fired a gun. But I'll say she was a hell of a loader."
Writer Joseph Geringer, in his article Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car, explained part of their appeal to the public then, and their enduring legend now, by saying "Americans thrilled to their 'Robin Hood' adventures. The presence of a female, Bonnie, escalated the sincerity of their intentions to make them something unique and individual—even at times heroic."
On September 25, 1926, less than a week before her sixteenth birthday, Parker married Roy Thornton. The marriage was short-lived, and in January 1929 they separated but never divorced; Parker was wearing Thornton's wedding ring when she died. His reaction to his wife's death was, "I'm glad they went out like they did. It's much better than being caught." On March 5, 1933, Thornton was sentenced to five years in prison for burglary. He was gunned down by guards on October 3, 1937, during an escape attempt from Eastham Farm prison.
There are a number of versions of the story describing Bonnie and Clyde's first meeting, but the most credible version indicates that Bonnie Parker met Clyde Barrow in January 1930 at a friend's house. Bonnie was out of work and was staying in West Dallas to assist a girlfriend with a broken arm. Clyde dropped by the girl's house while she was visiting at a friend's home, and Bonnie was supposedly in the kitchen making hot chocolate. They did not meet, as legend has it, while she was a waitress.
When they met, both were smitten immediately and most historians believe Bonnie joined Clyde because she was in love. She remained a loyal companion to him as they carried out their crime spree and awaited the violent deaths they viewed as inevitable. Her fondness for creative writing and the arts found expression in poems such as "Suicide Sal" and "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde".
Jimmy Fowler, writing for the Dallas Observer noted, "although the authorities who gunned down the 23-year-old in 1934 conceded that she was no bloodthirsty killer and that when taken into custody she tended to inspire the paternal aspects of the police who held her ... there was a mystifying devolution from the high school poet, speech class star, and mini-celebrity who performed Shirley Temple-like as a warm up act at the stump speeches of local politicians to the accomplice of rage-filled Clyde Barrow.
On March 22 1933, Buck Barrow was granted a full pardon and released from prison. By April, he and his wife, Blanche, were living with W.D. Jones, Clyde, and Parker in a temporary hideout in Joplin, Missouri. According to some accounts, the Buck Barrows were there merely to visit and attempt to talk Clyde into giving himself up. As was common with Bonnie and Clyde, their next brush with the law arose from their generally suspicious behavior, not because their identities were discovered.
Not knowing what awaited them, local lawmen assembled only a two-car force to confront the suspected bootleggers living in the rented apartment over a garage. Though caught by surprise, Clyde, noted for remaining cool under fire, was gaining far more experience in gun battles than most lawmen. He and W.D. Jones quickly killed one lawman and fatally wounded another. The survivors later testified that their side had fired only fourteen rounds in the conflict.
Between 1932 and 1934, there were several incidents in which the Barrow Gang kidnapped lawmen or robbery victims, usually releasing them far from home, sometimes with money to help them get back. Stories of these encounters may have contributed to the mythic aura of Bonnie and Clyde; a couple both reviled and adored by the public. Notoriously, the Barrow Gang would not hesitate to shoot anybody, civilian or lawman, if they got in the way of their escape. Clyde was a probable shooter in approximately ten murders. Other members of the Barrow Gang known or thought to have commited murders are Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Buck Barrow, and Henry Methvin.
The Barrow Gang escaped the police at Joplin, but W.D. Jones was wounded, and they had left most of their possessions at the rented apartment, including a camera with an exposed roll of pictures. The film was developed by the Joplin Globe, and yielded many now famous photos. Afterward, Parker and Barrow used coats and hats to cover the license plates of their stolen vehicles when taking pictures.
Despite the glamorous image often associated with the Barrow Gang, they were desperate and discontented, as noted in the account of their life written by Blanche Barrow while jailed in Missouri, following the death of husband Buck, from injuries suffered in a shoot-out.
When Blanche Barrow went into town to purchase bandages, crackers, cheese, and atropine sulfate to treat Bonnie's leg, the druggist contacted Sheriff Holt Coffey, who put the cabins under watch. Coffey had been alerted by Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas to be on the lookout for strangers seeking such supplies. The sheriff contacted Captain Baxter of the highway patrol, who called for reinforcements from Kansas City including an armored car. At 11 p.m. that night, Sheriff Coffey led a group of officers armed with Thompson submachine guns toward the cabins. But in a pitched gunfight at considerable distances, the submachine guns proved no match for the Browning Automatic Rifles of the Barrows, who had recently robbed an armory. (The B.A.R. was reportedly Clyde's favorite weapon.)
Although the gang escaped once again, Buck Barrow had been shot in the side of the head and Blanche Barrow was nearly blinded from glass fragments in her eye. Their prospects for holding out against the ensuing manhunt dwindled.
On July 24 1933, the Barrow Gang was at Dexfield Park, an abandoned amusement park near Dexter, Iowa. After they were noticed by local citizens, it was determined that the campers were the Barrows. Surrounded by local lawmen and approximately one hundred spectators, the Barrows once again found themselves under fire. Clyde Barrow, Parker, and W.D. Jones escaped on foot. Buck was shot in the back and his wife hit again in the face and eyes with flying glass. Buck died five days later at Kings Daughters Hospital in Iowa of pneumonia after surgery.
Although Jones parted ways with the pair the next month, Barrow and Parker regrouped, and on November 22 1933, again escaped an arrest attempt while meeting family members at an impromptu rendezvous near Sowers, Texas.
It was an expensive revenge, for all concerned, as the killing of a prison officer (by another escapee, Joe Palmer) brought the full power of the Texas and federal governments to bear on the manhunt for Bonnie and Clyde, ultimately resulting in their deaths. As the officer, Major Joe Crowson, lay dying, Lee Simmons of the Texas Department of Corrections reportedly promised him that the persons involved in the breakout would be hunted down and killed. He kept his word, except for Henry Methvin, whose life was exchanged in return for betraying Bonnie and Clyde. The Texas Department of Corrections then contacted former Texas Ranger Captain Frank A. Hamer, and convinced him to accept a commission to hunt down the Barrow Gang. Though retired, Hamer had retained his commission, which had not yet expired. He accepted the assignment immediately, as a Texas Highway Patrol officer seconded to the prison system as a special investigator, tasked specifically to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde, and the Barrow Gang. Clyde and Henry Methvin killed two young highway patrolmen in what is now Southlake, Texas, on April 1 1934; an eyewitness account stated that Methvin fired the lethal shots. John Treherne exhaustively investigated this shooting, and found that Methvin fired the first shot, after assuming Clyde wanted them killed (though Treherne found, and Methvin later admitted Barrow did not intend to kill them, but had been preparing to capture them and take them on one of his famous rides, and that Bonnie approached the dying officers to try to help them). Having little choice once Methvin had begun a gun battle with law officers, Barrow then fired at the second officer. Methvin, however, is believed to have been the primary killer of both. (Ted Hinton's son states that Parker was actually asleep in the back seat when Methvin started the gun battle and took no part in it; it is notable that in accepting a pardon for these killings, Methvin admitted to both.) Methvin confessed in open court to being the sole killer in both killings. These particularly senseless killings shocked and outraged the public, which to this point had tended to romanticize the pair. Another policeman, Constable William Campbell, was killed five days later near Commerce, Oklahoma, which further soured public sentiment.
The posse was led by Hamer, who had begun tracking the pair on February 10,1934. Having never before seen Bonnie or Clyde, he immediately arranged a meeting with a representative of Methvin's parents in the hope of gaining a lead. Meanwhile, federal officials, who viewed the Eastham prison break in particular as a national embarrassment to the government, were providing all support that was asked for, such as weapons. Hamer obtained a quantity of civilian Browning Automatic Rifles (manufactured by Colt as the "Monitor") and 20 round magazines with armor piercing rounds.
Hamer studied the gang's movements and found they swung in a circle skirting the edges of five midwest states, exploiting the "state line" rule that prevented officers from one jurisdiction from pursuing a fugitive into another. Bonnie and Clyde were masters of that pre-FBI rule but consistent in their movements, allowing them to see their families and those of their gang members. It also allowed an experienced manhunter like Hamer to chart their path and predict where they would go. They were due next to see Henry Methvin's family, which explained Hamer's meeting with them within a month of beginning the hunt.
On May 21, 1934, the four posse members from Texas were in Shreveport, Louisiana when they learned that Barrow and Parker were to go there that evening with Methvin. Clyde had designated Methvin's parents' Bienville Parish house as a rendezvous in case they were later separated. Methvin was separated from Bonnie and Clyde in Shreveport, and the full posse, consisting of Capt. Hamer, Dallas County Sheriff's Deputies Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton (who had met Clyde in the past), former Texas Ranger B.M. "Manny" Gault, Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan, and his deputy Prentiss Oakley, set up an ambush at the rendezvous point along Highway 154, between Gibsland and Sailes. They were in place by 9:00 p.m. and waited through the next day (May 22) but saw no sign of Bonnie and Clyde.
At approximately 9:00 a.m. on May 23, the posse, concealed in the bushes and almost ready to concede defeat, heard Clyde's stolen Ford V8 approaching. The posse's official report had Clyde stopping to speak with Henry Methvin's father, planted there with his truck that morning to distract Clyde and force him into the lane closest to the posse, the lawmen opened fire, killing Bonnie and Clyde while shooting a combined total of approximately 130 rounds. By 9:15, the couple were dead. The posse, under Hamer's direct orders, did not call out a warning, or order the duo to surrender. Barrow was killed instantly from Oakley's initial head shot. Parker did not die as easily. The posse reported her uttering a long, horrified scream as the bullets tore into the car. The officers emptied the specially-ordered automatic rifle, as well as rifles, shotguns and pistols at the car. According to statements made by Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn:
"Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns ... There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren't taking any chances."
Some sources say Bonnie and Clyde were shot more than 50 times, while other sources claim a total closer to 25 bullet wounds per corpse, or 50 total.
Following the ambush, officers inspected the vehicle and discovered a small arsenal of weapons including stolen automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, assorted handguns, and several thousand rounds of ammunition, along with fifteen different license plates from various states.
When later asked why he killed a woman who was not wanted for any capital offense, Hamer stated "I hate to bust the cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down, however if it wouldn't have been her [sic], it would have been us.
Bonnie and Clyde wished to be buried side by side, but the Parker family would not allow it. Bonnie's mother had wanted to grant her daughter's final wish, which was to be brought home, but the mobs surrounding the Parker house made that impossible. Over 20,000 people turned out for Bonnie's funeral, making it difficult for the Parkers to reach the grave site. Clyde Barrow is buried in the Western Heights Cemetery, and Bonnie Parker in the Crown Hill Memorial Park, both in Dallas, Texas. The following words (from a poem of Bonnie's) are inscribed on Bonnie's stone:
As the flowers are all made sweeter: by the sunshine and the dew,
So this old world is made brighter: by the lives of folks like you.
H.D. Darby, a young undertaker who worked for the McClure Funeral Parlor in nearby Ruston, Louisiana, and Sophie Stone, a home demonstration agent also from Ruston, came to Arcadia to identify the bodies. Both Darby and Stone had been kidnapped by the Barrow gang several weeks previously in Ruston and released near Waldo, Arkansas. Parker reportedly laughed when she asked Darby his profession and discovered he was an undertaker. She remarked that maybe someday he would be working on her. As it turned out, she could be no closer to the truth: Darby assisted Bailey in embalming the outlaws.
Parker's family used the now defunct McKamy-Campbell Funeral Home, then located on Forest Avenue in Dallas to conduct her funeral. Hubert "Buster" Parker accompanied his sister’s body back to Dallas in the McKamy-Campbell ambulance. Her services were held Saturday, May 26, at 2 p.m. in the funeral home, directed by Allen D. Campbell. His son, Dr. Allen Campbell, later remembered that flowers came from everywhere including some sent by Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger. Soloists at the funeral included the late Dudley M. Hughes Sr., who later became the prominent operator of four large Dallas funeral homes. Initially, Parker was buried in the Fishtrap Cemetery, but in 1945, was moved to the new Crown Hill Cemetery in Dallas. The next year, services for Raymond Hamilton, a member of the Barrow Gang, who was executed May 10, 1935 by the State of Texas, were also held at the McKamy-Campbell Funeral Home.
Barrow's family used the Sparkman-Holtz-Brand Morticians, located in the A.H. Belo mansion in downtown Dallas. After identifying his son's body, an emotional Henry Barrow sat in a rocking chair in the furniture part of the Conger establishment and wept. Thousands of people gathered outside both Dallas funerals homes hoping for a chance to view the bodies. Barrow’s private funeral was held at sunset on Friday, May 25, in the funeral home chapel. He was buried in Western Heights Cemetery in Dallas, next to his brother, Marvin. They share a single granite marker with their names on it and a four-word epitaph previously selected by Clyde: “Gone but not forgotten.”
The bullet-riddled Ford in which the pair was killed and the shirt Barrow wore the last day of his life, were, as of March 2008, on display at the Gold Ranch Casino in Verdi, Nevada.
The life insurance policies for both Bonnie and Clyde were paid in full by American National of Galveston. Since then, the policy of pay-outs has changed to exclude pay-outs in cases of deaths caused by any criminal act by the insured.
In the years after, Prentiss Oakley was reported to have been troubled by his actions. He was the only posse member to publicly express regret for his actions. The posse, including Frank Hamer, took and kept for themselves stolen guns that were found in the death car. Personal items such as Bonnie's clothing and a saxophone were also taken, and when the Parker family asked for them back, they were refused. These items were also later sold as souvenirs.
In a grisly aftermath, the men who were left to guard the bodies (Gault, Oakley, and Alcorn) allowed people to cut off bloody locks of Bonnie's hair and tear pieces from her dress, which were sold as souvenirs. Hinton returned to find a man trying to cut off Clyde's finger, and was sickened by what was occurring. The coroner, arriving on the scene, saw the following: "nearly everyone had begun collecting souvenirs such as shell casings, slivers of glass from the shattered car windows, and bloody pieces of clothing from the garments of Bonnie and Clyde. One eager man had opened his pocket knife, and was reaching into the car to cut off Clyde's left ear." The coroner enlisted Hamer for help controlling the "circus-like atmosphere," and only then did people move away from the car.
In 1979, Ted Hinton's account of the ambush was published. According to Hinton, the posse had tied Henry Methvin's father, Ivy, to a tree the night before the ambush, to keep him from possibly warning the duo off. Hamer made Ivy Methvin a deal: keep quiet about being tied up, and his son would be pardoned for the murder of the two young highway patrolmen, a pardon which Henry Methvin did receive. Hamer allegedly made every member of the posse swear they would never divulge this secret. Hinton said:
"Ivy Methvin was traveling on that road in his old farm truck, when he was stopped by the lawmen, standing in the middle of the road. They took him into the woods and handcuffed him to a tree. They removed one of the old truck's wheels, so that it would appear to have broken down at that spot."
Blanche Barrow's injuries left her permanently blinded in her left eye. After the 1933 shoot-out that left her husband mortally wounded, she was taken into custody on the charge of "Assault With Intent to Kill." She was sentenced to ten years in prison but was paroled in 1939 for good behavior. She returned to Dallas, leaving her life of crime in the past, and lived with her invalid father as his caregiver. She married Eddie Frasure in 1940, worked as a taxi cab dispatcher, and completed the terms of her parole one year later. She lived in peace with her husband until he died of cancer in 1969. Warren Beatty approached her to purchase the rights to her name for use in the film Bonnie and Clyde. While she agreed to the original script, she objected to the final re-write that was used in production, describing Estelle Parsons' Academy Award-winning portrayal of her as "a screaming horse's ass." Despite this, she maintained a firm friendship with Beatty. She died from cancer at the age of 77 on 24 December 1988, and was buried in Dallas's Grove Hill Memorial Park under the name "Blanche B. Frasure".
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