Bonnie and Clyde – Their History, Romance & Unlikely Success
“Bonnie and Clyde” – Clyde Champion Barrow and Bonnie Parker – were shot to death by officers in a well-orchestrated ambush near Sailes, Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934. The event ended one of the most publicized and extraordinary manhunts the nation had seen up until that time.
The Real Story of Bonnie and Clyde
When I began researching Bonnie and Clyde I thought I knew as much as the average person, maybe a little more because I am in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I even eat at a restaurant that is near the Ponder Bank which is on the list of the banks that Bonnie and Clyde robbed. I was shocked at how wrong I was. Did history teach me wrong? I think that the making of several movies made for some misconceptions about who Bonnie and Clyde were and what they did. These movies have also romanticized their time and place in history, while giving us some untruths that many of us have accepted as true.
The truth is Bonnie and Clyde were not really bank robbers. They were sociopaths with nothing to do, during the Great Depression when people desperately needed something to do. They were free in a time when normal people couldn’t afford to be free. And, they were spectacularly, amazingly lucky for quite some time.
Bonnie Parker was born in Rowena, Texas, an unincorporated area in south-west Texas which is now best known for being Bonnie’s home town. Her father died when she was only four-years-old and her mother then relocated the family to West Dallas, Cement City specifically. Parker went to school for a while but in her sophomore year she met Roy Thornton and got married at the age of only 15 in 1926.
The marriage between Bonnie and Roy was over almost as soon as it began. Roy was often missing and got in trouble with the law even more often. By 1929, the two were forced to part ways as Roy went to prison for murder. Bonnie, shockingly not a violent person after her tumultuous marriage, became lonely and bored. She was a nerd. She wrote poetry about how lonely she was. She was bored and didn’t like being bored. She liked to wear high heels and take pictures. Bonnie Parker yearned for a life of fun.
Clyde Barrow was born in Ellis County, Texas – only one county away from Dallas. The Barrow’s were a poor family of farmers in the small town of Telico. The family drifted to West Dallas in the early 1920s, one of many poor farming families who came to the city. They spent the first few months living under a wagon in West Dallas until Clyde’s father acquired a tent.
Clyde reportedly wanted to join the Navy, even having USN tattooed on his right arm, but was rejected due to effects from a childhood illness. Barrow was arrested the first time at the age of 16, because he didn’t return a rental car on time. The second time was only a few weeks later for stealing turkeys. The FBI website, FBI.gov, says that Clyde was arrested for a burglary, but he escaped using a gun that Bonnie had smuggled to him. By 1930, Clyde was in Eastham Prison Farm outside of Houston. He was sexually assaulted there and would commit his first murder in prison, although a fellow inmate would take responsibility for the crime.
Barrow hated Eastham and wanted out. He hated the hard work that he had to do there. He hated it so much that he resorted to drastic measures to get out of his work. Using an axe, he cut off his big toe and part of his second toe (it’s unknown whether he had help or did this alone.) Unbeknownst to Clyde, his mother had been petitioning for his release and was in fact able to get him released from prison just 6 days after his self-inflicted injury.
Barrow entered the prison system at only 16 and it changed him. His sister Marie said “something awful sure must have happened to him in prison because he wasn’t the same person when he got out.” Fellow inmate Ralph Fults said prison changed Clyde “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake.” Many agree that his time in Eastham made Clyde angry at the Texas prison system and if the U.S. Navy story is accurate, his hatred for the U.S. Government in general. Whatever it was, it was serious, and Clyde intended to make someone pay.
Bonnie and Clyde – Crime Spree Timeline
February 1932 – Clyde is released from Eastham and he and fellow inmate Ralph Fults begin robbing small stores and gas stations. The goal is to gather money and guns, so they can attack Eastham State Prison and free the inmates.
April 19, 1932 – Bonnie Parker and Fults are arrested in Kaufman, Texas after a robbery at a hardware store goes wrong. Fults is indicted, tried, and convicted and doesn’t join Bonnie and Clyde again. Bonnie is arrested but not indicted although she remains in jail until June 17.
April 30, 1932 – Clyde is driving in a robbery in Hillsboro, Texas. The owner of the store, J.N. Bucher, is shot and killed. The wife picks Clyde’s mugshot out of a group and IDs him as one of the shooters. All parties agree that Clyde was outside the entire time and could not have been the shooter. It is the first time Clyde Barrow is accused of murder.
August 5, 1932 – Clyde, Raymond Hamilton and Ross Dyer are in Springtown, Oklahoma at a country-western bar drinking alcohol. Sheriff C.G. Maxwell and Deputy Eugene C. Moore approach them in the parking lot outside. Clyde and Hamilton open fire, killing the deputy and injuring the sheriff.
October 11, 1932 – Howard Hall is killed in Sherman, Texas. Wikipedia says that historians agree that this was not the work of Clyde’s gang, but it is still listed on the FBI page that they are suspected in a murder in Sherman, Texas.
December 24, 1932 – 16-year-old W.D. Jones joins the gang.
December 25, 1932 – Barrow and Jones kill Doyle Johnson in Temple, Texas.
January 6, 1933 – Barrow, Parker, and Jones “wander into a police trap set for another criminal” and Barrow kills Tarrant County Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis.
March 22, 1933 – Evan “Buck” Barrow, Clyde’s brother, gets a full pardon and is released from prison. Buck and his wife, Blanche, find Bonnie, Clyde, and Jones in Joplin, Missouri. Family sources say that Buck and Blanche were only there to visit and wanted to convince Clyde to turn himself in to law enforcement. Instead they decide to stay with the gang, buying a case of beer a day and having loud parties all night long. Clyde fires his favorite gun, a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in the apartment while cleaning it. Prohibition has ended in Missouri but only for beer, liquor is still against the law. Neighbors become suspicious because of the noises and late hours at the house at 3347 1/2 Oakridge Drive in Joplin, Missouri.
April 13, 1932 – Police come to investigate the location in Joplin, expecting to find bootleggers. The gang is surprised but remains calm. Buck, Clyde, and Jones kill Detective McGinnis and Constable Harryman. Parker is covering the three men with her BAR by shooting at a tree, forcing splinters into the face of Highway Patrol Sergeant G.B. Kahler who is hiding behind the tree. Parker gets into the car and the group stop to pick up Blanche, who has left to find her missing dog, Snow Ball.
The group escaped the police at Joplin, but they leave behind their clothes, Buck’s parole papers, Buck and Blanche’s marriage license, a camera with a few rolls of undeveloped film, weapons, ammunition, and Bonnie’s “Suicide Sal” poem. The photos and poem are published in The Joplin Globe, giving the public the first glimpse into the murderous world of Bonnie and Clyde.
The publishing of the photos meant they no longer had the security of anonymity and showed Bonnie and Clyde to be young, unmarried lovers. They also seemed to show that Bonnie was a cigar smoker. This was during the Great Depression, when many people, especially those in rural areas who didn’t have the benefits of public assistance to the extent that those in cities did, had lost faith in the government and the country in general. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Jim Wright, said in the Smithsonian, “even if you did not approve of them you still would have to envy them a little, to be so good-looking and rich and happy.”
All five members of the gang escaped in the car driven by Clyde who drove all night to get them to Shamrock, Texas, covering almost 600 miles. They had left almost everything behind at the Joplin house and only had their guns and the clothes that they were wearing during the shoot-out with the police. They also had a bigger problem and they were aware of it – their pictures had been distributed nationwide. They had shot and killed the police. The FBI was now on their case.
May 20, 1933 – The FBI gets warrants for the arrest of Mrs. Roy Harding, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde Champion Barrow.
The FBI had been interested in the Barrow gang since late 1932, but for some reason lacked the motive, and the warrant, to go after them. The reason the FBI finally got involved, according to FBI.gov, is because a car was stolen in Pawhuska, Oklahoma which was found abandoned near Jackson, Michigan in September of 1932. In Pawhuska, there was an abandoned Ford which had been stolen in Illinois. Inside the car found in Pawhuska was a prescription bottle from a drug store in Nacogdoches, Texas filled for Clyde Barrow’s Aunt.
After investigating more, the FBI found out that the Aunt had recently had a visit from Clyde, Bonnie, and one of Clyde’s brother’s, L.C. Barrow. The three were driving the Ford that had been stolen in Illinois. On May 20, 1933, a warrant was issued for Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker with the charge of interstate transportation, from Dallas to Oklahoma, of the car stolen in Illinois. The warrant was issued a full month after the Joplin, Missouri raid.
The next three months were a flurry of activity for the group, now officially on the run from the FBI and with their pictures on display across the country, they expanded their range from Texas and contiguous states to as far north as Minnesota. They attempted to rob a bank in Lucerne, Indiana, and did rob one in Okabena, Minnesota. They were running out of time and getting sloppy. Their pictures were across the country and the FBI was now on the case. They could not risk eating at restaurants and staying in motels. They were now eating from campfires and bathing in streams or creeks they found along the roadsides. They were breaking into gum-ball machines for meal money. The fighting among the two couples got so bad that W.D. Jones, who had been a central member of the gang since December of 1932, took the car that they had stolen in Ruston, Louisiana, and left the group.
June 10, 1933 – Barrow was driving with Jones and Parker near Wellington, Texas when he missed the warning signs for a bridge and lost control of the car, flipping the car into a ravine. Whether it was due to a gasoline fire or battery acid from the car floorboards, history does not know, but Parker’s right-leg sustained third-degree burns, causing the muscles to contract. Her condition was severe, and she sought help from a nearby farm. The three found Buck and Blanche in a tourist court near Ft. Smith, Arkansas where Parker could rest and heal from her injury. Buck and Jones killed Henry D. Humphrey, the Town Marshal of Alma, Arkansas and the group of five were forced to leave their location in Arkansas. Bonnie’s injury was severe. The third-degree burns made Bonnie unable to walk at this point. She was now forced to either hop around on her good leg or be carried by Clyde.
July 1933 – July of 1933 found Bonnie and Clyde’s group at the Red Crown Tourist Center, located near the Red Crown Tavern which was a popular place for Missouri Highway Patrolmen to eat. This sounds like either a spectacularly bad idea or a group that wanted the end to arrive. Blanche went inside to rent two cabins, joined by a garage, and told the owner, Neal Houser, that it was for three people when he could obviously see five people getting out of the car. He also noticed that the car was parked “gangster style,” meaning that they had backed into the garage for a quick getaway. Blanche paid for the two cabins with coins and when she bought dinner, for five and not three, she paid for the dinner with coins as well.
The following day the group gained more attention by having taped newspapers over the windows of the cabin as well as Blanche’s pants, Jodhpur riding breeches, which were quite unusual for women to be wearing at the time. Houser, already suspicious of the group, mentioned the suspicion to one of the patrons of his restaurant who was also a member of the Highway Patrol. As if to make their appearance more noticeable, Clyde and W.D. Jones went to purchase supplies to treat Bonnie’s leg, buying burn treatment items that law enforcement and pharmacies had been warned to keep an eye out for.
At 11:00 p.m. Sherriff Holt Coffey, with reinforcements from Kansas City, and a group of officers with Thompson submachine guns, advanced on the cabins. However, in the dark of the night, the firepower of Barrow’s preferred Browning Automatic Rifles, which had been stolen from the Enid, Oklahoma National Guard armory on July 7, were much stronger than the officer’s guns. Ironically, one of the bullets hit an armored car the officers had brought and short-circuited the horn. The horn sound was perceived by the police officers to be a cease-fire and they didn’t chase after the car fleeing the scene.
After the poor choices made by the gang, and the amazing luck of hitting the horn on the armored car, Clyde’s gang retreated to an abandoned amusement park in Dexter, Iowa. Buck had been hit in the forehead and had a large hole in his forehead exposed skull bone and even part of his brain. Blanche had been injured by flying glass and had glass fragments in both of her eyes. Although Buck was semiconscious, even talking and eating at times, Jones and Clyde dug a grave for him. The camp of five was now severely injured, with Buck semiconscious and dying, Blanche blind with glass fragments in her eyes, Bonnie unable to walk on one leg, and Clyde who had a limp since his prison stint when he had another inmate cut off two of his toes. The only one who was uninjured at this point was Jones and he would have only been 18 or 19 at this time.
July 24, 1933 – Approximately 100 spectators and local lawmen surround the gang in Dexfield Park – Dexter, Iowa. Clyde, Bonnie, and Jones escape. Buck, already with a hole in his forehead from the shoot-out in Missouri, was shot in the back and he and Blanche were captured. Buck died five days later in a hospital in Perry, Iowa due to his head wound and post-surgery pneumonia.
August 20, 1933 – Bonnie, Clyde, and Jones rob an armory in Plattville, Illinois. The theft got the group three BARs, several handguns and ammunition.
September 1933 – The trio arrive in Dallas to visit family and Jones, whose mother has moved to Houston, leaves Bonnie and Clyde to see her.
November 16, 1933 – Jones is arrested in Houston and returned to Dallas. He confesses to police and murder warrants are issued against Clyde.
November 22, 1933 – Arrangements are made near Sowers, Texas for Clyde to visit with family. Dallas’ Sheriff Smoot Schmid and Deputies Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton are waiting nearby. Barrow drives up and senses that law enforcement is close and drives past his family’s car. Schmid and the Deputies begin firing on the moving car with machine guns and a BAR. The family was not hurt but both Bonnie and Clyde are apparently hit by BAR bullets. They escape again that night.
November 28, 1933 – The grand jury in Dallas indicts Bonnie and Clyde both for the murder of Tarrant County Deputy Malcom Davis, dating back to January of 1933. It is the first murder warrant for Parker.
January 16, 1934 – Clyde Barrow goes back to Eastham State Prison and helps Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin, and others escape. During the escape, prison officer Major Joe Crowson is killed. The Texas Department of Corrections contacts Former Texas Ranger Frank A. Hamer to hunt Bonnie and Clyde.
Hamer is retired but his commission has not expired. He worked as a Texas Ranger for 20 years and has the official count of 53 kills (with 17 wounds suffered.) Wikipedia reports that others were approached for the job, but they were reluctant to kill a woman and declined.
April 1, 1934 – Clyde and Henry Methvin kill two highway patrolmen, H.D. Murphy and Edward Bryant in Grapevine, Texas (now Southlake). Although an eyewitness said that Parker and Barrow were the ones who fired the fatal shots, Methvin later admitted that he was the one who began shooting. Methvin also said that Bonnie approached the officers wanting to help them, not to hurt them as was said by the eyewitness. Parker was probably asleep in the backseat when the shooting began.
However, in the Spring of 1934 the killings in Grapevine had been retold in all four of Dallas’ daily papers, exaggerating the accounts of the eyewitness. The farmer was then quoted as saying that Bonnie laughed as Murphy’s head bounced as she shot him, and that the police found a cigar butt with teeth marks which matched Bonnie’s. Murphy’s funeral was later that week and his fiancée wore her wedding dress to the funeral.
The public outcry after this latest event was swift and severe. Highway Patrol boss L.G. Phares offered a $1,000 reward for the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde and Texas Governor Ma Ferguson added an additional $500 for each of the two killers. Bonnie was now seen as not an accomplice of Barrow’s, but just as guilty and as dangerous as he was.
April 6, 1934 – Constable William “Cal” Campbell was killed in Miami, Oklahoma and Commerce, Oklahoma Police Chief Percy Boyd kidnapped. They released him across the state line in Kansas with a clean shirt, some money, and a request from Bonnie to tell the world that “she did not smoke cigars.” Boyd identified both Barrow and Parker, but never heard Methvin’s name. Historian Knight writes: “For the first time, Bonnie was seen as a killer, actually pulling the trigger – just like Clyde. Whatever chance she had for clemency had just been reduced.”
April 13, 1934 – FBI agents get word that Bonnie, Clyde and an unknown man are in the Ruston, Louisiana area. Hamer knows that the Methvin family is close by and has realized that the group’s movements are centered around visits with family. Hamer, the Texas Ranger who had been hunting Bonnie and Clyde since February 12, 1934, had studied the travel patterns of the gang and realized that they traveled in a circle which skirted the edges of states while never really crossing the state line (which explains, to a degree, how they had been able to stay under the FBI radar for so long). Hamer begins to plan for the next time the group will be in Louisiana.
May 21, 1934 – Hamer and his posse are in Shreveport, Louisiana, and learn that there had been a party in Black Lake, Louisiana, which Bonnie, Clyde and some of the Methvin family had attended. Hamer also learns that the group is scheduled to return to the area two days later for a meeting with Methvin in Bienville Parish. Clyde had previously designated the Methvin residence as the meeting place should the gang become separated.
May 23, 1934 – The posse from Texas, Hamer, Dallas County Sheriff Deputies Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton, former Texas Ranger B.M. “Manny” Gault, Sheriff Henderson Jordan of Bienville Parish and Deputy Prentiss Oakley of Bienville Parish prepare for the arrival of Bonnie and Clyde on Louisiana St. Highway 154 south of Gibsland.
At 9:15 a.m., they hear the sound of Clyde’s stolen Ford approaching. The official report, based on the Wikipedia page, says that Methvin’s father had been planted on that road earlier which forced Clyde to drive in the lane which was closer to the posse. The group opened fire on Bonnie and Clyde immediately, with Oakley firing the first, and probably fatal shot into Barrow’s head. Ted Hinton reportedly heard Parker scream as she realized that Clyde was dead before the group turned their guns on her. Hamer’s posse emptied their guns on Bonnie and Clyde’s car, with each member of the posse shooting at least 25 times, but possibly as many as 50 times each.
Bonnie and Clyde’s Death – Newsreel (1934):
Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn have said:
“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.”
The official Bonnie and Clyde coroner report, by Parish Coroner, Dr. J.L. Wade, lists 17 separate entrance shots on Barrow’s body and 26 on Parker’s. It was hard to embalm the bodies due to the many bullet holes. The car, with the bodies still inside, was taken to the Conger Furniture Store & Funeral Parlor in Arcadia, Louisiana. Henry Barrow, Clyde’s father, was there and identified Clyde’s body and then cried in a rocking chair. H.D Darby and Sophia Stone arrived as well. The two had been kidnapped a year earlier by the gang and they were there to identify the bodies.
Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car – On Display at Whiskey Pete’s in Primm, Nevada:
It is reported that when Parker found out that Darby was an undertaker she laughed and said that maybe he would one day have to work on her. Indeed, Darby did help embalm Parker and Barrow. Bonnie died wearing the wedding ring that she had been given by Roy Thornton in 1926 and she had a tattoo on her right thigh with two hearts that were connected, labeled “Bonnie” and “Roy.”
Bonnie and Clyde Funeral & Burial
Although Bonnie and Clyde had expressed the desire to be buried side by side, Bonnie’s family refused. Her brother, Hubert “Buster” Parker accompanied her body from Arcadia back to Dallas. Her funeral was on May 26, 1934 at 2 p.m., in the funeral home. The son of Allen D. Campbell, the man who directed her funeral, is Dr. Allen Campbell who later said that flowers came from everywhere, including from “Pretty Boy Floyd” and John Dillinger, although the largest arrangement came from a group of Dallas city newsboys. Parker’s body was moved in 1945 to the Crown Hill Cemetery in Dallas.
Barrow’s private funeral was on Friday May 25, 1934. Clyde was buried next his brother, Marvin, and the two share a single marker with a phrase that had been chosen by Clyde, “Gone but not forgotten.”