Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bonnie & Clyde - 80 Years Later!

Bonnie and Clyde

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the deaths of the notorious crime duo Bonnie and Clyde in 1934.

And since a few folks have written to ask about the "two lovebirds," who in my book were just a couple of common killers, I figured I'd take a whack at finding facts that most of us don't know about Bonnie and Clyde.

Most know that Clyde Champion Barrow and his companion, Bonnie Parker, were shot to death in an ambush.

But while I thought they were killed in Texas for some reason, I was surprised to find out that officers shot them in an ambush near Sailes, Bienville Parish, Louisiana, on May 23, 1934.

All in all, it was the climax to one of the most colorful and spectacular manhunts the nation had seen up to that time.

Clyde Barrow was suspected of numerous killings and was wanted for murder, robbery, and state charges of kidnapping.

According to the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), then called the Bureau of Investigation, became interested in Barrow and his paramour late in December 1932 through a singular bit of evidence.

A Ford automobile, which had been stolen in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, was found abandoned near Jackson, Michigan in September of that year.

At Pawhuska, it was learned another Ford car had been abandoned there which had been stolen in Illinois. A search of this car revealed it had been occupied by a man and a woman, indicated by abandoned articles therein.

In the car was found a prescription bottle, which led special agents to a drug store in Nacogdoches, Texas, where investigation disclosed the woman for whom the prescription had been filled was Clyde Barrow's aunt.

Further investigation revealed that the woman who obtained the prescription had been visited recently by Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde's brother, L. C. Barrow.

It also was learned that these three were driving a Ford car, identified as the one stolen in Illinois.

And yes, it was further shown that L. C. Barrow had secured the empty prescription bottle from a son of the woman who had originally obtained it.

On May 20, 1933, the United States Commissioner at Dallas, Texas, issued a warrant against Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, charging them with the interstate transportation, from Dallas to Oklahoma, of the automobile stolen in Illinois.

And yes, that's how the two fell under the radar of the FBI. It was that which enabled the FBI to then start its hunt for the pair.

One of the things most people don't know is that both Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were short - very short even by standards of folks back then.

Bonnie Parker was only 4’11″ when the average height for women was already 5'3".

Clyde Barrow was between 5'3" and 5’4,″ about as short as actor Tom Cruise, at a time when the average height for men was 5’8″.

Of course as Hollywood does very often, they got that wrong as well when they used a 5'7" Faye Dunaway and a 6'2" Warren Beatty to play Bonnie and Clyde in the famous 1967 film.

Although Barrow and Parker claimed to be married, Bonnie Parker remained legally married to her first husband, Roy Thornton.

In fact, at the time when they first met, Bonnie Parker was 19 years old and still married to her imprisoned murderer husband Roy Thornton.

While it is noted that Bonnie Parker was an honor student, and a self-proclaimed poet, her life of crime as one of America’s most wanted didn’t stifle those interests.

Shortly before her death, it is said Parker wrote a poem called “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” which was published in several newspapers and immortalized their tale.

Of course, there is a bit of irony there as well, because on the day she died, she still wore Roy's wedding ring and bore a tattoo on her knee with intertwined hearts and their names "Bonnie and Roy".

Clyde Barrow was 21 and never married. Some have actually reported that Clyde was queer. The term "Gay" was not yet used for homosexuals in those days.

As far as that goes, some report that Bonnie was bisexual but preferred the company of woman, and like Clyde was supposedly a sadist. Yes, as with many people in that lifestyle, inflicting pain is part of their gaining sexual pleasure.

Often described as "short and scrawny", Clyde liked to wear a hat to make him look taller.

Both were also crippled during their lives.

Clyde walked with a pronounced limp because in 1932 the idiot actually hacked off his left big toe and part of a second toe just to get a transfer out of the notoriously tough Eastham Prison Farm in Texas.

It's said that the supposed tough guy was not so tough in prison.

Bonnie's left leg was badly injured in a car accident the same year, 1932.

Supposedly she was trapped in the car when it burst into flames. Battery acid burned her left leg down to the bone.

She could barely walk for the last 18 months of her life, and in fact hopped everywhere for a while.

Their lives certainly weren't glamorous either, spending night after night sleeping in the back of a stolen car hidden deep in the woods and eating cold pork and beans from a tin.

Even as bank robbers, most law enforcement experts agree that they were really just bunglers.

Bonnie and Clyde mainly committed "nickel and dime robberies" from "mom and pop" grocery stores and service stations, stealing between $5 and $10 from hardworking people struggling to survive the Depression and the Dust Bowl drought that devastated America's farming heartland.

It is commonly known that the young gangsters tore across the American Southwest during the Great Depression, leaving a trail of robberies and murders.

Another thing that folks might not know about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is that they met in Texas in January, 1930.

But soon after their meeting, Barrow was arrested for a burglary and sent to jail. He escaped, using a gun Parker had smuggled to him, was recaptured and was sent back to prison.

Two years later, Barrow was paroled in February 1932 and rejoined Parker to resume a life of crime.

Of course in addition to the automobile theft charge, they were suspects in other crimes as well.

Later in 1932, the same year Barrow gets out of prison, he and Parker began traveling with Raymond Hamilton who was a known gunman.

Hamilton left them several months later and was replaced by William Daniel Jones in November 1932.

The next year, Ivan M. "Buck" Barrow, brother of Clyde, was released from the Texas State Prison on March 23, 1933, having been granted a full pardon by the governor.

He quickly joined his brother Clyde, bringing his wife Blanche along. The gang now numbered five persons.

They then embarked upon a series of bold robberies which made headlines across the country.

They escaped capture in various encounters with the law. However, their activities made law enforcement efforts to apprehend them even more intense.

During a shootout with police in Iowa on July 29, 1933, Buck Barrow was fatally wounded and Blanche was captured. Jones, who was frequently mistaken for "Pretty Boy" Floyd, was captured in November 1933 in Houston, Texas by the sheriff's office. Bonnie and Clyde went on together.

On November 22, 1933, a trap was set by the Dallas, Texas sheriff and his deputies in an attempt to capture Parker and Barrow near Grand Prairie, Texas, but the couple escaped the officer's gunfire.

They held up an attorney on the highway and took his car, which they abandoned at Miami, Oklahoma.

On December 21, 1933, Parker and Barrow held up and robbed a citizen at Shreveport, Louisiana.

On January 16, 1934, five prisoners, including Raymond Hamilton, who was serving sentences totaling more than 200 years, were busted out of the Eastham State Prison Farm at Waldo, Texas by Clyde Barrow who was accompanied by Bonnie Parker.

Two guards were shot dead by the escaping prisoner who used pistols which had been previously concealed in a ditch by Barrow.

As the prisoners ran, Barrow covered their retreat with bursts of machine-gun fire. Among the escapees was Henry Methvin of Louisiana.

On April 1, 1934, Parker and Barrow encountered two young highway patrolmen near Grapevine, Texas.

Before the officers could draw their guns, they were shot.

On April 6, 1934, a constable at Miami, Oklahoma was senselessly killed by Parker and Barrow - who also abducted a police chief, who they also wounded.

The FBI had jurisdiction solely on the charge of transporting a stolen automobile, although the activities of the Bureau agents were vigorous and ceaseless as every clue is said to have been followed.

"Wanted notices" furnishing fingerprints, photograph, description, criminal record, and other data were distributed to all officers.

The agents followed the trail through many states and into various haunts of the Barrow gang, particularly Louisiana.

The association with Henry Methvin and the Methvin family of Louisiana was discovered by FBI agents, and they found that Parker and Barrow had been driving a car stolen in New Orleans.

On April 13, 1934, an FBI agent, through investigation in the vicinity of Ruston, Louisiana, obtained information which definitely placed Bonnie and Clyde in a remote section southwest of that community.

The home of the Methvins was not far away, and the agent learned of visits there by Bonnie and Clyde.

Special agents in Texas had learned that Barrow and his companion had been traveling from Texas to Louisiana, sometimes accompanied by Henry Methvin.

The FBI and local law enforcement authorities in Louisiana and Texas concentrated on apprehending Parker and Barrow, whom they strongly believed to be in the area.

It was learned that Parker and Barrow, with some of the Methvins, had staged a party at Black Lake, Louisiana on the night of May 21, 1934 and were due to return to the area two days later.

Before dawn on May 23, 1934, a posse composed of police officers from Louisiana and Texas, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, concealed themselves in bushes along the highway near Sailes, Louisiana.

In the early daylight, Parker and Barrow approached in an automobile, when they attempted to drive away, the officers opened fire.

The two small-time Depression-era bank robbers and murders named Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow died on a lonely road outside Gibsland, Louisiana.

They were killed by a 16-second hail of 187 automatic rifle and shotgun rounds, fired at their Ford V8 sedan.

Most believe that the murderous couple of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed instantly, but that's not quite true.

Bonnie was only wounded and began screaming.

She was supposedly screaming so terribly that former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer fired two more shots into the 23-year old at close range just to put her out of her misery.

"I hate to bust the cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down," the legendary Frank Hamer said afterwards. "But if it wouldn't have been her, it would have been us."

Their bodies were riddled with 25 bullets each.

During their life, it is said that Parker and Barrow remained close to their families even while on the run.

In fact, it was their predictable pattern of stopping to visit family that aided the team of Texas Rangers and deputies who ambushed and killed them.

At the time they were killed in 1934, they were believed to have committed 13 murders and several robberies and burglaries.

Barrow, for example, was suspected of murdering two police officers at Joplin, Missouri and kidnapping a man and a woman in rural Louisiana. He released them near Waldo, Texas.

Numerous sightings followed, linking this pair with bank robberies and automobile thefts.

For those who say that those two freaks of nature were not killers, here's a short list of the one's known perpetrated by the two:

They murdered a man in Hillsboro, Texas; committed robberies in Lufkin and Dallas, Texas; murdered one sheriff and wounded another in Stringtown, Oklahoma; kidnapped a deputy in Carlsbad, New Mexico; stole an automobile in Victoria, Texas; attempted to murder a deputy in Wharton, Texas; committed murder and robbery in Abilene and Sherman, Texas; committed murder in Dallas, Texas; abducted a sheriff and the chief of police in Wellington, Texas; and committed murder in Joplin and Columbia, Missouri.

The pair attained such notoriety that hordes of people flocked to the scene of their death and later to the coroner’s to retrieve "souvenirs."

It's true. When three of the posse left to collect the local coroner, the remaining three allowed souvenir-hunters to swarm over the car.

Some attempted to cut off Barrow’s ear, while others took snippets of Parker’s blood-soaked dress, locks of her hair, and even shattered car window glass.

One man offered Barrow’s father over $30,000 for Barrow’s body—the equivalent of over $600,000 today.

One man tried to cut off Clyde's finger with a pocket knife; another attempted to cut off his left ear. 

When coroner J.L.Wade arrived, he recalled: "Nearly everyone had begun collecting souvenirs, such as shell casings and slivers of glass from the shattered car windows."

Wade asked Hamer to control the crowd, and ensure that the car, complete with the bodies, was taken intact to the local town of Arcadia.

But the freak show didn't end there.

After the four-door saloon had been towed back to the Conger Furniture Store and Funeral Parlour in Arcadia, and the bodies laid out for examination, the coroner allowed sightseers to view the remains.

Within 12 hours, the town's population had ballooned from just 2,000 to an estimated 12,000, with spectators travelling across the state to see the grisly remains of Bonnie and Clyde - and the price of beer in local bars doubled in price as a result.

But it wasn't just the public who were fascinated by the death of these two outlaws, even the lawmen who shot them also wanted their piece of history.

Hamer and his men took the arsenal of machine guns, rifles and pistols they found in the car, as well as the 15 false number plates that Clyde used to confuse his pursuers.

All were later sold as souvenirs.

And yes, even Bonnie Parker's clothes and saxophone which had also been in the Ford were taken by the lawmen as well.

When her family asked for them to be returned, their request was refused. Fact is, they were already sold as souvenirs.

Even the Bonnie and Clyde "Death Car", as it became known as, became the subject of a bitter battle.

Although it had originally been stolen by Bonnie and Clyde from Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas, the local Parish Sheriff in Arcadia, Henderson Jordan, a member of Hamer's six-man posse, claimed it as his own.

Ms Warren hired a lawyer to reclaim it and within weeks was renting out the car to Charles W. Stanley, who called himself "The Crime Doctor".

He took it around the country to help plug his popular crime lectures.

Stanley made a fortune out of the fame of Bonnie and Clyde -- a fame that was fanned by their funerals.

After the bodies had been transported to Dallas, where their families lived, the funeral directors there put on quite a show.

Ten thousand people -- many of them drunk -- turned up to see Clyde Barrow's body before the Dallas police were called to disperse the crowd.

Bonnie Parker's mother, Emma, estimated that 20,000 people filed past her open casket - although for the most part they remained orderly.

Supposedly both Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger sent flowers.

Amidst all the hype and hoopla, one truth remains, they became more myth than reality.

The myth that has surrounded Bonnie and Clyde since that fateful morning 80 years ago bears little resemblance to reality.

Bonnie Parker

The pictures of Bonnie Parker with a cigar between her teeth, beret on her head and a pistol in her hand, swept across the U.S, earning her the sobriquet: The Cigar-Smoking Gun Moll.

That picture made her and Clyde Barrow as famous as baseball player Babe Ruth or film star Mary Pickford.

In reality, Parker didn't smoke cigars and is said to have only fired a shot or two in the murders they committed.

As for that picture, Clyde Barrow had mocked up the photograph to sustain their myth as glamorous gangsters.

This shouldn't surprise anyone since newspapers at the time attempted to glamorize both Clyde Barrow and his so-called "gunwoman" or "gun-moll" Bonnie Parker as some sort of "rebels" and "notorious desperadoes".

Very seldom did newspapers refer to them as "dangerous killers." so the following six facts might surprise you.

They were on a crime spree just a little over 2 years, yet almost eighty years later, the curious can still see "Bonnie and Clyde’s" bullet-ridden death car on display at the Crime & Punishment Museum in Washington D.C.

It is interesting to note that a few months before being shot to death in 1934, Clyde Barrows wrote Henry Ford a letter of endorsement stating:


"I have drove fords exclusively when I could get away with one. It has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8″.

Now as for people writing to tell me that the two petty thieves and murderers were their relatives and that I shouldn't talk about them this way, by calling them cold blooded murderers, pathetic sadists, or queers and such -- I can only say that any indignation is out weighed by the letters I receive from the families of their victims who met their end by being senselessly killed by the two.

I think its amazing how even 80 years later, there will be someone out there who will try to justify the actions of those two killers by saying that "the times were tough" or that there was no work to be found and other excuses.

Yes, it was tough times, but we should all remember that killers like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were freaks of nature in a time when the vast majority of the population in America were law abiding citizens simply trying to make it during hard times.

No they were not the norm. They didn't even come close to being anything close to being normal. So much were they seen as freaks, that there was actually a traveling Freak Show which tried to exploit the antics of murderous couple.

This "Crime Wave" Bonnie and Clyde banner was originally found by noted freak show banner expert, Bruce Webb.

He found the banner in Kansas City, Missouri, nearly two decades ago inside a barn. He professionally unwrapped the piece, and produced what you see now.


The banner has been on exhibit  in a freak show banner display held at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Texas. 

Fact is that's really were such freaks of nature belong -- in a freak show exhibit.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa

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