Historical Importance of Bonnie and Clyde: It was during theGreat Depression that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went on their two-year crime spree (1932-1934). The general attitude in the country was against government and Bonnie and Clyde used that to their advantage. With an image closer to Robin Hood rather than mass murderers, Bonnie and Clyde captured the imagination of the nation.
Dates: Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910 — May 23, 1934); Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909 — May 23, 1934)
Also Known As: Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, Clyde Chestnut Barrow, The Barrow Gang
Overview of Bonnie and Clyde:
In some ways it was easy to romanticize Bonnie and Clyde. They were a young couple in love who were out on the open road, running from the “big, bad law” who were “out to get them.” Clyde’s impressive driving skill got the gang out of many close calls, while Bonnie’s poetry won the hearts of many. Although Bonnie and Clyde had killed people, they were equally known for kidnapping policemen who had caught up to them and then driving them around for hours only to release them, unharmed, hundreds of miles away. The two seemed like they were on an adventure, having fun while easily side-stepping the law.
As with any image, the truth behind Bonnie and Clyde was far from their portrayal in the newspapers. Bonnie and Clyde were responsible for 13 murders, some of whom were innocent people, killed during one of Clyde’s many bungled robberies. Bonnie and Clyde lived out of their car, stealing new cars as often as possible, and lived off the money they stole from small grocery stores and gas stations. Sometimes Bonnie and Clyde would rob a bank, but they never managed to walk away with very much money. Bonnie and Clyde were desperate criminals, constantly fearing what they were sure was to come — dying in a hail of bullets from a police ambush.
Background of Bonnie
Bonnie Parker was born on October 1, 1910 in Rowena, Texas as the second of three children to Henry and Emma Parker. The family lived somewhat comfortably off Henry Parker’s job as a bricklayer, but when he died unexpectedly in 1914, Emma Parker moved the family in with her mother in the small town of Cement City, Texas (now part of Dallas).
From all accounts, Bonnie Parker was beautiful. She stood 4′ 11″ and weighed a mere 90 pounds. She did well in school and loved to write poetry. (Two poems that she wrote while on the run helped make her famous.) Bored with her average life, Bonnie dropped out of school at age 16 and married Roy Thornton. The marriage wasn’t a happy one and Roy began to spend a lot of time away from home by 1927. Two years later, Roy was caught for robbery and sentenced to five years in prison. They never divorced.
While Roy was away, Bonnie worked as a waitress; however, she was out of a job just as the Great Depression was really getting started at the end of 1929.
Background of Clyde
Clyde Barrow was born on March 24, 1909 in Telico, Texas as the sixth of eight children to Henry and Cummie Barrow. Clyde’s parents were tenant farmers, often not making enough money to feed their children. During the rough times, Clyde was frequently sent to live with other relatives. When Clyde was 12-years old, his parents gave up tenant farming and moved to West Dallas where Henry opened up a gas station.
At that time, West Dallas was a very rough neighborhood and Clyde fit right in. Clyde and his older brother, Marvin Ivan “Buck” Barrow, were often in trouble with the law for they were frequently stealing things like turkeys and cars. Clyde stood 5′ 7″ and weighed about 130 pounds. He had two serious girlfriends (Anne and Gladys) before he met Bonnie, but he never married.
Bonnie and Clyde Meet
In January 1930, Bonnie and Clyde met at a mutual friend’s house. The attraction was instantaneous. A few weeks after they met, Clyde was sentenced to two years in prison for past crimes. Bonnie was devastated at his arrest. On March 11, 1930, Clyde escaped from jail, using the gun Bonnie had smuggled in to him. A week later he was recaptured and was then to serve a 14-year sentence in the notoriously brutal Eastham Prison Farm near Weldon, Texas.
On April 21, 1930, Clyde arrived at Eastham. Life was unbearable there for him and he became desperate to get out. Hoping that if he was physically incapacitated he might get transferred off of the Eastham farm, he asked a fellow prisoner to chop off some of his toes with an axe. Although the missing two toes did not get him transferred, Clyde was granted an early parole. After Clyde was released from Eastham on February 2, 1932 on crutches, he vowed that he would rather die than ever go back to that horrible place.
Bonnie Becomes a Criminal Too
The easiest way to stay out of Eastham would have been to live a life on the “straight and narrow” (i.e. without crime). However, Clyde was released from prison during the Great Depression, when jobs were not easy to come by. Plus, Clyde had little experience holding down a real job. Not surprisingly, as soon as Clyde’s foot had healed, he was once again robbing and stealing.
On one of Clyde’s first robberies after he was released, Bonnie went with him. The plan was for the Barrow Gang to rob a hardware store. (The members of the Barrow Gang changed often, but at different times included Bonnie and Clyde, Ray Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Buck Barrow, Blanche Barrow, and Henry Methvin.) Although she stayed in the car during the robbery, Bonnie was captured and put in the Kaufman, Texas jail. She was later released for lack of evidence.
While Bonnie was in jail, Clyde and Raymond Hamilton staged another robbery at the end of April 1932. It was supposed to be an easy and quick robbery of a general store, but something went wrong and the store’s owner, John Bucher, was shot and killed.
Bonnie now had a decision to make — would she stay with Clyde and live a life with him on the run or would she leave him and start fresh? Bonnie knew that Clyde had vowed never to go back to prison. She knew that to stay with Clyde meant death to them both very soon. Yet, even with this knowledge, Bonnie decided that she could not leave Clyde and was to remain loyal to him to the end.
On the Lam
For the next two years, Bonne and Clyde drove and robbed across five states: Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana, and New Mexico. They usually stayed close to the border to aid their getaway, using the fact that police at that time could not cross state borders to follow a criminal.
To help them avoid capture, Clyde would change cars frequently (by stealing a new one) and changed license plates even more frequently. Clyde also studied maps and had an uncanny knowledge of every back road. This aided them numerous times when escaping from a close encounter with the law.
What the law did not realize (until W.D. Jones, a member of the Barrow Gang, told them once he was captured) was that Bonnie and Clyde made frequent trips back to Dallas, Texas to see their families. Bonnie had a very close relationship with her mother, whom she insisted on seeing every couple of months, no matter how much danger that put them in. Clyde also would visit frequently with his mother and with his favorite sister, Nell. Visits with family nearly got them killed on several occasions (the police had set up ambushes).
The Apartment With Buck and Blanche
Bonnie and Clyde had almost been on the run for a year when Clyde’s brother Buck was released from Huntsville prison in March 1933. Although Bonnie and Clyde were being hunted by numerous law enforcement agencies (for they had by then committed several murders, robbed a number of banks, stolen numerous cars, and held up dozens of small grocery stores and gas stations), they decided to rent an apartment in Joplin, Missouri to have a reunion with Buck and Buck’s wife, Blanche.
After two weeks of chatting, cooking, and playing cards, Clyde noticed two police cars pull up on April 13, 1933 and a shootout broke out. Blanche, terrified and losing her wits, ran out the front door while screaming.
Having killed one policeman and mortally wounding another, Bonnie, Clyde, Buck, and W.D. Jones made it to the garage, got into their car, and sped away. They picked up Blanche around the corner (she had still been running).
Although the police did not capture Bonnie and Clyde that day, they found a treasure trove of information left in the apartment. Most notably, they found rolls of undeveloped film, which, once developed, revealed the now-famous images of Bonnie and Clyde in various poses, holding guns. Also in the apartment was Bonnie’s first poem, “The Story of Suicide Sal.” The pictures, the poem, and their getaway, all made Bonnie and Clyde more famous.
Bonnie and Clyde continued driving, frequently changing cars, and trying to stay ahead of the law who were getting closer and closer to capturing them. Suddenly, in June 1933 near Wellington, Texas, they had an accident. As they were driving through Texas toward Oklahoma, Clyde realized too late that the bridge he was speeding toward had been closed for repairs. He swerved and the car went down an embankment. Clyde and W.D. Jones made it safely out of the car, but Bonnie remained trapped when the car caught on fire.
Clyde and W.D. could not free Bonnie by themselves; she escaped only with the aid of two local farmers who had stopped to help. Bonnie had been badly burned in the accident and she had a severe injury to one leg.
Being on the run meant no medical care. Bonnie’s injuries were serious enough that her life was in danger. Clyde did the best he could to nurse Bonnie; he also enlisted the aid of Blanche and Billie (Bonnie’s sister) as well. Bonnie did pull through, but her injuries added to the difficulty of being on the run.
Red Crown Tavern and Dexfield Park Ambushes
About a month after the accident, Bonnie and Clyde (plus Buck, Blanche, and W.D. Jones) checked into two cabins at the Red Crown Tavern near Platte City, Missouri. On the night of July 19, 1933, police, having been tipped off by local citizens, surrounded the cabins. This time, the police were better armed and better prepared than during the fight at the apartment in Joplin. At 11 p.m., a policeman banged on one of the cabin doors. Blanche replied, “Just a minute. Let me get dressed.” That gave Clyde enough time to pick up his Browning Automatic Rifle and start shooting.
When the police shot back, it was a massive fusillade. While the others took cover, Buck kept shooting until he was shot in the head. Clyde then gathered everyone up, including Buck, and made a charge for the garage. Once in the car, Clyde and his gang made their escape, with Clyde driving and W.D. Jones firing a machine gun. As the Barrow Gang roared off into the night, the police kept shooting and managed to shoot out two of the car’s tires and shattered one of the car’s windows. The shattered glass severely damaged one of Blanche’s eyes.
Clyde drove through the night and all the next day, only stopping to change bandages and to change tires. When they reached Dexter, Iowa, Clyde and everyone else in the car needed to rest. They stopped at the Dexfield Park recreation area.
Unbeknownst to Bonnie and Clyde and the gang, the police had been alerted to their presence at the campsite by a local farmer who had found bloodied bandages. The local police gathered over a hundred police, National Guardsmen, vigilantes, and local farmers and surrounded the Barrow Gang. On the morning of July 24, 1933, Bonnie noticed the policemen closing in and screamed. This alerted Clyde and W.D. Jones to pick up their guns and start shooting.
So completely outnumbered, it is amazing that any of the Barrow Gang survived the onslaught. Buck, unable to move far, kept shooting. Buck was hit several times while Blanche stayed by his side. Clyde hopped into one of their two cars but he was then shot in the arm and crashed the car into a tree. Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. Jones ended up running and then swimming across a river. As soon as he could, Clyde stole another car from a farm and drove them away.
Buck died from his wounds a few days after the shootout. Blanche was captured while still at Buck’s side. Clyde had been shot four times and Bonnie had been hit by numerous buckshot pellets. W.D. Jones had also received a head wound. After the shootout, W.D. Jones took off from the group, never to return.
Bonnie and Clyde took several months to recuperate, but by November 1933, they were back out robbing and stealing. They now had to be extra careful for they realized that local citizens might now recognize them and turn them in, as they had done at the Red Crown Tavern and Dexfield Park. To avoid public scrutiny, they lived in their car, driving during the day and sleeping in it at night.
Also in November 1933, W.D. Jones was captured and began telling his story to the police. During their interrogations with Jones, the police learned of the close ties that Bonnie and Clyde had with their family. This gave the police a lead. By watching Bonnie and Clyde’s families, the police were able to establish an ambush when Bonnie and Clyde tried to contact them. When the ambush on November 22, 1933 endangered the lives of Bonnie’s mother, Emma Parker, and Clyde’s mother, Cummie Barrow, Clyde became furious. He wanted to retaliate against the lawmen who had put their families in danger, but his family convinced him this would not be a good idea.
Rather than get revenge on the lawmen near Dallas who had threatened the lives of his family, Clyde took revenge on the Eastham Prison Farm. In January 1934, Bonnie and Clyde helped Clyde’s old friend, Raymond Hamilton, break out of Eastham. During the escape, a guard was killed and several extra prisoners hopped into the car with Bonnie and Clyde.
One of these prisoners was Henry Methvin. After the other convicts eventually went their own way, including Raymond Hamilton (who eventually left after a dispute with Clyde), Methvin stayed on with Bonnie and Clyde. The crime spree continued, including the brutal murder of two motorcycle cops, but the end was near. Methvin and his family were to play a role in Bonnie and Clyde’s demise.
The Final Shootout
The police used their knowledge of Bonnie and Clyde to plan their next move. Realizing how tied to family Bonnie and Clyde had become, the police guessed that Bonnie, Clyde, and Henry were on their way to visit Iverson Methvin, Henry Methvin’s father, in May 1934.
When police learned that Henry Methvin had accidentally become separated from Bonnie and Clyde on the evening of May 19, 1934, they realized this was their chance to set up an ambush. Since it was assumed that Bonnie and Clyde would search for Henry at his father’s farm, the police planned an ambush along the road Bonnie and Clyde were expected to travel.
While waiting along Highway 154 between Sailes and Gibsland, Louisiana, the six lawmen who planned to ambush Bonnie and Clyde confiscated Iverson Methvin’s old truck, put it on a car jack, and removed one of its tires. The truck was then strategically placed along the road with the expectation that if Clyde saw Iverson’s car pulled to the side, he would then slow down and investigate.
Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. At approximately 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934, Clyde was driving a tan Ford V-8 down the road when he spotted Iverson’s truck. When he slowed down, the six police officers opened fire. With no advanced warning, Bonnie and Clyde had little time to react. Both Clyde and Bonnie died quickly from over 130 bullets that were fired at the couple. When the shooting ended, the policemen found that the back of Clyde’s head had exploded and part of Bonnie’s right hand had been shot off.
Both Bonnie and Clyde’s bodies were taken back to Dallas where they were put on public view. Large crowds gathered to get a glimpse of the famous pair. Although Bonnie had requested that she be buried with Clyde, they were buried separately in two different cemeteries according to their families’ wishes.