Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910 – May 23, 1934) and Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909 – May 23, 1934) were well-known outlaws, robbers and criminals who traveled the Central United States with their gang during the Great Depression. Their exploits captured the attention of the American public during the "public enemy era" between 1931 and 1934. Though known today for his dozen-or-so bank robberies, Barrow in fact preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. The gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers and committed several civilian murders. The couple themselves were eventually ambushed and killed in Louisiana by law officers. Their reputation was cemented in American pop folklore by Arthur Penn's 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde.
Even during their lifetimes, the couple's depiction in the press was at considerable odds with the hardscrabble reality of their life on the road—particularly in the case of Parker. Though she was present at a hundred or more felonies during her two years as Barrow's companion, she was not the machine gun-wielding cartoon killer portrayed in the newspapers, newsreels and pulpy detective magazines of the day. Gang member W. D. Jones was unsure whether he had ever seen her fire at officers. Parker's reputation as a cigar-smoking gun moll grew out of a playful snapshot found by police at an abandoned hideout, released to the press, and published nationwide; while she did chain-smoke Camel cigarettes, she was not a cigar smoker.
Author-historian Jeff Guinn explains that it was the release of these very photos that put the outlaws on the media map and launched their legend: " John Dillinger had matinee-idol good looks and Pretty Boy Floyd had the best possible nickname, but the Joplin photos introduced new criminal superstars with the most titillating trademark of all—illicit sex. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were young and unmarried. They undoubtedly slept together—after all, the girl smoked cigars.... Without Bonnie, the media outside Texas might have dismissed Clyde as a gun-toting punk, if it ever considered him at all. With her sassy photographs, Bonnie supplied the sex-appeal, the oomph, that allowed the two of them to transcend the small-scale thefts and needless killings that actually comprised their criminal careers.
EnlargeBonnie Parker with 1932 Ford V-8 B-400 convertible sedan. Captured Joplin film.Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in Rowena, Texas, the second of three children. Her father, Charles Parker, a bricklayer, died when Bonnie was four. Her mother, Emma Krause, moved with the children to her parents' home in Cement City, an industrial suburb of Dallas, where she found work as a garment sewer. Parker was one of the best students in her high school, winning top prizes in spelling, writing and public speaking. As an adult, her fondness for writing found expression in poems such as "The Story of Suicide Sal" and "The Trail's End" (known since as "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde").
Parker did not date until she was in her second year of high school, but in that year she fell in love with a classmate, Roy Thornton, whose good looks and smart clothes caught her schoolgirl's eye. The two quit school and were married on September 25, 1926, six days before Parker's sixteenth birthday. Their marriage, marked by his frequent absences and brushes with the law, was short-lived, and after January 1929 their paths never crossed again. But they were never divorced, and Parker was wearing Thornton's wedding ring when she died. Thornton was in prison in 1934 when he learned of his wife's ambush; his reaction was, "I'm glad they went out like they did. It's much better than being caught."
In 1929, between the breakdown of her marriage and her first meeting with Clyde Barrow in January 1930, Parker lived with her mother and worked as a waitress in Dallas; one of her regular customers in the café was postal worker Ted Hinton, who would join the Dallas Sheriff's Department in 1932, and as a posse member would participate in her ambush in 1934. In the diary she kept briefly early in 1929, she wrote of her desperate loneliness, her impatience with life in provincial Dallas, and her love of a newfangled technology — talking pictures.
EnlargeClyde Barrow in 1926, aged 16Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born in Ellis County, Texas, near Telico, a town just south of Dallas. He was the fifth of seven children, from a desperately poor farming family that emigrated, piecemeal, to Dallas in the early 1920s as part of a wave of resettlement from the impoverished nearby farms to the impoverished urban slum known as West Dallas. It was a place of flimsy shanties and tent cities, piles of garbage and teeming open sewers, swarming insects and rampaging epidemics. The Barrows had neither shanty nor tent: they spent their first months living under their wagon. When father Henry had earned enough money to buy a tent, it was a major step up for the family.
Clyde was first arrested in late 1926, after running when police confronted him over a rental car he had failed to return on time. His second arrest, with brother Marvin "Buck" Barrow, came soon after, this time for possession of stolen goods (turkeys). Despite having legitimate jobs during the period 1927 through 1929, he also cracked safes, robbed stores, and stole cars. After sequential arrests in 1928 and 1929, his luck ran out and he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April, 1930. While in prison, he was sexually assaulted repeatedly for over a year by a dominant inmate, whose skull he eventually fractured with a length of pipe. It was Clyde Barrow's first killing.
Paroled in February 1932, Barrow emerged from Eastham a hardened and bitter criminal. His sister Nell remembered a conversation with sister Marie about the new parolee: "There's a new air about him—a funny sort of something I can't put my finger on.... I'm afraid he's not going to go straight." Marie was blunter: "Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn't the same person when he got out." Associate Ralph Fults was there, inside "The Walls" with Barrow, and said he watched him "change from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake."
In his post-Eastham career, he focused on smaller jobs, robbing grocery stores and gas stations, at a rate far outpacing the mere ten to fifteen bank robberies attributed to him and the Barrow Gang. Barrow's favored weapon was the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (called a BAR). According to John Neal Phillips, Barrow's goal in life was not to gain fame or fortune from robbing banks, but to seek revenge against the Texas prison system for the abuses he suffered while serving time.
There are several 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. Parker was out of work and was staying in West Dallas to assist a girlfriend with a broken arm. Barrow dropped by the girl's house while Parker was supposedly in the kitchen making hot chocolate.
When they met, both were smitten immediately; most historians believe Parker joined Barrow 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.
1932: Early jobs, early murdersEdit
EnlargeInstant Legend: Bonnie clowns with cigar and is branded forever as "cigar smoking gun moll" after cops find Joplin filmAfter Barrow was released from prison in February 1932, he and Ralph Fults assembled a rotating core group of associates and began a series of small robberies, primarily of stores and gas stations; their goal was to collect enough money and firepower to launch a raid of liberation against Eastham prison. On April 19, Bonnie Parker and Fults were captured in a failed hardware store burglary in Kaufman, Texas, and subsequently jailed. On April 30, Barrow was the wheelman in a robbery in Hillsboro, Texas, during which the store's owner, J. N. Bucher, was shot and killed. When shown mugshots, the victim's wife identified Barrow as one of the shooters, even though he had stayed outside in the car; it was his first murder accusation. Meanwhile, Parker remained in jail until June 17, writing poetry to while away the time.When the Kaufman County grand jury convened, it declined to indict her, and she was released. Within a few weeks, she reunited with Barrow.
On August 5, while Parker was visiting her mother in Dallas, Barrow, Hamilton and Ross Dyer were drinking alcohol at a country dance in Stringtown, Oklahoma, when Sheriff C.G. Maxwell and his deputy, Eugene C. Moore, approached them in the parking lot. Barrow and Hamilton opened fire, killing the deputy and gravely wounding the sheriff; it was the first killing of a lawman by Barrow and his gang, a total eventually amounting to nine officers killed. Another civilian was added to the list on October 11, when storekeeper Howard Hall was killed during a robbery of his store in Sherman, Texas. The take: twenty-eight dollars and some groceries.
W. D. Jones had been a friend of the Barrow family since childhood, and though he was only 16 years old on Christmas Eve 1932, he persuaded Barrow to let him join up with the pair and ride out of Dallas with them that night. The very next day, Jones was initiated into homicide when he and Barrow killed Doyle Johnson, a young family man, in the process of stealing his car in Temple, Texas. Less than two weeks later, on January 6, 1933, Barrow killed Tarrant County Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis when he, Parker and Jones wandered into a police trap set for another criminal. The total murdered by the gang since April was now five.
1933: Buck joins the gangEdit
EnlargeLife changed for the gang after they shot their way out of Joplin hideout; photos and Bonnie's poem hit papers nationwide.On March 22, 1933, Buck Barrow was granted a full pardon and released from prison. Within days, he and his wife, Blanche, had set up housekeeping with Clyde Barrow, Parker and Jones in a temporary hideout in Joplin, Missouri. According to family sources, Buck and Blanche were there merely to visit, in an attempt to persuade Clyde to surrender to law enforcement. As was common with Bonnie and Clyde, their next brush with the law arose from their generally suspicious—and conspicuous—behavior, not because their identities had been discovered. Beer had just been relegalized after Prohibition, and the group ran loud, hops-fueled card games late into the nights in the quiet neighborhood. "We bought a case of beer a day," Blanche would later recall. The menfolk came and went noisily at all hours, and once, a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) discharged in the apartment while Clyde was cleaning it; the short burst didn't bring any neighbors directly to the house, but at least one registered suspicions with the Joplin Police Department.
Unaware of what awaited them, local lawmen assembled only a two-car, five-man force on April 13 to confront the suspected bootleggers living in the rented apartment over a garage. Though taken by surprise, Clyde, noted for remaining cool under fire, was gaining far more experience in gun battles than most lawmen. He, Jones and Buck quickly killed Detective McGinnis and fatally wounded Constable Harryman before bundling Parker into the car and escaping. They pulled Blanche in off the street, where she was pursuing her fleeing dog, Snow Ball. The surviving officers later testified that their side had fired only fourteen rounds in the conflict, although one of these hit Jones in the side, one struck Clyde and was deflected by his suitcoat button, and one grazed Buck after ricocheting off a wall. EnlargeAlways proud of their arsenal, the gang "shot" it for a posterity they could not have imagined. The gangster is W. D. Jones.The group escaped the police at Joplin, but left most of their possessions at the rented apartment: Buck and Blanche's marriage license, Buck's parole papers (only three weeks old), a large arsenal—and a handwritten poem and camera with several rolls of exposed film. The film was developed at The Joplin Globe and yielded many now-famous photos of Barrow, Parker and Jones clowning and pointing ordnance at one another. When the poem and the photos, including one featuring the poetess clenching a cigar in her teeth and a pistol in her fist, went out on the newly installed newswire, the obscure fivesome from Dallas became front page news across America as The Barrow Gang, fully illustrated and with the rhyming-couplet "Story of 'Suicide Sal'" as a seeming instant backstory.
For the next three months, they ranged from Texas as far north as Minnesota. In May, they robbed banks in Lucerne, Indiana and Okabena, Minnesota. Previously they had kidnapped Dillard Darby and Sophia Stone at Ruston, Louisiana, in the course of stealing Darby's car; this was one of several incidents between 1932 and 1934 in which they kidnapped lawmen or robbery victims, usually releasing them far from home, sometimes with money to help them return. Stories of these encounters made headlines, but so too did the darker encounters. The Barrow Gang would not hesitate to shoot anyone, lawman or civilian, who got in their way. Other members of the Barrow Gang known or thought to have committed murders included Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Buck Barrow and Henry Methvin. Eventually, the cold-bloodedness of the killings would not only sour the public perception of the outlaws, but lead directly to their undoing.
While the photos in the papers might have suggested a glamorous lifestyle for the Barrow Gang, in reality they were desperate and discontented, as noted in the account of their life written by Blanche Barrow while she was in jail through the latter 1930s. With their new fame—some would say notoriety—came difficulty in the smallest tasks of everyday living. Restaurants and tourist courts became less and less of an option; cooking and bathing became campfire and cold-stream propositions.The unrelieved, round-the-clock proximity of life among two couples, plus a fifth-wheel, in one car gave rise to vicious bickering.So unpleasant did it become that W.D. Jones, who was the actual wheelman in the theft of Dillard Darby's car in late April, used that car to get himself separated from the others—and managed to stay separated throughout May and up until June 8.
On June 10, while driving with Jones and Parker near Wellington, Texas, Barrow missed warning signs at a bridge under construction and flipped their car into a ravine. Sources disagree on whether there was an actual gasoline fire or that Parker was doused with acid from the car's battery under the floorboards. What is certain is that she sustained horrific third degree burns to her right leg. The burn was so severe, the muscles contracted and caused the leg to "draw up";near the end of her life, Parker could hardly walk and would either hop on her good leg or be carried by Clyde. After getting help from a nearby farm family and kidnapping two local lawmen, the three outlaws rendezvoused with Blanche and Buck Barrow again and they hid out in a tourist court near Ft. Smith, Arkansas, nursing Parker's grievous burns. Then Buck and Jones bungled a local robbery and killed Town Marshal Henry D. Humphrey in Alma, Arkansas.With the renewed pursuit from the law, they had to flee again, despite the grave condition of Bonnie Parker.
1933: Platte City and Dexfield ParkEdit
EnlargeTwo-unit Red Crown Tourist Court, where outlaws' conspicuous behavior drew the police, a gunfight, and a mortal head wound for Buck Barrow.On July 18, 1933, the gang checked into the Red Crown Tourist Court south of Platte City, Missouri (now within the city limits of Kansas City, Missouri across I-29 from Kansas City International Airport). The Red Crown Court was just two brick cabins joined by garages and the gang rented both. To the south stood the Red Crown Tavern, a popular restaurant and a favorite watering hole for Missouri Highway Patrolmen. Once again, the gang seemed to go out of their way to draw attention to themselves: owner Neal Houser became interested in the group immediately when Blanche Barrow registered the party as three guests, and Houser, out his rear window, could see five people exiting their car—which the driver backed into the garage, "gangster style," for a quick getaway. Blanche paid the lodging tab with coins rather than paper money, and did the same thing again later when she purchased five dinners and five beers for, presumably, three guests. The next day, Houser noticed that his guests had taped newspapers over the windows of their cabin, and Blanche once again paid in silver for five meals. Even Blanche's outfit—saucy, tight jodhpurs riding breeches—attracted undue attention: they were just not the kind of thing the upright women of Platte City would ever wear, and were the first thing mentioned by eyewitnesses reminiscing even forty years later. It was all too much for Houser, who brought the conspicuous group to the attention of his restaurant patron, Captain William Baxter of the Highway Patrol.
When Clyde and Jones 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, 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 Clyde Barrow's preferred Browning Automatic Rifles, stolen July 7 from the National Guard armory at Enid, Oklahoma. The Barrows laid down withering fire and made their escape when a bullet short-circuited the horn on the armored car and the lawmen mistook it for a cease-fire signal. They did not pursue the retreating Barrow automobile. EnlargeWith husband Buck mortally wounded nearby, Blanche Barrow is captured by posse at Dexfield Park, IAEnlargeJones upon capture: his "confession" set legal balls rolling against former mentorsAlthough the gang evaded law enforcement once again, Buck Barrow had sustained a horrific wound in the side of the head and Blanche Barrow was nearly blinded from glass fragments in both her eyes. Their prospects for holding out against the ensuing manhunt dwindled.
Five days later, on July 24, the Barrow Gang was camped at Dexfield Park, an abandoned amusement park near Dexter, Iowa. So plainly mortal was Buck's head wound that Clyde and Jones dug a grave for him. After their bloody bandages were noticed by local citizens, it was determined that the campers were the Barrow gang. 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 again, in the back, and he and his wife were captured by the officers. Buck died five days later, at Kings Daughters Hospital in Perry, Iowa, of pneumonia after surgery.
For the next six weeks, the remaining trio ranged far afield of their usual area of operations—west to Colorado, north to Minnesota, southeast to Mississippi—keeping a low profile and pulling only small robberies for daily-bread money. They restocked their arsenal when Barrow and Jones burglarized an armory at Plattville, Illinois on August 20 and scored three BARs, handguns and lots of ammunition.
By early September, they risked a run back in to Dallas to see their families for the first time in four months, and Jones parted company with them, continuing on to Houston, where his mother had moved. Through the autumn, Barrow executed a series of small-time robberies with a series of small-time local accomplices while his family, and Parker's, attended to her considerable medical needs.
On November 22, 1933, they again narrowly evaded arrest—but not bullets—while attempting to hook up with family members near Sowers, Texas. This time, it was their hometown Sheriff, Dallas's Smoot Schmid and his squad, lying in wait nearby. As Barrow drove up, he sensed a trap and drove right past his family's car, at which point Schmid and his deputies stood up and opened fire with machine guns and a BAR. The family members in the crossfire were not hit, but not so the outlaws: a single BAR slug penetrated the car—and the legs of both Parker and Barrow. The couple made their getaway that night, but the attempted ambush would prove to be a dry run for deputies Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn, who would get another shot at the pair six months hence in Louisiana.
Bonnie Parker crossed an ominous personal threshold the following week when on November 28, a Dallas grand jury delivered a murder indictment on her and Barrow for the January 1933 killing of Tarrant County Deputy Malcolm Davis; it was the first murder warrant issued for Parker.
1934: Final runEdit
On January 16, 1934, Barrow finally made his long-contemplated move against the Texas Department of Corrections as he orchestrated the escape of Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin and several others in the infamous "Eastham Breakout" of 1934. The Texas prison system received national negative publicity from the brazen raid, and Barrow appeared to have achieved what Phillips describes as the burning passion in his life: exacting revenge on the Texas Department of Corrections. EnlargeFormer Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, the Barrow Gang's relentless shadow after the embarrassing Eastham prison breakout.During the jailbreak, escapee Joe Palmer shot prison officer Major Joe Crowson and this act would eventually bring the full power of the Texas and federal governments to bear on the manhunt for Barrow and Parker. As Crowson struggled for life, prison chief Lee Simmons reportedly promised him that all persons involved in the breakout would be hunted down and killed, and all were, except for Henry Methvin, whose life would eventually be exchanged for turning Barrow and Parker over to authorities. The Texas Department of Corrections then contacted former Texas Ranger Captain Frank A. Hamer, and persuaded him to accept an assignment to hunt down the Barrow Gang. Though retired, Hamer had retained his commission, which had not yet expired. He accepted the assignment as a Texas Highway Patrol officer, secondarily assigned to the prison system as a special investigator, and given the specific task of hunting down Bonnie, Clyde and the Barrow Gang.
Frank Hamer was that rara avis, a true legend in his own time. Tall, burly, cryptic and taciturn, unimpressed by authority, driven by an "inflexible adherence to right, or what he thinks is right," for twenty years Hamer had been feared and admired throughout the Lone Star State as "the walking embodiment of the 'One Riot, One Ranger' ethos." In accomplishing the aims of Texas law enforcement he "had acquired a formidable reputation as a result of several spectacular captures and the shooting of a number of Texas criminals." He was officially credited with fifty-three kills (and seventeen wounds to himself). Although prison boss Simmons always said publicly that Hamer had been his first choice for the Barrow hunt, there's evidence he approached two other Rangers first, both of whom had been queasy about shooting a woman and declined; Hamer apparently had no such qualms. Starting February 10, he became the constant shadow of Barrow and Parker, living out of his car, just a town or two behind the bandits. Three of Hamer's brothers were also Texas Rangers, and while brother Harrison was the best shot of the four, Frank was considered the most tenacious.
On April 1, 1934, Easter Sunday, Barrow and Henry Methvin killed two young highway patrolmen, H. D. Murphy and Edward Bryant Wheeler, in an area of Grapevine, Texas now called Southlake. A contemporary eyewitness account stated that Barrow and Parker fired the fatal shots and this story got widespread coverage in the press before it was discredited. Henry Methvin later admitted he fired the first shot, after assuming Barrow wanted the officers killed; he also admitted that Parker approached the dying officers intending to help them, not to administer the cold-blooded point-blank coup de grâce the discredited eyewitness had described. Having little choice once Methvin had shot Wheeler, Barrow then joined in, firing at Patrolman Murphy. Most likely, Parker was asleep in the back seat when Methvin started shooting and took no part in the assault. EnlargeExpensive pickup: Henry Methvin joins the gang after the Eastham breakout; he and his father, Ivy, ultimately prove its undoing.But in the spring of 1934, the reality of the Grapevine killings had far less impact on events than did the public's perception of them: All four Dallas daily papers seized on the story told by the eyewitness, a farmer, who claimed to have seen Parker throw her head back and laugh at the way Patrolman Murphy's head "bounced like a rubber ball" on the ground as she pumped bullets into his prone body. The stories even claimed that police found a cigar butt "with tiny teeth marks" that could only be attributed to the diminutive Parker. Things got worse several days later when Murphy's intended bride walked into his funeral wearing her wedding gown and sparked another round of photo-supported coverage in the papers. The eyewitness's ever-changing story was soon discredited, but not in time for Barrow and Parker: the massive negative publicity, against Parker in particular, accelerated the public clamor for the extermination of the remaining elements of the Barrow Gang.
It was more than just bad press, though—the outcry galvanized the authorities into taking more concrete legal actions. Highway Patrol boss L.G. Phares immediately offered a $1,000 reward for "the dead bodies of the Grapevine slayers"—not their capture, just the bodies. Texas governor Ma Ferguson was as outraged as the voting public, and she added another $500 reward for each of the two alleged killers, which "meant for the first time there was a specific price on Bonnie's head, since she was so widely believed to have shot H.D. Murphy."
Public hostility only increased when, just five days later, Barrow and Methvin killed 60 year-old Constable William "Cal" Campbell, a widower single father, near Commerce, Oklahoma. They kidnapped Commerce police chief Percy Boyd, drove around with him, crossing the state line into Kansas, and then let him out with a clean shirt, a few dollars and a request from Parker to tell the world she didn't smoke cigars. The outlaws didn't realize at their upbeat parting that Boyd would identify both Barrow and Parker to authorities—he never learned the name of the sullen youth who was with them—and when the resultant arrest warrant was issued for the Campbell murder, it specified "Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and John Doe." 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."
The Dallas Journal ran a cartoon on its editorial page showing the Texas electric chair, empty, but with a sign on it saying "Reserved"—for Clyde and Bonnie.
EnlargeGibsland posse. Top: Hinton, Oakley, Gault; seated: Alcorn, Jordan and Hamer.Barrow and Parker were ambushed and killed on May 23, 1934 on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. The couple appeared in daylight in an automobile and were shot by a posse of four Texas officers (Frank Hamer, B.M. "Manny" Gault, Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton) and two Louisiana officers (Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Morel Oakley).
The posse was led by Hamer, who had begun tracking the pair on February 10, 1934. He 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. Barrow was a master of that pre-FBI rule, but he was consistent in his movements, so an experienced manhunter like Hamer could chart his path and predict where he would go. The gang's itinerary centered on family visits, and they were due to see Henry Methvin's family in Louisiana, which explained Hamer's meeting with them over the course of the hunt. Hamer obtained a quantity of civilian Browning Automatic Rifles (manufactured by Colt as the "Monitor") and 20 round magazines with armor piercing rounds. EnlargeThe trail ended here on a desolate road, deep in the piney Louisiana woods.On May 21, 1934, the four posse members from Texas were in Shreveport, Louisiana, when they learned that Barrow and Parker were to go to Bienville Parish that evening with Methvin. Barrow had designated the residence of Methvin's parents as a rendezvous in case they were later separated and indeed Methvin did get separated from the pair in Shreveport. The full posse, consisting of Captain Hamer, Dallas County Sheriff's Deputies Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton (both of whom knew Barrow and Parker by sight), 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 Louisiana State Highway 154 south of Gibsland toward Sailes. Hinton's account has the group in place by 9:00 p.m. on the 21st and waiting through the whole next day (May 22) with no sign of the outlaw couple, but other accounts have them setting up on the evening of the 22nd.
At approximately 9:15 a.m. on May 23, the posse, concealed in the bushes and almost ready to concede defeat, heard Barrow's stolen Ford V8 approaching at a high rate of speed. The posse's official report had Barrow stopping to speak with Henry Methvin's father, planted there with his truck that morning to distract him and force him into the lane closer to the posse. The lawmen then opened fire, killing Barrow and Parker while shooting a combined total of approximately 130 rounds. All accounts of the ambush, including his own, agree that Oakley fired first, and probably before any order was given to do so. Barrow was killed instantly by Oakley's initial head shot, but Parker had a moment to reflect; Hinton reported hearing her scream as she realized Barrow was dead before the shooting at her began in earnest. The officers emptied the specially ordered automatic rifles, as well as other rifles, shotguns and pistols at the car, and any one of many wounds would have been fatal to either of the fugitives. 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." EnlargeSouvenir hunters have ravaged several memorial stones at the rural ambush site.Some today say Bonnie and Clyde were shot more than 50 times, others claim closer to 25 wounds per corpse, or 50 total. Officially, the tally in Parish coroner Dr. J. L. Wade's 1934 report listed seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow's body and twenty-six on Parker's, including several headshots on each, and one that had snapped Barrow's spinal column. So numerous were the bullet holes that undertaker C. F. "Boots" Bailey would have difficulty embalming the bodies because they wouldn't contain the embalming fluid.
Amidst the lingering gunsmoke at the ambush site, the temporarily deafened officers inspected the vehicle and discovered an arsenal of weapons including stolen automatic rifles, sawed-off semi-automatic shotguns, assorted handguns and several thousand rounds of ammunition, along with fifteen sets of license plates from various states.
Word of the ambush quickly got around when Hamer, Jordan, Oakley and Hinton drove to town to telephone their respective bosses. A crowd soon gathered at the spot, and Gault and Alcorn, who were left to guard the bodies, lost control of the jostling curious; one woman cut off bloody locks of Parker's hair and pieces from her dress, which were sold as souvenirs. Hinton returned to find a man trying to cut off Barrow's trigger 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 in controlling the "circus-like atmosphere," and only then did people move away from the car. EnlargePosse suffered deafness for hours after unleashing the thunderous fusilladeThe bullet-riddled Ford containing the two bodies was towed to the Conger Furniture Store & Funeral Parlor on Railroad Avenue in downtown Arcadia across from the Illinois Central train station (which is now a historical museum containing Bonnie and Clyde artifacts.) Preliminary embalming was done by Bailey in the small preparation room in back of the furniture store. It was estimated that the northwest Louisiana town swelled in population from 2,000 to 12,000 within hours, the curious throngs arriving by train, horseback, buggy, and plane. Beer which normally sold for 15 cents a bottle jumped to 25 cents; ham sandwiches quickly sold out. 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.
H.D. Darby, a young undertaker who worked for the McClure Funeral Parlor in nearby Ruston, Louisiana, and Sophia Stone, a home demonstration agent also from Ruston, came to Arcadia to identify the bodies. They had been kidnapped by the Barrow gang the previous year in Ruston and released near Waldo, Arkansas. Parker reportedly had 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.
Funeral and burialEdit
EnlargeBonnie Parker's grave, inscribed with: 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 youBonnie and Clyde wished to be buried side by side, but the Parker family would not allow it. Mrs. Parker 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 Parker's funeral, making it difficult for her family to reach the grave site.
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 with cards allegedly from Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger. The largest floral tribute was sent by a group of Dallas city newsboys; the sudden end of Bonnie and Clyde sold 500,000 newspapers in Dallas alone. Soloists at the funeral included 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. Thousands of people gathered outside both Dallas funeral 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 life insurance policies for both Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow 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 addition to the memorabilia collected by the posse, the six men were each to receive a one-sixth share of the reward money. Dallas Sheriff Schmid had promised Ted Hinton this would total some $26,000, but most of the state, county and other organizations that had pledged reward funds reneged on their pledges; by the time the six checks were issued to the possemen, each had earned just $200.23 for his efforts. EnlargeClyde and Buck Barrow's grave, inscribed with: Gone but not forgottenThe ambush of Barrow and Parker proved to be the beginning of the end of the "public enemy era" of the 1930s. New federal statutes that made bank robbery and kidnapping federal offenses, the growing coordination of local jurisdictions by the FBI—plus the installation of two-way radios in police cars—combined to make the free-ranging outlaw bandit lifestyle much more difficult in the summer of 1934 than it had been just a few months before. Two months after Gibsland, John Dillinger was ambushed and killed on the street in Chicago; three months after that, Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd took 14 FBI bullets in the back in Ohio; and one month after that, Lester "Baby Face Nelson" Gillis shot it out, and lost, in Illinois. Thereafter, the Public Enemies would no longer operate on thin ribbons of gray macadam across America, but only on silver screens throughout the world.
Questions following the ambush were helped along by the tripartite composition of the posse itself: Hamer and Gault were both former Texas Rangers now working for the Texas Department of Corrections, Hinton and Alcorn were employees of the Dallas Sheriff's office, and Jordan and Oakley were Sheriff and Deputy of Bienville Parish. The three duos distrusted each other, kept to themselves, and indeed did not even much like each other. They each carried differing agendas into the operation and brought differing narratives out of it. Historian Guinn puts it this way: Hamer's, Simmons's, Jordan's and Hinton's "various testimonies
- combine into one of the most dazzling displays of deliberate obfuscation in modern history. Such widely varied accounts can't be dismissed as different people honestly recalling the same events different ways. Motive becomes an issue, and they all had reason to lie. Hamer was fanatical about protecting sources. Simmons was interested in resurrecting his own public image.... Jordan wanted to present himself as the critical dealmaker. Nobody can account for Ted Hinton's improbable reminiscences...."
Because their self-serving accounts vary so widely, and because all six men are long deceased, the exact details of the ambush are unknown and unknowable. EnlargeOver a dozen guns and several thousand rounds of ammo (including 100 20-round BAR magazines) were found in the decimated Ford.As a result, the questions have lingered, including whether fair warning was given the fugitives before the firing commenced, the status of Parker as a shoot-on-sight candidate, and the 1970s-era accusations of Deputy Hinton.
Calling a "Halt!"Edit
The efficacy of calling out a warning to Clyde Barrow before an ambush was demonstrated by Dallas Sheriff Schmid at Sowers, Texas in November 1933. At his call of "Halt!" there was a smattering of gunfire from the outlaw car, a sweeping U-turn, and then rapidly vanishing taillights: Ambush over. Hinton later called it "the most futile gesture of the week." So when the two Louisiana officers on the posse assumed that a "Halt!" would be the prelude to the bullets, the four Texans "vetoed the idea," hurrying to inform them that Clyde's history had always been to shoot his way out of seemingly hopeless entrapments, like Platte City, Dexfield Park, and Sowers. It is unlikely that Hamer planned to give any warning, but the matter became moot when Deputy Oakley just stood up and opened fire; after a beat, the startled possemen joined him in the fusillade. In their descriptions of the event, Jordan said he called out to Barrow, Alcorn said Hamer called out, and Hinton claimed Alcorn did, while in another paper that same day, they each said they both did. These conflicting claims most likely were collegial attempts to divert the focus from their gun-jumping associate Oakley, who admitted many times over the years that he fired prematurely.
Warrants on ParkerEdit
Different and disparate sources have cited five occasions when Bonnie Parker fired—or maybe didn't fire—shots during crises faced by the gang. It is unimportant whether it was five times or zero times; her shots never hit anyone and she certainly never killed anyone with her own hand. She was, however, an accomplice to a hundred or more felony criminal actions during her two-year career in crime including eight murders, seven kidnappings, half-a-dozen bank robberies, scores of felony armed robberies, countless automobile thefts, one major jailbreak and an episode of assault and battery this at a time when being a "habitual criminal" was a capital offense in Texas. Because of their far-flung, rural base of operations and will o' the wisp modus operandi, Parker was able to stay a step ahead of the tide of legal paperwork that inevitably follows a crime spree the scope of hers and Barrow's.
This began to change for Parker after Joplin: the Joplin P.D. issued a Wanted for Murder poster in April 1933 that featured her name and photo first, before Barrow's, though the text concentrated on him. In June, another Wanted for Murder poster emerged, this one out of Crawford County, Arkansas, again with Parker's name and photo getting first billing. There was now a $250 cash bounty attached for either of the "Barrow Brothers" (Clyde and "Melvin")—and the admonition to "inquire of your doctors if they have been called to treat a woman that has been burned in a car wreck."
By November 1933, W.D. Jones was in custody and supplying details of the gang's 1933 activities—details which led to the empanelment of a grand jury in Dallas. On November 28, the grand jury indicted Parker, Barrow and Jones for the murder of Deputy Malcolm Davis in January; Judge Nolan G. Williams of Criminal District Court No. 2 issued arrest warrants for Parker and Barrow for murder. Parker's assistance in the raid on Eastham prison in January 1934 earned her the enmity of an even wider group of influential Texans, so when an eyewitness, later completely discredited, linked her to the heinous Grapevine murders, the head of the Highway Patrol, and the Governor herself, placed bounties on Parker's head. Just five days later, Barrow and Henry Methvin killed Constable Campbell in Commerce, Oklahoma, and the murder warrant issued there named "Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and John Doe" as his killers.
In 1979, Ted Hinton's account of the ambush was published posthumously as Ambush, and it attempted to change the complexion of the Methvin family's involvement in the planning and execution of the ambush. According to Hinton, the posse had tied Henry Methvin's father, Ivy, to a tree the previous night, to keep him from possibly warning the outlaws off. Hamer, Hinton claimed, 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 at Grapevine, a pardon which Henry Methvin did eventually receive. Hinton alleged that Hamer made every member of the posse swear they would never divulge this secret. Other accounts, however, place Methvin Senior at the very center of the action that morning, not tied up but right down on the road, waving for Clyde Barrow to stop—having cut Henry's pardon deal several weeks before. John Treherne posits a less sinister explanation: Hamer, he says, may well have floated the tied-to-a-tree scenario to give Ivy Methvin an "alibi" in the event that Barrow escaped the ambush and wanted revenge against a betrayer. Hinton's odd memoir also propounds the tale that the offending stogie in the famous "cigar photo" of Bonnie had in fact been a rose in her mouth that was retouched into a cigar by darkroom personnel at the Joplin Globe while they were preparing the photo for publication. Guinn says that "some people who knew [Hinton] suspect he became delusional late in life."
The smoke from the fusillade had not even cleared before the posse began sifting through the items in the Barrow death car. Hamer appropriated the "considerable" arsenal of stolen guns and ammunition, plus a box of fishing tackle, under the terms of his compensation package with the Texas DOC. In July, Clyde's mother Cumie wrote to Hamer asking for the guns' return: "You don't never want to forget my boy was never tried in no court for murder and no one is guilty until proven guilty by some court so I hope you will answer this letter and also return the guns I am asking for."No record exists of any response.
Alcorn claimed Barrow's saxophone from the car, but feeling guilty, later returned it to the Barrow family. Other personal items such as Parker's clothing were also taken, and when the Parker family asked for them back, they were refused. These items were later sold as souvenirs. A rumored suitcase full of cash was said by the Barrow family to have been kept by Sheriff Jordan, "who soon after the ambush purchased an auction barn and land in Arcadia." Jordan also attempted to keep the death car for his own but found himself the target of a lawsuit by Ruth Warren of Topeka, the car's owner from whom Barrow had stolen it on April 29; after considerable legal sparring and a court order, Jordan relented and Mrs. Warren got her car back in August 1934, still covered with blood and tissue, and with an $85 towing and storage bill. Blanche spent the rest of the 1930s in prison for her four month run with the gang; she weighed just 81 pounds when capturedIn February 1935, Dallas and federal authorities conducted a "harboring trial" in which twenty family members and friends of the outlaw couple were arrested and jailed for the aid and abetment of Barrow and Parker. All twenty either pleaded or were found guilty. The two mothers were jailed for 30 days; other sentences ranged from two years' imprisonment for Raymond Hamilton's brother Floyd to one hour in custody for teenager Marie Barrow, Clyde's sister. Other defendants included Blanche Barrow, W. D. Jones, Henry Methvin and Bonnie's sister Billie.
Blanche Barrow's injuries left her permanently blinded in her left eye. After the 1933 shootout at Dexfield Park, 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 a beautician, 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 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. While she agreed to the original script, she objected to her characterization in the final film, describing Estelle Parsons's 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 December 24, 1988, and was buried in Dallas's Grove Hill Memorial Park under the name "Blanche B. Frasure". problems dogged W.D. Jones until his own murder in 1974Barrow colleagues Raymond Hamilton and Joe Palmer, both Eastham escapees in January 1934, both recaptured, and both subsequently convicted of murder, shared one more thing in common: they were both executed in the electric chair, "Old Sparky," at Huntsville, Texas, and both on the same day: May 10, 1935. Barrow protégé W. D. Jones had split from his mentors six weeks after the three slipped the noose at Dexfield Park in July 1933. He found his way to Houston and got a job picking cotton. He was discovered and captured in short order though, and was returned to Dallas, where he dictated a "confession" in which he claimed to have been kept a prisoner by Barrow and Parker. Some of the more lurid embellishments he made concerned the gang's sex lives, and it was this testimony that gave rise to many of the stories about Barrow's ambiguous sexuality. Jones was convicted of the murder of Doyle Johnson and served a lenient sentence of fifteen years. He struggled for years with substance abuse problems, gave an interview to Playboy during the heyday of excitement surrounding the 1967 movie, and was killed on August 4, 1974 in a misunderstanding by the jealous boyfriend of a woman he was trying to help out.
Substitute protégé Henry Methvin's ambush-earned Texas pardon didn't help him in Oklahoma, where he was convicted of the 1934 murder of Constable Campbell at Commerce. He was paroled in 1942 and killed by a train in 1948; it was said he fell asleep, drunk, on the tracks, but there were rumors he had been pushed by parties seeking revenge for his betrayal of Clyde Barrow.His father Ivy had been killed in 1946 by a hit-and-run driver, and here too there was talk of foul play. Bonnie Parker's husband Roy Thornton was sentenced to five years in prison for burglary in March 1933. He was killed by guards on October 3, 1937, during an escape attempt from Eastham Farm prison.
In the years after the ambush, Prentiss Oakley, who all six possemen agree fired the first shots, was reported to have been troubled by his actions. He often admitted to his friends that he had fired prematurely and he was the only posse member to express regret publicly. He would go on to succeed Henderson Jordan as Bienville Parish sheriff in 1940.
Frank Hamer returned to a quieter life as a freelance security consultant—a strikebreaker—to oil companies, although, according to Guinn, "his reputation suffered somewhat after Gibsland" because many people felt he had not given Barrow and Parker a fair chance to surrender. He made headlines again in 1948 when he and Governor Coke Stevenson unsuccessfully challenged Lyndon Johnson's vote totals during the election for the U.S. Senate. He died in 1955 at age 71 after several years of poor health. His possemate Bob Alcorn died on May 23, 1964—exactly thirty years to the day after the Gibsland ambush.
On April 1, 2011, the 77th anniversary of the Grapevine murders, Texas Rangers, troopers and DPS staff presented the Yellow Rose of Texas commendation to Ella Wheeler-McLeod, 95, the last surviving sibling of highway patrolman Edward Bryan Wheeler, killed that Easter Sunday by the Barrow Gang. They presented McLeod, of San Antonio, with a plaque and framed portrait of her brother.
In the mediaEdit
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were among the first celebrity criminals of the modern era. They had little choice in the matter: after they fled the Joplin hideout in April 1933 with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, the police discovered several rolls of undeveloped film and some scrawled doggerel poetry left behind. It was instant legend: the photos showed the couple and W. D. Jones in playful, snapshot-type poses, except they were wielding pistols, rifles and BARs. In one gag shot, Parker had plucked a cigar from Barrow and popped it in her mouth, branding her as "Clyde's cigar-smoking moll." The poem "Suicide Sal," peppered with quotation marks and colorful underworld vernacular, mirrored the tone of the popular detective magazines of the time. Two days after the raid, the photos and poem went out on the wire and were running in newspapers all over the country. Before Joplin, the Barrows' notoriety had been confined strictly to the Dallas area; afterwards, they became notorious across America.
The high public profile was a mixed blessing. It certainly made life on the run more dangerous and therefore more difficult. There were more nights sleeping in the car and fewer sleeping in motor courts; picking up laundry at cleaning stores was particularly harrowing. As the noose tightened, Parker composed the fatalistic poem she titled "The Trail's End," known since as "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde." She gave the handwritten ode to her mother upon their final meeting two weeks before her death and Emma Parker gave it to the press thereafter.
Six weeks before the couple was ambushed, a letter purportedly written by Barrow arrived at the office of Henry Ford praising his "dandy car." Although the handwriting does not match known samples of Clyde's penmanship, and despite the fact the letter was signed by "Clyde Champion Barrow" while Barrow's middle name was Chestnut, the unauthenticated letter is on display in the Ford Museum. It was never used in any form in Ford advertising, nor was a similar letter Ford received around the same time from someone claiming to be John Dillinger, himself ambushed just two months after Barrow. By 1967's Summer of Love, Penn's film gave the outlaws a new image for a new generation who had no personal recollection of the historical couple's bloody exploits some 33 years earlier. Every year near the anniversary of the ambush, a "Bonnie and Clyde Festival" is hosted in the town of Gibsland, off Interstate 20 in Bienville Parish. The ambush location, still comparatively isolated on Louisiana Highway 154, south of Gibsland, is commemorated by a stone marker that has been defaced to near illegibility by souvenir hunters and gunshot. A small metal version was added to accompany the stone monument. It was stolen, as was its replacement.
Through the decades, many cultural historians have analyzed Bonnie's and Clyde's enduring appeal to the public imagination. E.R. Milner, an historian, writer, and expert on Bonnie and Clyde and their era, put the duo's enduring appeal to the public, both during the Depression and continuing on through the decades, into historical and cultural perspective. To those people who, as Milner says, "consider themselves outsiders, or oppose the existing system," Bonnie and Clyde represent the ultimate outsiders, revolting against an uncaring system. "The country’s money simply declined by 38 percent", explains Milner, author of The Lives and Times of Bonnie and Clyde. "Gaunt, dazed men roamed the city streets seeking jobs... Breadlines and soup kitchens became jammed. (In rural areas) foreclosures forced more than 38 percent of farmers from their lands (while simultaneously) a catastrophic drought struck the Great Plains... By the time Bonnie and Clyde became well known, many had felt the capitalistic system had been abused by big business and government officials... Now here were Bonnie and Clyde striking back."