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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

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Bonnie and Clyde

A Brief Look At The History of Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910 -- May 23, 1934)
 Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909 -- May 23, 1934)

It was during the Great Depression that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went on their two-year crime spree (1932-1934). The general attitude in the United States was against government and Bonnie and Clyde used that to their advantage. With an image closer to Robin Hood rather than dangerous criminals, Bonnie and Clyde captured the imagination of the nation. 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.

Of course, myth is rarely close to reality. The myth promotes the idea of a romantic couple in stylish clothes who broke the bonds of convention and became a threat to the status quo, who didn't fear the police and lived a life of glamorous luxury outrunning them. The reality was somewhat different. Sometimes incompetent, often careless, Bonnie and Clyde and the Barrow gang lived a hard, uneasy life punctuated by narrow escapes, bungled robberies, injury, and murder. They became one of the first outlaw media stars after some photos of them fooling around with guns were found by police, and the myth-making machine began to work its transformative magic. Soon fame would turn sour and their lives end in a bloody police ambush, but their dramatic and untimely end would only add luster to their legend.

While the longevity of the story of Bonnie and Clyde may be more of a testament to the power of myth and media than to the couple’s actual attributes, there is no question that their story continues to fascinate writers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers. 

Let's first take a look at who they were early in their youth and how this famous couple became so famous.

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 which is now part of Dallas.

Little Bonnie Parker also loved music growing up in west Texas, and she also loved the stage. She performed in school pageants and talent shows, singing Broadway hits or country favorites. Bright and pretty, she told friends that they would see her name in lights one day. She was a big movie fan and imagined a future for herself on the silver screen. During her school days, Bonnie excelled at creative writing and penning verses. 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. Bored with her average life, Bonnie dropped out of school at age 16 and married Roy Thornton. He was a handsome classmate at her school in Dallas. The decision to marry was not hard for the young girl to make; her father was dead, her mother worked a hard job at a factory, and Bonnie herself had little prospect of doing much else but waiting tables or working as a maid. Marriage seemed like a way out.

However, the marriage was a disaster. Unbeknownst to Bonnie, Roy was a thief and a cheat; she referred to him later as a “roaming husband with a roaming mind.” He would disappear for long periods of time, and when he returned he would be drunk and abusive. Bonnie took to sleeping at her mother’s. Eventually, one of Roy’s schemes backfired, and he ended up with a five-year sentence for robbery. He was still in prison when he heard of his wife’s death in the company of Clyde Barrow.

Bonnie Parker died with her wedding ring still on her finger. Divorce was not really an option for a known fugitive.  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. 

Her poetry would end up sticking with her.While she was imprisoned in 1932 after a failed hardware store burglary, she penned a collection of 10 odes that she entitled “Poetry from Life’s Other Side,” which included “The Story of Suicide Sal,” a poem about an innocent country girl lured by her boyfriend into a life a crime. Two weeks before her death, Bonnie gave a prescient poem to her mother entitled “The Trail’s End” that finished with the verse:

Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side,
To a few it’ll be grief—
To the law a relief—
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde

It should also be noted that although we see her with one in photos, Bonnie was not a fan of cigars. The most famous picture of Bonnie Parker shows her holding a pistol, her foot up on the bumper of a Ford, a cigar clamped in her mouth like Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar. This is part of a collection of comic photographs were taken clearly for Bonnie and Clyde’s own amusement. They were found on undeveloped film that was abandoned at the gang’s Missouri hideout when police attacked the house. In one picture, Bonnie points a rifle at Clyde’s chest, as he half surrenders with a smile on his face; another picture shows Clyde kissing Bonnie in exaggerated movie-star fashion.

These photographs, as well as Bonnie’s poems, also found at the hideout, were largely responsible for making Bonnie and Clyde famous. Newspapers all over the country reprinted the cigar picture. All evidence shows, however, that Bonnie was a cigarette smoker like Clyde . The mythic image of Bonnie as a mean mama puffing away on a stogie is just that: an image. On the other hand, Bonnie liked to drink whiskey, and several eyewitnesses from the time remember seeing her drunk. Clyde shied away from alcohol, feeling that it was important for him to be alert in case they needed to make a fast getaway.

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. 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.

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 that Clyde fit right into. Clyde and his older brother, Marvin Ivan "Buck" Barrow, were often in trouble with the law. They would frequently steal things like turkeys and cars. Clyde stood 5' 7" and weighed about 130 pounds. He had two serious girlfriends before he met Bonnie, but he never married.

As a boy born into the family of a poor farmer, Clyde “Bud” Barrow’s great love was music. Bud loved to sing and play an old guitar on the farm. He taught himself how to play the saxophone, and it seemed as if he might pursue a career in music. Influenced negatively by his older brother Buck as well as a shady friend of the family, however, it wasn’t long before young Bud’s interests turned from playing songs to stealing cars.

The notorious criminal was first arrested in 1926 for automobile theft after failing to return a car he had rented in Dallas to visit an estranged high school girlfriend. The rental car agency dropped the charges, but the incident had remained on Clyde’s arrest record.A mere three weeks later, he was arrested again alongside his older brother Ivan “Buck” Barrow for another crime—possession of a truckload of stolen turkeys.

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. Clyde only served a year and a half of his sentence thanks to his mother, whose pleas to the governor of Texas resulted in Clyde’s parole. In those seventeen months, however, Clyde had been starved, violently abused by guards, and raped repeatedly by another prisoner (who he eventually stabbed to death, with one of Clyde's “lifer” friends accepting responsibility for it). 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.

The easiest way to stay out of Eastham would have been to live a life on the "straight and narrow" . 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.

Movies and TV have tended to portray Bonnie and Clyde as habitual bank robbers who terrorized financial institutions throughout the Midwest and South. This is far from the case. In the four active years of the Barrow gang, they robbed less than 15 banks, some of them more than once. Despite the effort, they usually got away with very little, in one case as little as $80. The few successful bank robberies associated with Bonnie and Clyde were mostly committed by Clyde and criminal associate Raymond Hamilton. Bonnie would sometimes drive the getaway car, but often she was not involved at all, staying at a hideout while the rest of the gang robbed the bank.

Banks were a complicated proposition for Bonnie and Clyde, and when they were on their own, they rarely attempted bank jobs. They more commonly robbed small grocery stores and gas stations, where the risk was lower and the getaways easier. Unfortunately, the “take” from these kinds of robberies was also usually low, which meant they had to perform robberies more often just to have enough money to get by. The frequency of these robberies made Bonnie and Clyde easier to track, and they found it more and more difficult to settle anywhere for very long.

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.

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. On the run constantly, Bonnie and Clyde could never rest easily; there was always a chance that someone would become aware of their presence, notify the police, and create the opportunity for bloodshed. This happened over and over through their short and violent career—violent because, once cornered, Clyde would kill anyone in order to avoid capture and a return to prison. Fourteen lawmen died along the way. If it were possible, however, Clyde would more often abduct someone, make a getaway, and then release the person somewhere down the line. In more than one instance, he gave the unharmed kidnapped victim money to get back home.

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 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 as 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.

On the night of June 10, 1933, Clyde, with Bonnie in the passenger seat, was speeding along the rural roads near Wellington, Texas so quickly that he missed a detour sign warning of a bridge under construction. The duo’s Ford V-8 smashed through a barricade at 70 miles per hour and sailed through the air before landing in a dry riverbed. Scalding acid poured out of the smashed car battery and severely burned Bonnie’s right leg, eating away at her flesh down to the bone in some places. 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. Being on the run meant no medical care. Clyde did the best he could to nurse Bonnie; he also enlisted the aid of Blanche and Bonnie's sister, Billie as well. Bonnie did pull through, but her injuries added to the difficulty of being on the run. As a result of the third-degree burns, Bonnie, like Clyde, walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of her life, and she had such difficulty walking that at times she hopped or needed Clyde to carry her.

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 now realized that local citizens might 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. 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.
Unlike many of their contemporaries in the criminal world, Clyde and Bonnie were not lone wolves depending only on each other and a small group of like-minded criminals. They both had devoted families who stuck by them through their worst times, and they constantly made every effort to stay in touch with and support their relatives.

Bonnie and Clyde made frequent trips back to the West Dallas area, where their families lived, throughout their criminal career. Sometimes they would return for visits multiple times in one month. Clyde’s standard method was to drive quickly past his parents' house and throw a Coke bottle with a note out of his car window; his mother or father would recover the bottle, which contained directions on where to meet outside of town. Although the parents initially didn’t like each other, they learned to cooperate by speaking in code on the telephone and arranging rendezvous.

When Bonnie and Clyde had money, their families benefited from their largesse; when they were struggling, wounded or destitute, their families helped them with clean clothes and small amounts of money. At the time of his death, Clyde was attempting to purchase land for his mother and father in Louisiana. Eventually, several members of the Barrow family would serve short jail terms for aiding and abetting their famous relatives.

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 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.

Ironically, Bonnie and Clyde’s devotion to family would be their undoing. Barrow gang member Henry Methvin seemed to share a similar devotion to his family. Clyde and Bonnie took this as evidence of Henry's trustworthiness and did all they could to make sure he saw his own family as often as possible. Henry, however, conspired with his father to betray Bonnie and Clyde by alerting the police to their whereabouts in return for his own pardon. It was on a trip to pick up Henry from his father’s house that Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed.

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.

A six-man posse led by former Texas Ranger captain Frank Hamer ambushed Bonnie and Clyde. The lawmen had used Iverson Methvin's old truck, put it on a car jack, and removed one of its tires as a trap. 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. With acrid gunsmoke still lingering in the air, gawkers descended upon the ambush site and attempted to leave with macabre souvenirs from the bodies of the outlaws still slumped in the front seat. According to Jeff Guinn’s book “Go Down Together,” one man tried to cut off Clyde’s ear with a pocket knife and another attempted to sever his trigger finger before the lawmen intervened. One person in the throng however managed to clip locks of Bonnie’s hair and swathes of her blood-soaked dress. The coroner’s report detailed 17 holes in Clyde’s body and 26 holes in Bonnie’s body. Unofficially, there may have been many more. C.B. Bailey, the undertaker assigned to preserving the bodies for the funerals, found that the bodies had so many holes in them in so many different places that it was difficult to keep embalming fluid in them. Assisting Bailey was a man named Dillard Darby, who had been kidnapped by the Barrow gang a year earlier after his car had been stolen by them and he’d tried to retrieve it. At the time, Bonnie was morbidly tickled to discover that the man they’d kidnapped was an undertaker, and she asked Darby to take care of the gang’s mortuary needs in the future. Little did Clyde and Bonnie know when they gave Darby five dollars and released him that day that he would indeed attend to them after death.

Following the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde, a Louisiana sheriff who was a member of Hamer’s six-man posse claimed the pockmarked Ford V-8 sedan, still coated with the outlaws’ blood and tissue. A federal judge, however, ruled that the automobile stolen by Bonnie and Clyde should return to its former owner, Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas. Warren leased and eventually sold the car to Charles Stanley, an anti-crime lecturer who toured fairgrounds with the “death car” and the mothers of Bonnie and Clyde in tow as sideshow attractions. Still speckled with bullet holes, the “death car” is now an attraction in the lobby of Whiskey Pete’s Casino in Primm, Nevada, a small resort town on the California border 40 miles south of Las Vegas.

Although linked in life, Bonnie and Clyde were split in death. While the pair wished to be buried side-by-side, Bonnie’s mother, who had disapproved of her relationship with Clyde, had her daughter buried in a separate Dallas cemetery. Clyde was buried next to his brother Marvin underneath a gravestone with his hand-picked epitaph: “Gone but not forgotten.”

As far as the weaponry used by this duo and their gang the following was found in the V-8 the morning of the famous end of Bonnie and Clyde. The most famous firearm of the 1930s was without a doubt the Thompson submachine gun. While it was favored by many of the famous gangsters, Clyde Barrow was known to prefer the .30-06 Browning Automatic Rifle, a much more powerful gun capable of powering through walls, bullet proof vests, and even the heavy steel of 1930's automobiles. At least one of the BARs owned by Clyde Barrow was cut down on the barrel and stock to make it more maneuverable for the mounted and urban combat that was so common for the Depression era bank robbers. Another famous weapon of the pair was the sawed-off Browning Semi Auto shotgun. The Browning Auto 5, as it is known, was considered the best semi automatic shotgun design until the rise of the truly modern Benelli and Beretta designs in the last 15 or so years. Loaded with 00 Buckshot, it is capable of discharging 40 .32 caliber lead pellets in about 2 seconds. This would be absolutely devastating for anything in its path, out to about 75 yards. The Barrows were also said to favor the Colt 1911 .45 automatic, a pistol that is still among the most favored by people who know firearms. They were also known to use the common .32 and .380 version of the Colt 1903 Pocket.Hammerless. Many of the weapons used by the pair were taken from Police Officers and police stations. Several BARs were taken in a raid on the National Guard Armory in Enid, Oklahoma.

When Bonnie and Clyde were killed on May 23, 1934 by Texas and Louisiana police officers, their Ford V8 was filled with:

Three .30 caliber. Browning Automatic Rifles
One 20 gauge “sawed-off” shotgun
One 10 gauge “sawed-off” shotgun
One .32 caliber Colt automatic pistol
One .380 caliber Colt automatic pistol
One Colt .45 caliber “Double Action” revolver
Seven M1911 .45 caliber automatic pistols
One-hundred rounds on machine gun clips
Three-thousands rounds of ammunition

That arsenal would be envied by most any gun collector today. It is as much or more ammunition than the terrorists that perpetrated the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 had.
There are some of military units in the world today that don't have that much firepower. However, on the day of the ambush, Bonnie and Clyde never even got off a shot.

To watch a clip on some of the weaponry used you can watch here:

A nation obsessed with crime watched as this tale unfolded. We still visit their story today, as it's filled with family, violence and adventure- just like any modern movie.

To see one of the documentaries on Bonnie & Clyde you can watch it here:

To visit us at Cactus Tactical and see what we carry for Browning and more visit us here:

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

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