Bonnie and Clyde

From Academic Kids

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Bonnie Parker
Bonnie and Clyde clowning.
Bonnie and Clyde clowning.

Bonnie and Clyde (Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow) were famous bank robbers who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression, often with various members of the Barrow gang.

Their exploits, along with those of other criminals such as John Dillinger and Ma Barker, were notorious across the nation. They captivated the attention of the American press and its readership during what is sometimes referred to as the public enemy era between 1931 and 1935, a period which led to the formation of the F.B.I.



Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born October 1, 1910, in Rowena, Texas, the second of three children. She married Roy Thornton on September 25 1926, but the pairing was short-lived. Noted for homesickness throughout her short adult life, she longed to be near her mother, Emma Parker. Her husband soon drifted away in spurts — once for over a year — and in January 1929, she told him they were through. Although he was sentenced to 5 years in prison shortly thereafter, they never divorced, and Bonnie was wearing Thornton's wedding ring when she died.

Often portrayed as Clyde Barrow's equal in crime, Bonnie's role in the many robberies, murders, and auto thefts of the Barrow gang was usually limited to logistics support. At only 4 feet 10 inches, she was a stalwart and loyal companion to Clyde Barrow as they evaded capture and awaited the violent deaths they viewed as certain. She was fond of creative writing and the arts. Her poem "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde" is a remarkably personal account of their crime spree and looming demise.


Clyde "Champion" Chestnut Barrow was born on March 24, 1909 (perhaps 1910, according to some reputable sourcesTemplate:Ref), in Ellis County, Texas, near Telico (just south of Dallas). He was the fifth of seven children in a poor farming family. Clyde was first arrested in late 1926, after running when police confronted him over a rental car he'd failed to return on time. His second arrest, with brother Buck Barrow, came soon after — this time for possession of stolen goods (turkeys). In both of these instances there is the remote possibility that Clyde acted without criminal intent. However, despite holding down "square" jobs during the period 1927 through 1929, he also cracked safes, burgled stores, and stole cars. Known primarily for robbing banks, he preferred smaller jobs, robbing grocery stores and filling stations at a rate far outpacing the ten to fifteen bank robberies attributed to him and the Barrow gang.


There is some disagreement over how Bonnie and Clyde first met, but the most prevalent story is that it was through his friend Clarence Clay. Clarence's sister, Bonnie's sister-in-law, had a social gathering the evening of January 5 1930 in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff. "A bored, lonely, young, out-of-work waitress, abandoned by her imprisoned husband, goes over to her brother's house and meets a charming young fellow. Nobody thought it was anything special. Nobody guessed where it would lead."Template:Ref

Prison and release

By mid-February 1930, Clyde and Bonnie were seeing each other regularly, to the point where the police staked out her mother's house, hoping to catch the wanted Barrow. They arrested him there, and he was sentenced to prison for 2 years (seven concurrent, 2-year terms for burglary and auto theft). Except for a one-week escape ending with his recapture in Ohio, Clyde remained incarcerated in the Texas state prison at Eastham Farm until early 1932. It was there, at Eastham Camp 1, that it appears he first killed another man — a fellow prisoner named "Big Ed", alleged to have beaten and raped Clyde. A prisoner serving a life sentence took the blame willingly for this killing. Fellow inmate Ralph Fults said that it was Eastham where Clyde turned "from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake."

After his release in 1932, Clyde moved to Massachusetts, purportedly to make a clean start. However, he returned to Texas within weeks, embroiled in a plan to raid Eastham prison and free associate Raymond Hamilton and others. He recruited help, and set about arming and financing the operation.

In April, a night watchman saw Barrow and Ralph Fults breaking into a hardware store (the location of the store is disputed; local newspapers reported that it was Mabank, Texas). They escaped after exchanging fire, rejoined Bonnie, and attempted to leave the "hot" area. The incident followed a pattern for Bonnie and Clyde that persisted until their deaths — desperate evasion at high speed down sometimes impassable roads, stealing cars and swapping stolen plates regularly. Though Clyde's astounding driving skill and ability to evade capture were later grudgingly respected by law enforcement, this situation ended poorly, perhaps because the gang was finally reduced to stealing mules for transportation in the Texas farm country. Clyde escaped, and Bonnie and Fults were arrested. She claimed to have been kidnapped, and a grand jury failed to indict her. Having spent two months in the Kaufman, Texas jail, Bonnie returned to Dallas in June of 1932, and was soon back on the road with Clyde.


While Bonnie had been in jail, Clyde had participated in the murder of a store owner during a robbery, albeit only as the driver. However, the wife of the murder victim was shown a photo of Clyde by police, and she selected him as one of the shooters. In August 1932, while Bonnie was visiting her mother, Clyde and two associates happened to be drinking at a dance in Oklahoma (illegal under prohibition). When they were approached by the local Sheriff and his undersheriff, Ray Hamilton and Clyde opened fire, killing the undersheriff. That was the first killing of a lawman by what was later known as the Barrow gang.


Between 1932 and 1934, there were several incidents in which the Barrow gang kidnapped lawmen or robbery victims, usually releasing them far from home, sometimes with money to help them get back. Stories of these encounters may have contributed to the mythic aura of Bonnie and Clyde — a couple both reviled and adored by the public. However, though there's no solid evidence that Bonnie ever shot or killed anyone, Clyde and many of his partners would not hesitate to shoot anybody, civilian or lawman, if they felt their own safety or mobility were in jeopardy. Clyde was a probable shooter in approximately ten murders. Other members of the Barrow gang known or thought to have murdered are Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Buck Barrow, Joe Palmer, and Henry Methvin. Given the gang's relatively long crime spree, combined with the large number of guns, cars, and people that floated through it, history books can only speculate with regard to details and direct responsibility for many robberies and killings assigned to Bonnie and Clyde. Many of their crimes were committed in remote areas, with few witnesses and limited forensics capabilities.


On March 22 1933, Clyde's brother Buck was granted a full pardon and released from prison. By April, he and his wife Blanche were living with W.D. Jones, Clyde, and Bonnie in a temporary hideout in Joplin, Missouri — according to some accounts, merely to visit and attempt to talk Clyde into giving himself up. As was common with Bonnie and Clyde, their next brush with the law arose from their generally suspicious behavior, not because their identities were discovered. Not knowing what awaited them, local lawmen assembled only a two-car force to confront the suspected bootleggers living in the rented apartment over a garage. Though caught by surprise, Clyde, noted for his cool under fire, was gaining far more experience in gun battles than most lawmen. He and W.D. Jones quickly killed one lawman and fatally wounded another. The survivors later testified that their side had fired only fourteen rounds in the conflict. Contrary to the account popularized in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, after the initial volley, Blanche Barrow was seen walking down the driveway and into the street with almost surreal calm, trying to coax her runaway dog back to the garage and into the car.

The Barrow gang was able to get away at Joplin, but W.D. Jones was wounded, and they had left most of their possessions at the rented apartment — including a camera with an exposed roll of pictures. The film was developed by the Joplin Globe, and yielded many now famous photos, two of which are shown above. Afterward, Bonnie and Clyde used coats and hats to cover the license plates of their stolen vehicles when taking pictures.


Despite the glamorous image often associated with the Barrow gang, they were desperate and discontent. Blanche Barrow recounted in a recently published manuscript much of what it was like to be constantly running.Template:Ref Clyde was a machine behind the wheel, driving dangerous roads and searching for places where they might sleep or have a meal without being discovered. One member was always assigned watch. Short tempers led to regular arguments. Even with thousands of dollars from a bank robbery, sleeping in a bed was a luxury for a member of the Barrow gang. Sleeping peacefully was nearly impossible.

Bonnie hurt

In June 1933, while driving with W.D. Jones and Bonnie, Clyde missed some construction signs, dropping the car into a ravine. It rolled, and Bonnie was trapped in the passenger seat as battery acid leaked onto her right leg. Though she was seriously injured, Clyde's first requirement was to get them out of the area — a difficult task with the attention drawn by the accident. When finally away, their latest hostages released, Clyde insisted that Bonnie be allowed to convalesce. After meeting up with Blanche and Buck Barrow again, they stayed at one place until Buck bungled a local robbery with W.D. Jones, and killed a city marshal. The gang moved several times, eventually renting two cabins near Platte City, Missouri the evening of July 18 1933.

Platte City

After the Joplin shootout, several states had issued alerts for any unknown people buying medical supplies. A Platte City druggist called the sheriff when a stranger (probably Blanche, though her account states that it was Clyde and W.D.) bought medical supplies for Bonnie July 19 1933. Combined with the other reports of suspicious behavior, the sheriff was confident he was on the trail of the Barrow gang. He assembled a large group, complete with an armored car, and moved in that night. But law enforcement was still no match for the firepower of the Barrows, who had recently robbed an armory. At a high price, the gang escaped once again. Buck Barrow was shot in the head, and Blanche was nearly blinded from glass fragments in her eye. The prospects for holding out against the ensuing manhunt dwindled.

Death of Buck Barrow

On July 24 1933, the Barrow gang was ambushed at an abandoned park near Dexter, Iowa. Buck was shot several more times, and he and Blanche were captured. Clyde, Bonnie, and W.D. escaped on foot. Buck died five days later, in a Perry, Iowa hospital.

Final run

Bonnie and Clyde regrouped and, on November 22 1933, were ambushed yet again, this time as they were meeting family members at an impromptu rendezvous near Sowers, Texas. Again, they escaped.

In January 1934, Bonnie, Clyde, Floyd Hamilton (brother of Raymond Hamilton), and Jimmy Mullens launched a successful raid on Eastham prison farm, rescuing Raymond Hamilton, Joe Palmer, Henry Methvin, and Hilton Bybee. Joe Palmer killed one guard and, apparently, wounded another.Template:Ref

Clyde Barrow and Henry Methvin killed two young highway patrolmen near Grapevine, Texas, on April 1, 1934, and another policeman five days later near Commerce, Oklahoma.


Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed May 23 1934, on a desolate road near their Bienville Parish, Louisiana hideout. They were shot by a posse of four Texas and two Louisiana officers (the Louisiana pair added solely for jurisdictional reasons — an aspect of pre-FBI America that Clyde had exploited to its fullest when selecting robbery and hideout locations). The posse was led by former Texas Ranger captain Frank Hamer, who had never before seen Bonnie or Clyde. He had begun tracking the pair on February 10 1934, and within a month or two had met in Bienville Parish with a representative of Henry Methvin's parents.

On May 21 1934, the four posse members were in Shreveport, Louisiana when they learned that Bonnie and Clyde were to go there that evening with Methvin. Clyde had designated Methvin's parents' Bienville Parish house as a rendezvous, in case they were later separated. Methvin, apparently cooperating with law enforcement, made sure that he was separated from Bonnie and Clyde in Shreveport, and the full posse, now with the two Louisiana members, set up an ambush along the route to the rendezvous — Highway 154, between Gibsland and Sailes. They were in place by 21:00, waiting all through the next day (May 22), but with no sign of Bonnie and Clyde.

Around 09:10 on May 23, the posse, concealed in the bushes and almost ready to concede defeat, heard Clyde's stolen Ford V-8 approaching. When he stopped to speak with Henry Methvin's father — planted there with his truck that morning to distract Clyde and force him into the lane closest to the posse — the lawmen opened fire, killing Bonnie and Clyde while shooting a combined total of approximately 130 rounds.

Controversy lingers over whether Bonnie Parker should have been killed, and whether the first shot, fired into Clyde Barrow's head by Prentis Oakley with a borrowed Remington Model 8, was too hasty. Oakley is reported to have been haunted for the rest of his life by his actions that day. It is not clear what legal authority there was to kill Bonnie Parker, who was not known to have killed anyone, but Hamer made it clear that he had intended to kill her. He had a reputation for not being overly solicitous with regard to law details.

Some of the posse, including Frank Hamer, took and kept for themselves stolen guns that were found in the death car, with the approval of Lee Simmons, "Special Escape Investigator for the Texas Prison System". With the growing outcry over the Bonnie and Clyde crime spree in which law enforcement had been thwarted repeatedly, even officials from outside Louisiana had been given a free hand toward the goal of ending it.

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Clyde Barrow is buried in the Western Heights Cemetery and Bonnie Parker in the Crown Hill Memorial Park, both in Dallas, Texas.

Bonnie and Clyde were among the first celebrity criminals of the modern era. Clyde is alleged to have written a letter to the Ford Motor Company praising their "dandy car," signing it "Clyde Champion Barrow", though the handwriting has never been authenticated. (Ford received a similar letter around the same time from someone claiming to be John Dillinger and used both for car advertisements.) Bonnie's aforementioned poem, "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," was published in several newspapers.

In 1967, Arthur Penn directed a romanticized film version of the tale. Bonnie and Clyde, which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, was critically acclaimed and contributed significantly to the glamorous image of the criminal pair. The next year Brigitte Bardot interpreted a Serge Gainsbourg song about them.

Dorothy Provine also starred in the 1958 movie The Bonnie Parker Story. The first film based on Bonnie and Clyde was made only three years after their deaths and titled You Only Live Once, starring Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sydney. Furthermore, the 2003 Jay-Z and Beyonc頋nowles song and music video, "Bonnie and Clyde '03" is based on the two bank robbers. The duo is also referenced in The Tears' song, "Refugees".

The Bonnie and Clyde death site, still comparatively isolated on Highway 154 in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, is commemorated by two markers — one of stone (now almost destroyed by souvenir thieves), and a newer one of metal.Template:Ref Every year near the anniversary of the ambush, a "Bonnie and Clyde Festival" is hosted in the town of Gibsland, Louisiana.Template:Ref


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