Over a two-year period from 1932-34, during the height of the Great Depression in America, Bonnie & Clyde evolved from petty thieves to nationally known bank robbers and murderers. Their robbery of banks and store owners, in a rural America ravaged by farm foreclosures and bankruptcies, led to their exploits and relationship being romanticised by a burgeoning ‘yellow’ press. In reality, at the time of their death, their gang was believed to be responsible for at least 13 murders, including two policemen, several robberies and burglaries and assorted kidnappings, abductions and woundings. Bonnie Slender and only 4 foot 11 inches tall, Bonnie Parker was the middle of three children born to a poor Texan family. In January 1930 when she met Clyde Barrows and became linked as his companion, Bonnie was 19 and working as a waitress to support herself. Her husband of the preceding 3 years, Roy Thornton, was in prison for murder. They never divorced. Although certainly a supporter of Clyde and his gang, by the time of her death, there were no outstanding warrants for Bonnie’s arrest alleging murder. There is in fact little reliable evidence that she ever shot anyone, but by the time of her death in 1934, her fate had been inextricably linked with that of her companion Barrows. Clyde When Clyde met Bonnie in January 1930, he was 21 and single. The fifth of seven children born to a poor farming family in Texas, he and his brother Buck supported themselves as petty thieves. Soon after meeting Bonnie at a mutual friend’s home, Clyde was sent to jail for burglary. He’d obviously made an impression on Bonnie, as she smuggled him a gun and aided his escape. Upon his re-capture, he was jailed for two years. He was eventually paroled in February 1932 and reacquainted himself with Bonnie. Until this point, Clyde had been largely involved with low level, opportunistic crime. However, Texas State Prison appears to have changed him. It was during his incarceration that he allegedly killed another prisoner who had beaten and raped him. By the time of Clyde’s release in 1932, he was a hardened man.
By today’s standards such an incident would precipitate an investigation, particularly when a maverick law enforcer such as Hamer clearly took the law into his own hands. Despite there having been no warrants against Bonnie to justify killing her, Hamer and the Louisiana authorities had decided that execution was the preferred option.Whatever the view of such an act from a moral perspective, what certainly was questionable behaviour by Hamer and some of his posse was to keep several of the stolen guns found in Bonnie and Clyde’s car as souvenirs and then later sell them.In the town of Gibsland, Louisiana a ‘Bonnie & Clyde Festival’ is held every year on Highway 154 on the anniversary of their deaths. Sadly the innocent victims of the Barrow gang, which number around 34, are not remembered with the same degree of idolatry.Along with ghoulish memorabilia, a romanticised Oscar winning movie and even a poem by Bonnie herself published for the world to read, the mythology of the two illiterate, cold-hearted criminals, continues unabated.
It wasn’t long before Clyde was involved with criminal activity again, this time recruiting several men, including Ralph Fults, to become what was known as the Barrow gang. After Clyde and Fults had raided a hardware store they later joined up with Bonnie only to be chased at high speed.Despite Clyde’s driving skills they were reduced to stealing mules to navigate the Texas farm country and both Bonnie and Fults were eventually arrested. Clyde escaped. Bonnie claimed that she had been kidnapped by the gang but, despite a grand jury failing to indict her, she spent two months in the Kaufman Jail, Texas. On her release she was soon reunited with Clyde.The Barrow gang consisted of Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin, Joe Palmer, WD Jones and Clyde’s brother Ivan M. ‘Buck’ Barrow. Over a considerable period the gang carried out many robberies and kidnappings, some attributed to Bonnie and Clyde.Their exploits fuelled a mythology that relied on little evidence, but much hearsay and gossip. In some ways the gang were admired as latter day Robin Hoods, while others reviled them as common law breakers. However, it was Clyde’s first association with murder that was to garner them greater notoriety.The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), then called the Bureau of Investigation, became interested in Barrow and his female companion late in December 1932. What was to become the biggest manhunt in the nation at that time started with little understanding of how elusive and tenacious these young criminals were going to turn out to be.It was while Bonnie was in the Texas jail that Clyde had been identified as the getaway driver during a raid. Later, when Clyde and Hamilton were illegally drinking at a dance in Oklahoma, they were approached by the local sheriff and his associate. The two lawmakers were shot and killed when Clyde and Hamilton made their escape.If the public had any sympathy or admiration for the Barrow gang, it was quickly dispelled after the shooting and killing of the sheriffs.On 22 March 1933, Clyde hid out in a remote hideout in Joplin Missouri, along with his brother Buck and sister-in-law Blanche. WD Jones and Bonnie were also present. By this time tensions were running high as some of the gang argued that Clyde should turn himself in. No doubt Bonnie would have taken Clyde’s side to stay on course. Although there is no evidence supporting the mythological view that the two were lovers, the pair were undeniably inseparable.The gang was soon disturbed by law enforcers and a shoot-out took place resulting in WD Jones being seriously injured, but not before he and Clyde had shot and killed one lawman and fatally injured another. The gang, including Blanche, then escaped from the apartment leaving behind many possessions including a camera. The developed film disclosed revealing photographs that were to become famous images of Bonnie and Clyde, posing with their guns, and later reproduced in millions of books over the decades.In reality life on the run for the gang was far from glamorous. They were constantly arguing and rarely had time or the opportunity to spend their spoils from crime. During one incident, Bonnie was hurt when Clyde skidded into a ravine causing her to be caught under the vehicle. She suffered severe burns to her leg and it was then that Clyde decided that they would take time off from criminal pursuits to allow Bonnie to recover.The respite from chaos was short-lived when Buck killed a city marshal during a botched robbery. Once again the gang had to move on. It seemed impossible for the gang not to leave a trail of destruction behind wherever it went, a trail that was forever being picked up by law enforcers, mainly due to the gang’s suspicious behaviour.On 18 July 1933 the gang rented two cabins at Platte City Missouri. During the night an armoured car positioned itself outside the cabins. The authorities had been alerted when one of the gang had gone into a Platte City drug store to obtain medical supplies. The exchange of gunfire between the marshals and Barrow gang was ferocious resulting in Clyde’s brother, Buck, getting shot in the head. Miraculously despite the lawmakers’ manpower the gang managed to escape.
January 1930 - Clyde Barrow first meets Bonnie ParkerFebruary 1932 - Clyde released from jail and reunited with Bonnie, killing and robbery spree starts23 March 1933 - Ivan M ‘Buck’ Barrow is released from Texas State prison and joins Bonnie and Clyde18 July 1933 - The Barrow gang exchange fire with lawmakers at Platte City Missouri24 July 1933 - Buck Barrow is shot and later dies. His wife Blanche is captured16 January 1934 - Barrow gang release 15 prisoners from Eastham State Prison Texas1 April 1934 - Clyde shoots and kills two highway patrolmen23 May 1934 - Bonnie and Clyde both shot and killed on Highway 154 by law enforcers
The Key Figures
Raymond Elzie Hamilton (born 21 May 1913) - first associate with Clyde. Hamilton was only 21 when he had accumulated a prison sentence of 362 years.The Barrow gang - Ivan M ‘Buck’ Barrow (Clyde’s brother) Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin, Joe Palmer, WD Jones and Ralph Fults.Blanche Barrow (Buck’s wife)Frank Hamer - Texas Ranger who along with FBI agents tracked down and killed Bonnie and Clyde.
The gang’s evasion from the authorities didn’t last long. Blanche was already suffering from a previous battle when she was hit in the eye with flying glass segments and nearly blinded. Then on 24 July, the Barrow gang was ambushed. Buck was shot several times and both he and Blanche were captured. The badly injured Buck died in hospital five days later.The next couple of months would witness a bloodbath as the gang were ambushed, escaped and then killed a prison guard when they raided Eastham prison to free fellow gang members Raymond Hamilton and Joe Palmer. During the fracas it was Palmer who shot and killed the unfortunate victim. It was this kind of cold hearted killing, particularly of civil servants that toughened the authority’s view of bringing the gang to justice, dead or alive.On 1 April 1934, Clyde Barrow’s reputation for ruthlessness was cemented when he and fellow gang member Henry Methvin turned their guns on two highway patrolmen in Grapevine, Texas. The incident confirmed an understanding between FBI agents and the Louisiana authorities to deal with Bonnie and Clyde in a manner that would remove them from continuing to be a public menace.End of the RoadIt was a quiet, uneventful day on 23 May 1934 when Bonnie and Clyde were driving down a back road near their hideout at Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Unbeknownst to them a posse of four Texas and two Louisiana officers led by ranger captain Frank Hamer were lying low, waiting. Hamer had been on the gang’s tail ever since February of that year when he had been given a directive from the Texas Department of Corrections to eliminate Bonnie and Clyde.Hamer, along with other agents had visited Barrow gang member Henry Methvin’s parents’ house in Shreveport, Louisiana to ascertain the gang’s movements. The Methvin’s house had been designated as a safe house and rendezvous by Clyde in case the gang became separated.On 23 May, Hamer and his posse were waiting patiently in thick bushes for Bonnie and Clyde to turn up on Highway 154 between Gibsland and Sailes. They had already been there for a day and were close to abandoning the plan when they were finally rewarded with the sight of Clyde’s stolen Ford V-8 approaching.First Clyde stopped to talk to Methvin’s father Henry, standing by a truck, prearranged by Hamer to distract Clyde and steer him in sight of the rangers’ guns. Within seconds the rangers opened fire, delivering around 130 bullets into Bonnie and Clyde.Clyde died instantly with a single shot to the head administered by ranger Prentis Oakley. But Bonnie was heard to scream in pain as the bullets hit her, pebbledash fashion, ripping her and the car apart. The lawmakers reloaded their guns, alternating from automatic rifles to shotguns and then pistols as the car came to a halt and ran into a ditch. Even as it came to a stop the guns kept firing.