Bonnie and Clyde: The Most Notorious Couple in America

Bonnie+and+Clyde%3A+The+Most+Notorious+Couple+in+America

Ian Wang, Journalist

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow are the most notorious criminal couple in the entire history of the United States. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the couple traveled through the central United States with their gang. They were known to rob banks and bust criminals out of prisons. Between 1931 and 1934, the two were known as “public enemies”. The duo are believed to have murdered nine police officers and four civilians. Photos at a Bonnie and Clyde hideout led to the glamorization of Bonnie and numerous myths about the duo.

Bonnie (1910-1934) was born in Rowena, Texas as the second of three children. Her father was a bricklayer who died when Bonnie was very young. Her now widow mother Emma (Krause) Parker moved the family to her parent’s home in Cement City, a suburb in West Dallas, Texas where she worked as a seamstress. In her sophomore year of high school, she met Roy Thorton. Bonnie wasn’t even 16 when on September 26, 1926, the couple married after dropping out of high school.

Although they two never divorced, the marriage was short lived due to Thorton’s frequent absences. They broke up in January 1929. Thornton was sentenced 5 years in prison for robbery and after attempting several prison breaks. Eventually, he was killed in his attempt to escape Huntsville State Prison on October 3, 1937. Bonnie worked as a waitress when she moved back to Dallas with her mother. A regular at the place Bonnie worked at was postal worker Ted Hinton. In 1932, Ted Hinton joined the Dallas Sheriff Department and later on, joined the posse that killed Bonnie and Clyde. 

Clyde (1909-1934) was born in 1909 into a farming family in Ellis County, Texas. He was the fifth of seven children of Henry Barrow and Cumie Walker. The large family decided to move to Dallas in the early 1920s as part of the migration pattern from rural regions to the city. The Barrow family spent their first month living under their wagon until they had enough money to buy a tent. At 17, he was arrested for the first time in 1926 when he failed to return a car he rented. He was arrested for the second time after stealing turkeys with his brother Buck. From 1927 to 1929, he had some legal jobs, but he also did dirty business such as cracking safes or robbing stores. 

He met Bonnie in January 1930, and they spent time together during the following weeks. They were interrupted when Clyde was convicted of stealing a car. Clyde was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930 he was 21. Shortly afterward, Bonnie smuggled a weapon for Clyde and he successfully escaped. He was shortly captured afterward and thrown back into prison. While in prison, Clyde was sexually assaulted multiple times, so he retaliated by crushing the skull of his tormentor with a pipe. A fellow prisoner who was serving a life sentence claimed responsibility for the killing. That was Clyde’s first kill.

In late January 1932, Clyde had two of his toes chopped off in order to avoid hard labor in the field. This led to Clyde walking limp for the rest of his life. After six days, he was set free with intentional injury. Unknown to Clyde, his mother had successfully bailed him out of prison. He was paroled from Eastham prison on February 2, 1932 as a hardened criminal. His sister noticed that he was not the same person when he came out of prison. After leaving Eastham prison, he robbed grocery stores and gas stations to gain revenge for the treatment he suffered at Eastham. 

On January 5, 1930, Bonnie and Clyde met at the home of Clyde’s friend, Clarence Clay, at 105 Herbert Street in West Dallas. Clyde and Bonnie were 20 and 19 years old respectively. Bonnie wasn’t at home to help with a friend recovering from a broken arm. Clyde dropped by because Parker was making hot chocolate. The majority of people believe that Bonnie joined Clyde because the two were in love. As a result, Bonnie became Clyde’s companion in crime.

In February 1932, Clyde and Fults began a series of robberies, mainly at gas stations and stores. The goal for them was to raise or steal enough money to raid Eastham prison where Clyde was previously held. On April 19, 1932, Clyde and Fults were captured in their failed attempt to rob a hardware store in Kaufman, where they were trying to steal firearms. Parker was released, but Fults was tried, convicted, and was thrown in prison. After being released, Fults never joined the gang again. On April 30, they robbed a store in Hillsboro, Texas where they killed the store owner J.N. Bucher. Bucher’s wife had identified Clyde from police photographs, except Clyde was the getaway driver. On August 5, Clyde and two other people were drinking at a dance at Stringtown, Oklahoma, when two officers approached them in the parking lot. Deputy Eugene C. Moore was killed and sheriff C.G. Maxwell was wounded. Throughout the early 1930s, the gang which had several new members robbed stores, kidnapped people, and killed more law enforcement officers. On June 10, 1933, the car the Barrow gang was riding crashed into a ravine because they failed to see the bridge construction in progress near Wellington, Texas. Parker’s leg was doused with the acid from the car’s battery and she suffered third degree burns. 

Eventually, the Texas Department of Corrections contracted former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (1844-1955) to hunt down the Barrow Gang. Frank Hamer was known for his marksmanship, investigation skills, and toughness. This Ranger had a renowned status in the southwest as a Texas Ranger. He was retired, but his commision had not yet expired. Frank Hamer accepted the task as a Texas Highway Patrol officer and his sole duty was to take down the Barrow Gang. Hamer was uneasy at the compensation of $180 every month, even less than half of his current salary,  but he was told he would have his fair portion of the reward money. On April 1, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde encountered and murdered two young highway patrolmen near Grapevine, Texas.

Hamer spent a long time observing the pattern of the gang’s movements. He found out that the gang essentially made a wide circle throughout the states of the lower Midwest. The gang swung in a circle, passing the edges of 5 states. The Barrow gang took advantage of the fact that law officers could not chase the suspects across the state borders. The anchor points of the circle of crime were in Dallas, Joplin, Missouri, and Northwest Louisiana, with wider arcs for bank robberies. Hamer also needed to understand the thought process behind Barrow’s movements and his next move. When he began to understand the mind of Clyde Barrow, he knew he was making good progress. He could accurately predict where Barrow was going to travel next. Hamer was constantly chasing the Barrow gang. He would drive hundreds of miles every day and be in the town right behind the town the Barrow gang was in. He was their shadow. Frank had a posse consisting of Texas Rangers Frank Hamer, Ted Hinton, Robert Alcorn and B.M. “Maney” Gault with Louisiana officers Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Morel Oakley, an excellent marksman.

On May 21, four of the posse members were in Shreveport when they found out that Bonnie and Clyde were planning on visiting Methvin, a gang member at Bienville Parish. The full posse planned on ambushing them along Louisiana State Highway 154 south of Gibsland toward Sailes. Hinton remembered that the group was in position by 9 pm and waited for the whole of the next day (May 22) On May 23, at about 9:15 AM, as they were about to give up, but suddenly, they heard a Ford V8 screaming at them on the dirt road. Ivy Methvin had his truck positioned near the road, and the posse hoped that Bonnie and Clyde would talk to Methvin as part of the trap such that the Barrow gang’s car would be near the bushes where the posse hid. As soon as Barrow fell into the trap, Oakley opened fire. Barrow was dead instantly and Hinton heard Bonnie scream. The officers fired nearly 130 rounds into the car. After they finished shooting their rifles, they continued using shotguns and then their pistols. Bonnie and Clyde’s car was later on sold as a collector’s item at Primm Valley Resort in Las Vegas in 1988 for $250,000.

According to statements made by Hinton and Alcorn:

“Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns. There was smoke coming from, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols into the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards down on the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting the car even after it stopped. We weren’t taking any chances.”

 

The terror of Bonnie and Clyde was finally over. The lawmen discovered an entire arsenal of various firearms, including stolen automatic rifles from a national armory and several thousand ammo rounds. Four of the Ranger drove the car to the town to their boss, while the other police officers were told to protect the vehicle. Instantly, a mob formed around the vehicle, and Hamer was sent to control the joyful crowds. Many people went to take items from Bonnie and Clyde’s car as souvenirs. One person even used a pocket knife and cut off part of Clyde’s ear;

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnie_and_Clyde

    https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/bonnie-and-clyde

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Hamer