Friday, September 28, 2012

Bonnie and Clyde: American Gangsters

They were - Bonnie and Clyde. (Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, born October 1, 1910, died on May 23, 1934) and (Clyde Chestnut Barrow, March 24, 1909, he also died - with Bonnie - on May 23, 1934) They were well-known outlaws, robbers, and criminals who traveled the Central United States with their gang during the time of The Great Depression. Their gang was known as the “Barrow Gang” which included Bonnie and Clyde, and at times Buck Barrow, Blanche Barrow, Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Joe Palmer, Ralph Fults, and Henry Methvin. 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”. (A lot of the Bonnie and Clyde story in the film is Hollywood hogwash.)

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 pulp 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. 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.”

Bonnie 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 seamstress. 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“).

In her second year of high school, Parker met Roy Thornton. They dropped out of school and were married on September 25, 1926, six days before Parker's 16th 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 death. His reaction was, “I'm glad they went out like they did. It's much better than being caught.”

In 1929, after the breakdown of her marriage and before 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 loneliness, her impatience with life in provincial Dallas, and her love of talking pictures.

Clyde was born in Ellis County, Texas, near Telico, a town just south of Dallas. He was the fifth of seven children of Henry Basil Barrow (1874–1957) and Cumie T. Walker (1874–1943), a 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 urban slum known as West Dallas. The Barrows spent their first months in West Dallas 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, he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. While in prison, Barrow beat to death another inmate who had repeatedly assaulted him sexually. It was Clyde Barrow's first killing. Paroled in February 1932, Barrow emerged from Eastham a hardened and bitter criminal. His sister Marie said “Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn't the same person when he got out.” A fellow inmate, Ralph Fults, 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's 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 girl friend 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.


After 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. While Parker would be released in a few months, Fults remained in jail and never rejoined the gang. 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 mug-shots, 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 wile 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, Raymond 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 stolen goods consisted of $28 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.

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 legalized after Prohibition, and the group ran loud, alcohol-fueled card games late into the night in the quiet neighborhood. “We bought a case of beer a day,” Blanche would later recall. The men-folk came and went noisily at all hours, and once, a BAR discharged in the apartment while Clyde was cleaning it; the short burst did not bring any neighbors directly to the house, but at least one registered suspicions with the Joplin Police department.

Unaware of what awaited them, the lawmen assembled only a 5-man force in two cars on April 13 to confront the suspected bootleggers living in the garage apartment. 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 a Constable. During the escape from the apartment, Parker laid down covering fire with her own BAR, forcing Highway Patrol sergeant G. B. Kahler to duck behind a large oak tree while 30-60 slugs struck the other side, forcing wood splinters into the sergeant's face. Parker then got into the car with the others. The car slowed long enough to pull in Blanche Barrow from 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 suit-coat button, and one grazed Buck after ricocheting off a wall. 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 of weapons, a handwritten poem by Bonnie, and a camera with several rolls of undeveloped film. The film was developed later 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 of Parker clenching a cigar in her teeth and a pistol in her hand, went out on the newly installed newswire, the obscure five-some from Dallas became front page news across America as The Barrow Gang, fully illustrated and with the poem “Story of 'Suicide Sal” as an apparent back-story.

For the next three months, they ranged from Texas as far north as Minnesota. In May, they attempted to rob the bank in Lucerne, Indiana, and robbed the bank in 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.



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 Parker sustained serious 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 Fort Smith, Arkansas, nursing Parker's 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.



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 5 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 - tight jodhpurs riding breeches - attracted undue attention: they were just not the kind of thing the staid women of Platte City would ever wear, and were the first thing mentioned by eyewitnesses reminiscing even 40 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 pm that night, Sheriff Coffey led a group of officers armed with Thompson sub-machine guns toward the cabins. But in a pitched gunfight at considerable distances, the submachine guns proved no match for Clyde Barrow's preferred BAR’s, 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.

Although the gang evaded law enforcement once again, Buck Barrow had sustained a horrific wound to 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. Buck's head wound was so severe that Clyde and Jones dig 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 a-field 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, acquiring three BARs, handguns, and a large quantity of ammunition. By early September, they risked a run back 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. He was arrested there without incident on November 16 and returned to Dallas. 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 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 a single BAR slug passed through the car, striking the legs of both Barrow and Parker. They escaped that night. Bonnie Parker crossed an ominous personal threshold the following week when on November 28, a Dallas grand jury delivered a murder indictment against her and Barrow for the January 1933 killing of Tarrant County Deputy Malcolm Davis; it was Parker's first warrant for murder.

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, and two Louisiana officers. The posse was led by Texas lawman, Frank 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 compared to John Dillinger, who was active throughout the Midwest at the time of Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree, Clyde was consistent in his movements, so an experienced man-hunter 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 BAR’s and 20 round magazines with armor piercing rounds.

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 pm 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 am 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 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.

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 17 separate entrance wounds on Barrow's body and 26 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. Bailey would have difficulty embalming the bodies because they wouldn't contain the embalming fluid.

The bullet-riddled Ford containing the two bodies was towed to the Conger Furniture Store and funeral parlor on Railroad Avenue in downtown Arcadia, Louisiana 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.



Bonnie 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.

The 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, and 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.


Source: Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnie_and_Clyde

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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