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Bonnie and Clyde

The First Celebrity Criminals of Modern Times

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Bonnie and Clyde
American Stock Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Bonnie Parker was just shy of five feet tall, all of 90 pounds, a part-time waitress and amateur poet from a poor Dallas home who was bored with life and wanted something more. Clyde Barrow was a fast-talking, small-time thief from a similarly destitute Dallas family who hated poverty and wanted to make a name for himself. Together, they became the most notorious crime couple in American history.

Background

Bonnie and Clyde met in Texas in January 1930. At the time, Bonnie was 19 and married to an imprisoned murderer. Clyde was 21 and unmarried. Soon after, he was arrested for a burglary and sent to jail. He escaped, using a gun Bonnie had smuggled to him, was recaptured and was sent back to prison. Clyde was paroled in February 1932, rejoined Bonnie and resumed a life of crime.

The Crime Spree Begins

After the two reunited they began traveling with Raymond Hamilton, a young gunman. Hamilton left them several months later, and was replaced by William Daniel Jones in November 1932.

Ivan M. "Buck" Barrow, brother of Clyde, was released from the Texas State Prison on March 23, 1933, having been granted a full pardon by the Governor. He quickly joined Clyde, bringing his wife, Blanche, so the group now numbered five. This gang embarked on a series of bold robberies which made headlines across the country.

They escaped capture in various encounters with the law. However, their activities made law enforcement efforts to apprehend them even more intense.

During a shootout with police in Iowa on July 29, 1933, Buck Barrow was fatally wounded and Blanche was captured. Jones, who was frequently mistaken for "Pretty Boy" Floyd, was captured in November 1933, at Houston, Texas, by the sheriff's office. Bonnie and Clyde went on together.

On November 22, 1933, a trap was set by the Dallas, Texas, sheriff and his deputies in an attempt to capture Bonnie and Clyde near Grand Prairie, Texas, but the couple escaped the officers' gunfire. They held up an attorney on the highway and took his car, which they abandoned at Miami, Oklahoma.

On January 16, 1934, five prisoners, including the notorious Raymond Hamilton (who was serving sentences totaling more than 200 years), were liberated from the Eastham State Prison Farm at Waldo, Texas, by Clyde Barrow, accompanied by Bonnie Parker. Two guards were shot by the escaping prisoners with automatic pistols, which had been previously concealed in a ditch by Barrow. As the prisoners ran, Barrow covered their retreat with bursts of machine-gun fire. Among the escapees was Henry Methvin of Louisiana.

The Last Months

The FBI joined the chase in 1933. Until then, the Bureau lacked the jurisdiction to get involved in what were local crimes. But in the spring of that year they gathered evidence from a stolen car that had crossed state lines—and traced it to the elusive pair. That led to federal interstate car theft charges and enabled the agency to officially join the manhunt in May 1933.

At that point, Bureau agents went to work, distributing wanted notices with fingerprints, photographs, descriptions, criminal records, and other information to police officers across the country. Agents followed the couple’s trail through many states and into their various haunts, particularly in Louisiana.

On April 1, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde encountered two young highway patrolmen near Grapevine, Texas. Before the officers could draw their guns, they were shot.

On April 6, 1934, a constable at Miami, Oklahoma, was shot and killed by Bonnie and Clyde. They also abducted a police chief, who they wounded.

On April 13, 1934, an FBI Agent, through investigation in the vicinity of Ruston, Louisiana, obtained information which definitely placed Bonnie and Clyde in a remote section southwest of that community.

The home of the Methvins was not far away and the Agent learned of visits there by Bonnie and Clyde. Special Agents in Texas had learned that Clyde and his companion had been traveling from Texas to Louisiana, sometimes accompanied by Henry Methvin. The Methvins ultimately decided to help authorities locate the couple.

The FBI and local law enforcement authorities in Louisiana and Texas concentrated on apprehending Bonnie and Clyde, whom they strongly believed to be in the area. It was learned that Bonnie and Clyde, with some of the Methvins, had staged a party at Black Lake, Louisiana, on the night of May 21, 1934, and were due to return to the area two days later.

Before dawn on May 23, 1934, a posse composed of police officers from Louisiana and Texas, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, concealed themselves in bushes along the highway near Sailes, Louisiana. In the early daylight, Bonnie and Clyde appeared in an automobile and when they attempted to drive away, the officers opened fire. Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly.

In addition to the automobile theft charge, Bonnie and Clyde were suspects in other crimes. At the time they were killed in 1934, they were believed to have committed 13 murders and several robberies and burglaries.

Barrow was suspected of various crimes including:

  • Murdering two police officers at Joplin, Missouri
  • Kidnapping a man and a woman in rural Louisiana. He released them near Waldo, Texas.
  • Murdering a man at Hillsboro, Texas
  • Committing robberies at Lufkin and Dallas, Texas
  • Murdering one sheriff and wounded another at Stringtown, Oklahoma
  • Kidnapping a deputy at Carlsbad, New Mexico
  • Stealing an automobile at Victoria, Texas
  • Attempting to murder a deputy at Wharton, Texas
  • Committing murder and robbery at Abilene and Sherman, Texas
  • Committing murder at Dallas, Texas
  • Abducting a sheriff and the chief of police at Wellington, Texas
  • Committing murder at Joplin and Columbia, Missouri

Their story, though romanticized on the silver screen, was hardly a glamorous one. From the summer of 1932 until the spring of 1934, they left a trail of violence and terror in their wake as they crisscrossed the countryside.

In the end, the couple, often compared by the public to “Robin Hood,” was shot more than 50 times. The car riddled with bullet holes after the May 23 ambush represented the real story of Bonnie and Clyde - one of extreme violence.

See Also: The Bonnie and Clyde Photo Gallery

Source: The FBI

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