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Bonnie and Clyde, Criminal Superstars of the 1930s

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Bonnie and Clyde: Criminal Superstars

On a beautiful sunny morning on May 23, 1934, a grand day for living, two people died in a hail of bullets inside a Ford V8 on a dusty rural road in Louisiana. No it was not an unlawful shooting, but one that put an end to a duo of criminals, who were two of America’s most notorious outlaws. Their escapades and crime spree across the Midwest and Southwest made people regard them as criminal superstars, an exciting thing to talk about in a time of only radio, newspapers, telegraph and word-of-mouth communications.

They Were The Best of the Worst

They were responsible for hundreds of robberies of gas stations, banks, stores, and the murder of at least 13 people. Bonnie and Clyde were the best of the worst, still talked about all these almost 100 years later. It’s a good thing they weren’t planning to live forever, but they didn’t go down easy. It took six lawmen to do that; Texas officers (Frank Hamer, B.M. “Manny” Gault, Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton) and two Louisiana officers (Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Morel Oakley,) and even then they were considered so dangerous it was done by ambush. It’s said that the noise from the great fusillade of gunfire was so loud that the lawmen were deaf for the entire afternoon.


Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Site, 1934

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Lawmen set up a trap and ambushed Bonnie and Clyde and riddled the car and the duo with bullets. It’s been said there were 167 bullets found in their bodies. They were never given an opportunity to give up, because law enforcement considered them so dangerous they couldn’t be given a moment where they could kill someone else.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car, riddled with bullets.

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Texas-born Bonnie Parker 

Texas-born Bonnie Parker came into the world on October 1st, 1910. When her bricklayer father, Charles died when she was four years old, her mother moved into her parents home and worked as a seamstress. Life was hard and Bonnie was restless for something better. She dropped out of school and married shortly before her 16th birthday to a man named Roy Thornton. The marriage was not stable; he was always gone and continually in trouble with the law. After January 1929 they had no further contact, but the union was never legally dissolved. When she got together with Clyde Barrow, she was still legally a Thornton, but never used the name.


Undeveloped film found by law enforcement in a former hideout in Joplin, MO, when developed showed Bonnie as a tough gangster “moll,” in this playful photo.

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Another Texan, Clyde Barrow

Another Texan, Clyde Barrow was born into a family of poor dirt farmers on March 24, 1909. His childhood was also one of poverty and his first arrest was in 1926, because he didn’t return a rental car. From that time on, he continually got into trouble with the law; possession of stolen goods, safe cracking, robbing stores, and stealing cars. He was finally sent to prison and while there killed another prisoner who repeatedly sexually assaulted him. When paroled in 1932, he was a changed man from his prison experience; bitter and mean.  A fellow inmate once remarked he had changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake.” Carrying an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, he began robbing grocery stores and gas stations, taking whatever he wanted.


Left, WD Jones, Right, Clyde Barrow

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Bad Met Worse

There’s speculation as to how the two met, but bad met worse when the two connected. The most accepted story is that Barrow dropped by a girl’s house and met her friend, Bonnie, as she was making hot chocolate. After their meeting, there was a magnetic attraction and she joined him in 1932 in a series of robberies to satisfy Barrow’s purpose of gathering enough money and guns to liberate the prisoners of Eastham Prison, where he’d been incarcerated. By this time they had put together a gang, but through arrests of one or the other of them, there was never enough money to reach their goal. In their storied criminal career it’s reported they killed at least 13 people, several of whom were lawmen.

A “Gentleman” Bandit

The entire nation was on the lookout for Bonnie and Clyde. People reported seeing them everywhere, even in places where they weren’t. The country was nervous about the possibility of them popping up anywhere. But even with the nervousness there was the fascination with their escapades. People told stories of meeting them and being robbed by a “polite, courteous Clyde,” a gentleman bandit. There were stories of his generosity with old people and children. But there were darker stories of bank personnel being scared out of their wits when Bonnie and Clyde stepped into their establishment brandishing guns. They truly weren’t anything like Robin Hood but their stories still carried that aura for some.

More Desperate, Less Fun

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s lives on the run began to get more desperate and less fun, when they became so notorious that they could no longer find a motel or restaurant where they were not recognized. For this reason, they began to camp, and that soon paled. The food wasn’t as good, and the sleeping wasn’t restful. Someone always had to be awake, watchful for discovery. Since life was so hard, the pair and the others with them began bickering among themselves. Some days it came close to a shootout between Parker, Barrow and the others. At one time a member of their gang took the car and drove off, leaving them to figure out their next move to get back on the road.

But they knew all along what their end would be. They had no illusions; as shown by the poem Bonnie Parker wrote, below.

The Story of Bonnie and Clyde

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;
If you’re still in need
Of something to read,
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I’m sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.

There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They’re not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.

But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
“I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”

The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn’t give up till they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it’s fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.

From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can’t find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy;
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We’d make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”

The police haven’t got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, “Don’t start any fights
We aren’t working nights
We’re joining the NRA.”

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won’t “stool” on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.

They don’t think they’re too tough or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They’ve been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief
To the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

— Bonnie Parker

The one thing Bonnie Parker’s poem didn’t get right, was that they weren’t buried side by side…Bonnie is buried in Crown Hill Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas. Clyde is buried in Western Heights Cemetery, Dallas, Texas. Still, they’re both in Texas where they began.

Bonnie Parker buried in Crown Hill Memorial Park, Dallas, TX

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Clyde Barrow and brother Buck buried in Western Heights Cemetery in Dallas TX

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