Thursday, July 16, 2020

Bonnie and Clyde

"Bonnie was a waitress in a small café.
Clyde was the rounder who took her away.
They both robbed and killed til both of them died.
So goes the legend of Bonnie and Clyde."
  --Merle Haggard,
        "The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde"

From 1932 to 1934, Bonnie and Clyde traveled middle America robbing banks and gas stations, funding an attack based on revenge that would come years later.  Over the course of their crime spree, they are believed to have murdered nine police officers and four civilians, but exact numbers may never be known.  So who were Bonnie and Clyde?

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker
was born in Rowena, Texas on October 1, 1910.  She was the second of three children of Charles Robert Parker, a bricklayer who died when Bonnie was just four years old.  After the loss of her husband, Bonnie's mother Emma Parker relocated the family to West Dallas where she worked as a seamstress.

Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born in Ellis County, Texas on March 24, 1909.  He was the fifth of seven children to Henry Basil Barrow and Cumie Talitha Walker.  When the family moved to Dallas in the early 1920s, they were so poor that they lived under their wagon for several months until they could afford a tent.  Being that poor, it's no wonder Clyde turned to crime, stealing his first car at just 17.

Although there are many different versions of the "how they met" story, most historians believe that it took place in January 1930 at the home of a mutual friend.  The two were immediately taken with one another and as it tuned out, they shared many of the same interests (theft, violence, etc.).

Those crazy kids re-enact one of their most
famous killings.  As loving couples do.
Shortly after they met, Clyde was incarcerated at the Eastham Prison Farm where he spent the next two years.  While in custody, he committed his first murder, killing a fellow inmate who was sexually assaulting him.  Just six days prior to his release, he chopped off two of his own toes in an effort to avoid hard labor in the fields.  And you thought your kids were lazy.

Upon his release, Clyde was determined to seek his revenge on the Texas Department of Corrections for the abuses he believed he had suffered while in their custody.  Many of the gang's early robberies were geared towards planning an attack on the Eastham Prison Farm, and they continued to work towards that goal.

After two years of planning, the gang attacked Eastham Prison on January 16, 1934.  They released five inmates from the camp, including former members of their gang.  This assault brought the full weight of the federal government down on the gang, and would lead to their inevitable downfall.

Former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was recalled from retirement with orders to find the outlaw couple.  He tracked them to Bienville Parish in Louisiana, where on May 23, 1934, he coordinated an attack on the couple, who were visiting family members in the area. 

The Bonnie and Clyde death car.
As Clyde drove them down a lonely rural road, Hamer and his posse launched their attack.  Clyde was hit first and was dead before he knew it, after receiving a single gun shot wound to the head.  Reportedly Bonnie, sitting right next to him, screamed in horror at the sight.  Her screams would end, but not until 130 rounds had been pumped into the vehicle.

Bonnie was interred at Crown Hill Memorial Park in Dallas.  You'll find her marker in front of a chain-link fence when you first enter.
The inscription reads: "As the flowers are all made sweeter by the sunshine and the dew, so this old world is made brighter by the lives of folks like you."

Clyde was interred across town at Western Heights Cemetery, which is often mistaken to be abandoned.  It's in a rather poor state of disrepair, but Clyde's marker is still easy to find.  When you enter the main gate, look to your left and you'll see it by the far wall.  He shares the plot with his brother Marvin, who died one year earlier.

The inscription reads: "Gone but not forgotten."


  • Bonnie is often referred to as an outlaw poet.  In fact, the inscription on her marker is one of her original works.

  •  A week before her sixteenth birthday, Bonnie dropped out of high school and married her classmate Roy Thornton.  They'd stay together for three years before eventually separating, although they never officially divorced.  Bonnie was still wearing the wedding ring he had given her when she died.

  • Hollywood has produced several films on the outlaw couple, the most famous being Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (1967).  Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson tracked down the duo in 2019's The Highwaymen.  Click on the titles to see their respective trailers.  The earliest film however, was a solo piece on Bonnie, simply titled The Bonnie Parker Story, in 1958.  You can watch that film in its entirety here

  • When her marriage ended, Bonnie took a job as a waitress in Dallas.  One of her regular customers was a postal worker named Ted Hinton.  A few years later, he joined the police force and would eventually serve in the posse that killed the outlaw couple.

  • The Bonnie and Clyde death car is on permanent display at Whiskey Pete's Casino in Primm, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas.  Check out this review from Roadside America.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Wonder who in Bonnie’s family felt that poem was fitting for her marker.