They pilfered banks and mom-and-pop stores, killed police officers — and captivated the nation. But Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, reared in the West Dallas slums, may have been their biggest fans.
Sure, Depression-era America was enamored with the love-struck outlaws, but Hollywood hype, intense media interest and time have ways of distorting reality.
Their life on the run, for the most part, was far from glamorous, historians say.
They were clumsy criminals. They didn’t always rob banks, often resorting to stealing small sums of cash from gasoline stations and food stores, while living out of their stolen cars.
Barrow and Parker were killed on May 23, 1934, on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Hamer, who had begun tracking the gang on February 12, led the posse. He had studied the gang’s movements and found that they swung in a circle skirting the edges of five mid-western states, exploiting the “state line” rule which prevented officers from pursuing a fugitive into another jurisdiction. Barrow was consistent in his movements, so Hamer charted his path and predicted where he would go. The gang’s itinerary centered on family visits, and they were due to see Methvin’s family in Louisiana. In case they were separated, Barrow had designated Methvin’s parents’ residence as a rendezvous, and Methvin became separated from the rest of the gang in Shreveport. Hamer’s posse was composed of six men: Texas officers Hamer, Hinton, Alcorn, and B.M. “Maney” Gault, and Louisiana officers Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Morel Oakley.
1934 Ford Deluxe V-8 after the ambush with the bodies of Barrow and Parker in the front seats
On May 21, the four posse members from Texas were in Shreveport when they learned that Barrow and Parker were planning a visit to Bienville Parish that evening with Methvin. The full posse set up an ambush along Louisiana State Highway 154 south of Gibsland toward Sailes. Hinton recounted that their group was in place by 9 pm, and waited through the whole of the next day (May 22) with no sign of the perpetrators. Other accounts said that the officers set up on the evening of May 22.
The gunfire was so loud that the posse suffered temporary deafness all afternoon
At approximately 9:15 am on May 23, the posse were still concealed in the bushes and almost ready to give up when they heard the Ford V8 Barrow was driving approaching at high speed. In their official report, they stated they had persuaded Ivy Methvin to position his truck along the shoulder of the road that morning. They hoped Barrow would stop to speak with him, putting his vehicle close to the posse’s position in the bushes. When Barrow fell into the trap, the lawmen opened fire while the vehicle was still moving. Oakley fired first, probably before any order to do so. Barrow was killed instantly by Oakley’s head shot, and Hinton reported hearing Parker scream. The officers fired about 130 rounds, emptying their weapons into the car. Many of Bonnie and Clyde’s wounds would have been fatal, yet the two had survived several bullet wounds over the years in their confrontations with the law.
The bullet-ridden Deluxe, originally owned by Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas, was later exhibited at carnivals and fairs then sold as a collector’s item; in 1988, the Primm Valley Resort and Casino in Las Vegas purchased it for some $250,000. Barrow’s enthusiasm for cars was evident in a letter he wrote earlier in the spring of 1934, addressed to Henry Ford himself: “While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8.”
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 the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns. There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren’t taking any chances.
Actual film footage taken by one of the deputies immediately after the ambush show 112 bullet holes in the vehicle, of which around one quarter struck the couple. The official coroner’s report by parish coroner Dr. J. L. Wade listed seventeen entrance wounds on Barrow’s body and twenty-six on that of Parker, including several headshots on each, and one that had severed Barrow’s spinal column. Undertaker C.F. “Boots” Bailey had difficulty embalming the bodies because of all the bullet holes.
The perpetrators had more than a dozen guns and several thousand rounds of ammunition in the Ford, including 100 20-round BAR magazines
The deafened officers inspected the vehicle and discovered an arsenal of weapons, including stolen automatic rifles, sawed-off semi-automatic shotguns, assorted handguns, and several thousand rounds of ammunition, along with fifteen sets of license plates from various states. Hamer stated: “I hate to bust the cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down, however if it wouldn’t have been her, it would have been us.” Word of the deaths quickly got around when Hamer, Jordan, Oakley, and Hinton drove into town to telephone their respective bosses. A crowd soon gathered at the spot. Gault and Alcorn were left to guard the bodies, but they lost control of the jostling, curious throng; one woman cut off bloody locks of Parker’s hair and pieces from her dress, which were subsequently sold as souvenirs. Hinton returned to find a man trying to cut off Barrow’s trigger finger, and was sickened by what was occurring. Arriving at the scene, the coroner reported:
Nearly everyone had begun collecting souvenirs such as shell casings, slivers of glass from the shattered car windows, and bloody pieces of clothing from the garments of Bonnie and Clyde. One eager man had opened his pocket knife, and was reaching into the car to cut off Clyde’s left ear.
Hinton enlisted Hamer’s help in controlling the “circus-like atmosphere” and they got people away from the car.
The posse towed the Ford, with the dead bodies still inside, to the Conger Furniture Store & Funeral Parlor in downtown Arcadia, Louisiana. Preliminary embalming was done by Bailey in a small preparation room in the back of the furniture store, as it was common for furniture stores and undertakers to share the same space. The population of the northwest Louisiana town reportedly swelled from 2,000 to 12,000 within hours. Curious throngs arrived by train, horseback, buggy, and plane. Beer normally sold for 15 cents a bottle but it jumped to 25 cents, and sandwiches quickly sold out. Barrow had been shot in the head by a .35 Remington Model 8. Henry Barrow identified his son’s body, then sat weeping in a rocking chair in the furniture section.
H.D. Darby was an undertaker at the McClure Funeral Parlor and Sophia Stone was a home demonstration agent, both from nearby Ruston. Both of them came to Arcadia to identify the bodies because the Barrow gang had kidnapped them in 1933. Parker reportedly had laughed when she discovered that Darby was an undertaker. She remarked that maybe someday he would be working on her; Darby did assist Bailey in the embalming. (Wikipedia)
These rare photographs of the ambush aftermath feature the get away car, Texas Ranger Captain, Frank Hamer, and a post mortem of the couple. Also included is an earlier photograph, “Bonnie & Clyde, Kissing & Embracing.”