Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910 and stood all of 4’11” tall. The second of three children, Bonnie was nobody from nowhere. Her father was a bricklayer who died when she was four. This unfortunate young lady came of age in a single parent home at the height of the Great Depression. Such sordid circumstances made a person desperate for something, anything, better.
Parker dropped out of high school and married Roy Thornton in 1926, six days shy of her 16th birthday. Thornton was a ne’er-do-well whose comportment kept him intermittently incarcerated. In 1929 they parted never to meet again but didn’t bother divorcing. Bonnie was still wearing Thornton’s wedding ring the day she died.
Parker worked in a Dallas diner. One of her regular customers was a postal worker named Ted Hinton who developed a bit of a crush on the comely young waitress. In 1932 Hinton joined the Dallas Sheriff’s Department. In an odd turn of fate, Hinton was one of six lawmen who shot the slight woman to death two years later.
Clyde Chestnut Barrow was himself 5’7” and came up in the same soul-sucking poverty as Bonnie Parker. The fifth of seven children, Barrow’s family immigrated to West Dallas in search of work in the early 1920s. For the first several months they were in Dallas the Barrow family lived underneath their wagon. When Clyde’s father Henry scraped up enough money to buy a tent it was a significant improvement.
Clyde Barrow was a sociopath who was first arrested in 1926 at age 17 for stealing a rental car. His second arrest came soon after when he and his older brother Buck were caught stealing turkeys. He held legitimate jobs between 1927 and 1929 but kept in practice cracking safes, robbing stores, and stealing cars. In early 1930 Clyde met Bonnie through a mutual friend. They hit it off immediately, but their romance was cut short when Clyde went to prison.
Prison changed Clyde Barrow irrevocably. He was sexually assaulted while in jail and subsequently killed his tormentor by bashing his head in with a lead pipe. Another inmate already serving a life sentence took the blame.
To get out of working in the fields Barrow had a fellow convict chop off two of his toes with an axe. He walked with a distinctive limp ever after. Unbeknownst to him, Clyde’s mother had secured his parole six days after his self-inflicted injury. After various stints in prison, his sister Marie said of him, “Something awful must have happened to him in prison because he sure wasn’t the same person when he got out.”
Bonnie and Clyde Find Their True Calling
Bonnie and Clyde kept themselves supported via a string of robberies of small stores and gas stations. In April of 1932 Barrow’s gang shot and killed a shopkeeper during a robbery attempt. Though Clyde was purportedly manning the getaway car, this was the first time he was accused of murder. Four months later Barrow ran afoul of a pair of lawmen at a country dance and killed one of them while gravely wounding the other. This was the first of nine police officers who would fall to Clyde’s guns.
By 1933 the Barrow gang had grown to five. W.D. Jones along with Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche stole cars and traveled from place to place, robbing stores and banks and killing as they felt the need. The stress of their profession along with the confined nature of their automobiles purportedly generated some vigorous personal friction.
Much of Bonnie’s legendary persona was a press-fueled falsehood. After a shootout in Joplin, Missouri, police recovered an arsenal of weapons along with the gang’s personal effects. Among them was some undeveloped film showing the legendary pair clowning around with their impressive collection of firepower. Bonnie chain-smoked Camel cigarettes but was never known to favor cigars. However, a grainy black and white image of her chomping on one of Clyde’s cigars and wielding a revolver defined her in the mind of the American public.
The one weapon Bonnie was known to run was a cut-down 20-gauge Remington Model 11 shotgun. This weapon was known as a Whippet for its capacity to be concealed and then whipped out on a moment’s notice. She sewed a breakaway zippered pocket into some of Clyde’s trousers to accommodate such a weapon.
The American people initially viewed Bonnie and Clyde as folk heroes. Everybody was suffering, and someone who stole from the hated banks found admirers among the poor and downtrodden. However, as the body count rose public opinion turned against the band. Law Enforcement was mobilized, and the fuse was lit.
Retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was a relic of a previous era. Hamer was officially credited with 53 kills in the line of duty and suffered 17 wounds along the way. After the execution-style killing of a pair of Texas highway patrolmen a reward of $2,000 was offered for the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde.
What soured the public on Bonnie, in particular, was a widely circulated tale that she had wielded her 20-gauge Whippet to administer the coup de grace to the two wounded patrolmen. This story was later reliably discredited. She was likely asleep on the backseat of the car when the encounter occurred. Though she was present for more than 100 felony robberies, there is no compelling evidence that she actually killed anybody.
Using methodical police work Hamer tracked the pair to a rural stretch of road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Hamer and his five associates established an ambush and remained in position for a day and a half. They were considering giving up when the fugitive couple finally drove by.
Lawman Prentiss Oakley fired early and shot Barrow through the head, killing him instantly. The rest of the posse then opened up, riddling the car with bullets. In all they fired about 130 rounds. Between them, Bonnie and Clyde had nearly fifty bullet wounds. They were both dead by the time the car rolled to a stop.
The Barrow Gang’s Hardware
Clyde was known for remaining cool under fire, and his weapon of choice was a Browning Automatic Rifle. Though a Thompson submachine gun and Winchester 12-gauge shotgun were recovered after the shootout with police in Joplin, Missouri, the couple seemed to be between Thompsons when they met their end.
Clyde’s first two BARs were gifts from a fellow criminal named Herbert Farmer in 1932. Farmer had stolen the weapons from a Missouri National Guard Armory. In 1933 Clyde and W.D. Jones robbed Guard armories in Enid, Oklahoma, and Plattville, Illinois, securing enough firepower to keep them equipped for the rest of their brief days.
The inventory of weapons found in the car after the killing included three BARs, Bonnie’s 20-gauge Remington Model 11 Whippet, a 10-gauge lever-action Winchester Model 1901 shotgun, seven M1911 pistols, a .32-caliber M1903 Colt automatic pistol, an M1909 Colt .45 revolver, Bonnie’s .38-caliber Colt Detective Special, and a small .25-caliber Colt automatic. Additionally, they had 100 loaded BAR magazines and 3,000 rounds of assorted ammunition.
Hamer wielded a Remington .30-caliber Model 8 semiautomatic rifle, while Prentiss Oakley packed the same gun in .35-caliber. This was the weapon that killed Barrow in the opening moments of the ambush. One of the other posse members fired yet another Model 8 in .25 caliber, and there were several Remington Model 11 shotguns on hand.
Ted Hinton, Bonnie’s former customer at the diner, sprayed the car liberally with a Colt Monitor BAR on loan from the Texas National Guard. I have not found any reliable justification for how the Texas National Guard came to possess a Colt Monitor. The Monitor was a civilian/Law Enforcement weapon that was, to my knowledge, never adopted by the military.
All of the lawmen carried handguns. Hamer’s sidearm was a Colt 1911A1 in .38 Super. One of the posse members, the local Louisiana sheriff, used a lever action Winchester Model 94. According to Hinton’s testimony, each officer had a rifle, a shotgun, and a sidearm. They each emptied their rifles into the car and then transitioned to the scatterguns for the approach, running them dry as well. By the time they reached the vehicle, they had also each expended the rounds in their pistols. Hamer took the gang’s weapons as part of his payment. Some sources said the three BAR’s were never seen again. Others claimed they were in museums. Any reader insights would be welcome.
Bonnie and Clyde were simply executed on that lonely Louisiana road. However, these two were known to employ overwhelming firepower without hesitation when confronted by Law Enforcement. Bonnie was a fairly competent poet and wrote of her ultimate demise well in advance. They never expected to survive to retirement.
The 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and met with widespread acclaim. As a Southerner, however, the forced Texas accents made me itch. The original story is exceptionally compelling. However, the movie’s script took any number of unnecessary liberties, not the least of which involved depicting Frank Hamer as fairly inept. Hamer’s widow and son later sued the studio for defamation of character and won an out-of-court settlement. The 1967 film was the first major film to use squibs and blood packs to simulate bullet strikes and is generally accepted as having pioneered our current state of graphic violence in movies.
By contrast, the 2019 Netflix production The Highwaymen relates the story from Hamer’s point of view and is absolutely fantastic. The final shootout was filmed on the site of the actual event. While the story and guns are not perfect, it is worth the watch just to see that Colt Monitor BAR in action.
Though never verified it was rumored that Bonnie was roughly two months pregnant when she was killed. Their story became an indelible part of American Gangster lore. The pitiless killing was a fitting end to a pair of legendary villains.