[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bonnie and Clyde are two of the most infamous villains to come out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Lest we forget that they were, in fact, villains, let’s emphasize the worst of what they did before we talk about their other exploits.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who operated at the height of the Public Enemy era, are responsible for the deaths of 13 people, nine of which were police officers. Most of those were from right around here: heroes attempting to restore law and order to communities that had suffered from robberies and murders.
The passage of time has removed Bonnie and Clyde enough from the collective memory that they have become romanticized outlaw bandits. However, they were a national spectacle in their own time, during the height of the crimes.
Who Were Bonnie and Clyde?
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910 in Rowena, Texas. After Bonnie’s father died in 1914, her mother, Emma Parker, took her three children to West Dallas to live with her parents, and she found employment as a seamstress.
At the young age of 15, Bonnie fell in love with Roy Thornton, and in 1926 they dropped out of school to be married. Their marriage was nothing to be celebrated. Roy was always in trouble with the law and frequently gone, and their paths separated by January of the following year when Bonnie returned to her mother’s home. Even though she died years later still wearing her wedding ring, Bonnie and Roy never saw each other again.
By Dallas (Tex.). Police Dept. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Clyde Chestnut Barrow came to the Dallas area with his family in the 20s, part of a wave of poor farmers who were trying to improve their circumstances. Despite the move, the Barrow family remained quite poor, living under their wagon until they could save up enough money to purchase a tent.
At age 17, Clyde had his first run-in with the law after failing to return a rental car that he had taken to visit a high school girlfriend. This was the first in a series of crimes that included more auto theft, safe cracking, and robbery.
Barrow’s exploits landed him in Eastham prison in 1930. After another prisoner repeatedly assaulted him, Clyde slew his tormentor with a lead pipe—the first time he took another’s life.
Healthy inmates were expected to perform hard labor. Looking for a way out of working in the hot fields, in 1932 Clyde convinced another inmate to help him chop off two of his toes, giving him a limp for the rest of his life. Barrow was unaware that he was just six days away from freedom when he lost his toes because his mother had secured his parole. His short time in prison forever scarred him, giving him a drive for vengeance that went far beyond the naïve disrespect for the law that had landed him there in the first place.
The Barrow Gang
Bonnie met Clyde and fell in love with the young gangster just before his stint in Eastham prison. She was one of the first of the gang to join up with Clyde after his release. Their crimes began (again) with a series of robberies in an attempt to collect the resources necessary to launch a raid against Clyde’s former prison.
Trail’s End – The Fall of Bonnie and Clyde
By FBI (http://foia.fbi.gov/bonclyd/bonclyd1a) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Posse led by Frank Hamer (bottom right)
Due to the Barrow Gang’s complete disregard for the sanctity of life, public outrage demanded their capture… or death. After the embarrassing Eastham Breakout in 1934, former Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer came out of retirement to lead the manhunt for Bonnie and Clyde.
Hamer was a formidable Texas Ranger, with 53 kills in the line of duty. He was legendary for his tenacity, doggedly pursuing criminals wherever they roamed.
After staying hot on their heels for several months, Hamer saw a pattern in their movement. The Barrow Gang bounded along the edges of five states in the midwest, as authorities lacked the jurisdiction to pursue them across state lines.
He also saw that their schedule centered on family visits. As they came back around to Louisiana, Hamer predicted that the Gang would visit Henry Methvin’s family there. Hamer and his posse of five other officers set an ambush.
While in town, the gang (now reduced to a trio) stopped to get lunch. While Methvin was inside getting sandwiches, Clyde saw a police officer and drove off, leaving Methvin inside. In the event of separation, they had planned to meet near the Methvin residence, so Henry hitchhiked there.
The lawmen coerced Ivan Methvin, Henry’s father, into helping set their trap. They promised him that his son would not receive the death penalty for his part in the murders of two officers in Grapevine. Under their direction, Ivan parked his truck near the meeting spot and removed one of the wheels, as though he were changing a tire. The officers concealed themselves in the bushes for a day or two, each armed with a Browning Automatic Rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol.
While the setup was similar to the ambush that the famous duo escaped from on November 22 of the previous year, this time Bonnie and Clyde did not sense danger.
When Barrow stopped to assist Henry’s father, the lawmen opened fire. Not wanting to give Clyde a chance to shoot back, the officers emptied all of their weapons into the car in a barrage of gunfire without asking for surrender first. Bonnie and Clyde had no chance of surviving the ambush.
The last member of the Barrow Gang, Henry Methvin, was not prosecuted for the murders in Texas. However, Oklahoma had made no promises to forgive the murder of Constable Campbell, and Henry was convicted and sentenced to death in 1935. He was eventually released on parole but met his end in 1948 at the hands of an oncoming train—whether accident or foul play, no one knows for sure.
Enemies of the People
Violent criminals aren’t usually something we celebrate, but people have always been fascinated by Bonnie and Clyde. In the beginning, the public may have viewed them as dashing “Robin Hood” criminals. This perception was encouraged by pictures depicting the darling couple found after the Joplin shootout.
This romantic vision of idealistic outlaws soon ended, especially as it became apparent that even Bonnie was a cold-blooded killer. They would rob, kidnap, or kill anyone over amounts as small as $5, targeting law enforcement at every opportunity.
Due to their infamy, the scene of Bonnie and Clyde’s death quickly became a circus. Nearby Arcadia saw more than 10,000 visitors within a day. A similar crowd attended the duo’s Texas burials.
The mobs surrounding the Parker home made conducting a funeral there impossible, so Bonnie’s family buried her in Dallas. More than 20,000 people attended her funeral. Clyde was buried in the Western Heights Cemetery in Dallas, in a family plot.
Bonnie and Clyde’s indiscriminate killing sealed their fate. They received no chance to defend themselves in court, no chance to surrender—they were enemies of the people. Their fascinating and grim legend will live on in Bedford and surrounding areas for years to come.
~Dr. Marea White