Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Crimes of Bonnie and Clyde

Along with my fascination with true crime, I also have a great interest in history.  When the two intermingle it is even better.  I do admit that there are a few areas in which I am disinterested in.  I am not super interested in war and war times, aside from a slight interest in the Civil War of the 1860's.  And, then there are the areas that I am nearly obsessed with.  The Lincoln era and his assassination is one, the other is the 1930's gangster era.  This was a time in which many of the "outlaws" were celebrated because it was during The Great Depression and many felt that a lot of the mobsters of the time were just simply trying to survive and reading their stories gave them some sort of excitement.  Such is the story of Bonnie and Clyde.  

What set them apart from other gangsters of the time like John Dillinger and "Pretty Boy" Floyd was Bonnie.  The only other woman I can really think of that was considered to be deep into crime would probably have to be Ma Barker, reportedly the leader of a "gang" that involved many of her children.  Ma Barker was an older woman so she did not hold the attractiveness that Bonnie Parker held being in her early twenties.  People like a love story and early in their crimes that is how Bonnie and Clyde Barrow came off.  She was rough "around the edges" and that attracted people. It was not until later, although vastly overly exaggerated, that people started to believe the roughness did not stop at the edges and was through and through. She provided the sex appeal to the couple.  It has been said that Clyde without Bonnie would not have even been noticed.  He was not considered to be "dapper" and handsome as say Dillinger or even considered to be rather smart necessarily.  About the only thing Clyde Barrow had going for him was his driving skills and the fact that the law at the time prevented law enforcement to cross states to pursue a suspect so he picked places near state borders.  Course the latter worked against him and actually helped investigators track him better.

The details surrounding the lives and deaths of Bonnie and Clyde are filled with speculation.  It seems as if so many people involved, including family, friends and even lawmen, wanted their own "15 minutes of fame" at some point so different and conflicting stories often came out.  And of course the media surely did not help matters.  Stories vary on when and where they met but most agree that they met in January of 1930 at a friends house and were immediately drawn to each other. Bonnie was 20 and Clyde, 21.  Clyde had been in and out of legal trouble since he was 15 years old when he was arrested for not returning a rental car and running from the police. He spent a short time in jail but was soon arrested again with his brother Marvin "Buck," for possession of stolen property when they were caught with turkeys they had stolen and intended to tell.  Over the next few years he was known to do small robberies of stores, and steal cars.  Not long after meeting Bonnie,  Clyde went to jail for theft and sentenced to 14 years.  In March of 1930 Bonnie was able to smuggle a gun to him in prison and he escaped but was recaptured a week later. In April he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm.  

A lot happened to Clyde while he was there and it is often speculated that it was this prison stint that hardened him and turned him from a petty criminal into a man willing to kill anyone in his way.  He committed his first murder while in prison when he beat to death a fellow inmate who had reported repeatedly sexually assaulted Clyde.  Another inmate and future gang member, Ralph Fults was quoted as saying he saw him change "from schoolboy to rattlesnake" in prison.  It was said that his family often commented that he was changed when he came out of prison.  However, I take this information with a grain of salt.  First, I cannot say when these comments were made and even if I did I am not sure they would matter.  It was speculated that after his release Clyde had a goal to seek revenge on the Texas prison system.  I question if these statements were made during their crime spree as an excuse for his behavior or if they were made after his death.  There was a lot of controversy over how Bonnie and Clyde died and there were those, especially family, who voiced their opinions about the "ambush."  To then say he was "different" or not the same person when he came out of prison again would blame the system, just as was speculated, and would take some of the blame off of Clyde.  I am not saying that prison did not necessarily change him but I am unsure that the system was fully to blame.  One of the first signs of Clyde's "smarts" was established while at Eastham.  He was convinced that if he was disabled he would be transferred from the farm to another prison that did not require so much labor work so he convinced a fellow inmate to take an ax and cut off a few of his toes.   It did not get him transferred as he planned.  Then in February of 1932 he was paroled because the Governor was attempting to lessen prison crowding.  He was still trying to heal from his foot injury when release.

Apparently his buddy, Ralph Fults was released at the same time and he, Bonnie and Clyde soon began robbing grocery stores and gas stations.  This is a bit ironic because Clyde's father had been a tenant farmer for many years, often being so poor he could not feed his children but when Clyde was in his early teens his father gave up that live, moved his family into town and ran a gas station of his own.  In April of 1932, just two months after his release, Bonnie and Ralph were arrested after a failed burglary attempt.  Ralph was jailed and never "worked" with Bonnie and Clyde again.  Bonnie served a few months in jail and was released on June 17, 1932.  

While Bonnie and Ralph were in jail Clyde was involved in a crime where a store owner in Texas, J.N. Bucker was shot and killed. The victims wife identified Clyde as the perpetrator when shown mugshots.  The story is that while Clyde was there and involved in some manner, although unsure at this point if there was an intent to kill, he never got out of the car.  

On August 5, 1932 Clyde and Raymond Hamilton, another old prison friend, shot and killed Deputy Eugene Moore and gravely wounded Sheriff C.G. Maxwell in Oklahoma.

On October 1, 1932 they killed Howard Hall, a store owner in Texas.

W.D Jones was only 16 when he convinced Clyde to let him join the gang on Christmas Eve 1932.  The very next day Jones and Clyde killed civilian Doyle Johnson while attempting to steal his car.

On January 6, 1933 Clyde killed Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis when the gang walked into a trap that law enforcement had set up to catch other criminals.

On March 22, 1933 Clyde's brother Marvin "Buck", was released from prison.  He met up with his wife, Blanche and headed to Joplin Missouri.  The Barrow family claims that they simply went to visit with Bonnie and Clyde and to convince Clyde to turn himself into authorities.  History tells us otherwise.  

What happened over the next several days was actually something that happened often and was responsible for the fact that the police were often on their tail.  The gang, no matter who the members were, had a tendency to not keep quiet.  They partied and made noise in areas that were not used to that and it often brought the law to this.  This is what happened in Joplin.  The gang were having loud, alcohol induced parties and card games in a quiet neighborhood and the neighbors would often call the police.  On April 13th this happened again and the police raided the apartment they were staying in.  Gunfire ensued and Detective McGinnis and Constable Harryman were killed.  Jones was shot in his side and both Clyde and Buck were grazed by bullets. They escaped with their lives, but nothing else.  Left behind were rolls of film to be developed, poems written by Bonnie and a lot of information on the gang.  This ended up being released to the media and suddenly Bonnie and Clyde were famous.  One of the most famous things to come out of the apartment was a picture of Bonnie.  It showed her holding a gun with a cigar in her mouth. Bonnie always denied smoking cigars and it was said years later that the picture was altered and that the cigar was actually a rose (this has never been confirmed).  The media had a hay day with everything found in Joplin.  And, as a result it made life on the lam more difficult for the gang.  They were more recognizable and had to be more careful in being identified.  In the beginning the public were simply fascinated by the couple and found them interesting. It was reported that they sometime kidnapped lawmen and robbery victims and would simply release them far from home and sometimes give them cash to get back.  To the public this was not as harmful as it could have been.  As more was learned about them and those who followed them they were seen as coldblooded killers who did not blink to kill anyone in their way.  It should also be noted here that there have been different stories as to just how much Bonnie actually did.  Some say she never fired any shots at people, while there are others, sometimes just based on seeing the picture with the gun and the cigar, say otherwise.  Since this case had so many characters that either exaggerated or diminished their involvement to be seen as a hero or a victim, it is likely the truth of it all will never be known.

After all the publicity from Joplin the gang was forced, at least for a while to do petty crimes to simply survive.  Hotels and restaurants were no longer an option and they spent a while where they lived in the several cars they had stolen and cooking off campfires.

On June 10, 1933 Clyde, Bonnie and Jones were in one car and apparently Buck and Blanche were in another.  Clyde was known for his skill of driving and that is what saved him from being caught by lawmen several times, but he was also responsible for what happened next.  It seems he was not paying attention to signs that an upcoming bridge was being worked on and was not accessible.  He flipped the car and it went into a ravine.  Some reports say the car caught fire while others say that battery acid had leaked.  At any rate Clyde and Jones escaped while Bonnie was trapped in the vehicle.  Some nearby farmers came to help rescue her.  Her legs were damaged but her right leg was severely burned. In the end it was so bad that it "drew up" and for the rest of her life she was in pain and had to hop on her good leg or be carried as she could barely walk.  The gang knew they could not get conventional help and ended up in Arkansas to rest and try to tend to her wounds.  Not long later, Buck and Jones had attempted a robbery and in the process had killed Town Marshall Henry D. Humphry.  Suddenly they had to flee Arkansas.  By July 18, 1933 they were back in Missouri.  They rented two cabins at a place called Red Crown Tourist Court.  They immediately brought on suspicion.  Blanche had gone in to register them.  The owner, Neal Hauser, was first caught off guard by the way she dressed, it just simply seemed odd for a woman.  When he asked her how many people she said three when he clearly saw four other people in the car sitting outside.  She then paid for the rooms using coins instead of paper money.  Later that evening she came back and bought meals, also paying in coins.  Hauser also found it suspicious that the occupants had put newspapers on the windows of the cabin. Nearby was the Red Crown Tavern.  It was a local hangout for lawmen and Hauser mentioned his suspicions to Captain William Baxter who worked for the Highway Patrol.  It appears that Hauser did not know who the new residents were.  

On July 19th, the day after arriving at Red Crown, Clyde and Jones went to town.  Funny enough they paid for the items that they got which would indicate that they were not going to have a repeat of Arkansas.  However, law enforcement officers had been notified to be on the look out for anyone who bought supplies or bandages for burns and apparently they had notified the local druggist who contacted the local sheriff, Holt Coffey.  Coffey got together a posse that included Baxter and others.  They also placed an armored car nearby and surrounded the cabins.  A gunfight ensued.  The gang made their way to a garage near the cabin and escaped but not before Buck had been shot in the head and flying glass had pierced both of Blanche's eyes.  A bullet had hit the horn on the armored car and the lawmen had thought that was a cease fire alert and failed to pursue them.

By the 24th the gang had gotten themselves to Iowa and were at a campground.  Clyde and Jones had gone as far as digging a grave for Buck as they were sure he was going to die soon.  Nearby citizens had seen the vehicle and bloody bandages and contacted authorities.  Once again the gang was surrounded by lawmen.  Bonnie, Clyde and Jones escaped on foot but Buck and Blanche were captured.  Buck died five days later in the hospital.  Blanche apparently was treated for her wounds, that left her permanently blind in her eye, and was arrested.  She was eventually charged with intent to kill and was sentenced to 10 years.  In 1939 she was paroled for good behavior and she re-married in 1940.  Blanche died December 24, 1988 at the age of 77.  In the late 1960's she had worked with Warren Beatty with the film "Bonnie and Clyde."  After the award winning movie was produced Blanche was quick to let everyone know that  she strongly disagreed with her portrayal.  

For the next several months Bonnie, Clyde and Jones laid low doing small robberies, once again simply for survival.  This includes robbing an armory in August to obtain guns and ammo.  In September they headed back to Dallas to visit with family.  This was not the first time they had done this.  Jones later reported to authorities that Bonnie had a rule that they had to visit every few months as she was close to her family.  On this visit Jones headed to Houston alone to visit his family and he never met up with Bonnie and Clyde again.  On November 16, 1933 Jones was arrested in Houston and taken back to Dallas.  It was then that he informed the authorities of all of their actions, how Clyde planned and did things and had given the tidbit about visiting family.  On November 22 another visit with the families was to take place.  The story is that Clyde felt there was a set up and instead of stopping he drove right past the family.  Clyde was correct and authorities began shooting at the vehicle.  It has been said that both Bonnie and Clyde were shot in the legs.  

On November 28, 1933 indictments were issued for Bonnie and Clyde for the murder of Malcolm Davis in January 1933.  This was the first time that Bonnie had been accused of murder although accounts at this point still indicate that she may have never shot her gun.  Presumably this information was given to authorities by Jones.  Once again they escaped.

On January 6, 1934 Clyde orchestrated a raid on Eastham Prison Farm to get his friend Raymond Hamilton and Henry Methvin and others out.  This has been seen as his revenge on the prison system that many believe was the motive that began his crimes and especially his distaste to lawmen.  During the escape inmate Joe Palmer shot prison officer Major Joe Crowson.  This seemed to be the push the authorities needed and many vowed to hunt them down until they were captured, dead or alive.  Many believe however, that it was less about the shooting of the officer than it was the embarrassment that the state suffered from allowing it to happen in the first place.  The prison warden asked a few Texas Rangers to help obtain a posse to go after them but rumors are that they denied the job based on the fact they took issues at shooting a woman.  Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer had no such reservations.  He had retired but took the case.  Hamer was known as a die hard who stopped at nothing to finish a job.  And so the hunt began. 

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1934 Clyde and Methvin killed highway patrolmen, H.D. Murphy and Edward Wheeler in Texas.  A supposed eye witness told his story reporting Bonnie as playing a major role in the shooting.  His description was widely reported by the media.  It was not discovered until much later that it seems nothing he said was truthful but by then it did not matter because people believe what they read, the first time out.  Outrage over the shooting intensified when Murphy's finance wore her wedding gown to the funeral.  Highway Patrol boss L.G. Phares offered a $1,000 reward for the "dead bodies" of those responsible for the shooting.  Texas Governor, Ma Ferguson add an extra $500 per person.

On April 6, 1934 Clyde and Methvin once again were on a killing spree.  This time Constable William Campbell was killed in Oklahoma. They also kidnapped police chief Perry Boyd and later released him.  He reported that after his release Bonnie asked him to let the public know she did not smoke cigars.  Apparently she was upset about the image of her that had put out in the public.  One newspaper printed a cartoon of an electric chair with a sign that said "Reserved for Bonnie and Clyde."

During all of this time the authorities were never far behind them.  Hamer, a seasoned investigator discovered how Clyde worked.  He basically drove around in a circle around 5-6 states always picking places near the state line to rob and it made him easier to track.  On May 21st the gang were headed towards the home of Henry Methvins parents in Louisiana.  Authorities were made aware of this and were on their trail.  A posse had been put together of 6 officers from 3 different agencies.  Two were Texas Rangers, two were from the Dallas' sheriff's department and two were from Bienville Parish Louisiana.  It has been said that instead of acting as one group that it seemed more like three (2 from each agency) and that they all had a great distaste and trust with each other.  They apparently argued much on what to do when.  

At this point things get pretty sketchy.  For every account of what happened over the next few days there is another account that says differently so I will try to work through that as best as I can.  

The posse apparently sat in position off the road, just outside Bienville Parish for at least a day waiting for Bonnie and Clyde to come through.  Some account say they took position on the 21st and stayed until the ambush on the 23rd.  The official report turned in by the officers involved says that Ivan Methvin, Henry's father, was placed on the side of the road with the hood of his car up in an effort to get them to stop and help him, giving the posse the chance to shoot them.  Some reports have said that Ivan was kidnapped and tied to a tree and that his car was placed on the road without him there.  Other reports say neither Ivan, nor his car was involved.  For those reports that insist that Ivan was involved some persist in believing that he did so willing, making a deal with authorities to help as long as his son received a pardon.  And again, other reports say that while Henry did get a pardon, in Texas anyway, that that deal was made long before any opportunity for the roadside ambush came into play.  I am unsure I completely buy the official report if it implies that Ivan was involved willingly and without reservations.  I believe if he was involved he was threatened or coerced in some way whether it be threats to him or his son.  At any rate at some point the car that Bonnie and Clyde were using (yet another stolen car) slowed at some point near the posse and Officer Oakley fired the first shot after which over 130 rounds were fired. Almost immediately, and continuing throughout the years, the posse was criticized because they gave no warning at all.  Of all the officers involved Oakley was the only one to ever express remorse publicly over the handling of the situation.  It was determined that Clyde was killed instantly.  Reports say that after Clyde was shot Bonnie could be heard screaming.  The official coroner's report said that Clyde was shot 17 times and Bonnie 26, each had several head shots and Clyde's spinal cord was split from bullets. Their bodies were so bullet ridden that the embalmer said he had issues because there were so many bullet wounds that the fluid kept leaking out.  

The car was full of weapons and ammunition and there were at least 15 sets of license plates from various states.  It was said that they changed cars often and plates even more frequently.  After everything died down two officers remained at the scene while the others went to town to call their superiors.  Word got around fast and before the remaining officers returned a large mob had gathered around the car.  The officers who had stayed at the scene were overtaken and had lost control. People in the crowd were grabbing pieces from the bodies and the car for souvenirs.    It was reported (although unsure if true or legend) that people attempted to cut off Clyde's trigger finger and his ear.  Hamer was one of the officers who had left but when he returned he got the crowd under control.  The ironic thing is that seemingly he may have actually done this so that he and the other officers got the "pick of the litter."  Hamer took al the guns and ammunition for himself.  It was said that Clyde's mother asked for them to be returned in a letter to Hamer and that he did not respond.  One officer took a saxophone belonging to Clyde but apparently felt remorse and returned it to the family.  All of the personal items were removed from the car and very little was returned to the families.  Most were later sold for profit.  Many of those who initially offered rewards for the capture and/or deaths backed out and it was said that officially each of the six lawmen involved in the ambush earned about $200 per person.

The Barrow family claimed that Sheriff Jordan removed a suitcase of money from the car and kept it to buy land and retire. This was obviously money stolen over time throughout the robberies.  I have found no report to confirm this.  Presumably Jordan did buy some land and retire but whether it was with money found in the car is up for speculation.  One thing I found very interesting involving Jordan was the issue of the car.  It too was stolen property.  It had been stolen on April 29th from a Ruth Warren, hence the car was named "The Warren Car."  The license plates belonged to a man in Arkansas.  Ruth Warren went to Louisiana to get her car but Sheriff Jordan told her he would not release if for less than $15,000!   She obtained a lawyer and the case went to court.  Jordan apparently fought hard until a judge threatened to put him in jail if he did not give the car back to her.  It was returned in August of 1934 still covered in blood and body tissue and came with an $85 tow and storage bill.  After finally recovering her car, Warren rented it out for "carnival" shows often and then eventually sold it for $3,500.  In 1952 it was bought again for $14,500 and in 1998 again, but this time for $250,000.  It supposedly now is on display in various places at times in Las Vegas Nevada.

There were insurance policies on both Bonnie and Clyde and their families cashed them in.  Because of this most companies changed their policy to exclude death during a criminal activity.  Although technically they were not killed while committing a felony or a crime unless you count they were in a stolen car with plates that did not belong to it.  Bonnie's brother claimed her body and returned with her to Dallas.  Despite her family knowing that she had been asked to be buried next to Clyde they did not allow this.  She had a public funeral in which 20,000 people attended.  There were flowers allegedly from John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.  Clyde's family opted for a private funeral and he was buried next to his brother, Buck, whom he shares a tombstone with.  

Two months after Bonnie and Clyde were killed John Dillinger was killed coming out of a theater in Chicago; three months after that Pretty Boy Floyd was killed and just one month later Baby Face Nelson was killed by authorities.  J. Edgar Hoover was having a ball.  This all but ended the era of the "Public Enemy era." 

In February 1935 Dallas County and federal authorities began what they called a "harboring trial." Twenty friends and family members of Bonnie, Clyde and any of their gang members were charged with harboring the criminals.  All twenty either pleaded guilty or were found guilty.  Each of Bonnie and Clyde's mothers served 30 days each.  Others were sentenced to as much as two years as in the case of Raymond Hamilton's brother Floyd, to as little as one hour of custody in the case of Clyde's sister, Marie.  

Raymond Hamilton and Joe Palmer, both who escaped prison in the January 1934 raid on Eastham were recaptured and both were convicted of murder.  In fact, they were both executed on the same day, May 10, 1935.  It seems that Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin and W.D. Jones all stated that they had never seen Bonnie shoot a gun or be involved in any of the gunfights with authorities or civilians.  

Ted Hinton worked for the Dallas Sheriff Department in 1934.  Prior to that he had been a postal worker and was a regular customer in a cafe where Bonnie worked for a period of time.  It was said that he was part of the posse partly because he would recognize Bonnie on sight.  It was many years later that Hinton was the one who claimed that the photo of Bonnie with the cigar had actually been a rose and altered by the newspaper.  He was also the one who mentioned that Ivan Methvin had been tied to a tree during the ambush as his car sat on the road and that he kept quiet his son would be pardoned.  It was speculated and said that later in life Ted Hinton was "crazy" so no one knows if his statements were true.  

Ivan Methvin was killed in 1946 by a hit and run driver.  While the pardon that was obtained for him covered Texas, Henry Methvin was still convicted in Oklahoma for the murder of Constable Campbell.  He was paroled in 1942 and was killed by a train in 1948.  Some say that he was drunk and stumbled upon the tracks.  There has always been speculation that they were both murdered in retaliation for turning on Bonnie and Clyde.

After separating from Bonnie and Clyde in November of 1933, being arrested and informing police of their actions and plans, W.D. Jones never reunited with them.  He later claimed that he had been held hostage by Clyde and attempted to tell "wild sex stories" that apparently some how were proven to be untrue.  He eventually was convicted for the murder of Doyle Johnson and served 15 years.  He was killed in August of 1974 by the jealous boyfriend of a woman he was helping.  



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