In January of 1930, a 21-year-old by the name of Clyde Barrow met a 19-year-old by the name of Bonnie Parker.
Together they formed one of the most infamous couples in history. For a period of four years during the Great Depression they terrorized the central United States. They went on a crime spree that included robbery, kidnapping, and murder.
That was until it suddenly came to an incredibly violent end.
Learn more about Bonnie and Clyde and the truth behind the legend on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
The story of Bonnie and Clyde begins before the couple first met.
Clyde Barrow was born in 1909 to a poor family of farmers in Ellis County, Texas, about 35 miles south of Dallas.
He was the fifth of seven children. His family eventually left the farm and moved to a poor neighborhood in the 1920s in Dallas. The family was so poor they lived under their horse wagon until they saved up enough for a tent to live in.
Barrow’s life of crime began in 1926 at the age of 17 when he was arrested for not returning a rental car.
He then began committing a series of what would turn out to be relatively petty crimes, including stealing turkeys, stealing cars, and robbing local stores.
Bonnie Parker was born in 1910 in the small town of Rowena, Texas. Her family was middle class, but her father died when she was four years old. Her mother took her three children to live with Bonnie’s grandparents outside of Dallas, and her mother took up work as a seamstress.
Bonnie was artistic and a dreamer. She wrote poetry and always talked about how she was going to be famous one day.
She actually dropped out of high school in 1926 and got married a week before her 16th birthday to a boy by the name of Roy Thornton. The marriage fell apart almost immediately. Thorton was frequently gone or in trouble with the law. In January 1929, he was sent to prison and Bonnie never saw him again.
Despite their problems and separation, the couple never got divorced.
Bonnie met Clyde on January 5, 1930, at the home of Clyde’s friend, Clarence Clay, in Dallas. A mutual friend of Bonnie and Clay had broken her arm and was staying at the house, and Bonnie was there to take care of her.
Supposedly, Clyde entered the house and saw Bonnie making hot chocolate in the kitchen. According to both of them, it was love at first sight.
The two became instantly smitten and spent most of their time together the next several weeks.
Their budding romance was interrupted in April when Clyde was arrested for stealing a car. He was sent to the Eastham Prison Farm about 140 miles southeast of Dallas.
However, he managed to escape soon after because Bonnie had smuggled him a weapon.
He was captured soon after and during his second stint in jail, he was sexually assaulted. He killed his attacker by beating in his skull with a pipe. Another prisoner who already had a life sentence took the blame, so time wasn’t added to his sentence. It was his first murder.
The prison farm was dedicated to hard labor, and in 1932, to get out of doing hard labor, Clyde had two of his toes cut off.
It turned out to have been for naught because just six days after he lost his toes, he was released from prison based on a petition made by his mother.
Prison did not reform Clyde Barrow. It made him hardened and embittered. His sister Marie said, “Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison because he wasn’t the same person when he got out.”
In February 1932, Bonnie, Clyde, and one of Clyde’s fellow inmates Ralph Fults began a robbery spree in Texas, mostly hitting stores in small towns.
It was then that Cylde began using his favorite weapon. A 1918 Browing Automatic Rifle. It was basically a Word War I surplus machine gun.
On April 19, Bonnie and Fults were arrested in a botched robbery of a hardware store in Kaufman, Texas.
Bonnie was eventually released as she wasn’t convicted by the grand jury, but Fults went to jail and never joined the Barrow Gang Again.
While Bonnie was in jail, Clyde kept on committing crimes.
On April 30, he was the getaway driver for a store robbery in Hillsboro, Texas when the owner was shot and killed.
On August 5, he was drinking in a parking lot with an associate in Stringtown, Oklahoma when the local sheriff and his deputy approached. Clyde and his buddy opened fire injuring the sheriff and killing the deputy.
On October 11, they may have killed a store owner in Sherman, Texas.
On Christmas Eve, Bonnie and Clyde had a new person join what was up until now just a two-person gang. William Daniel, aka WD Jones, joined them at the age of 16.
The next day, on Christmas, Clyde, and WD murdered a man trying to steal his car.
On January 6, Clyde and WD killed another officer in Tarrant County, Texas when they accidentally stumbled into a police trap for another criminal.
By this time, Bonnie and Clyde had gotten on the radar of the FBI. What tipped the FBI off was a stolen car that was found in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. It had been occupied by a man and a woman, and they found a prescription bottle which they managed to trace back to the pharmacy which filled the prescription.
The prescription was in the name of Clyde Barrow’s aunt, and the FBI then put all the pieces together.
This placed Bonnie and Clyde on the FBI’s public enemies list. The early 1930s is considered the public enemy era of the FBI when the public became fascinated by criminals such as John Dillenger, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Al Capone.
The Barrow gang grew in March of 1933 when Clyde’s brother Buck was released from prison. He and his wife Blanche joined Bonnie, Clyde, and WD in Joplin, Missouri.
The group was in a house in a quiet neighborhood but would throw loud, drunken parties and card games late into the night. They also accidentally discharged a gun in the house which finally rose the suspicions of neighbors.
The Joplin police sent five men in two squad cars to the house thinking it was inhabited by bootleggers. In the ensuing firefight, two officers were killed. Bonnie eventually opened up with the Browing machine gun, forcing the remaining officers to flee.
As the Barrow gang fled the house, they left behind quite a bit, including weapons, Buck Barrow’s parole papers, and several photos. One photo, in particular, was that of Bonnie chomping on a cigar, leaning against a car, while holding a pistol.
These images made it to the newspapers and it was what turned Bonnie, Clyde, and the Barrow Gang, into celebrities. It was the image of a gun-toting woman which brought them up to the status of John Dillinger.
Over the next several months in 1933, they traveled throughout middle America, mostly robbing stores, but occasionally banks. They would sometimes take hostages when they needed a car. They usually treated the hostages well and entertained them, before letting them go far from home. They would often give them some money to get back.
They committed crimes as far away as Minnesota, Indiana, and Louisiana. With their new celebrity status, they had to stay low and often would camp outside rather than stay in a populated area.
On June 10, a car accident seriously injured Bonnie. Either her leg was severely burned or covered in battery acid, but she could hardly walk. The gang holed up in Fort Smith, Arkansas to give Bonnie a chance to heal, but WD and Buck bungled a robbery and ended up killing another police officer, causing them to flee once again.
They went to Patte City, Missouri to recuperate when they aroused the suspicions of local residents. They made suspicious purchases and got a cottage for 3 people when 5 showed up. The police figured out what was going on and planned a full-scale raid on the cottage where they were staying.
They called in reinforcements from Kansas City with an armored car and machine guns.
There was a massive gunfight where the police were actually the ones outgunned. The gang managed to escape by dumb luck when a bullet hit the horn of the armored car causing it to go off. The police thought it was an all-clear signal and stopped firing. This allowed the gang to get away.
However, they took serious damage. Buck had been hit in the head, taking out a piece of his skull and exposing his brain. Blanche had glass fly in her eyes blinding her.
They fled to a campsite in Iowa. Again, locals suspected it was the Barrow Gang, and on July 24, police assembled to attack them, as did about 100 spectators.
Bonnie, Clyde, and WD managed to escape on foot, but Blanche and Buck weren’t as lucky. Blanche was captured and Buck was shot in the back. He died of his wounds a few days later.
They continued traveling and robbing for the next month and a half, going to Colorado, Northern Minnesota, Southern Mississippi,
They risked a trip to Texas to visit their families. There Bonnie and Clyde separated from WD. The couple went to Dallas and WD went to Houston, where he was arrested.
The Barrow gang was now down to two.
As Bonnie was still recovering from her burns, Clyde committed more robberies and was almost killed in an ambush when he tried to meet his family.
In January of 1934, Clyde engineered his most daring exploit yet. He arranged a breakout from Eastham Prison Farm where he was once incarcerated. He broke several men out of prison killing a guard in the process.
This really angered the authorities. This was a direct attack on the law enforcement system and now the State of Texas and the FBI were committed to taking them down.
In particular, one man, Captain Frank Hamer of the Texas Rangers, was assigned Bonnie and Clyde as his full-time job.
Harmer began shadowing the couple. Wherever they would appear committing a crime, he would be close behind by a day or two.
On April 1, which was Easter Sunday, the gang, now with the addition of Henry Methvin, who they broke out of jail, was parked on the side of the road near Grapevine, Texas. Two officers stopped thinking they were motorists who needed help.
Both Bonnie and Clyde opened fire, killing both officers.
There were witnesses to the attack and it was reported in the papers. This killing dramatically turned public opinion against the gang, especially Bonnie, as there was now evidence of her actually doing the killing.
Five days later Clyde and Methvin killed another officer in Oklahoma.
Frank Hamer, who had been analyzing their every move, realized they followed a pattern and would regularly visit their families. He figured that the next visit would be to Henry Methvin’s mother in Louisiana.
Knowing what road they would have to take, six police officers led by Hamer set up an ambush on May 21, but they never showed up. Likewise, on the 22nd they were there all day, but they never showed up.
Finally, at 9:15 am on May 23, 1934, a V8 Ford Sedan came speeding down the road. The diver was Clyde Barrow and the passenger was Bonnie Parker.
The police didn’t try to stop the car or arrest the two. They opened fire with machine guns.
The officers proceeded to empty their automatic rifles into the car. Then they each had a shotgun which they emptied into the car, and finally, they fired their pistols.
A total of 112 bullets hit the car, with at least 40 hitting Bonnie or Clyde. They were so riddled with bullets, that it wasn’t possible to know which one killed them.
They had so many holes, the undertaker had a hard time embalming them.
Their deaths caused a media frenzy.
Within a day, 10,000 people arrived in Arcadia, Louisiana to see the place where they were killed. People immediately began to collect souvenirs including one man who tried to cut the trigger finger off of Clyde’s hand.
Bonnie and Clyde wanted to be buried together, but Bonnie’s family wouldn’t allow it. 20,000 people attended Bonnie’s funeral and flowers were sent by Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger.
Clyde was buried with a private funeral.
Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree resulted in many changes to law enforcement. They brought about the use of two-way radios in police cars.
Months after their death, bank robbery and kidnapping were made federal crimes that could be investigated by the FBI. Insurance companies also changed their life insurance policies such that they wouldn’t pay out if death occurred in the commission of a crime, as the policies of both Bonnie and Clyde were paid in full.
The vehicle they were killed in became a traveling exhibit for years and today it is on display at the Primm Valley Resort & Casino south of Las Vegas.
Interest in Bonnie and Clyde exploded in the late 1960s with the release of the movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. It was considered the beginning of the New Hollywood movement in cinema. There were also several pop songs about Bonnie and Clyde released about this time.
While Bonnie and Clyde have been romanticized in popular culture, it shouldn’t be forgotten that they were really serial killers. They killed at least 11 people over the course of three years, on top of all the other crimes they committed.
Both Bonnie and Clyde knew what the end was eventually going to be for them.
One of Bonnie’s poems, titled “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” prophecized their end in the poem’s last verse. She wrote:
Some day they’ll go down together;
They’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief–
To the law a relief–
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.