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Bonnie and Clyde: The Infamous Criminal Duo That Terrorised the Midwest in the 1900s

BY Dipanjana Mukherjee February 19, 2020
Bonnie and Clyde

Photo of Bonnie and Clyde, March 1933. (Library of Congress)

The notoriously popular duo, Bonnie and Clyde, were criminals who operated during the years of the Great Depression. The pair was responsible for several crimes, including countless murders and robberies.

Clyde was responsible for several killings and was wanted for robbery, murder, as well as state charges of kidnapping. Despite Bonnie and Clyde’s activities since 1929, it was only in late 1932, that the FBI, then known as the Bureau of Investigation, first became interested in the duo’s activities.

The origin of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’

The pair first met in January 1930, in Texas, and fell in love. Bonnie, 19, was married to a man who had been imprisoned for murder. While Clyde Champion Barrow 21, was unmarried. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested for a burglary and sent to jail. He tried to escape prison by using a gun, which Bonnie had smuggled to him. However, he was recaptured and sent back to prison. In February 1932, Clyde got out on parole and joined Bonnie as they embarked upon a life of crime.

Bonnie and Clyde were suspects for innumerable criminal activities. In their many years of living a criminal life, they were believed to have committed at least thirteen murders. Clyde was under suspicion for the murder of two police officers in Joplin, a place near Missouri. He was also suspected to have kidnapped two people in rural Louisiana.

The pair was spotted many times and was allegedly connected to multiple bank robberies and automobile thefts. Clyde’s long list of criminal activities kept growing exponentially.

The Barrow Gang and their crime spree

In 1932, after Clyde was released from prison, the pair began traveling. In 1933, Clyde’s brother, Ivan M. “Buck” Barrow was released from the Texas State Prison and was granted a full pardon by the Governor. Buck, and his wife Blanche, joined Bonnie, Clyde, and Jones. The gang carried out several huge robberies and were in the headlines for days. They narrowly escaped encounters with the law several times. However, on July 29, 1933, in Iowa, they were caught in a shootout with the police. During this encounter, Buck Barrow was heavily injured and Blanche was arrested. Later in November 1933, Jones was also taken into custody by the sheriff’s office in Houston.

The same year, on November 22, the sheriff and his deputies of Dallas, Texas set up a trap for the duo. The police tried to catch Bonnie and Clyde near Grand Prairie in Texas, but they escaped. They stole an attorney’s car on the highway which was later found abandoned in Miami, Oklahoma. Later that year, on December 21, they robbed a citizen at Shreveport in Louisiana.

In 1934, on January 16, five prisoners escaped from Eastham State Prison Farm in Waldo, Texas. It was Bonnie and Clyde who helped the prisoners escape. Among the prisoners who escaped, Raymond Hamilton (whose sentence was to be over 200 years in prison) and Henry Methvin of Louisiana were included.

The ambush and death of Bonnie & Clyde

In 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow stole a Ford Fordor Deluxe Sedan, which they subsequently used to roam around all of the Midwest, leaving a trail of murders and robberies in their wake. The car they stole was an extremely popular variant among criminal gangs and gangsters of the era, owing to its inconspicuous and rather common appearance. It also had a V8 engine, and the odds of escaping law enforcers were quite high, as the cars used by the police were relatively much slower.

Their shortcoming, however, was taking the stolen vehicle out of the state they stole it in. As it still retained the original number-plate belonging to that particular state, it attracted quite a bit of attention. It is also important to remember that Bonnie and Clyde were operating during the Great Depression, and people did not really have the money to drive long distances- thereby making the duo’s ‘inconspicuous’ car, rather conspicuous.

The police ambushed the pair at a roadblock in Louisiana after following them. The police feared that issuing any kind of warning to the two would enable them to escape once again. Instead, the officers kept shooting at Bonnie and Clyde trapped within their own vehicle, until all signs of activity ceased. The infamous criminal duo died a desperate death on 23 May 1934, in this police encounter. Even though the two had died, their stolen car continued to go places.

The rendezvous of the death car

Interestingly, even after the duo was eliminated, Bonnie and Clyde’s famous rendezvous car continued to go places. The ‘Death Car’, as it was popularly known, with its bullet holes and blood splatters became a huge tourist attraction. Since then, it was moved around to serve as an attraction at carnivals, flea markets, state fairs, as well as amusement parks.

Bonnie and Clyde car

The car (Ford Deluxe V-8) Bonnie and Clyde died in. (Wikimedia Commons)

For a considerable period of time, the ‘Death Car’ was in Princeton, Massachusetts,  at the Museum of Antique Autos. In the 1970s, the car was relocated to a race track in Nevada where people could sit in the car paying a dollar. A decade later, it was moved to a car museum in Las Vegas, and just ten years after, to a casino located near the California-Nevada state line. However, the Death Car was once again reallocated- this time to another casino situated on the other side of the freeway. Since then, Bonnie and Clyde’s infamous get-away car has been spotted in multiple casinos in Iowa, Missouri, and northern Nevada- and a few replicas have also been reported.

Where is the death car now?

In recent years, the real Death Car is parked in Primm, Nevada, at its home casino called ‘Whiskey Pete’s Casino’. It can be found on a carpet which is right next to the cashier’s cage. To vouch for the authenticity of the car it is accompanied by several letters.

The car has been put on display behind glass panels with doors tied and shut to prevent visitors from sitting inside it. The interior of the car is clearly visible, and the exterior- peppered with bullet holes, is quite a sight to behold. Two mannequins on display next to the car, cradle weapons as they strike a pose like Bonnie and Clyde.

Bonnie and Clyde in pop culture

Crime, romance, and a tragic end- the lives of Bonnie and Clyde were practically a recipe for a Hollywood blockbuster. A film titled “Bonnie and Clyde” was made in 1967, directed by Arthur Penn and starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, that definitely lived up to the expectations. It became a cult classic and turned the crime duo into a pop-culture phenomenon. Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot released a duet, “Bonnie and Clyde” romanticizing the life of the pair, in 1968. The song was based on a poem called “The Trail’s End” written by Bonnie a few weeks before her death. This song became the forerunner of many songs to come, by artists ranging from Beyonce and Jay Z to Scarlett Johansson, and stage performances.

Decades after their infamous death, the duo are still alive in pop-culture as the “Romeo and Juliet” of the crime world.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “The Story of the Ingenious and Daring Escape from the Alcatraz“.

Fact Analysis:
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