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The Early Lives of Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie Parker was born in Rowena Texas in 1901. The family lived comfortably off of the father’s salary from his job as a bricklayer. However, after her father suddenly died in 1914, Bonnie’s mother was forced to move the family to a part of Dallas. Bonnie did well in school and particularly liked to write poetry. She was known to be good-looking and petite, standing at just 4 feet, 11 inches and weighing 90 pounds.

Bonnie posing for a picture while on the run with Clyde

When she was 16, Bonnie dropped out of school and married Roy Thornton. The marriage was not very happy though, and Roy spent more and more time away from home. He was arrested in 1929 and charged with robbery. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Bonnie and Roy were never officially divorced.

Clyde Barrow was born in 1909 in Telico, Texas. He was the sixth of his parents Henry and Cummie Barrow’s eight children. The Barrow family was a poor tenant farming family who often did not have enough food to feed all of their children. When Clyde was 12, his father gave up on farming, and moved the family to West Dallas, where he opened a gas station.

West Dallas was a rough part of Dallas with a lot of crime. Clyde was soon influenced by the crime in the neighborhood. He and his brother Marvin got in trouble with the law for stealing things such as cars and turkeys. Like Bonnie, Clyde was small and was just 5 feet 7 inches and weighed only 130 pounds. He had two serious girlfriends before he met Bonnie, but never married.

Paths Converge: Bonnie and Clyde Meet

Bonnie and Clyde met each other at a house of a mutual friend in January of 1930. It was practically love at first sight but just two weeks after they met, Clyde was arrested for previous crimes. Bonnie was crushed by her new love’s sudden incarceration.

In March 1930, Clyde escaped from prison using a gun that Bonnie had smuggled in and given to him. Just a week later, Clyde was re-captured and sentenced to 14 years in the brutal Eastham Prison Farm in Weldon, Texas.  Life at Eastham was too brutal and Clyde became desperate to get out any way he could. Hoping that a physical disability would get him a transfer, Clyde had a friend use an ax to chop off two of his toes. The loss of Clyde’s toes proved unnecessary since Clyde was granted parole only a week later. Clyde swore that he would rather die than return to Eastham Prison again.

Bonnie Joins Clyde in the Life of Crime

It just so happened that Clyde had left prison at the beginning of the Great Depression. Jobs were few and far between and Clyde had little experience working, so as soon as his foot healed, he returned to a life of crime with Bonnie at his side.

Clyde rounded up members of his Barrow gang, which included at different times Ray Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Buck Barrow, Blanche Barrow, and Henry Methvin along with Bonnie and Clyde themselves. One of the gang’s first robberies was a hardware store in Texas. Although Bonnie did nothing more than wait in the car during the robbery, she was arrested but soon released for lack of evidence.

While Bonnie was in prison, the Barrow gang attempted another robbery of a General Store in April of 1932. During the robbery, something went wrong and the General Store’s owner was killed in the attempt. Bonnie now faced a choice: leave Clyde and start fresh, or stay with Clyde and lead a life on the run from the law. Bonnie knew that Clyde had vowed never to return to prison, so staying with Clyde most likely meant death for the both of them. Nevertheless, Bonnie vowed to stayed with Clyde until the end.

On the Run from the Law

Bonnie, Clyde and members of the Barrow gang embarked on a crime spree that spanned across Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana, and New Mexico. They kept their crimes close to the state borders, because state police in those days could not cross states to chase criminals. Clyde studied maps and had deep knowledge of back roads that would help them avoid capture.

Unknown to police at that time, Bonnie and Clyde went back to the Dallas area every few months to visit their relatives. Bonnie insisted on seeing her mother every few months, while Clyde often visited with his mother and his sister Nell. These visits very nearly got the couple killed several different times in the months to come.

Buck and Blanche join Bonnie and Clyde

In March of 1933, Clyde’s brother Buck was released from prison. Bonnie and Clyde, who by that time were wanted by police for murder, robbery, and auto theft joined Buck and his wife Blanche in a small apartment in Joplin, Missouri. On April 13, 1933, after several weeks of chatting, cooking and playing cards, they noticed two police cars pull up front. Clyde, Buck, and Jones took out their guns, and a shootout ensued.

After killing one police officer and wounding another, the four of them got in their car and sped off. They picked up Blanche nearby and eventually got away from police. Searching the apartment in Joplin, police found rolls of film with Bonnie and Clyde in various poses. They also found copies of Bonnie’s poems “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” and “The Story of Suicide Sal.” The pictures and the poems brought even more fame to Bonnie and Clyde and contributed to their legend.

Bonnie and Clyde managed to avoid trouble for a few months, until they got into an accident in June, 1933. Clyde, who was driving, realized too late that a bridge up ahead was closed for repairs. He swerved the car into an embankment, and he and Jones got out safely. Bonnie, on the other hand, had her leg badly burned by battery acid, and would never walk normally again. Since they were on the run from the law, they couldn’t stop for medical care. Clyde, with help from Blanche and Bonnie’s sister Billie, nursed Bonnie’s injured leg.

Police Ambushes Signal the Beginning of the End

At 11pm on July 19, 1933 police banged on the door of a cabin near Platte City, Missouri. Blanche, who was closest to the door, replied “Let me get dressed,” which gave Clyde enough time to pick up his rifle and start firing. While everyone else took cover, Buck stayed up and kept shooting, but was soon shot in the head. Clyde gathered everyone together to make a run for the garage. They all managed to get to their car and take off, but shot out two tires and shattered a window. The shards of glass flew into one of Blanche’s eyes, severely injuring that eye.

Clyde drove through the night, trying to escape pursuit. He would only stop occasionally to change the bandages on Blanches wounded eye. At rest stop near Dexter, Iowa, a farmer had found a wounded banage and alerted police, who were waiting in ambush when Clyde finally stopped.

More than 100 policeman and other authorities were waiting for them on the morning of July 24th, 1933. Bonnie saw the police closing in and screamed. Clyde and Jones took up their guns and began shooting. Buck, who was unable to move from the earlier wound to his head, picked up his own gun and began shooting, but was hit several times. Clyde jumped into a nearby car but as he took off in the car, he was shot in the arm and crashed into a tree. Clyde, Jones, and Bonnie ran and then swam across a river. Once they crossed the river, Clyde stole another car and the three of them drove away.

Buck died a few days later. Blanche was captured by the police. Clyde had been shot a total of four times, and Bonnie had been wounded by numerous buckshot pellets. Jones, who had been shot in the head, took off and never returned.

The Police Close in on Bonnie and Clyde

Jones was captured in November 1933, and told his story to the police. His story included the frequent trips to Dallas, and this gave the poilce an idea: if they kept watch on their families, they could set an ambush for Bonnie and Clyde when they tried to get in touch with them.

Bonnie and Clyde had recovered from their injuries and were back to robbing and stealing. They now slept in their cars to keep the local people from turning them in to police. The same month that Jones was captured, the police ambushed Bonnie and Clyde when they went back to Dallas. While they weren’t captured and managed to escape, both of their mothers were put in danger, and Clyde was furious at the police. He wanted to take revenge, but his family told him this would not be wise.

Clyde decided to focus his fury on Eastham Prison Farm. In January 1934, Bonnie and Clyde decided to break their old friend Raymond Hamilton out of Eastham. One guard was killed in the escape, and several other prisoners joined Hamilton in the getaway car, including Henry Methvin.

The other prisoners soon went their own ways, but only Methvin stayed on. The gang continued their crime spree, even killing two motorcycle cops, but the end was on its way, and Methvin would play a role in Bonnie and Clyde’s last days.

The Death of Bonnie and Clyde

Knowing now that Bonnie, Clyde and Methvin all had close ties to their family, the police guessed that the three of them would visit Methvin’s father Iverson Methvin, as he was the closest to them at the time. After the police learned that Henry had become separated from Bonnie and Clyde, they realized this was their chance to set a trap.

The police assumed that Bonnie and Clyde would search for Henry at his father’s farm, so they planned an ambush along the road to the farm. Six of the police officers confiscated Iverson’s truck, removed one of its wheels and placed it on the side of the road where they were waiting. They thought that if Bonnie and Clyde saw the truck while they were driving, they would slow down and investigate.

The scene of Bonnie and Clyde’s death.

At 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934, Clyde saw Iverson’s truck along the side of the road. Sure enough, he slowed down to check it out and when he did, the police opened fire. The police fired more than 130 bullets at the couple, killing them before they even had a chance to react. When the shooting was done, police found that Clyde’s head had exploded and part of Bonnie’s right hand had been shot off.

The police brought the bodies of the pair to Dallas, where they were put on public view for the crowds that had gathered for a look at the now-famous pair. Although Bonnie had requested to be buried alongside of Clyde, they were buried in separate cemeteries at the request of their families.

Bonnie & Clyde Fun Facts

  • Clyde tried to enlist in the Navy, but the Navy rejected him due to a boyhood illness
  • Clyde’s first arrest came in 1926 after he failed to return a rental car
  • Bonnie and Clyde robbed general stores and gas stations more than they robbed banks
  • Souvenir hunters tried to cut off parts of Bonnie and Clyde after their deaths
  • The car in which Bonnie and Clyde died is on display at a casino