BONNIE PARKER DIED AT TWENTY-THREE
IN A STORM OF BULLETS. . .
Bonnie Parker died at twenty-three in a storm of bullets fired at the car in which she was riding. She was shot at least 25 times. Her partner and lover, Clyde Barrow, was also killed. In the minds of most people, the names of Bonnie and Clyde are forever entwined together. You can’t hear of one without thinking of the other.
Today, we will try to untangle these two “star crossed lovers” and take a closer look at the life of Bonnie Elizabeth Parker. Why did this sensitive young woman, who loved to read and write poetry, travel down the road to become a heartless killer?
Bonnie was born on October 1, 1910, in the little town of Rowena, Texas. She was the middle child between older brother Hubert and younger sister Billie. Her father Charles was a bricklayer; he died when Bonnie was just four years old. After his death, her mom, Emma, took the children and moved in with her parents in a section of west Dallas called Cement City. Bonnie did well in school; an honor student in writing and public speaking. She specifically loved writing poetry, reading romance novels, and going to the movies.
In 1926, Bonnie and a fellow student, Roy Thornton, dropped out of school and married six days prior to her 16th birthday. The marriage was troubled from the beginning. Roy had repeated run-ins with the law and spent long periods in prison. Bonnie didn’t intend to take him back, but also refused to divorce him. She told her mother that it was unfair to divorce a man in prison. While she was living with her mother, her diary reflects her loneliness and her frustration with her limited opportunities. Bonnie and Roy never met again after 1929, although she was still wearing her wedding ring the day she was killed (and had a tattoo reading “Roy and Bonnie” above her knee).
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met in January of 1930. She was out of work and was staying with a girl friend who had broken an arm. Clyde arrived to visit the girl friend while Bonnie was making hot chocolate in the kitchen. It was love at first site, at least for Bonnie. She remained his loyal companion until their deaths four years later.
Clyde was jailed a month after they met. Bonnie wrote to him pleading that he stay out of trouble after his release. It wasn’t to happen. She smuggled a pistol into his cell which he used to escape. Clyde committed another robbery and was recaptured. This time he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Through the pleadings of his mother, Clyde Barrow was released in 1932, more bitter and intent on revenge than ever; and Bonnie was determined to prove her loyalty to him.
Shortly after his release, the two began robbing grocery stores and gas stations. In March of 1932, they failed to pull off a robbery in Texas and Bonnie was taken into custody. Clyde escaped. She served three months in jail. Within a few weeks of her release, she reconnected with him. They killed two police officers in Oklahoma after attending a dance and while being apprehended. They fled across Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico killing three more people.
Finally they had to stop running. They moved into a small stone bungalow in Joplin, Missouri, with Clyde’s older brother Buck and his wife Blanche. They were rowdy residents and neighbors complained to the local police. Suspicious that it could be the Barrow gang, the police stormed the building. After a bloody shoot out, Bonnie and Clyde escaped leaving two more dead officers. A newspaper man found six rolls of film they had left in the house. After having them developed, the pictures, showing Bonnie smoking cigars and both of them posing with guns, were published nationwide. Bonnie contacted the newspapers to state that she didn’t smoke cigars but preferred Lucky Strikes.
The public, after hearing of the gang’s exploits, began to see them as folk heroes. The real villains were the banks that had been foreclosing on homes and businesses. Bonnie continued to write poetry that she sent home to her mother. The police found some of her poems and had them published in the newspapers. But this only served to enhance their legend as modern Robin Hoods.
At this point much of the publicity about Bonnie may have been exaggerated. There was some doubt that she ever shot anyone. Former accomplices who had been arrested said that she did shot at the police but the many witnesses never saw it happen. She was of course an accomplice in more than 100 felony crimes.
In June, 1933, while Clyde was driving their stolen car recklessly, it flipped over an embankment in Texas. Bonnie was trapped in the wreckage and sustained serious burns on her legs (she never fully recovered). She was carried to a nearby farmhouse barely able to walk. Officials sent to investigate were shot at then kidnapped, but later released. Again the race was on. Bonnie, Clyde, Buck, and Blanche raced to Missouri where another bloody face-off ensued with police. This time, Buck was killed and Blanche was captured.
The Texas Governor had had enough. He authorized the Texas Rangers under Captain Frank Hamer to track them down. An intense search followed. In November, an ambush was set up in Dallas but failed to stop the pair. Ironically, it was about one mile from where John Kennedy was assassinated almost exactly thirty years later.
On Easter Sunday, 1934, the couple committed their most blatant murder. On the outskirts of Grapevine, Texas, a Ford V8 (Clyde‘s favorite car) halted alongside the highway. A witness said the people inside were laughing and talking and tossing out whiskey bottles. Two young highway patrolmen stopped their motorcycles to check it out. Inside the stalled car, Bonnie and Clyde leveled their guns at the officers and fired. Other witnesses said that Bonnie walked over to one of the patrolmen and rolled him over with one foot. She fired two more shotgun blasts into his head and remarked, “look-a-there, his head bounced just like a rubber ball.” If the story is true, it shows that her transformation was complete.
At last, public sentiment for Bonnie and Clyde began to turn against them.
Afterward, there was a continuous pursuit which culminated on May 23rd at 9:15 A.M. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow unknowingly drove into an ambush near Black Lake, Louisiana. They were given no chance to surrender. Their car was struck by 167 bullets fired by a posse of Texas and Louisiana troopers. Bonnie’s body was found riddled with bullets, holding a machine gun, a sandwich, and a pack of cigarettes. Thousands of spectators viewed the bodies which were still in the car as it was towed into town. Although Bonnie had left express instructions that she wanted to be buried next to Clyde, her mother would have none of it.
The short and brutal lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow became one of the strangest love stories of all time. During the Depression there were numerous all-male criminal gangs, but the public’s imagination was sparked by this attractive young woman, Bonnie Elizabeth Parker.
“Someday 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 to Bonnie and Clyde.”
(“The Trail’s End” by Bonnie Parker, 1934)