The Saga of Bonnie and Clyde

When Bonnie Parker met Clyde Barrow in 1930 they were both dirt-poor Texans with no future.  She was 19 years old and was tending bar because her then-husband was in jail.  He was 20, with a hard face and harder eyes. He had been in trouble with the law since he was 15.  They were, like so many others in the era of the Great Depression, aimless and angry at the cards they had been dealt.

So they decided to re-shuffle the deck.  Beginning in 1932, after Bonnie helped spring Clyde from a Texas jail, they went on a crime spree that spanned five states and included robbing gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and banks. It also included killing a dozen people, nine of them law enforcement officers.

But their crime spree captured the imagination of the public, especially the poor, who lived vicariously through the adventures of Bonnie and Clyde. The two always seemed to stay one step ahead of the law, sometimes escaping seconds before the police arrived.  And on those occasions when the law did catch up to them, they escaped by shooting their way out, leaving dead and wounded in their wake.

As a result, much of America saw them as modern-day Robin Hoods, striking back at a capitalist system that had left the average Joe behind, and a heartless government that seemed to spend most of its time foreclosing on people’s homes, farms and businesses.  Pictures of Bonnie and Clyde posing in front of their famous V-8 Ford, guns in hand and puffing cigars, were splashed across newspapers nationwide.

As their fame grew, their capture became a government priority, and by 1933 even the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI) was after them.  But it was Texas Ranger Frank Hamer who, in May of 1934, received a tip that the Bonnie and Clyde gang was holed up near Gibsland, Louisiana.  Hamer, accompanied by four other officers, set up an ambush on the main road near the hideout and waited.  This week (May 23) at about 9 a.m. the officers saw an approaching car, and when they identified the passengers as Bonnie and Clyde, they began firing their weapons.  Some two minutes and hundreds of rounds of ammo later, Hamer opened the car door where Bonnie and Clyde lay very, very dead. Fifty rounds had entered each of their bodies.

Bonnie and Clyde were buried in separate cemeteries in Texas. Frank Hamer became a celebrity in his own right and was honored on the floor of Congress.  The bullet-riddled V-8 Ford made the rounds at state fairs where, for a quarter, anyone could have a look.  It was both lucrative and — too late to do Bonnie and Clyde any good — perfectly legal.