On May 21, 1934, at 9:15 am, six lawmen lying in wait along a dusty road near Gibsland, Louisiana opened fire on a vehicle they had been watching for, drilling dozens of holes through the Ford V8 sedan and the man and woman inside. Their ears still ringing from the fusillade, covered in insect bites and scratches from their overnight stay in the woodsy hiding spot, the officers had no idea they cast a stone into a pond that ripples to this day. They had written a very large exclamation point at the end of a notable chapter in American criminal history, and ensured a lurid end to a wild story that has garnered a bevy of followers, the number of which has steadily increased since. The woman lying dead in the bullet-riddled sedan, who along with her partner had died a death so violent and legendary that even Hollywood couldn’t have written a more spectacular ending was true crime’s darling, Bonnie Parker.
|Bonnie Parker with Clyde Barrow|
The occupants of the Ford V8 and the target of the officers were Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and her lover, Clyde Chestnut Barrow. From 1932 up to that day in May of 1924 when they were killed the duo, in the company of a changing assortment of “gang” members had committed crimes across at least four states; their crimes made for lurid headlines and gave people desperate for news other than the impact of the Depression a colorful story and a guilty pleasure as they followed the crime spree of the Barrow Gang in their local newspapers.
Long after their gruesome deaths, the young couple remain some of the top stars of the crime annals. Movies, documentaries, books, and even a musical have documented their lives. “Bonnie & Clyde Trade Days & RV Park” is located near the couple’s murder site. An annual “Bonnie & Clyde Festival” is held in Gibsland featuring reenactments of the ambush, period costumes and cars, and museums featuring relics and information on the young gangsters. Bonnie’s headstone and
|Parker before she met Barrow|
Bonnie Parker wrote maudlin poetry; her most famous composition was "The Trail's End" later retitled "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.” This typed, single piece of paper is on display at the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee Crime Museum, in an exhibit featuring several artifacts connected with the infamous duo.
Collectors pay exorbitant sums of money for a weapon, a thread pulled from their clothing, or any relic touched by the duo. Several artifacts sold for a total of $1.1 million in a 2012 auction; the gun found strapped to dead Bonnie’s hip gaveled down at $264,000 and Clyde’s pistol went for $240,000. Clyde 's pocket watch sold for $36,000, and a silver dollar found on his dead body sold for $32,000. Their death car (worth an estimated $5 million) and Clyde’s death shirt are on display in a Primm, Nevada casino behind thick glass near the cashier cage. Why
|Parker after being on the run|
Depending on which historian or biographer you ask, Bonnie Parker was either a sweet, good girl gone wrong for love or a nasty, drunken, chain-smoking she-devil looking for adventure and quick riches at the mouth of a gun. Pre-crime spree photographs show a sweet, cute little girl, and a pretty, petite young lady. Photographs seized by law enforcement officers after shoot-outs reveal how alcohol and the stresses of living on the run eroded her beauty. The last few photos show a ragged-looking woman who had to be carried after a car crash left her burned, disfigured and unable to walk. She looks as if life had caught up with her and winnowed her down; Bonnie Parker did not live to see her 24th birthday.
She has been depicted as a tough, bigger-than-life character, a no-nonsense gun moll with a pistol in one hand and a cigar in the other. Yet Bonnie was tiny, weighing less than 100 pounds and standing just shy of five feet tall. Witnesses said she did not seem to be concerned over dying. Her language was salty and her manners violent and sometimes crude and yet she craved news from home and word of her beloved family. Historians continually argue as to the veracity of reports of her picking up a gun to fire at anyone, her criminal history before meeting
|Parker in death|
Perhaps it is the love story that intrigues people. There was no doubt, from the time they met until the moment they died that Bonnie and Clyde loved one another. Bonnie refused to give up and go home or leave the criminal life every time the subject came up if it meant leaving Clyde, alone, wanted and on the run. She knew she would not live long and she elected to spend every moment she had left with Clyde. Maybe it is the popular folk impression that they were modern-day Robin Hoods stealing from the big corporate banks that elevated their crimes and flight to mythical status. In truth, the majority of their robberies were from tiny, family-owned businesses and their withdrawals facilitated at gunpoint hurt local depositors far more often than rich bankers and wealthy stockholders. Their escapades, documented in newspapers across the country kept people’s minds off their desperate living conditions during the Great Depression. Lurid crime stories sell papers, and none more than the adventures of Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie herself was well aware of their notoriety when she wrote,
A newsboy once said to his buddy
"I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We'd make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped."