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Bonnie and Clyde were caught and shot dead this day 81 years ago

The infamous duo were young, in love, and murderous.

bonnieclydecar052708 (1) FBI FBI

IT WAS JUST before dawn on 23 May 1934 in Sailes, Louisiana when two of America’s most famous outlaws were gunned down.

A group of police officers – including a Texas Ranger named Frank Hamer – were hidden in the bushes along Highway 154.

The daylight was beginning to eke through when the black Ford automobile appeared.

Inside was a pair of young Texans: Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Champion Barrow.

Bonnie and Clyde.

Lovers, companions, outlaws, murderers. Members of the Barrow gang, responsible for 13 murders, on the run for two years.

Here, an FBI report describes how they first came to the attention of the agency:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), then called the Bureau of Investigation, became interested in Barrow and his paramour late in December 1932 through a singular bit of evidence. A Ford automobile, which had been stolen in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, was found abandoned near Jackson, Michigan in September of that year. At Pawhuska, it was learned another Ford car had been abandoned there which had been stolen in Illinois. A search of this car revealed it had been occupied by a man and a woman, indicated by abandoned articles therein. In this car was found a prescription bottle, which led special agents to a drug store in Nacogdoches, Texas, where investigation disclosed the woman for whom the prescription had been filled was Clyde Barrow’s aunt.

BarrowAmbushSite1934 FBI FBI

On the run, and the focus of an intense manhunt, their capture was long awaited.

Their death, at such young ages – blonde-haired Bonnie 23, baby-faced Clyde 25 – rendered them infamous.

The photographs of the pock-marked vehicle, with its shattered windows, showed the extent of the gunfire which ended their lives.

Today marks 81 years since the pair died in a hail of bullets, but their story is still as fascinating as it was back in the 1930s.

Bonnie_Clyde_Car Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Bonnie loves Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde met in 1930, fell in love, and teamed up.

By this stage, Clyde – who was born into a poor sharecropper family – already had a significant criminal past, having first had the eye of the law ran over him four years earlier.

He worked, but he also committed crimes: robbing stores and gas stations, stealing cars, crashing safes.

Before their two-year fight with the law, Clyde had been sentenced to 14 years in the notorious Eastham Prison Farm.

He was so desperate to escape – it is believed he was sexually abused while inside – he got a fellow inmate to chop off some of his toes. This contributed towards him getting an early parole.

Soon, he had formed his own gang, the Barrow gang.

Bonnie wanted a life in showbiz, but grew up in a slum. She married young, but later split up with her husband before getting together with Clyde.

The Great Depression

Tenantless_farm_Texas_panhandle_1938 Dorothea Lange Dorothea Lange

The Barrow gang was active during a significant time in the USA: the Great Depression.

There was a desperate need to make money, jobs were hard to come by, and gangs like the Barrow lot were capable of doing anything to earn a crust. Or rather, rob one.

There was a sense of Robin Hood about them – with the Depression in full grip, the average American wasn’t necessarily of the pro-government or even pro-law enforcement mindset.

So watching the Barrow gang escape from the police time after time became somewhat of a spectator sport for the American public.

Couple that with the glamorous photos, and the poems written by Bonnie that captured people’s attention, and you can see why they became so famous.

640px-Bonnieclyde_f Bonnie and Clyde, sometime between 1932 and 1934. United States Library of Congress United States Library of Congress

In an article in Playboy in 1968 – the year after the Bonnie & Clyde film starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty was released – former Barrow boy WD Jones recalled getting with the gang in 1932.

Me and LC, that’s Clyde’s younger brother, was driving home from a dance in his daddy’s old car. Here come Bonnie and Clyde. They honked their car horn and we pulled over. I stayed in the car. LC got out and went back to see what they wanted. Then he hollered at me, “Hey, come on back. Clyde wants to talk to you.” Clyde was wanted then for murder and kidnapping, but I had knowed him all my life. So I got out and went to his car.

Clyde asked him to keep an eye on the pair and Jones acquiesced.

“I know now it was a fool thing to do, but then it seemed sort of big to be out with two famous outlaws,” he recalled.

He joined the pair as they robbed and assaulted. He got used to cutting phone wires to make sure the police couldn’t be contacted.

There wasn’t no two-way radio hookups like now; and when a police used them long-distance phone wires to call the next town, it run up expenses. Them was hard times and even towns didn’t have much to spend. There wasn’t as many laws then, either, and they just couldn’t catch up with Clyde in them V8 Fords he drove.

Jones said that Clyde was a great driver, to the point where police told Jones it was the only thing that helped the gang last so long. Clyde preferred doing the driving himself.

“Bonnie was the only one Clyde trusted all the way,” said Jones. But Clyde was always the leader.


When in full throttle, the Barrow Gang consisted of Bonnie, Clyde, WD Jones, Buck Barrow, Blanche Barrow, Ray Hamilton and Henry Methvin.

Though Bonnie was briefly captured by police after their first robbery, she was soon back out on the road with the gang.

Their first murder happened soon after, and was the catalyst for the two-year crime spree by the soon-to-be famous gang.

But their actions, despite the glamorous image, weren’t harmless. Yes, the gang kidnapped some policemen and drove them around for hours before letting them go, but they also were responsible for 13 shootings.

Missouri hideout

In 1933 the gang kept a hideout in Joplin, Missouri. A tip-off led to police officers surrounding the house in April of that year, though the police had no inkling the Barrow gang was inside.

Clyde opened fire during the incident, shooting a police officer.

Possessions left by the gang in Joplin, including a poem by Bonnie and a camera and rolls of film, were discovered. The legend was born.

The gang went back on the run, robbing and shooting. The photos helped their reputation soar. But as the killings racked up, the public perception of them began to change. They were no longer fun.

Bonnie was badly injured at one point, suffering a terrible burn to her leg, but still they carried on, stealing doctors’ bags from cars.

RedCrownBarrowHideout1933 Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

In July 1933, the gang checked into the Red Crown Tourist Court (above) in Missouri. The behaviour of Blanch – who went to the pharmacy for medication for Bonnie – drew attention, and police were soon on their case after their cabins were put under surveillance.

Buck was shot and badly injured during a shoot-out with police.

They somehow managed to escape (the police thought they were retreating) and made their way to Iowa.

While camped out at an abandoned amusement park, they came under fire again. Buck was shot and Blanche was captured.

BlancheCapturedExfield1933 Blanche during her capture Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

The rest of the gang made away again, gathering ammunition and even going to Dallas to see their families. While there, Jones left the gang. He was subsequently arrested.

Bonnie and Clyde continued on, this time taking part in smaller robberies, while trying to ensure they had enough medicine for Bonnie’s injuries.

Cat and mouse games

When a murder indictment was delivered against them in November 1933 for the killing of Tarrant County Deputy Malcolm Davis time was running out for the cat-and-mouse game playing duo.

But before their final moves, Clyde was able to get back to wreak a little revenge on Eastham, the jail he hated, when he helped Henry Methvin, Raymond Hamilton and some other prisoners escape.

The man charged with hunting down the Barrow Gang once and for all was former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

That was one nail in the coffin. The second was the shooting dead of two highway patrolmen – one of whom was due to be married – in April 1934. It got huge publicity and raised many emotions. The tide had finally turned against the gang.

The killing of a 60-year-old constable only served to cement that.


Two years after they began their crime spree, Bonnie and Clyde were on the road in Louisiana, just before dawn, when they met their end.

Hamer was one of those Texas police officers hidden in the bushes waiting to catch them out. Ahead of them was the father of Methvin in his truck, who was used as a plant to distract Clyde.

The pair were shot tens of times. Inside their vehicle was an arsenal of weapons to fuel the future crimes they would never get to commit.

In testament to their fame, there were reports of a gang gathering around their dead bodies, and pieces of Bonnie’s hair and clothing being cut off and sold as souvenirs.

The pair had wanted to be buried side by side, but Parker’s family wouldn’t let that happen.

WD Jones again:

He and Bonnie didn’t intend to ever be taken alive. They was hell-bent on running till the end, and they knowed there was only one end for them. Sometimes I thought Clyde liked the running. He dreaded getting caught, but he never give up robbing to work for a living. I reckon Clyde just didn’t want to work like other folks. For one thing, he never liked getting his hands dirty.

For more on Bonnie and Clyde:

Eileen Dix / YouTube

Read: Column: The untold story of two Irish workers… and this iconic picture>

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