Who Were Bonnie and Clyde?
It was during the Great Depression that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went on their two-year crime spree (1932-1934). The general attitude in the United States was against government and Bonnie and Clyde used that to their advantage. With an image closer to Robin Hood rather than mass murderers, Bonnie and Clyde captured the imagination of the nation.
Dates: Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910 -- May 23, 1934); Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909 -- May 23, 1934)
Also Known As: Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, Clyde Chestnut Barrow, The Barrow Gang
Overview of Bonnie and Clyde:
In some ways it was easy to romanticize Bonnie and Clyde. They were a young couple in love who were out on the open road, running from the "big, bad law" who were "out to get them." Clyde's impressive driving skill got the gang out of many close calls, while Bonnie's poetry won the hearts of many. Although Bonnie and Clyde had killed people, they were equally known for kidnapping policemen who had caught up to them and then driving them around for hours only to release them, unharmed, hundreds of miles away. The two seemed like they were on an adventure, having fun while easily side-stepping the law.
As with any image, the truth behind Bonnie and Clyde was far from their portrayal in the newspapers. Bonnie and Clyde were responsible for 13 murders, some of whom were innocent people, killed during one of Clyde's many bungled robberies. Bonnie and Clyde lived out of their car, stealing new cars as often as possible, and lived off the money they stole from small grocery stores and gas stations. Sometimes Bonnie and Clyde would rob a bank, but they never managed to walk away with very much money. Bonnie and Clyde were desperate criminals, constantly fearing what they were sure was to come -- dying in a hail of bullets from a police ambush.
Background of Bonnie
Bonnie Parker was born on October 1, 1910 in Rowena, Texas as the second of three children to Henry and Emma Parker. The family lived somewhat comfortably off Henry Parker's job as a bricklayer, but when he died unexpectedly in 1914, Emma Parker moved the family in with her mother in the small town of Cement City, Texas (now part of Dallas).
From all accounts, Bonnie Parker was beautiful. She stood 4' 11" and weighed a mere 90 pounds. She did well in school and loved to write poetry. (Two poems that she wrote while on the run helped make her famous.) Bored with her average life, Bonnie dropped out of school at age 16 and married Roy Thornton. The marriage wasn't a happy one and Roy began to spend a lot of time away from home by 1927. Two years later, Roy was caught for robbery and sentenced to five years in prison. They never divorced.
While Roy was away, Bonnie worked as a waitress; however, she was out of a job just as the Great Depression was really getting started at the end of 1929.
Background of Clyde
Clyde Barrow was born on March 24, 1909 in Telico, Texas as the sixth of eight children to Henry and Cummie Barrow. Clyde's parents were tenant farmers, often not making enough money to feed their children. During the rough times, Clyde was frequently sent to live with other relatives. When Clyde was 12-years old, his parents gave up tenant farming and moved to West Dallas where Henry opened up a gas station.
At that time, West Dallas was a very rough neighborhood and Clyde fit right in. Clyde and his older brother, Marvin Ivan "Buck" Barrow, were often in trouble with the law for they were frequently stealing things like turkeys and cars. Clyde stood 5' 7" and weighed about 130 pounds. He had two serious girlfriends (Anne and Gladys) before he met Bonnie, but he never married.
Bonnie and Clyde Meet
In January 1930, Bonnie and Clyde met at a mutual friend's house. The attraction was instantaneous. A few weeks after they met, Clyde was sentenced to two years in prison for past crimes. Bonnie was devastated at his arrest. On March 11, 1930, Clyde escaped from jail, using the gun Bonnie had smuggled in to him. A week later he was recaptured and was then to serve a 14-year sentence in the notoriously brutal Eastham Prison Farm near Weldon, Texas.
On April 21, 1930, Clyde arrived at Eastham. Life was unbearable there for him and he became desperate to get out. Hoping that if he was physically incapacitated he might get transferred off of the Eastham farm, he asked a fellow prisoner to chop off some of his toes with an axe. Although the missing two toes did not get him transferred, Clyde was granted an early parole. After Clyde was released from Eastham on February 2, 1932 on crutches, he vowed that he would rather die than ever go back to that horrible place.
Bonnie Becomes a Criminal Too
The easiest way to stay out of Eastham would have been to live a life on the "straight and narrow" (i.e. without crime). However, Clyde was released from prison during the Great Depression, when jobs were not easy to come by. Plus, Clyde had little experience holding down a real job. Not surprisingly, as soon as Clyde's foot had healed, he was once again robbing and stealing.
On one of Clyde's first robberies after he was released, Bonnie went with him. The plan was for the Barrow Gang to rob a hardware store. (The members of the Barrow Gang changed often, but at different times included Bonnie and Clyde, Ray Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Buck Barrow, Blanche Barrow, and Henry Methvin.) Although she stayed in the car during the robbery, Bonnie was captured and put in the Kaufman, Texas jail. She was later released for lack of evidence.
While Bonnie was in jail, Clyde and Raymond Hamilton staged another robbery at the end of April 1932. It was supposed to be an easy and quick robbery of a general store, but something went wrong and the store's owner, John Bucher, was shot and killed.
Bonnie now had a decision to make -- would she stay with Clyde and live a life with him on the run or would she leave him and start fresh? Bonnie knew that Clyde had vowed never to go back to prison. She knew that to stay with Clyde meant death to them both very soon. Yet, even with this knowledge, Bonnie decided that she could not leave Clyde and was to remain loyal to him to the end.