By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2023
“They don’t think they’re too smart or desperate.
They know that the law always wins.
They’ve been shot at before, but they do not ignore
that death is the wages of sin.
“Someday they’ll go down together,
And they’ll bury them side by side.
To a few, it’ll be grief—to the law a relief—
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”
— Bonnie Parker’s poem, “The End of the Line,” 1934.
On January 5, 1930, young Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, age 19, was a waitress in West Dallas, Texas. She married Roy Thornton in 1926, and separated in 1929, but never legally divorced and she wore his wedding ring for the remainder of her short life. Then, she had a chance meeting with Clyde Chestnut (or Champion) Barrow, age 20, a laborer, on that fateful day, and the couple was forever enamored with each other, in the Great Depression era of “failed banks, failed farms, lost hope, and dust,” as one writer would later describe the desperate circumstances. Thornton became a robber, was imprisoned in 1933 and was killed while trying to escape in 1937.
Bonnie Parker clearly developed a serious, “bad-boy” fascination (psychologists call it “hybristophilia” today) at an early age. Handsome Clyde Barrow, from a poor, farming family, had been in trouble with the law since age 17, quickly becoming a store robber, car thief, and safecracker fit her “bad-boy type.” He was sent to prison in April 1930, soon after meeting Bonnie, for automobile theft, where he attacked and killed a fellow inmate who sexually assaulted him, creating his first murder. Clyde was released from prison on February 2, 1932, as a hardened and bitter criminal. Inmate, fellow criminal, and gang member Ralph Fults later stated that he watched Clyde “change from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake.”
After his release, Barrow, Parker, and Fults began robbing gas stations, grocery stores, and hardware stores at an alarming rate. Bonnie was captured and jailed for a few months, while Ralph Fults went to prison and left the gang for good. Over the next two years, the infamous Barrow Gang grew to include Barrow’s brother Ivan (“Buck”) and his wife Blanche, young William Daniel “W.D.” Jones (age 18), Henry Methvin, Joe Palmer, and Raymond Hamilton, Barrow’s childhood buddy. They robbed banks and stores across a seven-state area encompassing Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Missouri, Indiana, and even Minnesota. They were ultimately responsible for the deaths of 13 law enforcement officers and civilians.
Most of the American public in the Midwest realized that the Barrow Gang were dangerous outlaws, but they also considered the gang to be folk heroes, robbing those same banks that were foreclosing on so many Depression-era farmers. They viewed Barrow and his followers as Robin Hood figures, instead of the cold-blooded killers they really were.
The Texas Department of Corrections hired retired, Texas Ranger Senior Captain Francis Augustus Hamer (“Frank” or “Pancho”) and persuaded him to hunt down the Barrow Gang. He was temporarily assigned as a Texas Highway Patrol officer, alternately posted to the prison system as a special investigator, tasked to take down the Barrow Gang.
Frank Hamer was a tough, veteran, law enforcement officer with a fearsome reputation, officially credited with killing 53 criminals (possibly as many as 70), and sustaining 17 wounds in the line of duty. He began tracking Bonnie and Clyde on February 12, 1934, in what would become an exhaustive, 102-day manhunt.
Public opinion swiftly turned against the Barrow Gang after April 1, 1934 (Easter Sunday). Their execution-style murders of two Texas highway patrolmen on motorcycles near Grapevine (now Southlake), Texas, and the resulting outcry resulted in $5,000 cash rewards for “the dead bodies of the Grapevine slayers.”
Hamer’s relentless instigation revealed on May 21, 1934, that Bonnie and Clyde, now ages 23 and 24 respectively, planned to visit gang member Henry Methvin’s family in Louisiana. To keep the hunt entirely legal, Hamer and his small posse, including two Louisiana law enforcement officers, established a roadside ambush site along Louisiana State Highway 154, between Sailes and Gibsland at 9:00 PM that same evening.
They waited all night in the bushes, and throughout the entire next day, May 22, without results. Then, at 9:15 AM on May 23, 1934, Parker and Barrow came cruising along in their stolen (from Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas), tan, 1934 Ford Model 40B Fordor (probably meaning “Four-Door”) Deluxe V-8 sedan, with a 3.6-liter, flathead engine producing 85 horsepower.
Clyde Barrow was at the wheel, with his lover Bonnie Parker in the passenger seat. On April 10, 1934, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Clyde had written a letter to Henry Ford stating, “While I still have got breath in my lungs, I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble, the Ford has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal, it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8.” Also, the sturdy, the steel bodies of the Ford V-8s that Clyde preferred deflected handgun bullets and .45 ACP slugs from police Thompson submachine guns.
Frank Hamer’s specific directive from the Texas Department of Corrections was to “Put ‘em on the spot, know you’re right, and shoot everybody in sight,” NOT to attempt to take Bonnie and Clyde alive. The two outlaws were known to be very heavily-armed, bloodthirsty killers, who would never surrender, anyway.
Hamer had recruited gang member Henry Methvin’s father Ivan (“Ivy”) with a bold proposition: Help us to kill Bonnie and Clyde, and we’ll go easy on your son (in fact, Henry would later serve only eight years in prison). So, Ivy whom Barrow and Parker would readily recognize, parked his truck beside the roadway at the ambush site, jacked it up, and removed a wheel, pretending to change a flat tire.
The Ford slowed down but had not yet stopped yet, when Deputy Sheriff Prentiss Oakley opened fire a bit prematurely with his Remington Model 8 semiautomatic rifle, according to all six posse members, hitting Clyde Barrow in the left temple and killing him instantly.
Ten Hinton fired a Colt Model 1925 Monitor (on loan from the Texas National Guard, a Browning BAR variant with an 18-inch barrel) in .30-06, and Frank Hamer joined the fray with his own customized Remington Model 8 in .35 Remington (8.9x49mm.)
Other weapons included another Remington Model 8 in .25 Remington (6.54x52mm), a fully-automatic, M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in .30-06, a lever-action Winchester Model 94, several Remington Model 11 shotguns in 12-gauge, and a variety of handguns, including Hamer’s personal Colt M1911 in .38 Super (9x23mmSR), and his engraved, single-action, Colt Single Action Army revolver, dubbed “Old Lucky,” in .45 Long Colt (“Old Lucky” recently sold at auction for $165,000). Hamer actually used the .38 Super for this deadly incident and kept the Colt .45 in his belt as a backup weapon.
Together, the six posse members fired an estimated 130 to 167 rounds of ammunition and buckshot within about 16 seconds. According to Hinton, “Each of us six officers had a shotgun, and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns. There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren’t taking any chances.”
Hamer later added, “I hated to shoot a woman, but I remembered the way in which Bonnie had taken part in the murder of nine peace officers. I remembered how she kicked the body of the highway patrolman at Grapevine, and fired a bullet into his body as he lay on the ground…If it wouldn’t have been her, it would have been us.
“The six men (of the posse) were spaced at intervals of about 10 feet, parallel to the road. I held the position on the extreme left…(Three of us) were to take care of the front seat…If the car got past us, Hinton was to step out and bust the engine with a Browning machine gun (actually, a very similar Colt 1925 Monitor)…(We) had automatic shotguns…Winchesters, one a machine gun, and all carried revolvers or automatic pistols…When Barrow brought the car to a standstill, he pressed the clutch and slipped into low gear with the engine idling.
“At the command, ‘Stick ‘em up!’ both turned, but instead of obeying the order as we had hoped, they clutched the weapons, which they held on their laps. When the firing began, Barrow’s foot slipped from the clutch, and the car, in low gear, moved forward on the incline and turned into the ditch on the left.”
When the deadly, blazing ambush was over, the Ford V-8 had 112 bullet holes, but the engine still ran. The local coroner later counted at least 17 entrance wounds on Clyde Barrow’s body and 26 more on Bonnie Parker.
Police discovered a virtual arsenal inside the stolen Ford, including three Browning BAR machine guns in .30-06, stolen from National Guard armories in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Illinois. One of them was cut down, with a shortened, 16-inch barrel (24 inches was the standard length) and gas tube, which he called his “Scattergun,” because people would scatter whenever he began using it. There were also 100 x 20-round, BAR magazines, and at least 3,000 rounds of ammunition!
In April 1933, a highway patrolman in Joplin, Missouri was forced to duck behind a huge oak tree as Bonnie Parker opened fire on him with the modified BAR blaster, later stating, “That little red-headed woman filled my face with splinters on the other side of that tree with one of those damned guns!”
Inside the battered, Ford vehicle, police also recovered seven Colt M1911 military service pistols in .45 ACP, stolen from National Guard armories, including this one tucked into Clyde’s waistband:
Bonnie Parker was killed with a Colt Detective Special in .38 Special taped to her right leg beneath her dress, a nickel-plated, Colt 1908 pocket pistol in .25 ACP inside her purse, and a shortened, Remington Model 11 semiautomatic shotgun in 20-gauge across her lap that apparently rolled onto the floor during the shooting.
Clyde’s Colt M1911 and Bonnie’s Colt Detective Special were recently sold at auction together for $504,000. Their Death Car is on display at Primm Valley Resort and Casino in Primm, Nevada. Other recovered weapons included Clyde’s Colt M1909 revolver (in his hand when he died) in .45 ACP, a Colt M1903 pistol (probably Bonnie’s) in .32 ACP, and a Winchester Model 1901 lever-action, sawed-off shotgun in 10-gauge.
Parker also apparently had this nickel-plated, Colt 1902 Sporting Model pistol, shown below, in .38 ACP, with a six-inch barrel, tucked into the folds of her dress during the shooting incident, and later recovered at the Conger Funeral Home in Arcadia, Louisiana, where the bodies were embalmed. It had a seven-round magazine, still containing six unfired rounds of ammunition. This gun was sold to a woman at auction on January 25, 2014, for $99,450.
On August 17, 2021, Senior Editor Olakunle Balogun wrote for Hotcars.com that, “Parker and Barrow were unstoppable. They had plans, and enough guns to execute them. But above all, they had unfathomable guts, as they were never afraid of death, they looked forward to it. Parker and Barrow were also very difficult to capture, as they murdered any police sent to arrest them, and they often had a readily-available, getaway car. Nonetheless, on May 23, 1934, a particular Bonnie and Clyde’s getaway car became immortalized when it was sprayed with an avalanche of bullets in a daring ambush that killed its notorious occupants.”
In the end, Frank Hamer and each of his deputies received only about $200 in reward money for killing Bonnie and Clyde, instead of the promised $26,000 in total pledges from all organizations. However, $200 in 1934 is worth about $4,450 in 2023, in terms of purchasing power. They were also allowed to keep some of the weapons and other belongings found in the car. Frank Hamer died quietly in his sleep of a heart attack in 1955, at the age of 71.
Actor Kevin Costner played the part of Hamer in the 2019 crime thriller, “The Highwaymen,” with Emily Brobst (who matched Bonnie’s petite height and weight) as Bonnie Parker, and actor and stuntman Edward Bossert as Clyde Barrow, with the film, shot on location along Highway 154 in Louisiana, near the actual ambush site.
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Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism was an FBI employee for three years and is an NRA member. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author, historian, and hunter. You may visit his website at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.