The story of Bonnie and Clyde is one that many are familiar with.
The pair became well known during their two-year crime spree throughout the United States.
Since then, they have been idolized in history books, blog posts, and even on film.
Close friends or partners caught up in mischief may even joke that they are the “modern-day Bonnie and Clyde,” perhaps without the knowledge of the gravity of the crimes originally committed.
However, there have been many notable criminals throughout history.
So, what is it about the pair that makes them so widely known more than 80 years after their deaths?
Why Are Bonnie And Clyde So Famous?
Bonnie and Clyde became widely famous for their string of crimes including bank robberies, vehicle thefts, murders, and kidnappings during 1931-1934.
This was at the height of the Great Depression when many were suffering both financially and socially.
The two being in the spotlight provided a distraction from the negativity and hardships occurring within the United States.
Many Americans during this time were feeling intense frustration and hatred toward banks and even businesses.
Bonnie and Clyde were, in a way, allowing the common person to live vicariously through the pair who were doing what some were too scared to do (rob a bank or a store).
The public even considered the couple the Robin Hoods of that time.
Crime during this period was already occurring at high rates, as Americans were doing whatever they could to feed their families and keep themselves from being evicted from their own homes.
Bonnie and Clyde were taking a bold step, but it ultimately could be argued that they, too, were doing what they could to help themselves and their families survive during the Great Depression.
The period of time in which their crimes were committed has been labeled “The Year of the Gangster” by the FBI and they have since become known as the most notorious crime couple in the history of America.
Not only has their criminal activity been widely publicized, but the supposed romance between the two has also inspired songs, poems, films, and musicals.
The crimes, the hunt, and then their ultimate death is still romanticized to this day.
Eastham Prison Farm Escape
According to some, one of their biggest crimes was the raid of Eastham Prison Farm in 1934.
Reports say that the pair considered this revenge, as this was the prison that Clyde was kept in for a period of time.
The Bismarck Tribune reported that Bonnie and Clyde used machine guns to attack guards as they were leading prisoners out into the fields.
The jailbreak had mixed outcomes.
It was successful in that they broke out four gang members, however, those who broke out were later caught and imprisoned.
One notable gang member they broke out was Raymond Hamilton, an acquaintance of Clyde.
Their Untimely End In 1934
The couple spent the rest of their lives running from the law until May 23, 1934, when they were discovered hiding in Louisiana with Henry Methvin.
Law enforcement, working with the Texas Rangers, learned that the couple would be returning to Black Lake in Louisiana.
Bonnie and Clyde were killed in an ambush set by the police, who had hidden in bushes along a highway near their suspected location.
By that time, the couple was suspected of 13 murders, along with many burglaries and robberies.
Who Was Bonnie Parker?
Bonnie was born in the city of Rowena, Texas in October 1910.
She loved reading, writing poetry, and taking pictures, and if not for her meeting Clyde, she had aspired to become a poet and photographer.
Her family moved to a suburb in West Dallas when Bonnie was four years old, after the death of her father.
She married her high school sweetheart Roy Thornton at 16 years old, before dropping out of high school.
However, Roy was imprisoned in 1029, which was a few years after they were married.
Roy had frequent run-ins with law enforcement and was sentenced to life in jail.
There are many reports that say that Bonnie never spoke to Roy again, although the two were legally married until her death in 1934.
Some say she died with his wedding ring still on her finger.
Who Was Clyde Barrow?
Clyde was born in Ellis County, Texas in March of 1909 but his family moved to West Dallas in the 1920s.
He came from a very poor family and was one of seven children.
There are reports that after their move to Dallas, they were homeless for a time until finding enough money to buy a tent.
Clyde’s exposure to extreme financial hardship throughout his young life ultimately led to an early start to his life of crime.
By the time he was 17 years old, he was working alongside his brother cracking safes, robbing stores, and stealing cars.
1930 – The Beginning Of The Duo
The couple met in 1930 through a mutual friend, shortly before Clyde went to jail for stealing a vehicle.
Bonnie continued to visit Clyde throughout his sentence in jail and eventually assisted Clyde in escaping in 1930 when she smuggled a gun to him.
He was captured shortly after his escape, but this may be where fans say their love first began.
Clyde’s first murder was of an inmate in the Eastham Prison.
This inmate, Ed Crowder, or “Big Ed,” was an asset to the prison because he was tasked with keeping the peace among the men.
His peacekeeping tactics leaned toward violence and injury to the other prisoners who opposed him.
Big Ed also had an unfortunate history of repeatedly assaulting Clyde.
This prompted Clyde to eventually retaliate and murder him.
In an effort to get out of the line of fire within the prison grounds, Clyde cut off two of his toes so that he would be allowed to stay in the infirmary.
Additionally, another prisoner who was already imprisoned for life ended up taking the blame for the murder.
At this time, Clyde did not know that his mother was putting forth her own attempts to get him released.
Her efforts were successful, and Clyde was granted parole in 1932 thanks to his mother’s petitions to get him out of prison.
Within just a few months of Clyde and Bonnie being reunited, their criminal activities were well underway.
Although the two were under suspicion for a variety of crimes, it wasn’t until 1933 that the police were able to identify that Bonnie and Clyde, along with Clyde’s brother, had been involved in a string of carjackings that crossed state lines.
The crossing of state lines is what allowed the FBI to finally, and officially, become involved in the hunt for the duo.
During their reign of terror, the couple was suspected of committing a wide variety of crimes.
They were believed to be assisting a gang in Kaufman County, Texas in stealing cars, firearms, and money which were used in a later raid of the Eastham Prison.
The pair, with helpers, was also seen robbing banks and stores throughout the United States.
During their raids, they were known to hold citizens as prisoners and murder law enforcement.
In one such encounter with law enforcement, the two murdered a pair of highway patrolmen.
As a result, The Brownsville Herald newspaper with the support of L. G. Phares, the chief of the patrol, began to publicize that whatever man brought in Clyde or his accomplice Bonnie (dead or alive) would be awarded $1,500.
Bonnie and Clyde, alongside several others, stole as much money as they were able.
Reports say that in one raid, the gang stole approximately $1,900 which is around $39,000 when compared to the value of money today.
Public Sightings Aided Law Enforcement
Many crimes they were suspected of were actually reported by citizens who had seen them in their towns.
Law enforcement did not necessarily have solid evidence against them.
However, the reports aided them in following the couple across the country.
Clyde was reported to have been seen and involved in a wide variety of crimes spanning Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and even Missouri.
The crimes reported and later confirmed include:
- Murdering a man on the street in Hillsboro, Texas
- Committing robberies within Lufkin and Dallas, Texas
- Murdering a sheriff and wounding another citizen in Stringtown, Oklahoma
- Kidnapping a deputy in Carlsbad, New Mexico
- Vehicle theft in Victoria, Texas
- Murder attempts in Wharton, Texas
- Combined murder and robbery in Abilene and Sherman, Texas
- Abducting two members of the law in Wellington, Texas
- Murder of citizens in Joplin and Columbia, Missouri
- Robbery at gunpoint in Louisiana
The Barrow Gang And Its Members
The scope of Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes was so widespread that they could not have worked alone.
Rather, they had a variety of other criminals who rotated in and out of their gang to help with various illegal activities.
Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche were just two of many people involved.
Other notable gang members included W.D. Jones, Henry Methvin, Ralph Fults, Joe Palmer, Raymond Hamilton, and S.J. Whatley.
The Beginning Of Police Investigations
Police began to investigate the couple’s actions when they connected a string of carjackings that they suspected the two were a part of.
Initially, they had only identified that a man and woman had been involved.
This was determined from personal items that Bonnie and Clyde would leave behind in abandoned, stolen vehicles.
It was not until the police found a prescription bottle in an abandoned vehicle that had been filled by Clyde’s aunt that they were officially led to investigate Clyde.
Further investigation revealed that Clyde’s aunt had received visits from Clyde’s brother, L. C. Barrow, and Bonnie.
Law enforcement then began forming their own conclusions and followed Bonnie and Clyde’s actions to the best of their abilities.
The FBI did not become involved until they were able to find evidence of the couple stealing and then driving the stolen vehicles across state lines.
This investigation began about a year before they were finally killed in an ambush by police.
During that year, FBI agents from Dallas, New Orleans, Detroit, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, St. Louis, and many other cities became involved in the pursuit of the couple.
The agents within these cities collaborated and shared any new information, suspected leads, and informants with each other.
After Death And Family Burials
Bonnie had written a poem that expressed the couple’s desire to be buried together.
However, those wishes were not granted.
Private funeral services were arranged by both families.
Bonnie’s family in particular was nervous about the mass amounts of people trying to get a glimpse of the body and were reluctant to share the details of her funeral services and burial arrangements.
One interesting fact that was unknown until after their deaths is that Bonnie and Clyde’s relatives had been paying for a life insurance policy worth $5,000 which they received a payout for after their deaths.
This may suggest that the family was aware of their crimes and suspected their deaths would occur.
The Highwaymen Film
Even in death, the dynamic duo is remembered and talked about widely.
“The Highwaymen,” a dramatic film starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, was released in 2019.
The film followed two Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, in their hunt for Bonnie and Clyde.
Many reviewers enjoyed the film’s take on the time period, particularly that the film focused on the pair of former Texas Rangers’ heroic acts rather than glorifying Bonnie and Clyde.
“The Highwaymen” was the first version of the actions of Bonnie and Clyde from a different perspective—one of the law enforcement, journalists, and historians who were alive during that time.
Frank Hamer’s descendants spoke with Fusco and the director to recollect Hamer’s perspective and stories.
The overall reviews of the film are mixed, with some stating the movie was easy to follow and enjoyable.
Other reviews stated that while the storyline was good, the on-screen action was dull.
Bonnie And Clyde, 1967 Movie
There was another film released about the couple.
This film, called “Bonnie and Clyde,” was released in 1967.
This original film starred Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as Bonnie and Clyde.
However, this film led to legal problems for Warner Bros., who was sued by the wife of Frank Hamer (the Texas Ranger) for defamation.
This was because the film portrayed Frank as a bumbling idiot rather than a hero.
His wife settled out of court.
Despite this, the film is still considered a classic and in 1992 was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.
The screenwriter for “The Highwaymen” recognized Frank Hamer’s true contributions to the final defeat of Bonnie and Clyde.
John Fusco took it upon himself to learn about Hamer’s role and to tell his story accurately, as the unsung hero he was.
Comparisons To Today’s Celebrities
Many have related Bonnie and Clyde to the Kardashians.
This is not to say that the Kardashians are widespread criminals and murderers.
Rather, some fans believe that if the two were still alive today that they would likely have as much, if not more, of a social media following than the Kardashian family.
“The Story Of Suicide Sal” And “The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde”
Throughout their crime spree, Bonnie continued to feed her passion for writing poetry.
While on the run from the FBI in 1934, she wrote “The Story of Suicide Sal” and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,” which weren’t released until after their deaths.
In “The Story of Suicide Sal,” Bonnie makes the reader pity her for growing up as a country girl who moved to the harsh and unforgiving big city, which is when she fell in love with a henchman named Jack, or Clyde.
She was swept into his criminal ways and despite his murky past, decided she would die for him.
The poem even references Uncle Sam, who represents the United States government.
The poem implies that during this time, Uncle Sam was forcing citizens to participate in uncivilized acts to survive.
“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” also told their tale from Bonnie’s perspective.
She again accuses Uncle Sam of portraying the couple harshly, by stating “there’s lots of untruths to these write-ups, they’re not ruthless as that” and blamed the unfairness of the government for Clyde’s imprisonment.
However one chooses to interpret Bonnie’s words, it is clear she was a skilled writer and painted a compelling story of Bonnie and Clyde that is still remembered.