This following article is presented for entertainment purposes. It is not intended as scholarly research or a final authority on the subject.
Life isn’t like the movies. Take Bonnie and Clyde, for example.
[If you don’t know who Bonnie and Clyde are, start at wikipedia.]
In real life, Bonnie and Clyde were two not very successful criminals. By the time Hollywood got through with them, they were two glamorously sexy and tragically doomed lovers.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) starred an impossibly young Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The film is great, offbeat and full of dark humor. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth watching. Below is the trailer.
Before the film, the couple was called Clyde and Bonnie, and they weren’t remembered too fondly. The pair killed either twelve or thirteen people–depending on who you ask. Nine of the dead were police officers.
Bonnie and Clyde died on May 23, 1934. In present day 2011, we’re still interested enough to warrant a remake of the movie, which will be out November 2011. Every year, on the Saturday closest to May 23, a festival is held in Gibsland, Louisiana to remember the doomed lovers.
Bonnie and Clyde are fascinating in an unsavory way. They’re one of my favorite lurid hobbies. Rumors swirl around their legends, and I can spend days, weeks, months researching them.
Was Clyde homosexual? His sister said hell no in her book. Was Bonnie pregnant when they died? Did the coroner find signs of venereal disease in the pair? Did they engage in threesomes with W.D. Jones?
These questions add to the mystique. Nobody will ever really know the answers, and that’s part of the fun.
Movies, festivals, and scuttlebutt help us forget Bonnie and Clyde’s life on the run was far from romantic and glamorous. Being an outlaw in the 1930s had its downside.
Bonnie and Clyde were malnourished from being on the run. They camped a lot–in the dark–so they wouldn’t be seen. They lived on cold canned food and sandwiches from diners.
Bonnie and Clyde were both crippled. I bet you were wondering when I’d get to that.
Before Clyde and Bonnie went on their crime spree, Clyde went to prison on a two year sentence. After he tried to escape, his sentence was increased to fourteen years.
Clyde was assigned to hard labor at Eastham Prison, which was known as one of most brutal prisons in Texas. Hoping to get out of the work detail, Clyde convinced another inmate to chop off some of his toes with an axe. He walked thereafter with a limp.
After Clyde drove their car into a river bed, Bonnie suffered severe burns on her leg. According to several sources, the burns were caused by battery acid. Bonnie didn’t receive proper medical treatment. Her leg, as it began to heal, drew up. Once the leg healed, she could never straighten it again. Supposedly, Clyde carried her because she had such a hard time walking.
Bonnie and Clyde both had tattoos. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal nowadays, but, back then, it was. I am old enough to remember when only “trash” had tattoos. (And I have quite a few.)
Clyde had five tattoos. He had a heart and dagger with the initials EBW, a rose and leaves, an anchor with the initials USN (Clyde was not in the Navy), and the names Grace and Anne. For locations and some pictures, click here. (Warning: One of the pictures is of Clyde on the coroner’s table. You can’t really see anything, but you’ve been warned.)
Bonnie had one tattoo. It was above her knee and said “Bonnie & Roy.” Roy Thornton was Bonnie’s husband. She was married to him throughout the entire Clyde chapter of her life, and, in fact, was wearing her wedding ring when she died.
[Roy Thornton was in prison when Bonnie met Clyde. Thornton died in a prison escape attempt in 1937.]
The movies don’t get everything wrong, though.
Clyde was one hell of a driver. He evaded arrest numerous times because he knew how to drive fast at a time when not everybody did. According to lore, Clyde was so impressed with the Ford V8, he wrote Henry Ford a letter congratulating him on creating such a fine automobile.
Dear Sir: —
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 ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 —
Clyde Champion Barrow
[Snopes.com claims the veracity of the letter is undetermined. A website dedicated to the myths surrounding Bonnie and Clyde also questions the authorship of the this letter. I enjoy the letter legend. It appeals to the writer in me, as it says a lot about Clyde’s character.]
Clyde was also a crack shot with the Browning Automatic Rifle. His shooting ability helped him escape “the laws” many times before his luck ran out. On May 23, 1934, when a posse of six law enforcement officers ambushed Bonnie and Clyde and shot them to death, they cited Clyde’s shooting skill as the reason they didn’t try to apprehend the couple.
Bonnie and Clyde research is everywhere on the ‘net. A couple of my favorite websites:
Bonnie and Clyde’s Hideout (Be warned: some pictures on this site are graphic. Below the main picture is a series of links, so you’ll choose what you open, but open with caution.)
A. Winston Woodward’s Bonnie and Clyde Blog (Be careful of the pictures here, too.)
Many books have been written about Bonnie and Clyde. The two I recommend are Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn and My Life with Bonnie and Clyde by Blanche Caldwell Barrow.
I recommend the latter book because Blanche Barrow was married to Clyde’s brother, Buck. Buck joined the Barrow Gang for a leg of their crime spree. He was killed by a bullet to the head. Flying glass put out Blanche’s eye during a gun fight. She served about ten years in the pen for her participation.
Be aware that Blanche doesn’t start talking until forty-eight seconds into the video. Wait for it…wait for it.
This is getting long, so I’m going to wrap it up. I could go on for thousands more words, though. How about one last tidbit for the road?
Last I heard, the death car is on display at Terrible’s Gold Ranch Casino, west of Verdi and Reno Nevada. It was formerly on display at Primm Valley Resort in Primm, Nevada. Some Bonnie and Clyde memorabilia, such as the shirt Clyde was wearing when he died, is on display with the death car, which is also known as the Warren Car.
I’ve read the Warren Car’s original owner, from whom Clyde stole the vehicle, demanded its return after the shooting. When the authorities refused, she hired a lawyer. The Warren Car, since 1934, has earned thousands dollars for whoever owned it.
Below is the newsreel reporting Bonnie and Clyde’s death:
In one of the accounts I read, Bonnie screamed “like a panther” the entire thirteen seconds of the ambush. For some reason, that always sticks with me.