The Bumbling Bandits--The Barrow Gang
If I Could Only Be a Mule
At 1 a.m., they knocked on a farmer’s door who had no car, but they got to ride on bony backed mules. He had no saddles. They found a car which they stole, but it ran out of gas after a mile out of Kemp. Now the sun was up, but they had no manner of communication to contact the rest of the Lake Dallas Gang to rescue them. A citizen’s patrol provided chase when they were discovered, and Bonnie was only slowing them down. Fults had been hit in the left arm. Clyde managed to get away. Fults told Bonnie to be captured and to claim that they had kidnapped her, and forced her to go on the failed hardware store caper. Bonnie and Fults were captured, and Fults got medical attention. On April 19, 1932, Bonnie’s glamorous criminal partnership came to a grinding halt.
Clyde’s brother, LC, and Blanche Barrow were sent to Kaufman to tell Bonnie that Clyde would be after her later. The various members of the Barrow family visited her and brought her clothing. The jailer let her sit on the lawn on nice days, and his wife gave her old bank forms to use for stationary. Bonnie wiled away her time writing poetry. The longest poem that she wrote was called “Suicide Sal,” and was a good 105 lines long. It was basically about a girl who was captured after being lured into crime by her lover, and she was sentenced to between five and fifty years. He sends word that he will come back for her, but as time goes on, she wonders if he really will. Sal is released after serving five years, but she is gunned down two days after her release. Her mother, naturally, was horrified by the poem, as she believed that her daughter was corrupted by Clyde.
Bucher's Jewelry Store and Carlsbad, New Mexico
On Clyde’s way to Wichita Falls to break out Fults, he, Ted Rogers, and Johnny Russell formulated a plan to get the storekeeper to open a jewelry store after hours with the premise of needing to buy guitar strings. A ten dollar bill was offered for the quarter items, the owner and his wife were held up by Rogers and Russell. There was a gun in the safe, along with some jewelry and a small amount of cash. The owner went for the gun, and he was shot by Rogers. He died a short time later. While waiting in the car, Clyde heard the shot, and his buddies told him to drive. The take was about $40 and $1,500 in jewelry. Clyde would be just as guilty, if he was ever identified, according to TX law. Mrs. Bucher identified Clyde and Raymond Hamilton, who wasn’t even there, as well as Frank Clause, a former co-conspirator of Clyde’s, again, not even there. Clyde was now being hunted as a killer. In August of 1932, Bonnie's life was so intermeshed with Clyde, she was actually an enabler. She was no longer just an ornamental girlfriend, she was a partner in crime.
Clyde’s car of choice was a Ford V-8 flathead, that could outrun anything. Even then, while on the run, they routinely travelled anywhere from 70-90 mph, which would easily tear up a car on back roads. He not only liked to change cars fairly often to keep the police off his tail, he liked to be seen in a good-looking car.
Bonnie and Clyde ended up visiting one of Bonnie’s aunts in Carlsbad, New Mexico. She was given the story that they were newlyweds, and Aunt Nellie Stamps had been so out of touch with the family for so long, she believed that they were on a sightseeing and driving honeymoon. It was only a 475 mile drive, but in those days, the further that you got from where the police were looking for you, the longer that you had time to bide.
It didn’t take long for even Aunt Nellie to become suspicious, as the young couple and their friend, Raymond Hamilton, had so much money between them, a nice new car, and guns. She contacted a friend, Deputy Joe Johns. Needless to say, he was taken hostage, and the cycle began once again, but with a bit of a twist for the law enforcement community. The deputy was finally let out of the car, hiked to a house with a phone, and notified San Antonio Police what had happened. Police had found a headless body in West Texas, and had assumed that this had been the fate of Deputy Johns.
Robbery and Car Theft Central
They hit the Fort Worth State Guard Armory and stole several Browning automatic rifles. Clyde needed to be sure that he could outshoot the law, as well as outrun them. These guns were in reserve in case state militias had to be formed for emergencies, but legislative red tape kept them from being made available to the outgunned police. Go figure. Raymond really didn’t like Clyde, as he considered himself a sophisticated bank robber, and not a bumbling crook who stumbled from one bloody mishap to another. He wanted to go to Michigan, and they drove him nearly 1,000 miles to get there. It was the perfect excuse to get away from the heat.
A trail of small robberies and car thefts were done along the way for spending money, and a good deal of evidence had been found in these cars linking the group to other robberies. This came back to haunt them, as the case was being built against them, no matter where they went. Even now, Bonnie and Clyde were small potatoes compared to the likes of big thugs like Pretty Boy Floyd. Clyde had still passed the point of no return. The Barrow family was kept informed of their well being by postcards, and they were actually touring around the Great Lakes and having a good time.
Clyde Barrow as a Leader
Even as a teen, it was rare that Clyde ever worked alone. Robberies were so much easier if several people had a part to play, instead of one person being responsible for everything. Clyde was keeping Bonnie away from the action, and he liked having male counterparts. The newspapers painted Clyde as a criminal mastermind, but as we have seen, he was a far cry from that. Clyde recruited two new partners, Hollis Hale and Frank Hardy, when they were back home in West Dallas in the late fall of 1932.
Clyde took time to choose the newly formed gang’s first target and even more uncharacteristically, he decided to rob a bank, when they were just outside Joplin, Missouri. The bank that Clyde picked had failed a few days prior, according to a clerk. That was when they picked the Farmer and Miners Bank of Oronogo. Bonnie was sent in on November 29 to case the place, which was a mistake. Since our criminals grew up poor, it was not known to them that a lone woman never entered banks alone in those days, even though she was well-dressed. On November 30, Hale waited in the car, while Clyde and Hardy entered the bank with one of the stolen BAR’s from Fort Worth. The teller had a pistol, and ducked down behind the lead lined counter. Then he began firing away, but his gun jammed after a few shots. Clyde’s weapon couldn’t penetrate the counter, so Hardy grabbed for the cash sitting on a table behind the cubicle and cut his hand in the process. Their take was $110.00, but once they exited the bank, several citizens opened fire.
Hardy and Hale were disillusioned by the small take, and once they were back at the motor court, Hardy lied and said the take was only $80. Hardy and Hale lied about having to go into town, never returned, and Bonnie and Clyde were left with about $25.
A few weeks later, while back in Texas, Bonnie and Clyde wanted to break two friends out of the McKinney jail, Ralph Fults and Ted Rogers. While they were waiting to be transported back to the Huntsville facility, Bonnie gave Fults a pack of cigarettes and whispered that Clyde was ready to get him and Rogers out of there. He said that the jail keys wouldn’t be back there until morning. When they returned the next morning, the two jailed men had already been on the road to their new home. Another job thwarted.
Christmas 1932 for the Barrow Gang
Meanwhile, Hamilton found his way back to West Dallas for Christmas, since he had other family there. However, he had been arrested for a murder that he didn’t commit, the jewelry store incident back in Kansas.
W.D. Jones, 16, was joyriding with 19-year-old L C, Clyde’s brother, and nothing could please him more than to join up with Bonnie and Clyde. Clyde liked the idea, and if nothing else, he needed a good lookout. If W.D. stuck with him, he might just finally have a loyal partner. Late Christmas morning, came W.D.’s initiation. Clyde told him that they were going to rob a grocery store, and handed the boy a .45, while Bonnie waited in the car. W.D. froze, and they headed back to the car, but he was duly ridiculed after that.
Clyde was irritated with that, and went looking around for another target for W.D. He spotted a Ford Model A roadster with the keys in it, and told W.D. that if he wanted to get home, he’d better take it. Model A’s were notoriously hard to start, and W.D. couldn’t do it. Clyde got out of his car, intent upon shaming the nervous young man. The family came rushing out of the house, and the owner of the car grabbed Clyde. Clyde told him to back off, but he wouldn’t let go of Clyde’s throat. It isn’t clear if Clyde or W.D. shot the man, but he died a short time later.
The Gang's Personal Information
For the first part of 1933, the trio bounced around Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, as close to a carefree life that they would ever get. No police pursuit was on their tail, and during this time, they used a screwdriver to change license plates more than they did guns. W.D. often had the role of photographer, taking pictures of Bonnie and Clyde in silly, hammy photos. Clyde could hotwire any car in seconds, but the real chore came to moving their many suitcases, Bonnie’s typewriter, Clyde’s guitar, and their arsenal of weapons and ammo from one stolen car to another. Clyde always drove, until he got tired, and Bonnie handled the road maps.
The Barrow Gang was still fairly anonymous in Arkansas and Missouri, and would rent one cabin for all three of them. It cost less and W.D. Jones was afraid of the dark. W.D. was often sent out on errands, which allowed Bonnie and Clyde time for whatever activities that they wished to pursue. Surprisingly, they prayed quite frequently, which was something that both their mothers taught them. Bonnie called Clyde “Daddy,” and his pet name for her was “Honey.” W.D. called Bonnie “Sis,” Clyde was “Bud,” and W.D. was “Boy.”
Bonnie enjoyed her makeup and liked to make her hair look good. She preferred wearing heels, and upon occasion, would color her own hair. She would even dye Clyde’s hair.
One of Clyde’s favorite foods was creamed peas, which he would have with every meal, except breakfast, if that was possible. They would take meals in their rooms at motor courts or on the side of the road. If they were hard pressed for cash, they would eat bologna and cheese sandwiches, and buttermilk was a treat. They drank whiskey, but Clyde drank a lot less than Bonnie, as he always wanted to be ready for anything.
On January 26, 1933, 24-year-old Thomas Persell of Springfield, Missouri PD, noticed three people in a Ford V-8 looking at parked cars. Since he had the knack for apprehending car thieves, and thought that was their game plan. He followed the Ford on his motorcycle, and pulled it over. Clyde and W.D. greeted him with drawn guns, and ordered him in the car after he was relieved of his pistol. Persell said that Clyde was very profane in his questioning on the fastest way out of town. He was soon sent to the back seat with Bonnie while they got gas, then told to return to the front. He accidentally kicked a suitcase on the way back to the front seat when he saw saw-off shotguns, rifles, pistols, and a Tommy gun. About five hours later, the Ford’s battery died, and Persell and W.D. were sent into Oronogo to steal another. They found one in the dead of night, and Persell helped W.D. carry it back. In those days, batteries were large and heavy.
Persell was released around midnight in Poundstone’s Corner. Persell asked for his gun back, as it was fitted with custom grips and expensive. He didn’t get it back, but was released intown rather than out in the country.
Enter Buck and Blanche Barrow
On Christmas eve 1932, Clyde learned that his older brother Buck(who was born Ivan), was just pardoned from prison. Clyde stepped into the family abode with the Gang and went upstairs to meet Blanche, who was in bed. Bonnie was drunk and looked like she hadn’t slept well for quite a period of time. Bonnie crawled into bed with Blanche, and the men discussed a raid on Eastham Prison. Blanche was naturally against all this, and the men went outside. When they returned at 4 a.m., Buck and Blanche were just going to visit with them in Joplin, Missouri for a vacation. Buck said that he promised Clyde that they would do this. He said that it would give him the opportunity to talk some sense into his kid brother. He would go without her if she wouldn’t go, and to sweeten the pot, she could bring her dog, Snowball.
They rendezvoused a few days later at a motor court in Checotah, Oklahoma, in Buck’s 1929 Marmon sedan. The two car caravan at first stayed in two cabins at a motor court. Blanche learned that Bonnie disliked cooking and doing dishes. Blanche and Clyde did the cooking. Buck and Bonnie liked pickled pig’s feet and olives. Clyde enjoyed French fries, and English peas cooked with lots of cream and pepper. Usually after dinner, the men would clean their guns and play poker.
In late March 1933, Buck and Blanche Barrow became members of the Gang. Blanche didn’t want anything to do with criminal activity, but her association was enough to involve her. She believed that being around Clyde and Bonnie would lead to trouble, and was she ever right.
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