The Early Days of Bonnie and Clyde
Henry and Cumie Barrow
Henry Barrow was a farmer by trade, back when farming actually paid a little money, but that was before the Depression. Henry’s wife, Cumie, was a hard worker, who tended fields, kept the house running smoothly, and was a mother to five children. The Barrow clan eventually ended up in West Dallas, which was basically a slum, and Dallas’ intent was to not even have undesirables so close to them. Henry Barrow then began dealing scrap metal in 1929, but an unfortunate incident occurred with the horse that he had. He was following his usual route alongside the Houston Street Viaduct when a car went out of control and hit his horse. The seriously injured animal ran all the way home before it died. Henry, or more likely Clyde and Buck Barrow, threatened a lawsuit, and the driver of the car settled for either $600 or $800. Henry used some of the money to buy a model T ford truck, which was the only car that he ever owned. Then the Depression hit.
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Featuring a young Marty Stuart on mandolin.
How Did Clyde Barrow Meet Bonnie Parker?
On January 5, 1930, a friend of Clyde’s invited him to a party, a few blocks away from the campground where he lived, and that was where he met Bonnie Parker. She was 19 and considered her life to be in a shambles. She had lost her job, her husband, John Callaway, had deserted her, and she wasn’t an actress or a poet yet. But she knew that things were in store for her, as she had unshakable self-esteem.
A Youthful Bonnie Parker
Before Bonnie could toddle, she had to be the center of attention. As a 3-year-old at church, she shocked the crowd by belting out the honky-tonk song, “He’s a Devil in His Own Hometown.”
One of her uncles came for a visit and he taught his feisty little niece how to swear, and she immediately addressed her father in rather salty language. He couldn’t bring himself to paddle Bonnie, as she was just too adorable.
Bonnie was one of the best students in high school, where she won a spelling bee. She met Roy Thornton in high school: he was big, good-looking, and well dressed. They married in September 1926, just a few months before her 16th birthday. He had mysterious ways of paying the bills, and he later became involved in a life of crime, then disappeared from her life.
Bonnie loved children, but due to an unspecified gynecological problem, she was unable to conceive. Rumor has it that since Bonnie was such a good dresser, and she made so little money as a waitress, she could have done occasional work as a prostitute.
Bonnie finally began getting her taste of what crime was like when she visited Clyde in prison. He was incarcerated for car theft and robbery for two years, a first time convict in 1930. Clyde passed her a note outlining the location of a home where a weapon was located. The map was wrong, but she searched and found it. She buckled the revolver under her dress, then talked the guard into a second visit that day. She transferred the gun to Clyde, then went to the home of her cousin to wait, but she wasn’t quite sure what she was waiting for.
Why the Interest in a Bad Boy?
Clyde broke out of jail with two cohorts, he hot-wired a car, and off they went. Bonnie was left stewing at her cousin’s, then hitchhiked back home. Four or five days later, she received a telegram that Clyde was all right. Clyde and his comrades headed north, stealing cars as they went. They robbed a dry cleaner and the B&O RR Depot office for $60. The incidents were reported and the license plate number had been given. Clyde nearly got away, and he hid under a house for hours. He emerged in the early afternoon and stole another car. He turned down a dead end street and was hemmed in. He pitched the gun from Waco into a nearby canal. On Friday, March 21, the Waco Times-Herald headlines were “Baby Thugs Captured”, which included William Turner and Emery Abernathy.
One April 21, the One Way Wagon took Clyde to Huntsville State Prison. He listed his middle name as “Champion” instead of Chestnut, and claimed that Bonnie Parker was his wife. In September 1930, Clyde was assigned to Eastham Prison Farm, the worst prison in Texas, if not on Earth. Clyde met Ralph Fults while being transported, who escaped from Eastham. Clyde, who craved control, was suddenly under the control of others. Late in 1930, when a camp 2 inmate suspected of being an informer suffered a near fatal accident—a freshly chopped tree fell on him—Clyde and Fults had a part in this. Clyde was later sent to Camp 1, which is where he met Ed Crowder, his rapist. After nearly a year of this, Clyde swore that he’d kill Crowder. On October 29, 1931, he concealed a piece of lead pipe in his pants leg. When Crowder saw him head for the toilet and shower area, Crowder pounced, but Clyde fractured his skull and killed him. Aubrey Scalley confessed to the killing, which Clyde never forgot.
Meanwhile in 1931, Clyde’s father got two small parcels of land on Eagle Ford Rd. in West Dallas. He moved a tiny house that he had constructed at the campground to his land. This became the Barrow Service Station. Since prohibition was in full force, Henry’s son, LC, manned the moonshine stand at the gas station. Henry dug a well and sold water for a quarter a barrel, had telephone service, and sold Star brand gasoline at 12 cents a gallon. Most of the payments were bartered, like slightly used shoes or secondhand pants. Sometimes a pig was traded for alcohol.
Clyde and Buck were actually serving time together in Huntsville for unrelated charges, but they didn’t get to see each other. Clyde had twelve more years to serve at “the Bloody ‘Ham,” due to high incidents of prisoners self mutilation to get away from back breaking farm toil for ten hour days. Unless it was a fairly serious injury, convicts were just bandaged up and sent back to the fields. It isn’t clear as to whether or not Clyde cut off his big toe and second toe himself, but this amputation caused him balance difficulties, which occurred January 27, 1932. On February 2, his pardon came, and he was still learning to walk, but to him, it was better than more than a year and half working to the point of physical collapse. At 21, Clyde said that he would never serve time in Eastham again, he would rather die.
Clyde did his best to find gainful employment after his release. He tried construction work in Framingham, Massachusetts, for two weeks, but missed his family too much. He found local employment, but he got fired from jobs, as the police kept showing up at his jobs to arrest him for “suspicion,” which they could legally do back then. They actually made it so unbearable for him, he went back to crime as an alternative to make money. Clyde and Ralph Fults reunited in West Dallas, and Bonnie told her mother that she was going to go to work in Houston, 240 miles south of Dallas. She lied to her mother, as she always intended to get back together with Clyde. Bonnie had never divorced Roy Thornton, another criminal, so she could not marry again. Instead, she, Clyde, Fults, and Raymond Hamilton formed a gang.
Early Days as Career Criminals
The first three weeks of Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree as career criminals was full of bad decisions and even worse luck. The men set out to commit their first robbery together at the Simms Oil Refinery, not far from the Barrow home on Eagle Ford Rd. Clyde said that an employee told him that there would be payroll cash there on March 25, 1932. Greed got the better of them, and they made their plans in case there was a guard, how to get through the fence, and how to quickly gain entry to the safe. Nobody knew that there would be four employees that were still in the building, but they were fairly easily captured and restrained. They cracked the safe with a hammer and chisel, but the surprise was on them: the safe was empty. Clyde’s first attempt at running a gang failed, and 18-year-old Hamilton rubbed that in his face. Hamilton wanted to be involved in car theft, but Clyde and Fults had a different plan. The first thing that they wanted to do was break into Eastham Prison Farm and let the prisoners go. Their arsenal comprised Saturday Night Specials and a couple of shotguns. They also wanted bulletproof vests and a good supply of ammo. Fults wanted to rob banks instead of small businesses, as the take would be larger. Clyde never robbed a bank, but after the Simms fiasco, he was in no position to disagree with the logic.
While Bonnie stayed home, the trio did small stickups in the Dallas area to gain travel money. After the Simms incident, the police would be looking for their old stand-by, Clyde, so they proceeded northward to look for a bank.
In 1924, Rand-McNally began publishing maps, which was something that Clyde loved, as it made it a lot easier to plan routes. Through his criminal career, Rand-McNally maps would be found in his trail of abandoned stolen cars.
A bank was located in Okabena, Minnesota, a good 900 miles from home. Clyde called it off due to ice and snow, as he feared sliding off the road. They turned around and finally settled on the First National Bank in Lawrence, Kansas. Four hundred miles later, after all of them took turns driving, and they all managed to fall asleep at the wheel and veer off the road into fields. They found a local hotel and took a couple of days to plan this heist.
Clyde and Fults followed the bank president inside, while Hamilton was at the wheel. Fults guarded two employees, Clyde got two bags of money, and the prisoners were locked in the vault. Another car was stolen out of town, then they stopped in St. Louis, Illinois, to count the money. They got away with a whopping $33,000, and Hamilton was duly impressed, but he wanted to immediately rob more banks. The other two wanted to finance their Eastham plan, they wanted to get their guns, and head back to Texas. Clyde and Fults spent their shares on Tommy guns, .45’s, and bulletproof vests. Hamilton took his cut and left to see his father in Michigan. Those two went to Texas in April to visit Clyde’s family and Bonnie. Fults met Bonnie and they liked each other, but her mother Emma, didn’t care for the criminal element, and wouldn’t let them inside.
The Baby Thugs Ride Again as the Lake Dallas Gang
Clyde and Fults met up with Ralph Allsup, Johnny Russell, Ted Rogers, and Jack Hammett, to form the Lake Dallas Gang. Clyde felt that this would be enough to cause a stir, and be the first to break prisoners out of Eastham. Clyde’s biggest concern was to free Aubrey Scalley, who took the rap for him in the Ed Crowder murder. The men decided to test the vests and weapons from the purchase at the pawnshop, and found that the vests were perforated by the weapons that did fire, but many of them wouldn’t fire at all.
They planned an April 11 stickup of two banks in Denton, TX, but were scared off by a couple of Texas Rangers sitting in a car parked at the main square. After trying to recruit a couple of other men that they never found, they turned back toward Dallas, but the car broke down about 200 miles east of Amarillo. An astute employee called the sheriff where the car was parked, the sheriff responded, and told them to put up their hands. They ended up with three prisoners. They eventually pulled to the side of the road, let the prisoners go free, but kept the sheriff’s revolver. To give everyone the slip, they headed to Oklahoma. The vehicle ran out of gas, which was common for cars in the ‘30’s, as gas gauges were notoriously inaccurate. Eventually a rural mail carrier spotted them. Clyde got behind the wheel, and another prisoner was taken. Clyde crashed through a chain barrier and fled into Oklahoma, as a pair of toll guards fired at the car. Via the radio, word was received that roadblocks were being set up on major arteries. The mail carrier and his mailbag were let off on a roadside. The carrier wanted the car burned instead of just being abandoned, as then the government would have to buy him a replacement. Clyde kept the promise.
As usual, nothing was going right. Instead of additional manpower for the raid, one person was actually lost, and the other two hopefuls were never found. Bonnie was elected to visit Scalley, she gave him the plan, and he liked it. He planned to be ready when they returned. On April 18, ammo was purchased at a small hardware store in Kaufman, which also had a fine selection of weapons, which they planned to return to on the trip back from stealing more cars. They got two cars and broke into the hardware store. Unfortunately, a night watchman in town set up an alarm and that woke everyone in town, so they had to skedaddle. They made a u-turn, and went back through town, but the highway was blocked with a couple of road graders. They didn’t get the guns, and to compound matters it began to rain, and they were travelling on dirt roads. Then the rain turned into a cloudburst. Before they knew it, the two massive stolen cars were bogged down in the muck and mire. The gang had to abandon them, and flee into pastureland in the pouring rain, as they feared that their pursuers would easy go through the mud in their lighter cars.
Stay tuned for the next segment of the real story of Bonnie, Clyde and the other gang members.