On This Day

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.

On This Day: Bonnie and Clyde Shot Dead in Louisiana

May 23, 2009 02:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde, the famed couple of crime, were killed in a police ambush near Sailes, La., as they were driving a stolen Ford V8.

The Fall of Bonnie and Clyde

Henderson Jordan, a former Texas Ranger and sheriff of Bienville Parish in northwestern Louisiana, had been tracking the notorious criminal duo for six weeks. In late May, Jordan received an anonymous tip that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were passing through his area, "coming through the lower part of Bienville Parish and going to the northern part of Natchitoches Parish,” as he told The New York Times in a 1934 interview.

Jordan gathered a team of Rangers and sheriff deputies along a narrow road, establishing a firing squad that killed the thieving couple as they whizzed by at 85 mph in their stolen Ford V8. A total of 167 bullets were fired. According to The Atlantic magazine, Barrow had previously sent Henry Ford a letter congratulating him on designing such a “great getaway car” as the V8.

A passerby filmed the scene five minutes after the shooting. Bonnie was found slumped against Clyde. As the narrator states, “The inevitable end: retribution. Here is Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, who died as they lived—by the gun.” This movie, a forerunner of the home videos of crime scenes that exploded in the 1990s, is available through the Biography Channel Web site.

In 1935, Time magazine covered a case against 15 of Bonnie and Clyde’s accomplices. “Given sentences ranging from one hour to two years were Bonnie Parker’s mother and sister; Barrow’s mother, a sister, a brother, a brother-in-law and two sisters-in-law; twelve friends."

"He was my boy. I loved him," Clyde’s mother was quoted as saying. She received 30 days.

Key Players: Bonnie Parker (1910–1934); Clyde Barrow (1909–1934)

Hollywood could not have crafted a better couple in crime than Bonnie and Clyde, both Texas natives who were young, beautiful and disillusioned with their lot in life. As Time magazine stated in a 1935 article, both Bonnie and Clyde “sprang from roots deeply embedded in the darkest social soil.”

According to Crime Library, Bonnie Parker grew up in a family of laborers in Texas. The 4’11” strawberry-blond beauty had a stellar academic high school record, excelling in drama and creative writing. One year after she was married at age 16, her husband wound up in jail, forcing her to become a waitress.

Clyde Barrow was also born into a poor Texas family and was considered handsome. His family lived on the outskirts of Dallas where his father ran a gas station.

The couple met in 1930 in West Dallas, Texas, and set forth on their spree of robberies two years later at the height of the Great Depression. They held up banks and stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana and New Mexico. The FBI Website offers a detailed timeline of Bonnie and Clyde’s exploits.

Historical Context: The Great Depression

Though Bonnie and Clyde were dangerous criminals, the public saw the couple as folk heroes rather than petty thieves. As Crime Library explains, “By the time Bonnie and Clyde became well known, many had felt the capitalistic system had been abused by big business and government officials. … Now here were Bonnie and Clyde striking back.”

The Great Depression provided the perfect backdrop to their crime spree. PBS has a timeline of the Great Depression and the New Deal, from the stock market crash of October 1929 to Roosevelt’s election to a third term in 1940. FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to U.S. History features the best links to learn about the toll the Great Depression took on America, including a rise in organized crime.

Later Developments: Bonnie and Clyde's legacy

Bonnie and Clyde’s romantic legacy greatly outshone their penchant for crime. Photographer Jeffrey Sward, who specializes in American roadside attractions, organized a tribute to Bonnie and Clyde with artifacts displayed at Nevada’s Primm Valley Resort and Casino. On his Web site, he suggests some reasons the couple remains in the nation’s consciousness more than 70 years after their death. “Their crime spree included several bank robberies at the height of the Great Depression. Banks were extremely unpopular in that era because of frequent foreclosures and bank failures.” Their “nomadic nature” and their underdog status were also romantically appealing.

Related Topic: Modern-day Bonnie and Clyde

According to a 2008 article published in Rolling Stone magazine, Philadelphia 20-somethings Jocelyn Kirsch and Ed Anderton used fake identities, spyware and stolen Social Security numbers to steal at least $100,000. With their profits, they bought Alpine ski vacations, closets full of designer apparel and $1,000 meals without abandon. That is, until they got caught at a UPS store that they were using as their mailing address. At the time, the local press called the photogenic couple the "Digital Bonnie and Clyde."

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines