Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910-May 23, 1934) and Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909-May 23, 1934) were outlaws during the Public Enemies Era (1933-1935). Bonnie and Clyde were poor, young people with little hope for the future when they met in Dallas, Texas in January 1930. Clyde was arrested shortly after, which would have ended most relationships but Bonnie’s love was true. Despite a brutal experience in prison, Clyde hated the drudgery of honest work, so he returned to a life of crime, bringing Bonnie with him. After a drunken encounter with police officers at a dance resulted in a dead deputy on August 5, 1932, surrender was no longer an option for Clyde because he would get the electric chair. Recently released from prison, his elder brother Buck met Clyde, Bonnie and new recruit, 16-year-old W.O. Jones, hoping to persuade Clyde to surrender, but the vacation ended on April 13, 1933 when two police officers died in a shootout, and Buck and his fiance Blanche found themselves part of the gang. The gang became national celebrities after pictures of them posing with guns were found in their abandoned apartment. Several months later, Buck was severely wounded in another shootout with police, and died of his wounds shortly after a posse discovered the gang’s campsite. Hoping to gain more members for the gang, Clyde helped several prisoners break out of Eastham Prison Farm on January 16, 1934. Angered by the attack, the warden persuaded the governor of Texas to hire former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer to hunt down the gang. Betrayed by gang member Henry Methvin in exchange for a pardon, Bonnie and Clyde were lured into an ambush where they were killed on May 23, 1934.
Bonnie Parker’s comfortable childhood ended with the death of her bricklayer father when she was four, and her mother had to raise three children, living in a rough neighborhood on the edge of Dallas that was filled with criminals. Married by the time she was sixteen, Bonnie worked as a waitress, sometimes letting people down on their luck have their meals for free. Tired of her husband’s disappearances, she kicked him out when she was eighteen. Like countless others, Bonnie lost her job during the Depression.
Clyde Barrow was the son of a poor tenant farmer with seven children, and his parents struggled to survive, so he had little education, although whippings with a switch were handed out by his devout and stern mother. In fact, the family was so poor that Clyde and his older sister Nell were often shipped off to other relatives to reduce the family’s burden. It was a bleak existence, and his only pleasures were the rare trips to the town’s tiny movie house, where he loved watching movies about cowboy outlaws, such as the James-Younger gang. As a boy, he never forgot a slight and would avoid fights, but would explode with violence when provoked. Shortly after the end of WWI, the parents and the three youngest children moved to Dallas, following the eldest children who had carved out lives slightly less poor than their parents. The family lived in the slums of West Dallas, whose residents were presumed to be thieves by the respectable citizens of Dallas, and were routinely hassled by the sheriff’s department.
Clyde quit school as soon as he could, and worked in a series of menial jobs, while building a file of minor criminal offences at the same time. However, he soon realized that social mobility was essentially impossible in Dallas, and he would never be able to earn enough money to buy the clothes and luxuries that he wanted, which motivated the petty thefts that led to the criminal record. The record ensured that he would be routinely picked up and questioned at the police station, which caused him to miss work, thus developing a deep resentment of the police. Plans to marry a girl named Anne ended when her parents forced her to call it off, and he lived with another girl named Gladys for a while but it ended too. Clyde and his older brother Buck graduated to robbery and stealing cars, which had become commonplace due to Henry Ford. One robbery went bad and Buck was sentenced to four years in jail, even though he had recently started dating Blanche, the recently separated daughter of a preacher.
Bonnie met Clyde through a friend in January 1930, and brought him home to meet her mother, but he was arrested shortly after. This would have ended most relationships but Bonnie’s love was true, so she regularly wrote him letters and visited him in jail. The letters reveal that she was consumed by a vision of a happy, law-abiding future with him, yet she allowed Clyde to convince her to smuggle him a gun. He broke out of jail but he managed to get arrested again within a week.
Early Criminal Career
Sentenced to fourteen years in the state penitentiary, Clyde was assigned to work on the state farm, where conditions were harsh, even though first-time offenders usually received softer assignments. The living quarters were extremely overcrowded and the guards were free to discipline prisoners as they wanted. The unsanitary conditions drove prisoners to escape, and there were 302 breakouts during the year before Clyde was transferred there, but only three were successful. A new prison governor took charge just before Clyde arrived, and he enlarged the prisoners’ quarters, introduced fresh fruit and vegetables, and restrained the previously brutal prison guards. Despite having grown up on a farm, Clyde hated the forced labor. In fact, he loathed prison so much that he persuaded another prisoner to chop off two of his toes with an axe, but the warden still kept him on the work farm until he was paroled. For someone who resented authority and prized control over his life, prison life was a shock, and Clyde developed a hatred of law enforcement officials, according to Ralph Fults, a fellow prisoner. Angering the guards with his open resentment, Clyde was moved to another camp, where a particularly brutal lifer named Ed Crowder repeatedly raped him for a year until Barrow killed him after another lifer had agreed to take responsibility for the murder.
Meanwhile, Buck had escaped and reunited with Blanche, who convinced him to give himself up. Clyde was paroled just as Buck returned to prison, and Bonnie, Bonnie’s mother and Clyde’s sister hoped he would get a decent job. The situation had worsened in Texas as dust storms plagued the state, which was already reeling from the Depression. Unfortunately, not even Clyde’s terror of prison could make him stomach the drudgery of regular work, especially since the Dallas police continued to harass him. Abandoning job-hunting, Clyde joined recent escapee Raymond Hamilton and Ralph Fults to commit a series of robberies to raise cash to finance a raid on the prison. Hamilton left once they had enough money. Fults and Clyde recruited more men and bought some guns. However, an attempt to rob a hardware store for more guns went bad, and Clyde abandoned both Fults and Bonnie, who ended up in jail.
Bonnie’s criminal adventure had turned into a disaster, as she was left behind by her boyfriend. During her time in prison she wrote ten poems, including “The Story of ‘Suicide Sal.’” Although her mother had hoped that a brief stint in prison would end her infatuation with Clyde, the bleak nature of the poem showed that she had realized that Clyde would not go straight and that she would not leave him. The poems also showed that Bonnie was very familiar with drugs and prostitution in Dallas, although it is not clear if she had been a prostitute herself. Initially planning to raid the state prison to liberate Bonnie and Fults, Clyde soon realized that the raid on Eastham prison was a non-starter. He also accepted that Bonnie was safer in prison, and she would probably be released soon, since she had claimed to have been kidnapped.
Teaming up with two friends, Clyde robbed the owner of a gas station and jewelry store, John Boucher, in Hillsboro on April 27, 1932. Boucher was killed during the robbery, but Clyde claimed that he wasn’t responsible, which may be true since he later robbed another two gas stations without killing anyone. While the killing was probably due to one of his friends’ jittery trigger finger, it meant that Clyde had stepped over the line separating robbery from murder, and that they were the targets of a well-organized pursuit since Boucher’s wife recognized a mug shot of Clyde from when he had visited the store, even though he had remained in the car during the robbery.
Crime Spree (August 1932-May 1934)
A couple of months in jail gave Bonnie a more serious outlook on life but she went back to Clyde, knowing that he was still robbing. After one robbery, Clyde, Hamilton and a third man, Ross Dyer, were driving through Oklahoma on August 5, 1932, and drinking heavily when they decided to stop at a local dance near Stringtown. One of the three men started dancing, while the other two stayed in the car drinking. This made the local sheriff and his deputy suspicious, so they went over to the car. Clyde and Hamilton panicked and started firing, killing the deputy and wounding the sheriff. They tried to drive away but the sheriff fired at them, and the car crashed. When the outlaws began shooting into the crowd, several of the dancers picked up the officers’ guns and shot back. Clyde and Hamilton finally stole another car and escaped, but this does not sound like the reactions of hardened professional killers, more like drunk, jumpy young men with guns. From that point on, surrender was no longer an option since Clyde knew that he would get the electric chair for killing a police officer. Dyer was arrested soon after and named Hamilton and Barrow as the shooters.
While Clyde was an incompetent with a twitchy trigger finger, he had become a skilled driver with an encyclopedic knowledge of the roads in Texas and nearby states, as well as the stamina to drive hundreds of miles in a single day. He had acquired such a fondness for the speed and reliability of the Ford V-8 that he wrote a letter to Henry Ford praising his cars.
Police only had V-6 cars at the time, so it was hard to keep up with him, while a lack of cooperation between different law-enforcement agencies helped them elude capture. The state police were underpaid, under-trained, and could not cross state lines. The city police could not enter county districts, and the departments had little desire to work together.
At the same time, motor travel had changed the nation and made the robbers’ lifestyle possible. Powerful, fast cars were increasingly common, the roads had benefited from an improvement program started after WWI, and motor courts, groups of stand-alone cottages available for rent near the highways, provided clean sheets and bathrooms for the robbers.
Shortly after the disaster at Stringtown, the couple parted with Raymond Hamilton, possibly because they got on each other’s nerves. Aside from a few big robberies, they made money to live the good life by robbing grocery stores and gas stations. During one robbery, a shop owner named Howard Hall was killed on October 11 when he threatened Clyde with a meat cleaver, and Clyde fled with the loot of $28. Despite Clyde’s denials to his family, the police found his fingerprints in the store. Actually, Clyde only admitted to killing police officers, probably because killing shop keepers was not very heroic, and would have meant acknowledging that he was a clumsy thief with a taste for killing.
Hamilton was arrested on December 6 after boasting about his criminal exploits to impress a girl, who chose to tell the police. Convicted of the Boucher murder, Hamilton received a total sentence of 263 years, and returned to Hunstville Penitentiary. Clyde vowed to free him, even though he disliked Hamilton, but Hamilton did not deserve the death penalty for murdering Boucher, since Hamilton had already left the gang before the robbery took place.
Needing another member, Clyde enlisted W.O. Jones, a sixteen-year-old, who had hero-worshipped him as a child. Once again, the little gang managed to be both pathetic and tragic. They tried to steal a car belonging to a salesman named Doyle Johnson, but were unable to get it to start, so they were pushing it when Johnson tried to stop them. In the struggle, Clyde shot him in the neck, and Johnson soon died from the wound. A trap set at the home of Hamilton’s sister in West Dallas ended with deputy Malcolm Davis lying dead from a shotgun blast to the chest.
By this time, Bonnie and Clyde’s numerous escapes had made them famous. Embarrassed by the bungled ambush, Dallas County Sheriff Richard “Smoot” Schmid decided to make Clyde’s arrest a priority, relying on deputies Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn, both of whom knew the Barrow family well. Meanwhile, the three outlaws roamed through Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, robbing grocery stores and staying out of the news for the next several months. Realizing that it was easier to switch license plates than move their luggage and arsenal to another car, they stole license plates more often than cars.
Clyde’s sister asked him how he felt after he killed a man, and he replied “like I always felt-sick inside, sick and cold and weak-and a sort of dull wishing that I’d never been born,” which was likely the wish of the families of the people he had killed.
Buck joins the gang (April-July 1933)
Buck was finally released in March 1933, and apparently wanted to stay out of jail but also wanted to see Clyde, which was a dangerous contradiction for a recently released ex-convict. As the elder brother, Buck claimed he was responsible for leading Clyde into a life of crime, therefore he wanted to convince him to either turn himself in or flee to Mexico. The two couples met in Joplin, Missouri, and enjoyed blissful domestic harmony for about two weeks, but Buck failed to persuade Clyde to surrender, and Blanche failed to convince Buck to leave. Given Clyde’s horror of prison, Buck’s mission seemed hopeless. Finally the money ran out, which prompted Clyde to commit more robberies. Unfortunately, the neighbors were suspicious about the number of guns in the apartment. The five police officers who came to check it out on the afternoon of Thursday, April 13, 1933 were not expecting heavy resistance, and one died on the spot, while another died of his wounds. While it is not clear if Buck had met Clyde to reform him or to join him, it was a moot point after that. They escaped, leaving two more families without breadwinners, but the police found their possessions, including, Bonnie’s poetry and pictures, and Buck’s pardon.
The pictures were published, making them famous across the country, but they could not move around in public anymore. Previously, they had only been known in Texas and parts of Oklahoma, but the death of two officers and the capture of their possessions made them national celebrities, since newspapers were hungry for stories that would sell papers. Pictures of bank robbers, including a scandalous photo of Bonnie posing with a cigar between her lips in a time where women were supposed to smoke discreetly, proved popular, especially since the young couple was not married but obviously slept together, thus adding the allure of illicit sex to their story. People struggling to make a living in cities or communities far from the areas robbed by the gang would sympathize with outlaws who were fighting back against the banks that had foreclosed on so many, and the police, who enforced the banks’ orders.
The reality was less glamourous. They were always driving from state to state, camping by the road and bathing in streams with someone constantly on guard. This situation did not improve relations among this collection of emotionally disturbed violent people. Unlike professional criminals like John Dillinger, they lacked the underworld connections needed to arrange payoffs to local police, who would look the other way while they rested in safe houses.
Most of their robberies were small-scale: filling stations, groceries or pharmacies. However, they also robbed the First State Bank in Okabena, Minnesota, in order to replenish their funds, managing to shoot their way out past the enraged townspeople without killing anyone. It was also probably their most profitable robbery, $2,500.
Like many other gangsters, they missed their families and took great risks to see them. Clyde regretted getting Buck involved, and both mothers had aged dramatically. However, Bonnie refused to leave her man, even though she knew they would probably get killed. After a family rendezvous in late May, Buck and Blanche took off to visit her parents in Missouri. While travelling to Oklahoma in early June, Clyde, Bonnie and W.O. had a bad accident when Clyde ran the car off the road to avoid a bridge that was closed for repairs. Horribly burned, Bonnie was in such pain that she begged Clyde to shoot her. Bonnie’s survival was due to the assistance of two farmers who helped get her out of the burning car. One of the farmer’s wives tended to Bonnie but became suspicious when Clyde refused to allow her to call an ambulance. The farmer’s generosity was rewarded by Jones panicking and shattering the hand of his daughter-in-law with a shotgun blast when she came in to the house. The other farmer had already called the police but the outlaws captured the sheriff and marshal sent to arrest them. Fortunately for the lawmen, Clyde managed to control his trigger finger for once, and the two lawmen survived the encounter. Clyde nursed Bonnie back to health, remaining by her bedside night and day.
Buck and W.D. robbed a Piggly Wiggly on June 23 but witnesses recorded both their license plate and the direction they were going. An attempt to set up a roadblock was badly organized, and the outlaws were able to shoot their way out, killing the town marshal in the process. Knowing that posses were looking for them, the gang shifted hideouts, and also managed to steal armor-piercing Browning rifles from a National Guard armory.
When Bonnie had healed enough to travel, the gang robbed three gas stations on July 18, and then holed up at the Red Crown Tavern, in Platte City, near Kansas City, Missouri. Employees at the tavern became suspicious, and called the police, who waited until all of the customers had left. Although the police were not sure if they were the Barrow gang, a combined force of highway patrol and county police took no chances, and arrived with steel shields and an armored car. Despite their precautions, several people were wounded in the shootout, as were Blanche and Buck, but they once again escaped. The gang made it to Dexter, 25 miles west of Des Moines, Iowa, but a local farmer noticed them, and contacted the police. A huge posse, made up of the local law, deputized vigilantes, police from Des Moines and National Guardsmen, was formed, and the sheriff positioned men around the camp and at road blocks. The trap was sprung on the morning of July 24, but Clyde, W.D. and Bonnie managed to shoot their way out, with the badly wounded Buck covering them. Both Blanche and Buck were captured, and Buck lived long enough to see his family when they arrived, dying on July 29, while Blanche was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Both Clyde and W. D. had been wounded during the escape, but Clyde was still able to rob a car at gunpoint. Bonnie recovered, but she was badly scarred and couldn’t put weight on her right leg, which made it almost impossible to walk on her own. Even so, she had never considered leaving him.
W.D. quickly left them, but was caught by the police on November 15 in Houston, and sang like a canary, claiming that he had been forced into a life of crime, which is exactly what Clyde had advised him to say.
Believing that Clyde did not have long to live, his parents had chosen to wait until he died, and then buy a headstone for both Clyde and Buck, since headstones were expensive. Bonnie and Clyde visited their families frequently during the fall without being caught because the police never thought to keep the parents under surveillance until someone tipped off Sheriff Schmid about the meetings. An ambush set up by Schmid on November 22 failed, although both Clyde and Bonnie were wounded again. Bonnie’s mom and her sister were both pressuring her to leave Clyde, claiming that she would only receive a jail sentence like Blanche, but she would surely die if she stayed with Clyde.
Eastham Farm Breakout (January 16, 1834)
After they healed up, Bonnie and Clyde, along with Hamilton’s friend James Mullen, helped their old acquaintance, Raymond Hamilton, and several other prisoners break out of Eastham Farm, Clyde’s alma mater, in January 1934. Clyde had been unwilling, thinking the plan was too risky but Bonnie knew they needed more men to rob banks. A prison guard wounded during the escape died the next day. Originally, only Hamilton and his accomplice Joe Palmer were supposed to be freed, but two more prisoners, Henry Methvin and Hilton Baybee, came along.
Incensed by the blatant breakout from a supposedly secure institution, prison warden Lee Simmons first obtained the backing of Texas governor Miriam Ferguson, and then persuaded former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, famous for his toughness and ability with a gun, to hunt down the Barrow gang, so Hamer gave up his $500 a month salary with an oil company for $180 a month. Realizing that Hamer was unimpressed with the low salary, Simmons guaranteed that Hamer could keep any of the gang’s personal possessions, which would be worth a fortune to collectors. Hamer would be the first law enforcement official who would not be limited by state borders.
Final Run (January-May 1934)
Clyde had won a very public victory against the prison system that he hated, and was once again a gang leader. Hamilton’s new girlfriend Mary O’Dare joined the group, and Mullen left, expecting to be rewarded later for helping to break Hamilton out. Two banks were held-up in the next few weeks. Although Clyde remained the leader of the gang, the robberies were more professional because he became the driver of the getaway car, a role that suited him perfectly. Bybee left the gang after the first robbery, and was soon recaptured. Joe Palmer and Hamilton disliked each other, and the older man decided to leave the gang as well. The remaining members robbed another National Guard Armory on February 19.
Clyde and Hamilton argued over how to divide the money, and whether to stay small-time (Clyde) or rob banks ( Hamilton). The six outlaws lived the good life at Terre Haute, Illinois during March, buying tailored clothes and eating in good restaurants, but Hamilton and his girlfriend left the gang after a few days. However, Henry Methvin was happy to accept Clyde’s leadership, so he remained with the gang.
After mining Smoot Schmid for information about the gang, and meeting the sheriffs of other towns that had had run-ins with the outlaws, Hamer followed the same routes used by the gang, driving long stretches and sleeping rough in order to better understand them. Hamer and Simmons had not announced that the most famous Ranger was on the case, but Hamer was building a network of contacts among law-enforcement officials. Finally, he learned from Sheriff Henderson Jordan of Bienville Parish, Louisiane where the Methvin family lived that Methvin’s father wanted to discuss a deal. Unknown to Methvin, his parents believed that they were close to arranging a parole when he broke out of prison. They wanted their son out of the gang and back with them, not back in prison, and they were willing to sell out the rest of the gang. Hamer promised that Methvin would be pardoned if his information enabled the arrest or death of the gang. Even though Clyde barely knew Methvin, he still trusted him completely.
While waiting to meet their families for Easter, two motorcycle policemen attempted to perform a routine search, and were killed, although Clyde later claimed that he had only meant to capture them, but Methvin had panicked, misinterpreting his words “Let’s take them” to mean kill them. An eyewitness claimed to have seen Bonnie execute one of the wounded cops, even though other testimony contradicted it, but any chance of Bonnie simply receiving a prison sentence had evaporated.
The murder of the two motorcycle policemen forced Hamer to speed up his pursuit, so he formed a posse with Dallas deputies Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn, and former Texas Ranger Manny Gault.
On April 6, the outlaws’ car was stuck, and they waved guns to force a truck driver to pull them out of the mud. A passing motorist saw the scene, called the police, but when two policemen showed, 63 year-old Cal Campbell was killed and Percy Boyd was taken hostage after a shootout. They kept Boyd with them for a day, and even took him on a picnic. When he was released, Bonnie told him to tell the press that she does not smoke cigars.
The police finally caught Hamilton on April 25, who said “I’m Raymond Hamilton and I don’t intend to give you any trouble. I’m just fresh out of ammunition, money, whiskey and women. Let’s go to jail.”
Ambush (May 23, 1934)
Meanwhile, Hamer’s posse was still chasing the gang, but with little success. Since there was no chance of catching them visiting their families, the best option was to stake out a road near the Methvins’ farm in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, and ambush them. Ivy Mthvin wanted to limit his involvement to tipping off Sheriff Jordan who would tell Hamer, but Hamer wanted Methvin’s active participation. Hamer convinced him by threatening to cancel his son’s amnesty. Heavier-calibre weapons were obtained through the aid of a Texas congressman, who persuaded the commander of the National Guard in Texas to loan a couple of BARs.
By publicly hunting them in other states but not Louisiana, Hamer lulled the gang into a relaxed state. However, Bonnie was still very fatalistic and wrote a poem “The End of the Line” where she clearly accepted that they would end up dead.
While Bonnie and Clyde has gotten comfortable in the parish, and often visited various members of the Methvin clan, they never announced their movements in advance, which made it impossible for Ivy to give a date and location to Hamer. Ivy did not want to give a time when the couple was meeting his family or when his son was with them because he feared that someone would get hurt in the crossfire. Hamer eventually lost patience, so when they learned from another lawman that suspicious people like Clyde and Bonnie had been seen in the area, Hamer told Sheriff Jordan that he planned to set up an ambush that night. Unknown to Hamer, Jordan was trying to bring in the local FBI agent in order to gain national attention, so he postponed the ambush to the next morning to gain time to contact the agent. When he failed to reach the agent, the sheriff told Hamer and his posse to meet him and Deputy Prentiss Oakley at the area they had selected on the main road to the Methvin place on the evening of May 22.
Hoping to capture the outlaws, rather than kill a woman, they forced Methvin’s dad to come the next morning and position his truck to look like it had a flat tire. The agents had positioned themselves about ten feet apart from each other in wooded area that overlooked the road. When the posse heard a car that sounded like Clyde’s car, they sent Methvin down to be the bait. The plan worked, the outlaws stopped to see if Methvin’s father needed help, and were killed by a hail of bullets from six guns. Deputy Oakley started firing before Hamer could order them to surrender. Hearing a shot, and unaware that Oakley had fired, the rest of the posse opened fire.
Since Hamer had been promised whatever he wanted, he took the outlaws’ guns and a fishing tackle box, leaving the rest of the possessions to be divided among the other lawmen.
People who had heard the gunfire or overheard the policemen reporting to their various supervisors rushed to the site, tearing souvenirs from the bodies. Every time the truck towing the car with the bodies stopped, people, including schoolchildren, swarmed over it to rip away parts of Bonnie’s dress and upholstery, or to place their hands in the blood, which is just a little sick.
The families chose to have Bonnie and Clyde buried separately. Each of their funerals was attended by 30,000 sympathizers and curiosity seekers.
Despite promises of huge rewards, the six members of the posse each received only $200 because most of the businesses and institutions that had promised rewards reneged on those promises. However, Hamer made quite a bit of money selling the memorabilia, and refused to return anything to their families.
Lee Simmons made sure that Ray Hamilton and Palmer got the electric chair for the murder of a prison guard. Actually, Palmer and Hamilton escaped with several other prisoners on July 22, but both were recaptured within a year, although Hamilton became famous for robbing banks. Methvin was pardoned by the Texas governor, but was later arrested by Oklahoma police, who had not given him a pardon.
Bonnie and Clyde’s relatives had to spend time in jail as punishment for harboring known criminals, ranging from 30 days for the mothers to a year for Bonnie’s sister Billie and Hamilton’s girlfriend O’Dare.
The lawmen who finally hunted down and killed the outlaws immediately became popular heroes, although there was also a fair amount of criticism of the law officers for having ambushed criminals in cold blood.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Directed by Arthur Penn, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway
During the middle of the Depression, a small gang of bank robbers in the mid-West go on a crime spree but as they become more famous, the police make greater efforts to hunt them down. (full review)
Further Reading:Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde-Jeff Gunn, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.
An excellent book. Gunn has performed an astonishing amount of research, producing a richly detailed look at the outlaw couple. Definitely the standard book on Bonie and Clyde.The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde.-John Treherne, New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000.
The book is dedicated to the pair’s 12 victims, so it is not a sympathetic portrayal. Frequent comparisons are made to the James-Younger gang, both gangs traveled a lot, and killed roughly the same number of people, but the James-Younger gang stole way, way more money. A well-organized, well-researched account, but it suffers from a bit too much psycho-analysis.Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. Bryan Burrough, New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.
The author grew up listening to stories about Bonnie and Clyde, and decided to write the book because there was no single history of that period, partially because the FBI files had only been released in the late 1980s. His access to previously sealed FBI files means that the story is as much about the evolution of the FBI as it is about the gangsters themselves. It is a superb, one-stop look at that brief period where outlaws seemed to roam free. Ignoring the easy approach of dividing the book into several sections that focus on individual gangs, the story is told in chronological order, which might appear confusing to some readers but serves to show how interrelated the events were. Most of the gangs knew each other and their paths crossed more frequently than I would have thought, which may help to explain why the FBI was so confused in the beginning. Burrough’s attention to detail is impressive, he shows what happened to the main FBI agents, the surviving outlaws who ended up in prison, and their various girlfriends and accomplices. What is odd is that once the War on Crime was over, no one really talked about it. The agents rarely told their families, while the families of the outlaws often preferred to move forward and leave their tainted past behind them.