Last week’s robbery of the First Citizens Bank in Oriental has obliged me to write about Bonnie and Clyde. When it comes to robbing banks, the manufactured Bonnie and Clyde folklore is hard to surpass. As you may know, Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born in Texas on March 24, 1909 near the town of Telico just south of Dallas. He was the fifth of seven children from a poor farming family. His family moved to the urban slum known as West Dallas in the early 1920s to escape their life as impoverished farmers. The Barrows spent their first months in West Dallas living under their wagon! Clyde was first arrested in 1926 after running when police confronted him over a rental car he had failed to return on time. His second arrest for possession of stolen turkeys came shortly after. Despite having legitimate jobs during the period 1927 through 1929, he also cracked safes, robbed stores and stole cars. After sequential arrests in 1928 and 1929, he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. While in prison, Barrow beat to death another inmate who had sexually assaulted him. It was Clyde Barrow's first killing. Paroled in February 1932, Barrow emerged from Eastham a hardened and bitter criminal. His sister Marie said "Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn't the same person when he got out." A fellow inmate said he watched Clyde Barrow "change from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake."
Another rattlesnake, Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born on October 1, 1910 in Rowena, Texas. She was the second of three children. Her father, Charles Parker, a bricklayer, died when Bonnie was four. Her mother moved with the children to her parents' home in Cement City, an industrial suburb of Dallas, where she found work as a seamstress. Bonnie Parker was one of the best students in her high school, winning top prizes in spelling, writing, and public speaking. As an adult, she found expression in poetry.
Bonnie Parker first met Clyde Barrow in January 1932 at a friend's house. Bonnie was out of work and was staying in West Dallas to assist a female friend with a broken arm. Clyde dropped by the girl's house while Bonnie was in the kitchen making hot chocolate. When they met, both were smitten immediately; most believe Bonnie joined Clyde because she was in love. Bonnie remained a loyal companion as the pair carried out their crime spree and awaited the violent deaths they viewed as inevitable.
Though known today for his dozen bank robberies, Barrow, in fact, preferred to rob small stores and rural gas stations. The Barrow gang killed at least nine police officers and several civilians. The couple themselves were eventually ambushed and killed in North Louisiana by law officers. The parish coroner’s report listed seventeen gunshot wounds on Clyde’s body and twenty-six on Bonnie’s, which was an appropriate ending for both rattlesnakes. So my message this week is don’t become a rattlesnake!