It was somewhere near the beginning of 1930 when Bonnie Parker first set eyes on Clyde Barrow in a romanticized version of love at first sight. Bonnie was married, but separated from her husband. She was an out-of-work seamstress; Clyde had been born poor and didn’t know any different. He’d first been arrested at seventeen and sent to prison at twenty. In prison, he was sexually assaulted repeatedly. It was then that Clyde Barrow learned a skill — he learned how to kill. Ralph Fults, a fellow inmate, said he watched Barrow turn from “a school boy to a rattle snake.” Clyde used a lead pipe to cave in the skull of his attacker. Two years later, the state of Texas declared him rehabilitated and released him at the height of the Great Depression.
After his release, Clyde takes up robbery full time. He likes hitting the small targets, like gas stations and grocery stores. On April 30, 1932, he is accused of killing a store owner in Hillsboro, Texas. Bonnie, in jail at the time, had been captured in a bungled burglary. She later beats the charge for lack of evidence. She writes poetry while in jail, writing “The Story of Suicide Sal” and the autobiographical, “The Trail’s End,” later renamed “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde”; after all, she is only a kid of twenty-two.
In August, while Bonnie is visiting her mother, Clyde and some of the boys attend a dance in Oklahoma. Sheriff C.G. Maxwell and Deputy Eugene Moore spot them drinking in the parking lot and move in to make arrests. Barrow and another man opened fire, killing the deputy and wounding the Sheriff. Eight weeks later, Barrow kills Howard Hall during a robbery. He kills Doyle Jackson while stealing Jackson’s car. In January, Clyde kills a deputy sheriff after the pair stumble into a trap set for someone else.
Buck Barrow, Clyde’s brother, was newly released from prison, joining the gang with his wife, Blanche. The gang was hiding out in Joplin, Missouri, only they weren’t doing much hiding. Holding alcohol-fueled marathon poker games, they were loud and noisy; the neighbors suspected they were bootleggers. But after Clyde accidentally discharged his Browning automatic rifle (BAR), the neighbors tipped-off the cops. The cops assemble five lawmen in two cars to confront the “bootleggers.” Though surprised, the gang escapes after killing two policemen. Bonnie is alleged to have laid down covering fire during the escape, wounding a highway patrolman.
Escaping, the gang loses most of their belongings and weapons as well as several rolls of film. The Joplin Globe publishes the photos, making Bonnie and Clyde national news. For the next three months the gang goes on a spree, robbing banks from Texas to Minnesota. They kidnap a couple in Louisiana stealing their car; later releasing them with money. Their fame is making hiding out progressively more difficult; motels and restaurants are now out. They camp out, bathing in rivers. Five people in one car for long hours make squabbles inevitable.
On June 10th, Clyde misses a construction sign, flipping the car into a ravine. Bonnie suffers third degree burns and can barely walk. The gang hides in a tourist court near Fort Smith, Arkansas, but are soon forced to flee, landing just outside Kansas City. They draw attention to themselves by their fancy clothes and seeking out bandages. Law enforcement officers from four states are closing in. An armored car is on the way, but the law decides to move in with Thompson sub machine guns. From a distance, they are no match for Clyde’s BAR. Buck Barrow is mortally wounded in the shootout, his wife Blanche, nearly blinded by glass fragments.
Clyde, Bonnie and W.D. Jones escape on foot and rob small stores for the next six weeks while trying to keep a low profile. They spread out West to Colorado, North to Minnesota and as far South as Mississippi. In August, Jones and Barrow burgle a National Guard armory in Illinois, obtaining new Browning automatic rifles. September finds them back in Dallas, Jones heads out. Meanwhile, Bonnie is treated for her injury by her mother. In November, they narrowly evade capture, trying to meet with family in Sowers, Texas. Barrow, suspecting a trap, drives past his family’s car without stopping, at which point the lawmen open fire.
In January, Clyde engineers the Eastman prison breakout. During the raid a prison guard is killed giving the gang the undivided attention of state and federal officials. The prison warden vows “all involved in the breakout will be hunted down and killed.” In April, the gang kills two Highway Patrolmen in Grapevine, Texas. Bounty money is flowing in from numerous sources. Five days later, the gang kills a sixty year old constable.
It all comes to an end on a country road outside Shreveport in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.
Six deputies lay in wait behind the bushes. The lawmen open fire killing Barrow instantly, continuing the barrage until 130 rounds are spent. According to lawmen Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn:
Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns … There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren’t taking any chances.
Seventeen entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Bonnie. No one was credited with the kill because there were just too many wounds to determine which shot was fatal; so many wounds the undertaker had trouble embalming them. Bonnie and Clyde were brutal, murderous outlaws, without any realistic possibility they would ever allow themselves to be taken alive. This was 1930’s law enforcement.
In 2012, Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo fired 49 shots of 137 shots fired into the car of Timothy Russell, who was giving Malissa Williams a ride home to East Cleveland. An officer heard a large report, like a gunshot or a car backfiring, jumped into his vehicle and jumped to the conclusion he was under fire; he gave chase. Police say they don’t know why Russell didn’t just pull over. I suspect it was fear; you’ve done nothing wrong when suddenly bullets are whizzing around your ears. Would you stop to ask the nice policemen why they are shooting at you?
More than 60 police officers of Cleveland’s 277 on duty, responded to the chase; a chase police claim Russell led them on at speeds of over 100 mph in a mid 1980’s GM sedan with a history of backfiring. For the Coup de grace, Officer Brelo jumped up on the hood of Russell’s bullet riddled car and put 15 more shots into the two unarmed victims. Timothy Russell was shot 23 times and Malissa Williams was shot twenty-four. Twelve officers were indicted, but all were quickly cleared of wrongdoing. You see, just like Bonnie and Clyde, the victims’ bodies were so riddled with bullets that there was no way to determine who fired the fatal shots. The court charged the officers with an unprovable offense, guarantying all would be back out on the streets ready to protect and serve you real soon.
Russell and William’s hadn’t been accused of tussling with a police officer, nor were they accused of stealing Cigarillos from a convenience store. They weren’t even under surveillance by the local neighborhood watch for suspiciously eating Skittles. Their car is alleged to have made a loud noise, and for that reason alone, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were hunted down and slaughtered by a pack of wild gangsters. At no time was the police motive fighting crime or protecting public order. Their goal was the execution of anyone whom they considered a threat to the gang. This state-sponsored gang fired more shots into William’s car than police had fired at Bonnie and Clyde. If you don’t see the police state yet, you’re blind!
About the author: David Glenn Cox is a senior staff writer for TLR and an award winning author and musician; he is the author of the novel, “The Servants of Pilate.”