CHARLOTTE, N.C. Historically, May 23 is not a good day to be a villain. Arguably the best-known pop-culture criminals who met their demise on this day were Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow of “Bonnie & Clyde” fame. Texas and Louisiana state police gunned the notorious couple down in Louisiana on this date in 1934. So on this day, the truth and legend of Bonnie and Clyde entered into the annals of American folklore.
Much of the glamorous myth surrounding the notorious couple resulted from the colorful 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. It starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the title characters. As with many biographical depictions from Hollywood however, filmmakers took plenty of poetic license during that production. As always, they wanted to make the story far more appealing than the couple’s real-life criminal careers merited.
Bonnie meets Clyde
Already married at 16, Bonnie Parker met Clyde Barrow in Texas when she was 19. Perhaps unsurprisiginly, her husband was incarcerated at the time.
Not long after they met, Clyde ended up in jail for robbery, and Parker visited him every day during his incarceration. Eventually, she smuggled a gun into the prison to help Barrow escape. Unfortunately for Clyde, the long arm of the law quickly re-captured him and promptly returned him to jail.
The pair reunited in 1932 when Barrow won his parole. Soon after his release the pair’s infamous Depression-era crime spree began in earnest.
In the same year, police also nabbed Bonnie and sent her to jail for a couple of months. Once the jail released her, she rejoined the team. The gang soon found several accomplices and began their crime wave of robbing banks, stores and gas stations in five southeastern states.
Among the gang members were Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche along with several others.
Bonny and Clyde: Romanticized, but still ruthless killers
Though the police regarded the gangsters as ruthless killers and thieves, Bonnie and Clyde also developed a romanticized following in the public psyche creating a folk hero “Robin Hood-type” image.
Much of that charisma came from playful pictures submitted by the outlaws themselves to newspapers which made their lifestyle on the lam appear glamorous beyond reality.
Neither did it hurt the couple’s public facade that Bonnie represented the idealization of breaking traditional female roles an era when women began seeking their own identities.
Twice the Barrow gang was nearly apprehended in the spring of 1933 with surprise raids in Joplin and Platte City, Missouri. Buck Barrow died in the second raid and his wife, Blanche, was arrested. Bonnie and Clyde escaped on both occasions however.
Among their most notorious exploits, which was not depicted in the film, occurred in January 1934 when Bonnie and Clyde aided one of their gang members in a jailbreak in Texas. In the process, several guards were shot and one was killed.
The end of Bonnie and Clyde
The end came on May 23, 1934 when a retired Texas police officer, Captain Frank Hamer, was hired as a special investigator to hunt down Parker and Barrow. After a three-month search, Hamer’s group of Louisiana and Texas lawmen ambushed the couple on a country road in a pre-dawn hail of gunfire.
So many bullet holes penetrated Bonnie and Clyde’s bodies that morticians found it difficult to keep the embalming fluid from leaking out of the corpses. At least 17 bullets hit Clyde. A minimum of 26 rounds – or more – perforated Bonnie’s body. Estimates say the actual numbers were even larger.
Legend has it that during their life of crime, the Barrow Gang killed 13 people, nine of them police officers.
Though they did rob about 15 banks in their two years together, Bonnie and Clyde spent most of their efforts taking small amounts of cash from grocery stores and gas stations.
Though they were killers, they were people too
Both outlaws loved music and proved deeply devoted to their families. An avid movie fan, Bonnie performed frequently in school pageants and talent shows in west Texas. As a young woman, she dreamed of seeing her name in lights. She never imagined ending her days in a massive barrage of gunfire.
In the end, Bonnie was a married woman when she died. But, as we noted earlier, her husband was not Clyde. Parker never divorced her husband, Roy Thornton, because it would have been difficult to do so thanks to her notorious reputation.
Bonnie Parker actually died still wearing her wedding ring. As for her husband, he learned of the shooting spree while still in prison.
The crime duo suffered from disabilities
While the movie accurately mentioned the story of Clyde’s self-imposed surgery of chopping off two of his toes to get out of prison, it did not depict a disability that Bonnie also had.
Clyde’s reckless driving resulted in an accident during which battery acid splatterd over Bonnie’s right leg. She suffered serious burns from the incident. Eventually, the leg healed but she spent the remainder of her life hobbling instead of walking. As with the divorce, Bonnie was unable to enlist the services of a real doctor due to her fugitive status.
As a result of his injuries, Clyde often drove his car in stocking feet and also walked with a limp.
In addition to Parker’s love of music and movies, she was also a poet who frequently submitted her work to newspapers in the area.
One of her poems appears on her gravestone as the epitaph, while Clyde’s marker simply reads “Gone but not forgotten.”
Other notable deaths on May 23rd: A bad day for bad guys
Intriguingly, some other well known characters also found a bridge over troubled water on this date in history. On this day in 1710, for example, the notorious Captain Kidd walked the plank. A pair of notorious Nazis faced their respective endgames on May 23. They include Adolf Eichmann, whom Israeli special forces captured in Argentina in 1960, and SS Chief Heinrich Himmler. The latter committed suicide in 1945.
Note on our Lead Image: Photo by one of the Barrow gang. This image resides in the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c34474. This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3109596
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.