The Real Bonnie & Clyde
Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910 – May 23, 1934) and Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909 – May 23, 1934) were notorious outlaws, robbers and criminals who travelled the Central United States during the Great Depression. Their exploits were known nationwide. They captured the attention of the American press and its readership during what is sometimes referred to as the “public enemy era” between 1931 and 1935. Although this couple and their gang were notorious for their bank robberies, Clyde Barrow preferred to rob small stores or gas stations.
Though the public at the time believed Bonnie to be a full partner in the gang, the role of Bonnie Parker in the Barrow Gang crimes has long been a source of controversy. Gang members W.D. Jones and Ralph Fults testified that they never saw Bonnie fire a gun, and described her role as logistical. Jones’ sworn statement was that “Bonnie never packed a gun, out of the five major gun battles I was with them she never fired a gun.” Writing with Phillip Steele in The Family Story of Bonnie and Clyde, Marie Barrow, Clyde’s youngest sister, made the same claim: “Bonnie never fired a shot. She just followed my brother no matter where he went.” In his interview with Playboy magazine, W.D. Jones said of Bonnie: “As far as I know, Bonnie never packed a gun. Maybe she’d help carry what we had in the car into a tourist-court room. But during the five big gun battles I was with them, she never fired a gun. But I’ll say she was a hell of a loader.”
Bonnie and Clyde were among the first celebrity criminals of the modern era, and their legend has proven durable. Certainly Bonnie knew how to enhance the pair’s popular appeal by manipulating the media, and newspapers were quick to publish her poem “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde”. Her other poetry, especially “Suicide Sal”, shows her flair for an underworld vernacular that owes much to the detective magazines she read avidly. According to writer Joseph Geringer, Bonnie appealed to the out of work and generally disenfranchised third of America shattered by the Depression, who saw the duo as a Robin Hood-like couple striking blows at an uncaring government. In an A&E Network-produced Biography on the two bandits, historian Jonathan Davis expresses a similar thought, pointing out that “Anybody who robbed banks or fought the law were really living out some secret fantasies on a large part of the public.”
Hollywood has treated the pair’s story several times, most notably 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Arthur Penn. A romanticized film version of the tale, Bonnie and Clyde, which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, was critically acclaimed and contributed significantly to the glamorous image of the criminal pair.
Beatty and Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)