You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died
If you’re still in need of something to read
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.*
(*Poem by Bonnie Parker)
At the apex of the Depression, 19-year-old Bonnie Parker met a charming, well-dressed man, named Clyde Barrow. It was the beginning of a doomed and passionate relationship carried out during the Barrow gang’s nefarious two-year crime spree.
If Bonnie were alive today, I would ask her “How did a nice girl end up here?”
Born in West Texas in 1910, Bonnie was the middle child, between older brother Buster and a younger sister, Billie Jean. Their father died when Bonnie was four and they moved back to her mother’s parents farm in impoverished West Dallas. Bonnie was a precocious and demonstrated musical talent with a flair for writing and drama. She was cast in starring roles in school plays, feeding her dream of becoming a Broadway star.
While lofty, her dreams were one of few alternatives for escaping poverty-stricken West Dallas. At 15, Bonnie fell in love with a handsome classmate, Roy Thornton. Bonnie had their names tattooed inside her upper thigh to commemorate their love! She convinced her mother to consent to their marriage and a week before her 16th birthday, they were married.
It was a difficult marriage and after less than a year of marriage, Bonnie confessed to her diary that she had a “roaming husband and she was not going to take him back.” Roy returned a year later and Bonnie refused to reconcile with him. Soon after, Roy was sent to prison for burglary. It seems like Bonnie was attracted to bad boys from an early age.
After her failed marriage, Bonnie began waitressing. With her petite frame, blonde hair, blue eyes, and outgoing personality, she was popular with the customers. With the stock market crash of 1929, the diner closed, leaving Bonnie unemployed. Finding a new job was unimaginable during those times.
Bonnie was visiting at her brother’s home when Clyde came to visit. The attraction was instantaneous and Clyde Barrow quickly made Bonnie his girlfriend.
Clyde was arrested in their first month of courtship for burglaries and car thefts. Sentenced to serve 14 years for seven different crimes, Clyde planned to escape, with Bonnie’s assistance. She smuggled a gun to him during a jailhouse visit, engaging in her first criminal act. Reunited, the young lovers embarked on one of the most prolific crime sprees in American history.
But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
“I’ll never be free,
So, I’ll meet a few of them in hell.*
As quoted in the book, Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend by Karen Blumenthal, Bonnie told a friend: “I’m just a loser – like Clyde. Folks like us haven’t got a chance.” Living during the Great Depression and being so poor must have contributed to her defeated attitude.
That said, the couple were loyal to their families and would often visit them, generously bearing gifts for their siblings and cash for their parents.
On one such reunion, Bonnie’s mother pleaded with her to turn herself in. “I love him and I’m going to be with him till the end when he dies, I want to die anyway”, she told her mother. Bonnie was steadfast in her love for Clyde. It was a fatal but brave decision for a young woman to make.
Bonnie, Clyde and their accomplices murdered thirteen people and robbed banks, grocery stores, and gas stations. Being on the run was far from glamorous, living in whatever stolen car they had and constantly on the move. But Bonnie and Clyde were committed to each other knowing they would die by violent means.
Was it true love or just resignation, knowing they couldn’t keep up their criminal lifestyle? In quiet lulls, Bonnie spent time writing her poems which were a romantic recounting of their adventures. Once the press got access to them, a cultish following grew as the couple became more notorious. Her poetry mentions being buried together upon their deaths, so she had no illusions about where her love for Clyde would lead.
When the pair were ambushed by Texas Rangers, FBI and assorted lawmen in Louisiana in 1934, over 150 bullet holes were shot into their car. Bonnie’s mother who disapproved of their relationship, had Bonnie buried separately from Clyde despite Bonnie’s wish to be buried with him. Reports suggested Bonnie had over 20,000 people attend her funeral. Bonnie Parker who wanted her name in lights as a child, ultimately did have her name become well known, just not in the same sense as the Broadway star she once dreamed of being, paying the ultimate price for their ill-fated love.