Friday, 30 Jul 2021

Bonnie and Clyde: Criminal couple’s unusual gift to stop people talking to police revealed

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are considered to be among history’s most endearing villains. The loved-up looters ran amok during America’s Great Depression – committing numerous bank robberies, regularly evading the law and, at times, committing heinous acts to avoid being apprehended. They gained notoriety during the ‘public enemy era’ of US history, where they allegedly murdered at least nine police officers and four civilians. During their crime spree, the dangerous duo attempted to buy the silence of the public with a less than traditional souvenir. Historian Lorca Otway told about the unusual way they tried to win over and manipulate strangers.

Bonnie and Clyde wreaked havoc during their crime crusade across the US.

In their wake, the criminal couple and their gang left a trail of empty bank vaults and humiliated police who failed to stop them.

They committed murder and stole from big banks, small stores and gas stations, between 1931 and 1934.

But eventually their luck would run out and the law finally caught up with them, thanks to a cleverly hatched plan by Louisiana police. 

On May 23, 1934, they were ambushed by officers who fired more than 130 rounds at their car – finally putting an end to Bonnie and Clyde’s crimewave once and for all.  

Over time it has been claimed that the real life accounts of Bonnie and Clyde’s reign of terror have been mythologised through the distorted retelling of their stories.

One alleged mistruth is that Bonnie was not the machine gun wielding femme fatale that she was made out to be – but she was far from saintly.

She was present for at least 100 or more felonies, according to John Neal Phillips’ 2002 book ‘Running with Bonnie & Clyde: The Ten Fast Years of Ralph Fults’. 

The accounts of the romanticised rebels’ who lived on the run, has fascinated many in the years since their deaths.

To many who met them during their brief pit stops in different areas, they were considered “revolutionaries and folk heroes”, according to historian Mr Otway.

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Mr Otway, who runs the Museum of the American Gangster, in New York, revealed that Clyde in particular had an unusual way to manipulate strangers.

He told “Clyde used to give away bullet shells as souvenirs. 

“In the car they died in there were a number of these BAR [light machine gun] shells that he would throw in the back of the car ready to give as gifts. 

“At the time, Bonnie and Clyde were seen by the poorest of the poor as folk heroes.

“During the Great Depression era, the banks were fore-closing on farms and so a number of the bank robbers of this time were seen as almost revolutionaries.

“In order to maintain that sense of ‘We are your resistance’, Clyde would stop in at diners and regale them with stories of life on the run and handout bullet shells.”

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Mr Otway claims that Bonnie and Clyde mainly sought to “embarrass not harm” the police, during the early days of their criminal careers. 

He also believes that the pair and their gang were wrongly accused of murdering several officers after they released inmates from the southern chain gang.

The historian claims the “horrific condition” the chain gang criminals were kept in – where they were forced to perform manual labour as a form of punishment – led to the killings.  

Mr Otway added: “The really outrageous murder of two motorcycle policemen was said to be Bonnie and Clyde, but actually it was the new gang members they had rescued from the chain gang.

“They were still so traumatised that this irrational killing was their reaction to having been in the chain gangs for so long.”

After Bonnie and Clyde’s death, a final snub was made against the couple who wanted to be buried side by side.

Mr Otway explained that Bonnie’s parents refused to grant her daughter’s last wish – and buried her in Texas, their home state. 

Her gravestone was inscribed with the words: “As the flowers are all made sweeter by the sunshine and the dew, so this old world is made brighter by the lives of folks like you.”

For more information about The Museum of the American Gangster, in New York, visit:

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