It’s May 1934 and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are running out of time. The authorities and the public want them dead. And the couple have no idea that they’re walking into an ambush when they arrive in Shreveport, Louisiana. Officers hide in the bushes, ready to fire 130 rounds into the criminal lovers’ car.
Both Bonnie and Clyde died that day, their bodies full of holes from bullets that struck them each 25 to 50 times. And yet, amid such a gruesome scene, one small detail stood out. One of the gangsters wore just a pair of socks, no shoes, and they did so for good reason.
The connection between Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow was instantly palpable. In fact, some historians say the 19-year-old Bonnie felt so smitten with Clyde, 20, that she didn’t hesitate in joining him on his life of crime. Indeed, she had some experience in the area – her first husband would remain behind bars for life after a murder conviction.
Clyde, too, found himself in jail just after meeting Bonnie. According to the FBI, he went to prison for burglary charges, but didn’t stay there for long. Bonnie smuggled a gun onto the premises for her lover – and he used the weapon to escape. The authorities eventually recaptured him, but it marked the start of the couple’s law-breaking antics together.
By 1932 Clyde had left prison on parole, but he had been forever changed by his time at the Eastham Farm Prison. For one thing, he had suffered a slew of sexual assaults while behind bars, leading him to retaliate. He murdered his aggressor with a lead pipe, marking the first time that he had killed someone.
Another inmate took the blame for the crime, and Clyde eventually left Eastham. However, according to the book Running with Bonnie & Clyde: The Ten Fast Years of Ralph Fults, he became ruthless afterward. Clyde’s sister, Marie, once said, “Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison because he wasn’t the same person when he got out.”
As such, Clyde decided to retaliate against the prison system post-jail. But his crime spree had more to do with revenge than with the notoriety he and Bonnie would earn from their violence and crimes. Indeed, he and his fellow inmate, Ralph Fults, started robbing stores and gas stations in order to save enough money to attack Eastham, the prison where they met.
Of course, Bonnie started participating in the men’s crimes, too. In April 1932 she and Fults found themselves behind bars after a bungled hardware store robbery. The grand jury eventually let Bonnie go, but they convicted Fults. Understandably, he never rejoined Bonnie and Clyde’s crime gang.
Meanwhile, Bonnie had left prison and rejoined her love, whose crimes would quickly start to get worse. And in August 1932 – a mere seven months after his release from Eastham – Clyde committed his second murder. He and a group of friends sipped booze at an Oklahoma country dance when Sheriff C.G. Maxwell and deputy Eugene C. Moore walked their way.
Clyde opened fire on the sheriff and deputy, as did his associate, Raymond Hamilton. Their bullets killed Maxwell and nearly ended Moore’s life. Murdering law enforcement officers would become a trend in the Bonnie and Clyde crime spree. Indeed, over time, they’d take out nine officers who got in their way.
Next, Bonnie and Clyde welcomed the latter’s friend, W.D. Jones, into their criminal fold. Indeed, the teenager had known Clyde’s family since his early years. And on Christmas day in 1932, the men took Doyle Johnson’s life as they stole the young man’s car. Then less than two weeks later, the dangerous crew struck again.
On that occasion, Bonnie, Clyde and Jones found themselves in a police trap, albeit one set for another criminal on the lam. So to escape capture, Clyde opened fire once again – this time, he murdered Malcolm Davis, a Tarrant County Deputy Sheriff. A few months later, the trio holed up in Joplin, Missouri, with Clyde’s brother, Buck, and his wife, Blanche.
Although Buck and Blanche encouraged Clyde to surrender to the police, he hid in the Joplin home. There, they all drank and played cards late into the night. The rest of their neighbors avoided the rambunctious bungalow, although no one told police about the suspicious people living in the home.
Eventually, though, the police thought that the Joplin house might be hiding a bootlegging operation in the garage. Indeed, Prohibition outlawed the production of alcohol until late 1933. Of course, when authorities arrived to inspect the premises for such illegal activity, Clyde, his brother and Jones didn’t hesitate in opening fire.
The wild shootout ended the life of Detective Harry L. McGinnis, while Constable J.W. Harryman suffered a fatal wound. Clyde fired rounds from his Browning Automatic Rifle, its blasts so strong that they sent splinters into the face of a police sergeant who hid behind a tree. Officers returned fire, but the bullet aimed at Clyde bounced off a button on his suit coat.
With death and destruction in their wake, Bonnie, Clyde and their crime crew loaded into a car and fled the scene. But their quick getaway meant they left behind a pile of possessions, including Bonnie’s handwritten poems and rolls of undeveloped film. Authorities processed the images and found the now-iconic images of the young gangsters holding guns and clenching cigars between their teeth.
Once the poem and the photos became front-page news, Bonnie, Clyde and their friends had a name – the Barrow Gang. And the nation watched with bated breath as they continued their crime spree from Texas all the way to Minnesota and everywhere in between. During this time, though, the robbers took on a new modus operandi.
Meanwhile, rather than murdering those that got in the way of their crimes, the Barrow Gang would kidnap them. This included Dillard Darby and Sophia Stone, whose car the group wanted to steal. Indeed, normally the criminals would apprehend a vehicle, then drive their hostages far from home. Sometimes, however, they’d leave them with cash to get back to where they came from.
Of course, Bonnie, Clyde and the others remained ruthless when necessary – four other members of the Barrow Gang murdered people in their way, too. Indeed, the group had earned cold and calloused reputations. But life on the run started to get to the criminals, who could no longer escape recognition in hotels and restaurants.
To avoid detection, Bonnie, Clyde and the gang would camp, cook by fire and bathe in natural streams. Then, they’d pile back into the car, where cramped quarters left them to bicker and argue on the road. And at one point, the tension pushed Jones to temporarily leave the Barrow Gang behind.
Things continued to deteriorate in June of 1933 with Clyde behind the wheel of the gang’s getaway car. He didn’t notice the warning signs that the bridge ahead was under construction. The vehicle ended up falling into a ravine, which either caused a gasoline fire or an acid spill from the car’s battery.
Indeed, Clyde’s failure to pay attention almost cost Bonnie her life. Either fire or acid destroyed her right leg with third-degree burns. Jones described to Playboy in 1968, “She’d been burned so bad none of us thought she was going to live. The hide on her right leg was gone, from her hip down to her ankle. I could see the bone at places.”
The accident did make the love between Bonnie and Clyde ever more apparent – since she couldn’t walk on her leg, Clyde often carried her around. Still, her poor health didn’t stall the latter’s criminal spree in any capacity. He and Jones had a failed robbery attempt shortly thereafter and murdered a town marshal in Alma, Arkansas. This forced them to skip town, even though Bonnie’s health was up in the air.
In a way, Bonnie’s injury marked the decline of her and Clyde’s crime spree. After the Arkansas murder, they ended up in Missouri, where Blanche rented a cabin for the five gangsters. The property’s owner, Neal Houser, noticed newspaper on the windows of the rented property. He also said that its temporary tenants had backed the car into the garage “gangster style,” as it allowed for a quick getaway.
Things got worse when Clyde and Jones headed into town to buy supplies for Bonnie’s injured leg. The pharmacist thought they were suspicious, so that, along with Houser’s call to the police, inspired local authorities to put the cabin under surveillance. They eventually headed to the property with submachine guns in tow.
As the story with Bonnie and Clyde always goes, the police officers’ approach lead to a gunfight. The Barrow Gang seemingly got lucky when a stray bullet hit the authorities’ armored car, short-circuiting its horn and mimicking the sound of a cease-fire signal. The police not only stopped shooting, but they didn’t pursue the gangsters’ getaway car, either.
Bonnie and Clyde got away, but the damage had been done. That’s because Buck had received a life-threatening head injury, a bullet wound that exposed part of his brain through his skull. The gangsters took refuge at an disused Iowa amusement park, but passersby found their bloody bandages and alerted authorities.
This time, law enforcement would snag two members of the Barrow Gang. They shot Buck in the back, presumably making it easy to capture him and his wife, Blanche. Buck died shortly thereafter – and the remaining members of the gang had to regroup. They robbed an armory in Illinois, then headed home to Texas to see their families, who could tend to Bonnie’s injuries.
But authorities had their sights set on the Barrow Gang – and they apprehended Jones shortly after he went home to Texas. Bonnie and Clyde’s house of cards then began to crumble further in November 1933. That’s because a grand jury handed down warrants for both of their arrests in the murder of Malcolm Davis. This was the Tarrant County Deputy who they had killed earlier that year.
And yet, it would be an early 1934 crime that would truly light a fire under the authorities who sought to capture Bonnie and Clyde. In January that year, Clyde completed his initial mission of exacting revenge on the prison system that had so damaged him. He successfully raided Eastham and helped multiple criminals to escape from the facility.
In the raid, Major Joe Crowson suffered fatal injuries, but, as he fought for his life, prison chief Lee Simmons promised him one thing. He vowed to make sure that everyone involved in the raid was killed. Meanwhile, Bonnie, Clyde and escaped prisoner Henry Methvin took down two highway patrolmen, H.D. Murphy and Edward Bryant Wheeler.
Some eyewitnesses claimed that Bonnie not only fired a gun at the officers, but that she delivered close-range fatal shots, too. However, Methvin said he took the first shot and said that Bonnie had actually approached the men to help them in their last moments. Still, this did little to improve public perception of the criminal couple. In fact, the public wanted them dead, and authorities promised a $1,000 reward to anyone who could make it happen.
Meanwhile, a quartet of police officers from Texas and Louisiana would be the ones to bring down the Barrow Gang, once and for all. One of the men, Frank Hamer, had studied Bonnie and Clyde’s movement and realized they traveled in circles in and out of state borders. This was to exploit a rule that prevented police from pursuing criminals across state lines.
Bonnie, Clyde and Methvin made points along the way to visit their family members, too. And Hamer realized that the trio would make a routine stop at Methvin’s Louisiana home soon. So, he and the rest of the officers camped out in Shreveport and awaited the arrival of the notorious criminals. And there, they hid alongside a road for more than 24 hours for any sign of Bonnie and Clyde.
By the morning of May 23, Hamer and his team had almost decided to give up when they heard something – the V8 engine of Clyde’s stolen Ford. When he got close enough, the officers opened fire on the gangster. The first shot fired hit Clyde in the head and killed him in an instant. Bonnie shrieked as she realized her love had died before her eyes.
Still, the officers continued to fire, spraying approximately 130 rounds into Bonnie and Clyde’s car. Each gangster died with anywhere from 25 to 50 bullet holes in their bodies, many of which would have been fatal shots on their own. And yet, the officers continued firing, doing so for so long that they all went temporarily deaf.
The bullet-riddled bodies even posed a problem for undertaker C.F. Bailey, who found it hard to embalm the corpses with so many holes in them. But those who examined them likely got the chance to notice another tiny detail about Bonnie’s deceased beau, Clyde. Indeed, he had a foot-based issue that had plagued him since he left Eastham.
While at Eastham, Clyde did all that he could to avoid doing hard labor while there. So, he had one of his fellow inmates axe off two of his toes. This decision affected the gangster for the rest of his life – for one thing, he could never walk normally ever again. Subsequently, he spent his final years limping on his hacked feet.
These balancing problems plagued Clyde behind the wheel of a car, too. He could no longer drive with shoes on, since he couldn’t press the pedals properly without two of his toes. So, on the last day of his life, Clyde got behind the wheel of his and Bonnie’s getaway car with just socks on his feet.
As such, Clyde died without shoes on, his body riddled with gunshots, with his love Bonnie dead by his side. And the story of the notorious gangsters caught national attention then and continues to spark intrigue. Numerous songs, TV shows, books and movies draw inspiration from the criminal couple, too, keeping their notorious story alive decades later – and for years to come.