Editor’s note: The two-year crime spree of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow resulted in their notoriety and the deaths of a dozen people. But they would never know the extent of their fame. They were fatally ambushed on this date, May 23, 1934. Staff Writer Bill Miller recounts their demise.
Dust storms in May stole 300 million tons topsoil from the Great Plains, including Texas, forcing thousands of farmers to migrate west to California.
Popular songs written that year included the Beer Barrel Polka, I Only Have Eyes for You and What a Difference a Day Makes.
The first launderette opened April 18 in Fort Worth.
But sales of men's caps had declined, and not because people had less money in their pockets, but because the headgear was associated with unsavory characters in gangster movies.
Indeed, the image of the Clyde Barrow Gang had plummeted from Robin Hoods to cop-killing hoods. It wasn’t always that way.
Since 1932, the gang cut a romantic image among economically depressed people who longed to see their own lives get better.
Barrow and his girlfriend, the petite blonde Bonnie Parker, seemed to have a thrilling prescription: rob small stores and banks with blazing guns and fast getaway cars.
The masses remained law abiding, but they stayed enthralled by the gang's daring heists and occasional acts of charity, like how they would take hostages, but then release them with enough money to get back home.
The media eagerly fueled the sensation by publishing Bonnie and Clyde pictures (like the one above) taken from rolls of undeveloped film found by police in one of the gang's abandoned hideouts.
But the gang, blamed for a dozen killings, couldn't maintain its popular image, especially since nine of the victims were cops. Included was Tarrant County Deputy Malcolm Davis in 1933.
On April 1, 1934 -- Easter Sunday -- Highway Patrolmen Ed Wheeler and H.D. Murphy happened upon the gang on Highway Texas 114 and Dove Road, in present-day Southlake. (See Famous Crimes installment, April 1, 2008.) The lawmen were gunned down and the gang fled.
Five days later, the gang would kill one more officer: Constable Cal Campbell in Commerce, Oklahoma.
But Bonnie and Clyde's days were already numbered in early 1934.
That January, the gang orchestrated the bloody escape of prisoners from the Eastham Prison near Weldon in East Texas.
Officials for the Texas Department of Corrections, fuming over the death of a prison guard, wanted more than justice -- they wanted blood.
To do that Hamer knew he had to match the gang's firepower, which included numerous handguns, several shotguns and rifles, and a few Browning Automatic Rifles.
Hamer recruited a posse and procured his own supply of automatic rifles and lots of .30-06 armor-piercing ammo. Then he tracked the gang to northern Louisiana.
But he needed inside information, so he contacted the family of Henry Methvin, one of the escapees from Eastham who also participated in the killings at Southlake. (Methvin would later testify that he was the sole killer of the highway patrolmen.)
Hamer struck a deal with Methvin’s father that if he would give the gang’s general whereabouts, his son’s prison sentence would be commuted.
On May 23, the posse members set up an ambush site on Highway 154, between Gibsland and Sailes after learning Bonnie and Clyde were expected to pass through the area.
They were about to give up that morning when they heard the gang’s Ford speeding down the highway. Methvin’s father was planted on the roadside, and the people in the car stopped to visit with him.
The posse immediately identified Bonnie and Clyde and opened fire, unleashing some 130 rounds that filled the Ford, killing the bandits. The car was well-stocked with guns and ammo, but Bonnie and Clyde were dead before they could return fire, having been shot an estimated 50 times each.
Famous or infamous? Either way, the couple went on to inspire songs, books and a popular movie.
Historians in recent years, however, have uncovered information indicating that Bonnie never squeezed a trigger, which is another topic for Famous Crimes. Be watching Crime time for another installment.
-- Bill Miller