Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car

Platte City

"The stars are gonna' twinkle and shine,
This evening about a quarter to nine."
About A Quarter To Nine

A. Dubin, H. Warren

It was well after dark on the evening of July 18, 1933, when a dark coupe pulled into the Red Crown Tourist Camp on a stretch of gravel highway just outside Platte City, Missouri. A redhead (Blanche) with a nice figure and wearing riding-style britches and a puffy blouse entered the cubicle of an office and asked for two rooms. She seemed elusive to night clerk Delbert Crabtree's inquiries and very high strung. Paying cash, she dashed out and joined her shadowy comrades in the car waiting outside. Crabtree dimmed the office lights so that he could peer through the curtain towards the two cabins which they rented. He watched as the party emerged, five in all, one being another woman whose leg looked heavily bandaged. She shuffled with considerable pain.

But, it was the appearance of those guns that bothered him. Each of the men one of whom joined the lady in the riding britches in one cabin, and two others who helped the bandaged lady into the other cabin toted a rifle.

Crabtree glanced at the index card of important numbers he kept taped below the cash register and dialed the number of the highway patrol. Captain William Baxter, after hearing the clerk's suspicions, promised to check them out. "A bandaged lady," Crabtree had said. Baxter pondered...he recalled that Bonnie Parker was severely injured in an auto accident about a month earlier, then disappeared. Yes, he thought, this made sense, and alerted both his own county forces and the Platte City Police Department.

The following morning, Wednesday, July 19, Clyde hitchhiked into the city, preferring to keep their car in the cabin garage lest the police already had it identified. In town he bought salve, gauze and pills for Bonnie who had been recovering nicely, but still required constant care. (Because a tendon had been injured, she still could not stand well by herself.)

Clyde arrived back at the Red Crown just after nightfall, tipping his Stetson at the amiable elderly couple who gave him a lift in their flatbed truck. He could see the lights lit through orange curtains in both his and Buck's windows. As assigned, Blanche and W.D. had taken turns watching his Bonnie throughout the day. In the smallest of the two bags he carried were a half-dozen cream-filled donuts, Bonnie's favorite kind. The other contained medicinals, as well as some food for the crew. Before stepping into his cabin, he noticed, for the first time, what a quiet and pleasant night this was. Tonight, he believed things were looking up.

Before midnight, life would change for Bonnie and Clyde. The very brief life they had left to live. They ran before and had even been scared, but after tonight the couple would drift in an appallingly starker reality than they could handle. What innocence and naiveté remained in the world would die. If it's true that war changes a person, it changed Bonnie and Clyde. Tonight, hell would break through the limestone to make the gun battle at Joplin look like a water-pistol fight.

Crickets chirruped loudly. And that was about anyone in the tourist camp detected not even the sound of crunching gravel beneath the tires of the armored truck and its convoy of squads that snaked in idle gear onto the grounds. The squads lined up in front of two particular cabins pointed out by the desk clerk, and the armored truck budged in front of the garage doors between the two cabins. It snuffed its engine. When all vehicles were in place, their lights shot on as a unit, one great beam spotting the front-line of cabins.

One policeman banged his flashlight on Buck Barrow's door, loud enough to wake both cabins. "Open up!" is all he said. Blanche's voice sounded frightened within: "You need to wait till I get dressed," she twittered. The policeman then stepped away from the stoop, quickly; he knew what was coming next.

Clyde was already at his window, and realizing their predicament, barked his Browning automatic into the blinding light in front of him. W.D. cut loose with a burst of his machine gun. Next door, Buck, too, was blasting away.

And then it happened: the army of policemen met the gang's defiant shots with a volley that shook the floorboards, a firepower that the bandits had never encountered face-on. They leaped back to avoid the energy that burst apart the window frames and door jams, a barrage that sent plate-size clumps of plaster falling from the ceiling.

Obstinate, Buck Barrow attempted to fire back into the onslaught. Stepping too near to his window, two bullets caught his skull. Blood gushed onto Blanche who, behind him, caught him in her arms.

Clyde had picked up Bonnie, fairly well doped with pain killers. Ducking, he kicked open the narrow door that led into the interior of the garage. With W.D.'s help, he lay her in a half-prone position on the back seat. Checking the radiator of their automobile, W.D. was glad to see that bullets hadn't yet penetrated the garage; it was then he caught sight of the armored police vehicle blocking them in.

W.D. knew that the one penetrable item on the monster was, oddly enough, its door. As Clyde carried his maimed brother out to the getaway car, W.D. filled the facing door of the armored van with hundreds of Swiss cheese holes. Inside its cab, the driver dodged ricocheting bullets and caught several in his knees and thighs. In desperation, he reared the vehicle back from the line of fire. And as he did, the Barrow coupe split through the garage doors and into the open courtyard.

Had the police outside been ready, Clyde would have driven into the cannon's mouth. But, because the police couldn't believe this audacity, their trigger fingers stunned long enough to permit Clyde the advantage. He sped directly in front of and past the cordon. At the edge of the driveway, several detectives were ready, aimed, and they fired. The back window of the fleeing auto shattered, one bullet striking W.D.'s shoulder. From the side, even while Clyde veered to avoid them, another group of plainclothesmen got off a couple of final shots, one that obliterated the window nearest Blanche. Stooped over her dying husband to protect him from further harm, a shard of glass pierced her right eye. "I'm blind!" she screamed, and the police heard her wailing as the Barrows roared into the night, much worse for wear.

Buck was dying and Blanche was blinded. W.D. shivered with a chill, having lost blood, and wept. Bonnie moaned, seeming to be having bad dreams. Clyde couldn't go on like this. Driving hours out of Platte City, he pulled aside along the dark country highway and instructed W.D. to steal an automobile parked in the driveway of a set-back farm house. That done, the two cars, their lights out, turned into the next turnoff they encountered Dexfield Park on the Middle Raccoon River, a natural forest preserve where they could at least get a little water.

Buck Barrow mortally wounded with wife Blanche (AP)
Buck Barrow mortally wounded with wife
Blanche (AP)

Back at the Red Crown, the police were licking their minor wounds, considering. Deputy Highfill, the armored car driver, had taken buckshot, but would live; a Sergeant Coffey had a neck wound; his son Clarence (also a lawman) was struck in the elbow. But they were already regrouping and driving off in organized manhunts. They knew they had made pincushions of the gang members.

In the first light of dawn, Clyde could see how bad his brother's injury was. Part of the forehead was blown away under a mass of coagulating blood. Buck stammered, rambling on about things that made no sense. His head lay in the lap of his wife, Blanche, who wore his pair of tinted sunshades to keep whatever light she could from her stinging eye. W.D. had cleansed his wound and had applied a makeshift tourniquet that Bonnie made for him. Much better physically this morning than her fellow fugitives, Bonnie repaid their kindness to her by dressing their wounds, feeding them, and offering words of encouragement. More than all, she refused to let them see that she was frightened. Really frightened.

She had a right to be. The war was not over. An early morning hunter had happened upon the bandits' grove unseen and had immediately notified the sheriff's office that, in turn, deputized every local townsfolk available. More than a hundred men answered the call, for the bounty on Bonnie and Clyde had skyrocketed overnight. Not long after sunrise, Bonnie caught sight of movement in the brush which encircled the clearing. "Clyde," she called out, "it's them again!"

Blanche & Buck Barrow
Blanche & Buck Barrow

The gang managed to get into the nearest car, the one they had had at the tourist camp, but every path wheelman Clyde tried to take from the clearing was blocked by smoking squirrel rifles. One huntsman hit his mark, Clyde, who caught a bullet in the arm; the car sped out of control and smashed into a tree. The gang stumbled out. Bonnie felt a bullet tear her arm muscle. W.D. wobbled when one grazed his cranium. Finding that their other escape car had been shot apart doors blown off the hinges, tires flattened, grillwork issuing a volcano of steam they had no alternative but to run into the greenwood. They were unable to reach Buck and Blanche who had spilled from the other side of the car upon impact, and cowered, huddled together under a hail of bullets overhead.

Buck would die three days later in a hospital bed, his head and brain half gone. Circumstantial Blanche would receive ten years in a women's prison.

Bonnie and Clyde remained on the loose. They wandered the rest of that day through cornfields, nursing their wounds, hiding in barns, eating orchard fruit, until Clyde was able to steal another car.

W.D., lost in the ruckus at Dexfield Park, made no attempt to find his company. He had had enough of fame and glory.

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