Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car

Final Miles

"Say nightie-night and kiss me,
Just hold me tight and tell me
You'll miss me..."
Dream a Little Dream of Me

G. Kahn, W. Schwandt, F. Andree

Bonnie and Clyde commandeered a jailbreak at Eastham Prison Farm, on January 16, 1934, freeing their gang's old ally, Ray Hamilton who had been captured in Michigan. Hamilton brought along a fellow escapee Henry Methvin, a car bandit from northern Louisiana. Methvin, while serving as a loyal puppy on the surface, would help concoct the demise of Bonnie and Clyde.

During the escape, a guard was killed. Texas authorities were outraged at the audacity of the two bandits, who were immediately implicated, and General Manager-Texas Prison System Lee Simmons determined that that had been the last straw. He hired Frank Hamer, a known bounty hunter and sworn enemy of gangsters, to track down Bonnie and Clyde. A former Texas Ranger who had just quit his post over political disagreements, Hamer was a 6'4" fearless, sun-baked, chain-smoking lawman who personally shot some eighty or more wanted killers over his career.

Frank Hamer (AP)
Frank Hamer (AP)

Simmons insisted that Hamer's assignment remain a secret. He believed and probably justifiably that the press, who loved Hamer, yet loved Bonnie and Clyde, would make a media circus of the event. And both Hamer and Simmons wanted their prey to be caught totally unaware.

As all secrets go, however, there are usually "leaks". This one, too, sieved down through official channels within the law enforcement echelon. Ted Hinton heard whispers of it and felt he and Bob Alcorn should be included in the hunt. Not only were they the recognized authorities on Bonnie and Clyde, but both had known their families personally; they were two of the very few lawmen who could recognize the duo at a glance. After the remanned Barrow Gang pulled a February 19 burglary at the government- based National Guard Armory at Ranger, Texas (again in Hinton's territory), Simmons called a brief meeting between the lawmen. Hamer, who usually worked alone, agreed that both men would be valuable allies.

In the meantime, the Barrow Gang continued to commit more crimes, starting with the robbery of the Lancaster (Texas) Bank on February 26 and the shooting of two Texas highway patrolmen near Grapevine on Easter Sunday, April 1.

This last episode startled the country with its cold brutality. On the surface, it appeared that the troopers were shot on a lark. But, as facts came out afterward, what really happened had been the result of a blunder by novice recruit Henry Methvin.

Having had a dispute with Hamilton over the split of money from a recent bank heist, Clyde had suggested they part company. But, Hamilton still deserved his share, so they chose a lonely stretch of Highway 114 to meet and divvy up. Clyde put Methvin on watch as he and Bonnie slept in the car. The last thing either of them wanted right now was another direct confrontation with the law. While they dozed, motorcycle cops E.B. Wheeler and H.D. Murphy rode by. Methvin panicked when he saw the troopers curb their machines and begin to strut back toward him. He yanked Clyde's elbow. "Laws, Clyde."

Clyde brushed his eyes and saw the policemen. "Let's take 'em," he smiled, meaning that he wanted to take them on one of his infamous joyrides. To nervous Methvin, it meant only one thing. Before Clyde could stop him, Methvin had his revolver out and fired, striking Murphy dead. The other patrolmen began shooting back. Clyde had no alternative but to defend himself and returned the policeman's shot. His aim was deadly. As both patrolmen lay in the hot sun, Bonnie checked on them to see if either of them had any chance for survival, probably with intent to place an anonymous phone call for help if that were the case. But, to a nearby farmer, who witnessed the incident and who loved his moment in the press, he claimed that the woman purposely walked up the two dying men and pumped another round into each of them. This was not so, but that didn't matter now. Two more policemen were dead and Bonnie and Clyde were responsible.

Under pressure from the Texas Highway Patrol who more than ever wanted its own man in on the kill, Hamer was forced to accept another man on what was supposed to have been a singular bounty hunt. Murray Gault, a former Texas Ranger now representing the Highway Patrol, became the fourth man in Hamer's party.

On April 3, they began to pursue the Barrow Gang's steps. Hamer had noted in studying the case that Clyde Barrow usually worked in a "circle," that is from Texas to Oklahoma to Missouri to Arkansas to Louisiana and back again to Texas. Following leads of their current appearances, this routine seemed to be reenacting, as Bonnie and Clyde were obviously heading into Oklahoma. Hamer's plan was to follow closely and take advantage of the first opportunity to nab them.

Cruising Durant, Oklahoma on April 4, Ted Hinton caught sight of the gang driving down an over-populated main street. The lawmen could not risk gunplay here and by the time they wheeled their car around to follow them, perhaps out of town, their phantoms had once again disappeared.

But, their subsequent footsteps weren't hard to trace. They had committed a robbery in Texarkana and followed it up with an odd little incident in Miami, Missouri. Their car had been stuck in the mud of a country road after a heavy downfall. Clyde, unsure if they would ever budge the vehicle, waved down a passing motorist, probably intending to steal the car. The driver, however, spotted a gun in Clyde's belt and sped off, notifying police. Clyde knew he had erred and expected the police to report. Just as the gang had succeeded in rolling their car from the mire, two policemen drove up to investigate. Shots were fired and one of the policemen was killed. In an attempt to outwit pursuers, Clyde drove north as far as Topeka, Kansas, beyond his usual "circle" of activity. There they lay low for awhile.

Hamer, Hinton and the other officers had lost track of them.

It was in Topeka that Bonnie and Clyde were to steal their last car, the car in which they would die. Stolen from the driveway of a private residence, it was a1934 sand-colored Ford V-8 Sedan with custom seat covers and built-in water-style heater.

It was fast, sleek and accelerated like a rocket. They loved that car.

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