Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car

Eastham

"Come out with me now in the moonlight
Come out with me here alone..."
The Prisoner's Song

N. Massey

Back in the Waco County lock-up, and miserable, Clyde was hastened before a court. If the series of thefts that originally counted against him those committed before the jailbreak would have been treated lightly, his escape at gunpoint and subsequent flight had sealed his doom. Convicted, a judge punished him with a 14-year sentence at hard labor and committed him to the dreaded Eastham Prison Farm Number 2 in Huntsville, Dante's Inferno on the Texas plains.

Eastham was a hell hole. John Neal Phillips' Running With Bonnie and Clyde relates how guards would draw straws to see who among them would have the pleasure of beating such and such a prisoner. From the start, Eastham sent out a message to its new arrivals that Eastham "would be a place so vile as to make any veteran of its confines dread the consequences should he ever break the law of Eastham." Any misdemeanor resulted in sweltering solitary confinement and usually a beating. Work consisted of cotton-picking and loading from sunrise to sunset under grueling conditions and under the eyes of scorning sentries. Homosexuality was high, especially among the "lifers". This last practice, more than any other, horrified Clyde who was more than once approached.

His one bright spot was letter day. Because prisoners were permitted to receive correspondence only from blood family members or a spouse, Clyde had indicated Bonnie Parker as his wife in the official status papers that prisoners were required to complete upon admittance. Her communiqués emphasized her adoration and continued to encourage him with her prayers and hopes for an early release.

Heartbroken Cummie pleaded with members of the judicial system to reconsider her wayward son's severe sentence. One sympathetic judge, R. I. Munroe, promised to do all he could. Weeks passed, and the Barrows were given good news: Considering the Barrows' financial circumstances, coupled with the need for an extra hand to help them tend their property, Clyde would, considering his good conduct, be paroled in two years!

Bonnie and Clyde, clowning around (AP)
Bonnie and Clyde, clowning around (AP)

Unaware that such had prevailed, Clyde determined to do something that might speed up the parole process by tugging at the sympathies of the courts. He convinced a fellow prisoner on work detail to "let the ax slip," cutting off two toes. The ruse worked; Governor Sterling signed Clyde's parole on Feb. 8, 1932. Clyde walked out of Eastham a week later on crutches but smiling.

Clyde began seeing Bonnie immediately and their love affair intensified. But, even in his happiness, he couldn't shake his bitterness. Both he and Bonnie interpreted that treatment as just another example of the government beating the downtrodden into further submission. While courting Bonnie, he assembled a new gang of disciples thieves and former Eastham prisoners Ray Hamilton and Ralph Fults to take what was due to them...money, if nothing else. Determined never again to lose sight of her beloved, Bonnie went along with them on their first nightly cavort, the robbery of a hardware store in Kauffman, Texas. It was the beginning of a crime spree, and to her it sounded like fun, adventures, and more than all else, romance.

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