Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car

Bonnie Is Implicated

"Without your love it's a honky tonk parade,
Without your love it's a melody played in a penny arcade."
It's Only a Paper Moon

B. Rose, E. Y. Harburg, H. Arlen

Long before the end of the road there was a place called Springtown, in Oklahoma, not far over the Red River. Heading as far away from Texas as a night's journey could take them, their stolen Ford sped northbound. As they passed into the outskirts of this town, Bonnie cuddled beside her man in the front seat. In the back were Hamilton and a stray hanger-on pal of Hamilton's, Everett Milligan; both these men drank heavily from a Mason jar full of whiskey. They spotted an open-air community dance in session under colored Chinese lanterns. Its hootenanny fiddles sent Bonnie's toes to tapping.

"I need to shake a leg," Hamilton chuckled, "been in this back seat too long. Let's stop, Clyde. Nuthin's wrong, just wanna dance with a couple pretty things."

Clyde, aware of Hamilton's restlessness, figured that it might do them all a little good to cut loose for maybe a half hour. After all, this hick place looked peaceful enough and there seemed to be no "laws" in sight.

Hardly had the gangsters stepped onto the dance floor when two patrolmen did appear, however, from among one of the clusters of townsfolk. This was August, 1932, and Prohibition was still the law of the land; anyone drinking alcohol was a criminal by virtue of the "Dry Law." The officers, Maxwell and Moore, had spotted the arrival of these latest visitors suspiciously dressed in city clothes and not for a night's hoe-down and had noticed that one of them (Hamilton) seemed to have taken a swig of something as he emerged from the car. Now, he seemed to be listing as someone slightly intoxicated. The cops ambled forward to investigate.

"Hey, you!" policeman Moore put up a warning palm. "We want to talk to you!"

Both Clyde and Hamilton combusted as only two desperate men wanted for murder would combust. They drew their guns and opened fire at point-blank range. Moore clutched his throat and spun back dead, Maxwell fell over, a wound gaping his stomach.

Everett Milligan was stunned by the others' reaction and when chaos broke loose on the dance floor, he panicked. While Bonnie, Clyde and Hamilton heeled for the getaway car, Milligan blindly groped for an exit in the wrong direction, right into the grasp of a dozen angry men who detained him until the highway patrol arrived on the scene.

Any chance that the killers might not have been identified were scratched when, under duress, Milligan blurted out the names of his accomplices. An all-points bulletin was issued for the apprehension of what the law now called (probably citing Milligan's own words) "The Barrow Gang." Of the two policemen, Maxwell and Moore, the former survived emergency surgery, but the other had died on the spot. The blood of an Oklahoma policeman now on his hands, Clyde decided to quit the state. He raced west.

Bonnie, as clearly as she could think in the wake of the Springtown confusion, remembered her aunt, Nettie Stamps, who lived alone on a farm near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Bonnie had been there to visit her a couple years back and, as she recalled, the acreage offered seclusion where they could buy time to recuperate and rethink.

By nature, Clyde was a fast driver. Whether being pursued by police or on his way to a picnic, he gunned his autos full throttle to the maximum of 70 miles-per- hour. Outside Carlsbad, the speeding car caught the attention of policeman Joe Johns. Noticing that its fender bore an out of state license plate a rare thing these days when no one had the money to vacation Johns decided not to pursue but trace the license number through the Division of Highways. As he suspected, he learned that that number had been reported stolen days earlier.

Pistol-packing, cigar smoking Bonnie (CORBIS)
Pistol-packing, cigar smoking
Bonnie (CORBIS)

Johns spent the afternoon scouting the area. At last, he drove onto the Stamps property where he indeed spotted the vehicle-in-question idle outside Nettie's home. Odd, he thought. He knew the lady who lived here and had always regarded her as law-abiding. When tapping at her door to inquire, Johns was greeted by the steely blue barrel of Clyde Barrow's .38.

When Nettie had seen Clyde reach under his jacket to withdraw the revolver before answering the door, it was then she realized that Bonnie's visit was more than a social call. Now, from her window, she watched perplexed as niece Bonnie, along with those fellas, forced patrolman Johns into their auto and drove off. She hurriedly telephoned the constabulary.

Days later, Johns still could not be found; the law figured he had been murdered. But, the state rejoiced when he finally called headquarters from San Antonio, Texas, where his kidnappers had released him unharmed. The report he filed would give to the world two names that would, from that point, thunderball across American headlines for many months to come and be riddled into a rat-a-tat-tat posterity. One of the abductors, he claimed, was named Ray Hamilton. The other two had given their names to him with proud boast: Bonnie and Clyde.

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