Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car

Omens

"Don't know why
There's no sun up in the sky"
Stormy Weather

T. Koehler, H. Arlen, C. Calloway

Back-tracking, the crew drove exhaustedly into Texas by week's end. They holed up, licking their wounds, in a country motel near Amarillo. For the first time, the Barrow Gang felt hemmed in. What had occurred in Joplin had been too close of a call. While Bonnie and Clyde learned from their mistakes, they were smart enough to know: so had the police. Clyde had had some trouble clearing Joplin, having taken a few dead ends. From now on he would contrive an escape route ahead of time. And although they changed cars and license plates quite frequently, he resolved to do it even more frequently. He accounted that the stolen car he had driven in Joplin might have led the police to them.

Driving into sleepy Ruston, Texas, in early May, they stole a sleek black Chevrolet parked on Trenton Street. Again, as in Temple, the streets were daylit and again its owner, this time H. Darby Dillard had seen them. As they pulled away, he shouted obscenities from the screened porch of the boarding house where he resided.

Maybe because he was an undertaker, Dillard was not a man to fear death. He convinced a fellow boarder, Sophie Stone, to let him use her auto to pursue the thieves. In the rush of the moment she agreed and found herself tagging along. After momentarily losing sight of his car, Dillard saw it again a few blocks away at a stoplight, W.D. at the wheel. Sliding closer, the forlorn undertaker failed to notice the rest of the Barrows in their original car behind him. They had been following the stolen car to a prescribed junction on the outskirts of town. Bonnie chuckled, watching Dillard shake his fists violently at W.D. as he edged closer, unaware of the hornet's nest he was being suckered into. At the pre-arranged location, in a less-traveled area, W.D. halted and got out of the car. Seeing this, Dillard braced for fisticuffs. "I'll show him a thing or two," he told Sophie. But, it was then he noticed the reinforcements rolling up behind, their faces crinkled in grins.

Waving his revolver, Clyde stuffed the distraught couple into the back of Dillard's car, which was now the gang's car, between a sullen Buck and W.D. "We're the Barrow Gang," Bonnie told them in a tone not unlike that of a welcoming neighbor, then giggled when her captives' eyebrows elevated.

The curious company drove all night, stopping only to grab some hamburgers, to which they treated their "guests". Tensions eased and Dillard slowly began to realize that they might not be so bad as the newspapers painted; in fact, even though they dropped him off miles from his home the next morning they slipped him and Stone money to get home. Of course, they kept the car.

Bonnie & Clyde horsing around (CORBIS)
Bonnie & Clyde horsing around (CORBIS)

Now, came a bad time.

Gunning the car down Highway 203 towards Wellington, Clyde was unaware that a bridge over a small gully ahead had been removed for maintenance; none of the gang had noticed the warning sign. Spying the chasm too late, Clyde braked but the car spun, screeched and turned sideways with a jolting thud into the ravine. Bonnie's door threw open and she found herself tumbling from the car, only to have its frame pin her under within seconds. A fire had broken out beneath the hood; miraculously, the rest of the crew, unhurt, yanked her free just as the automobile exploded.

One of her thighs was badly burned beneath her tattered dress. Near her knee, the skin was severed to expose bone. She screamed in pain. Tom Pritchard, a nearby farmer who had seen the accident from his field, rushed over to give these "city slickers" a hand and to help carry Bonnie to the family bed. He startled when he noticed revolvers stashed in the men's belts, however. The face of the wounded girl, he realized now, resembled that girl on the wanted poster in the town hall. What was her name....Bonnie Parker?

Mrs. Pritchard, in her small way, helped where she could, cleaning the wound and applying iodine. Still, she admitted to Clyde who stood bedside, Bonnie needed a doctor - badly. When Clyde emerged from the bedroom to check on the others, he asked W.D., who sat alone, where everyone had gone. Buck and Blanche, he said, went back to dig the car from the ditch. And the farmer....well, he was out back somewhere, "to tend the animals, I guess." Clyde incensed at Jones' naiveté and searched the property, but could not find Pritchard anywhere. It was obvious, thanks to W.D. who still had a lot to learn, that their host had tiptoed off to a neighbor's house to call the police.

In a dither, the gang was out of there, confusing Mrs. Pritchard who didn't understand the cause of their sudden haste. Clyde had guessed correctly. Taking the Pritchard's car, he was forced to drive miles out of the way to avoid roadblocks that suddenly seemed to grow out of the pavements at every main junction. Managing to find open road again, the gang soon beat the pistons across the Arkansas border. There, they hoped to hide out in the Twin Cities Tourist Camp until Bonnie's condition improved.

Money was scarce, and Bonnie required urgent medical help. Clyde sent W.D. and Buck out by themselves to find quick cash in the encircling area. He remained faithfully with Bonnie, watching her lapse in and out of consciousness until he decided to take a risk and call a doctor from nearby Ft. Smith. When Dr. Eberle arrived, Clyde explained that his "wife had been burned by an exploding oil stove," says John Neal Phillips in Running With Bonnie and Clyde. The doctor did what he could but recommended a hospital or a full-time nurse.

"Barrow hired a nurse," Phillips relates. "In her pain and agony, Bonnie cried continually for her mother. An intensely distraught Clyde fed her, adjusted her pillows, and even carried her to the bathroom." Showing little improvement, Clyde hoped that perhaps the presence of one of her family members would rally her. He called Bonnie's sister, Jean, who rushed up from Dallas.

"Her presence seemed to make a difference," adds Phillips. "Clyde, of course, never left her more than a few minutes. Blanche, too, was a great help. Miraculously, Bonnie began to respond."

In the meantime, Buck and W.D. robbed a bank in Alma and a grocery store in Fayetteville, which resulted in a police chase and a gun battle that killed Marshall Henry Humphreys. Eventually making their way back to Ft. Smith, they dreaded to tell their leader the bad news of their scrape with the law and the lawman's death.

Clyde drove Jean Parker back to the train and his gang was off again. Luckily, the next car they stole in the relay of never-ending auto thefts, had obviously belonged to a doctor; a Gladstone bag in the back seat brimmed with pain killers, wound treatments, gauze, powders and a variety of medicinals that allowed Clyde and Blanche to continue to doctor Bonnie's leg. They seemed to be able to keep the gash from festering.

They stole and robbed their way onward, hitting whatever they could to keep their supply of food and money alive. But, the Great Depression had caused these little towns of the Southwest to go bust. The gang needed money and every burgh they hit seemed to provide less and less of the green stuff.

Buck was grouchy and Blanche jumped at the slightest sound. W.D. complained constantly of being hungry. Clyde, who never before seemed to tire at the wheel, was beginning to feel the strain, driving state after state and now back again aimlessly to Missouri. More than anyone, he worried about his little Bonnie, half drugged in the front seat beside him. He recalled the words his sister Nell told him in private at the breakup of the last family rendezvous. Touching his hand with tears in her eyes she had said, "I compare this meeting to some visit with relatives in prison, condemned to die."

Driving silently, forcing himself to keep alert, those words reverberated inside his head as he continued on a northward road toward Platte City.

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