As a high school social studies teacher and an historical researcher I have always been fascinated by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and their impact on history, both internationally and locally. We all know the story of Bonnie and Clyde ends with their deaths. But not many know how this infamous crime duo begin their love story. Or how a small town in Ohio helped pave the way to their fame. As an Ohioan, I began researching Bonnie and Clyde’s adventures in Ohio. Mostly, Ohio was a drive through state, but one particular arrest of Clyde in Ohio may have impacted the couple’s career in crime. Author Jeff Guinn has written a wonderful history of Bonnie and Clyde in Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. I have read his work and examined other historical documents and sources so that I may add Ohio as a chapter in Bonnie and Clyde’s adventures. Without reading an entire book, you can learn more about the start of Bonnie and Clyde below, and walk away with some interesting quick facts about a couple who has mesmerized the world.
FBI wanted posters described Bonnie Parker as less than five feet tall and no more than 90 pounds, but her petite stature did not match her spirited hot temper. Born on October 1, 1910 in Rowena, Texas, she grew up during the Great Depression. After her father’s death, the family moved to a Dallas suburb to make ends meet. The lack of money did not deter young Bonnie from her Broadway dreams; it only made her more desperate for them.
Clyde Barrow’s attitude and confidence made up for his lack of height, according to wanted posters he was 5’7″. He was born in Telico, Texas on March 24, 1909. When his father’s sharecropping proved futile, the family moved and opened a service station in West Dallas. Clyde quickly gave up school and made ends meet by stealing cars and selling stolen turkeys.
The FBI’s Famous Cases & Criminals described Bonnie and Clyde’s first meeting in January of 1930. At the age of nineteen, Bonnie was a depressed waitress with an estranged husband. Twenty year old Clyde had a criminal record of three arrests and was unemployed. At a house party in West Dallas, the two were introduced and their love story began. In four years they would die together, but before that they would make headlines together.
The Great Escape
Below is a summary of the events that took place in Ohio. Author Jeff Guinn gives a detailed account of Clyde Barrow’s escape and capture. For further information please review his book, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde.
Bonnie learned of Clyde’s criminal record when he was taken into custody and sentenced to two years. Faithful and romantic Bonnie visited her imprisoned lover every day. She had only known him for two months before making the fateful decision to help him escape. She crossed the line of law abiding citizen, choosing to leave her boring, poor life behind. Clyde told her how to find a gun and wrote: “You are the sweetest baby in the world to me. I love you.” Clyde promised that after the escape he would come back for her. On March 11, 1930, using the gun Bonnie slipped in, Clyde and two other prisoners escaped.
Clyde put his car stealing talent to work as the escapees headed north. The police could not keep track of the fugitives as they quickly swapped out cars. Eventually, the wanted men needed money and on March 17, they stopped in a small town south of Dayton, Ohio, called Middletown. Clyde awkwardly cased a train depot in the town. A watchful ticket agent took notice of his odd demeanor, and wrote his license plate number down.
That night the three escapees hit the train depot. With a sixty dollar take they fled Middletown, but did not get far. Lost, the desperate men spent the night in the car. It was better than another night in prison, but far from freedom with Bonnie. The following morning the train station realized it had been robbed, and the attentive ticket agent relayed the license number to the police.
Capture in Middletown, Ohio
Policemen Harry Richardson and George Woody copied the license and remarkably saw the car drive past. The thieves had gotten turned around and did the worst thing possible, they returned to the scene of the crime. The cops followed them in hot pursuit, Woody firing his gun. In an attempt to lose their pursuers the three fugitives abandoned their car and fled on foot. Clyde’s partners were captured while he took cover under a house.
Clyde stayed hidden a few hours before stealing a car. Unable to catch a break, a patrol car spotted him and another pursuit began. Clyde was nearly out of town until he came to a stop at a dead end. Once again, he was fleeing by foot. Clyde was captured and the three men were taken back to Texas on March 21. Bonnie learned of his capture in the local paper.
Clyde was sent to Eastham Prison Farm, the most corrupt and dangerous prison in Texas. He served 17 months in what he described “a burning hell.” He attempted to go straight after his sentence, but with a criminal record during a time of high unemployment, he could not find a job. Clyde and Bonnie both wanted more in life, and together they were going to find it. They formed the Barrow Gang, and committed robberies across the States, killing at least 12 people.
According to Famous Cases & Criminals, their love story became infamous on May 23, 1934. The two were ambushed at a roadblock in Louisiana and shot more than fifty times. Bonnie was twenty-three years old, and Clyde was twenty-four.
Had Clyde escaped from Middletown, Ohio and reunited with Bonnie, the two might have left Texas and their criminal lives behind. We will never know if Bonnie and Clyde would have made it on the straight and narrow, but we do know that a small town arrest in Ohio caused Clyde Barrow to swear that he would never be taken alive again. Perhaps it is best to let Bonnie’s own words end their story:
Some day they’ll go down together;
They’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief,
To the law a relief,
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.
To read the rest of Bonnie’s poem please go to History Matters. For more information on Bonnie and Clyde please visit the following used sources:
Guinn, Jeff. Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.
History Matters, ” The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde .” Accessed January 17, 2014. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5061/.
The FBI Federal Beura of Investigation, ” Bonnie and Clyde .” Accessed January 17, 2014. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/bonnie-and-clyde.
The Portal to Texas History, ” Clyde Champion Barrow Fingerprint Chart, 10/24/1933 – Dallas, Texas Police Department.” Last modified January 17, 2014. Accessed January 18, 2014. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth78890/m1/1/.
United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, The FBI: a centennial history, 1908-2008 . Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing, 2008.