The rise and ultimate demise of Texas couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow continues to fascinate people more than seven decades after their deaths. Their true story, however, has been notably glamorized throughout the years, while their hardscrabble existence was anything but elegant.
In a packed room at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta on Sunday, guests listened intently as two family members of Bonnie and Clyde shared intimate details about the pair, and painted a portrait quite different than what Hollywood would have people believe.
The event, hosted by Sheryl McCollum of Atlanta’s Cold Case Investigative Research Institute, sold out within days, and for good reason. Attendees were privy to rare photos, original memorabilia, and a personal glimpse into the lives of Bonnie and Clyde, along with a solid introduction by CrimeOnline’s own Nancy Grace.
The top left picture tells a story all by itself! Clyde Barrow
“I always try to teach my students without them even knowing they’re in a lecture,” McCollum, who chose the Bonnie and Clyde case for her organization’s 15th anniversary, told CrimeOnline. “If you are having fun, you won’t even realize you’re learning. So for our 15th anniversary of service, I wanted them to learn every criminal has another side to them, another life really. There is no better example of this than Bonnie and Clyde.”
Bonnie Parker, referred to as an “amateur poet and part-time waitress” by the FBI, was apparently given a grossly inaccurate reputation through Hollywood and the media. She’s been depicted her as a beautiful yet dangerous outlaw who smoked cigars, robbed banks, and killed people at will. While it’s true she was a willing accomplice to her partner Clyde, killing people is something she never participated in, according to her niece, Rhea Linder.
“Bonnie never fired a shot,” Rhea said.
Further, Bonnie usually didn’t rob banks. Instead, Clyde and criminal partner Raymond Hamilton were typically the ones to carry out the “stick ups”. Bonnie mostly stayed in hideouts while the robberies happened, although on occasion she’s said to have driven the getaway car.
For those who’ve studied the case, Bonnie’s role during the couple’s reign of crime is nothing new. In 1933, W.D. Jones, another outlaw partner of the couple’s crime gang, said during trial that he never witnessed Bonnie shoot at anyone or rob anyone at gunpoint.
But for those who only know the couple through movies, the media, and rumors, Bonnie is typically viewed as a violent femme fatale who posed for an infamous photo with a cigar dangling from her mouth while holding a gun.
Rhea explained that the photo was part of the couple’s private collection and taken when the pair was goofing around. The photo was never intended to spread like wildfire through the media. She added that pair loved each other and Clyde would have never forced Bonnie into anything.
“She [Bonnie] came from a good home…. She had no reason to stay with Clyde, really,” Rhea explained. “She had many chances to go home. Clyde asked her if she wanted to and she didn’t. If that isn’t true love I don’t know what is.”
Rhea also emphasized that although Bonnie may not have participated in the actual shooting of any victims, her name was taboo in the family and never mentioned. The legend of Bonnie and Clyde was not something the family was proud of and not something anyone in the family condoned.
“We just didn’t talk about it. We hid from the subject,” Rhea said.
While on the run, Clyde stole many cars, particularly Fords, while trying to evade police and stay alive. Like many people during The Great Depression of the 1930s, Clyde was desperate to eliminate ceaseless poverty, but often ended up eating cold beans from a can and sleeping in the woods in stolen cars.
Clyde also wasn’t the glorious bandit who made away with a lot of money from robbing banks. In face, one of his bank robberies resulted in less than $2 and he’s been touted as one of the most “inept criminals” in history.
And banks were not the usual targets, although in Hollywood, robbing a bank made for a more glamorous scene than sticking up a five-and-dime store. Clyde and his gang mainly robbed gas stations and corner stores, as it was easier to flee the scene. These quick money grabs generally gave Clyde just enough money to get by for a few days.
Clyde’s nephew, Buddy Barrow, explained that his uncle wasn’t as cold and ruthless as he appeared. Buddy said Clyde only killed when “he had to” and despite numerous rumors, he never robbed “common folk.”
“They were stealing from corporations, not from people,” Barrow said. “And Clyde didn’t go up and just shoot someone. He shot someone who threatened him or refused to get out of a car, who wouldn’t leave him alone.”
Clyde was said to have killed more around dozen people, mainly police officers, before law enforcement officials caught up with him on May 23, 1934. He died alongside Bonnie in a bloody roadside ambush in Gibsland, Louisiana.
Shortly after their death, people flocked to the crime scene and collected whatever they could get their hands on, including shards of glass, car carpeting, shell casings, clothing, and guns.
Some of the items are still around today, including rare memorabilia at the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland. The museum was founded by L.J. “Boots” Hinton, the son of Ted Hinton, a Texas deputy sheriff who was part of the posse that ambushed Bonnie and Clyde.
Meanwhile, Rhea said she understood why people continue to romanticizing the couple’s love on the run. Nothing beats a true love story, especially when it involves a violent die by your side outcome. In the end, however, there’s nothing glamorous about idolizing gangsters, Rhea explained.
“So many people over the years come out and claim to be family members of Bonnie and Clyde. I don’t know why they would want to be.”
The Cold Case Investigative Research Institute is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that assists families and law enforcement with unsolved homicides, missing persons and kidnapping cases. This one of a kind band of all volunteer crime fighters are students and nationally recognized experts. The nonprofit organization is made up of experts such as profilers, detectives, crime analyst, prosecutors and crime scene investigators.
At CCRI, students work side-by-side with professionals of the criminal justice community to advance research, training, and techniques in solving unsolved murders, kidnappings, and missing persons. Composed of over 600 experts and 5,000 student volunteers from colleges and universities around the world, CCRI is committed to helping victims of crime get the justice they deserve.
[Feature Photo: Bonnie and Clyde via AP]