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Bonnie & Clyde

And a lesson for all of us outlaws!
Bonnie & Clyde

by Dennis Pollock

The story of Bonnie and Clyde has fascinated Americans for several generations, and shows no sign of diminishing. Two young lovers were able to elude authorities for over two years as they traversed the mid part of the country robbing banks, raiding national armories, and playfully taking one another's pictures. This happened in the absolute height of the great depression, 1932-34, a time when most Americans were disgusted with their government and many were happy to see the two outlaws outrun, outfight, and outthink the law again and again.

To understand the Bonnie and Clyde phenomenon we must first take a look at Clyde. If ever there was a naturally-born criminal, it was Clyde Barrow. As a boy he loved western movies and stories, but his favorites were not the stories where the good guy in the white hat kills the bad guys and rides into the sunset with his favorite girl. No, Clyde preferred stories about the famous criminals, such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James. As a teenager he started committing crimes of his own, and began to learn the tools of what would become his trade in life: safecracking, the stealing of cars, and burglary. The police often picked him up on suspicion of crimes, but weren't able to prove anything and had to let him go. It is one of those strange, unexplainable mysteries that despite having parents who were decent, hardworking, and God-fearing individuals, Clyde seemed headed for a criminal's life almost from the beginning. It has been suggested that the abuse Clyde suffered in prison was behind his later criminal behavior, but the truth was that Clyde was a pretty fair criminal long before he went to prison.

At last, at the age of twenty, Clyde was arrested and the charge stuck. Clyde was sentenced to seven, two year sentences for seven counts of auto theft and burglary, which were to run concurrently. Shortly before he was picked up he had met a tiny, pretty young lady by the name of Bonnie Parker. Bonnie was a bored waitress with a bright mind, a likeable personality, and an unfulfilled desire for excitement and action. She and Clyde fell for each other immediately. Her love for her new boyfriend was so strong that when he was arrested a couple of weeks after they met, she agreed to sneak a gun to him in jail to help him escape. Although until then she had not shown the criminal tendencies so obvious in Clyde from his youth, it didn't take long for Bonnie to cross the line of legality once asked by the man she loved.

Using that gun, Clyde did escape, but was soon recaptured, and assigned to the Eastham prison farm. While on his way Clyde met another young man named Ralph who had been at Eastham before, and then escaped. Recently recaptured, he was now returning to Eastham, probably the toughest prison farm in all of Texas, where he faced a sure and terrible beating for his escape. Ralph, about six feet tall, looked at tiny Clyde, who was no more than 5' 6'' and under 130 pounds, and wondered how he would last in such a tough place.

Despite their size differences, the two became fast friends. Because of the extreme brutality by the guards, it wasn't long before Clyde developed a simmering hatred for the prison and everything connected to it. He began to plan.  Once he got out and had the opportunity to solicit help, he would return to raid the prison, shoot the guards, and set the prisoners free. At first Ralph thought it was just talk – talk of retribution was common among the abused prisoners, but it never amounted to anything. Clyde was different from the others. He possessed a quality most men, even the most vicious of criminals rarely demonstrated – a single-mindedness and determination bordering on obsession which took him to lengths that few men would ever go. When Clyde said he wanted to come back and raid the prison, he meant every word of it and time never quenched the flame of that passion.

After Prison

After Clyde had spent two years in prison, his mother’s many petitions paid off, and her young son was granted a conditional pardon. Clyde soon reunited with Bonnie and also with his old prison pal, Ralph Fults, who had been released shortly before Clyde. Within two months of getting out of prison, Clyde and Ralph begin to burglarize a series of businesses in the Dallas area. It wasn't long before one of their criminal escapades went wrong and Ralph and Bonnie were caught and arrested. Ralph went to prison, but Bonnie claimed she had been kidnapped by the two men she was with, and was released.

It wasn't long before Bonnie and Clyde were reunited, and this time there would be no more separations. By this point Clyde was wanted for murder, but Bonnie didn't care. She wanted to be with her man, and no amount of talking, pleading, and tears from momma would stop her. It was a fatal mistake. Soon the twosome began the pattern and routine that would mark the rest of their short lives. It involved robbery of little stores, filling stations, and occasionally banks, and shootouts with the police that soon made them the most well-known criminals in the nation. They took on various gang members at different times, and then lost them as they were either captured, killed, or simply lost their appetite for such a high-risk lifestyle, and went their own way.

Clyde's brother Buck and his wife Blanche spent a few months as part of the gang. Blanche was eventually captured and while in prison she began to write an account of her four months of running with Bonnie and Clyde. Her insights are invaluable in shattering any image we might have that such a lifestyle was in any way glamorous. She wrote: "I lost all track of time. We drove so much and so fast most of the day and night, sleeping only a few hours at a time… I often didn't even know what day it was. We lived in the car day and night with very little sleep, just driving like mad, going no place. We had to keep ahead of the cops. If we stayed in one place very long they would catch up with us… When we needed money, which was often, some filling station, grocery store, or drug store was robbed. Then we'd drive three or four hundred miles before stopping to rest for a few hours… We roamed over many states, leaving a trail of horror behind us, terrorizing those Clyde came in contact with and needed something from."

According to Blanche, Bonnie and Clyde were not the happy go lucky, charming people portrayed by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde movie. Blanche writes that Bonnie was frequently drunk and describes a time where she got so angry with Clyde that she picked up a gun to shoot him. Another time Bonnie got into a fierce argument with Buck, and then wanted Blanche to come into the room so that she could fight her. Clyde and Buck argued constantly and would even came to blows in the car. Clyde sometimes got physical with Bonnie, and in one case Blanche writes, "He knocked her across the bedroom a couple of times but she got up and went back for more."

How Could They Last?

The question that so many have when reflecting upon Bonnie and Clyde's two-year crime spree is, "How in the world could they elude the police for so long?" Of course today it could never happen. Such brazen robbers would soon be caught in a massive federal manhunt. But things were a lot different in those days. There were several reasons for Bonnie and Clyde's two years of stealing and running.

First, there was the Ford V8 which Clyde almost always drove. Clyde and his gang stole innumerable cars over the course of their criminal careers. In an emergency they would take whatever was available, but in most situations Clyde was very particular about the cars he stole. He wanted nothing but the recent Ford V8 models. These cars were the fastest cars around, and could take a lot of punishment as well. They were ideal getaway cars, with top speeds of 100 miles per hour. The more common cars of the day couldn't touch them.

In addition to the his fast cars, Clyde was an outstanding driver, and he had lots of practice. He thought nothing of clipping along at ninety miles an hour on a gravel country road, or taking a sharp turn at sixty. In those few cases where the police cars could almost keep up, most police were not willing to risk their lives driving the way Clyde did. As a result, in his criminal career Clyde was never overtaken by a police vehicle. Give him a couple of minutes head start, and no one would ever catch him. Today this would not be an insurmountable problem, given police two way radios, but back then they didn't exist, at least not in small towns. In addition to this, Clyde loved to commit crimes near state lines. In those days there was little legal coordination between states. When a criminal passed over a state line he was somebody else's problem, and the police gave up the chase. Clyde would often commit a crime and then drive like mad for hundreds of miles until he had crossed through one or two states. Then he could rest, knowing he had left all policemen and posses far behind him.

Overwhelming Firepower

Browning Automatic Rifle

Another reason for Clyde's criminal durability involved the guns that he carried. Early in his career he determined, as with cars, to have the very best. He developed the habit of breaking into National Guard Armories and stealing Browning Automatic Rifles, or BAR's as they were commonly known. The BAR was a weapon of terrifying power. It had a twenty shot clip and could be fired either as a machine gun or a rifle. It was a military grade weapon and it had incredible penetrating power. Normally, when you hide behind a car you assume you are safe from gunshots, but not with the BAR. The armor-piercing shells from this rifle could penetrate the steel walls of a car and kill one as easily as though the car were not there. During one gunfight a teenage boy was taking refuge in a brick house behind a cast iron stove. One of the bullets from a BAR passed through the brick wall, penetrated the cast-iron stove and struck the teen, breaking his arm. In the small towns where Bonnie and Clyde typically committed their robberies, local law officers often had to provide their own gun, which was normally either a .38 pistol or a shotgun. For local drunks and bullies these weapons were adequate, but when local law enforcement found themselves in a shooting match with Clyde and company, it was a complete mismatch - like a few farmers up against a company of trained, well-equipped soldiers.

Another factor was Clyde's natural coolness under fire. Clyde was one of those rare types who functioned as well or better under combat conditions than he did shooting tin cans for practice. Of course he also had plenty of gunfights to hone his skills, and as a result became one of the most proficient gunmen any policeman ever saw. Most of the police Clyde encountered had never been in even one gunfight, and weren't about to stand around very long trading their shotgun blasts with his armor piercing Browning Automatic Rifle. Perhaps this explains why the Joplin police virtually quit the fight and allowed Clyde and his gang to exit right in front of them without firing a single shot.

The Ambush

When Clyde kept the promise he had made to himself, and raided Eastham prison, setting several prisoners free and resulting in the killing of a guard, it essentially spelled the end of Bonnie and Clyde. Lee Simmons, the general manager of the Texas Prison System created a special position, called "Special Escape Investigator." This was code for: Hunt down Bonnie and Clyde and kill them on sight. He appointed Frank Hamer to the post, a retired Texas Ranger. Although using legal means, Frank Hamer was every bit as deadly and dangerous as Clyde. In tracking down outlaws as a Texas Ranger Hamer had killed over fifty men. He was smart, he was tough, and he was as ruthless and single minded as Clyde Barrow. Hamer paid no attention to jurisdiction or state lines. Wherever Bonnie and Clyde went, he would follow. He was an outlaw's worst nightmare.

Hamer concluded that the quickest and surest way to trap the two outlaws was to get one of their gang members to set them up. When he learned that the infamous couple was in Louisiana he was ready to make his move. Through the father of Henry Methvin, one of the desperados currently working with Clyde and Bonnie, Hamer offered a full pardon to their son, approved by the governor of Texas, if he would help ensnare them. Methvin, who was surely otherwise headed for capture and the electric chair, could not refuse. The unsuspecting couple was lured to the house of Methvin’s father in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.  On the way, they saw the older Methvin’s truck, pulled off the road with an apparent flat tire. As they slowed down to help, Frank Hamer and a posse of five others were waiting for them in the bushes, so close to the road they could hardly miss. There was no call for surrender, no challenge to come out of the car with their hands up.

Deputy Sheriff Prentiss Oakley fired the first shots. Having waited for over a day in the bushes, the excitement of finally seeing the famous outlaws seemed to trigger an automatic response within Oakley. He emptied his clip into the car, and was quickly followed by the other five men who also emptied every bullet in their rifles at the two outlaws. In all, about 130 shots were fired, but in reality the first bullet was probably all that was necessary. That first shot hit Clyde squarely in the head and instantly took his life. Bonnie would have been so grief-stricken she likely would have offered no resistance. But the officers were taking no chances. All the frustrations of outgunned, out-carred, and outsmarted policemen over the course of two years seemed to pour forth in that hail of bullets. The wages of sin is death, and Bonnie and Clyde received their paycheck that 23rd day of May, 1934. When their dead bodies were pulled from the car, Clyde had been shot at least 20 times and Bonnie had 26 different entrance holes in her.

Spiritual Lesson

Two months before they were killed, Clyde seemed to sense that the end was near. Being concerned about Bonnie, he attempted to persuade her to turn herself in. Although she is portrayed as a gunman (gunperson) in their many robberies, most scholars and the witnesses who lived long enough to tell their stories agreed that Bonnie simply didn't carry guns nor fire them. W. D. Jones wrote: "As far as I know, Bonnie never packed a gun. Maybe she'd help carry what we had in the car into a tourist-court room. But during the five big gun battles I was with them, she never fired a gun." Bonnie was certainly an accessory, but she was no murderer, despite what the movies have portrayed.

From hindsight, we can see that even some of the worst criminals of the era, if they escaped a death sentence, usually were out of prison in less than fifteen years. Ralph Fults made it out in nine. Blanche Barrow, Buck's wife, was given ten years, and with good behavior served only six. After her release she worked for a short while, married, and enjoyed a long and happy life, even becoming a Sunday school teacher in her latter years. It is quite possible and even likely that Bonnie could have experienced a similar fate, had she turned herself in, rather than staying with Clyde to the end. Her refusal to turn and change directions led to her destruction.

In a spiritual sense, everyone of us must at some point "turn ourselves in;" we must repent and change our direction. We must come before God acknowledging our own sinfulness, asking forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ. To cling stubbornly to a selfish and sinful lifestyle is just as stupid for us as clinging to Clyde and a life of constant running was for Bonnie. And with God we not only avoid eternal destruction; there is no jail time for all of our many offenses and transgressions. We are given an unconditional pardon. Actually pardon is not really the word for it, because pardon implies guilt. In the case of the Christian, the word is justification. We are justified and made as pure in God's sight as though we had never sinned at all.

Jesus Christ has made this possible for all of us. Taking our sins on Himself at the cross, He died in our place, experiencing the wrath that we deserved. Rising from the dead on the third day, Jesus provided complete and full justification for all who will put their trust in Him. Imagine, if despite all the crimes which Bonnie and Clyde had committed, a public official had offered them full pardons and legal erasure of every single robbery and every single murder they had committed. Perhaps not in the beginning, but by that final year, Bonnie and Clyde would no doubt have jumped at the chance.

Our great Creator has done exactly that for us. By having Jesus die in our place on the cross, He has declared Himself "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). After His resurrection, Jesus declared, "It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…"

Mighty Weapons

There is a secondary lesson that we Christians can learn from Clyde. Jesus declared that the children of this world are more shrewd than the children of light. Clyde Barrow was no intellectual but he was smart enough to know that in order to survive he needed the ultimate in firepower; he wanted a rifle far more devastating than those of the policemen he was likely to face. Whenever he lost his rifles, he would raid a national armory and steal some more Browning Automatic Rifles and several thousand rounds of ammunition. His car was always loaded with weapons, so much so that it was often uncomfortable for those riding in it.

In order to accomplish our mission from Christ, we Christians are likewise in need of high-powered weapons. But the Bible tells us that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal – not rifles, pistols, or shotguns – but they are "mighty in God for pulling down strongholds." How sad when Christians attempt various endeavors for Christ, but they pray little, fast not at all, rarely read God's word, and have no experiential knowledge of the Holy Spirit! Sometimes we assume that our nice personalities and our good intentions are all that we need. But it takes far more than that. We must make use of the high-powered weaponry Jesus Christ has made available to His people. We must give serious attention to prayer and fasting, we must come to Jesus for the filling of the Holy Spirit, and we must learn to walk in the authority of Jesus as we pray, declare, and preach in His name.

A World Full of Outlaws

Clyde Barrow seemed headed for an outlaw's life practically from his childhood. What many people don't realize is that in a spiritual sense we are all outlaws. We have all broken the laws of a holy God and are in serious trouble. The Law of God is relentlessly pursuing us, and most folks are runninglike mad to escape its clutches. They run toward pleasure, they run toward power, or some simply keep themselves so busy they can never hear that still small voice urging them, "Surrender, repent, and trust in Christ while you still have time." If they do not listen to that voice, they will have their own personal ambush, just as Bonnie and Clyde did. The Scriptures declare, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."

It most likely will not be a posse hiding in the bushes, but it will surely come. Perhaps it will be a heart attack, or a car accident, a bout with cancer, an infection, or simply old age. Just as Bonnie and Clyde knew that the law would eventually catch up with them, so we can be certain that law of God will sooner or later track us down. If we are caught without Jesus Christ, we will be headed for the same destination as Bonnie and Clyde. When Jesus tells us we must be born again, He was not talking only to gun-toting gangsters and serial bank robbers. He was also talking to nice, friendly people who have never touched a gun in their lives, to hard-working, conscientious pillars of their community who pride themselves on their honesty, and to mild-mannered, timid folks who would be no more likely to rob someone at gunpoint than fly to the moon. He was talking to us all! In the eyes of our Creator we are all criminals and fugitives in desperate need of a pardon. It is ours for the taking. The Bible says, "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for your sins and was raised from the dead for your justification.

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