ITALY HAD ROMEO AND JULIET; France had Héloïse and Abélard; Texas had Bonnie and Clyde. It’s no surprise that a state obsessed with money and guns boasts as its most famous lovers a couple guilty of far more than crimes of passion. From 1932 to 1934 the Dallas gangsters indulged in a gory spree through eight states, robbing at least a dozen banks and businesses and killing fifteen people. A former Texas Ranger captain, the legendary Frank Hamer, finally tracked the outlaws down, but his fame never approached theirs: The lethal lovers spawned many a book and movie, notably the stylish Arthur Penn film of thirty years ago, which conveyed quite graphically their dual status as cold-blooded murderers and glamorized folk heroes.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow weren’t married to each other. He was single; her husband, Roy Thornton, was serving time for robbery.
The two loom large in the annals of crime, but physically both were small. Clyde was five seven and weighed 125 pounds; Bonnie was four ten and a mere 85 pounds.
In 1930 Clyde was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for burglary. To qualify for an early medical release, he persuaded a fellow inmate to chop off two of his toes with an ax.
Clyde stole only Fords, and he once wrote Henry Ford a fan letter praising the zippy V-8 design.
Clyde was a notoriously reckless driver. In June 1933 he crashed a car in a ravine near Wellington, and Bonnie’s leg was horribly burned. She began using morphine to dull the pain. When she left behind medical supplies while fleeing the police, the rumor arose that she and Clyde were drug addicts. Equally unfounded were claims that she was a nymphomaniac and he was a homosexual.
On Easter Sunday, 1934, they sat in a car waiting to rendezvous with Bonnie’s beloved mother, for whom she had bought a white rabbit. As she fed it lettuce, two highway patrolmen pulled up; she and Clyde immediately shot them dead.
When Hamer and fellow law officers surprised Bonnie and Clyde on May 23, 1934, at a hideout near Gibsland, Louisiana, they riddled the outlaws’ vehicle with some 160 bullets. Both died instantly from head wounds. Authorities recovered from their car 15 guns, 100 clips, 3,000 rounds of ammunition—and Clyde’s saxophone.
Sixteen thousand thrill-seekers descended on the nearby town of Arcadia for a glimpse of Bonnie and Clyde, whose bloody corpses were displayed in public. Clyde was 25, Bonnie 23.