Lost Limbs Foundation

Thursday, May 23, 2013




On this date, May 23, 1934, American outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and killed by lawmen in Louisiana. During the early years of the Great Depression, they were well-known outlaws and criminals who wreaked havoc in the Midwest and Great Plains. Their exploits captured the attention of the American public during the "public enemy era" between 1931 and 1934 and were viewed as almost Robin Hood-type outlaws at a time when so many Americans had lost all their money to banks and the government.

Although Clyde became best-known for his dozen or so bank robberies, he in fact preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. The gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers and committed several civilian murders. Bonnie and Clyde were eventually ambushed and killed in Louisiana by law officers.

Even during their lifetimes, the couple's depiction in the press was at considerable odds with the hardscrabble reality of their life on the road—particularly when it came to Bonnie. Though she was present at a hundred or more felonies during her two years as Clyde’s girlfriend, she was not the machine gun-wielding cartoon killer portrayed in the newspapers, newsreels, and pulp detective magazines of the day. Gang member E.D. Jones didn’t think she had ever even fired a gun at police officers.

But her reputation as a cigar-smoking gun moll grew out of playful snapshots that were discovered in an abandoned hideout in Joplin, Missouri. The photos were released to the press and published nationwide, much to Bonnie’s dismay. She wrote numerous letters to newspapers, insisting that she did not smoke cigars.

It was Bonnie’s pretty face, her fatalistic poetry and deep love for Clyde – despite his flaws – that created the romantic legend of Bonnie and Clyde. Their doomed relationship has since spawned films and books. Without Bonnie, Clyde would have been dismissed as a small-time, gun-toting punk, but with her sassy photographs, Bonnie supplied the sex-appeal and romance that allowed them to transcend from small-time crooks and killers to American legends.

Troy Taylor is currently working on an upcoming book about Bonnie and Clyde and other Depression-era desperadoes.