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Tom Chaney: We Rob Banks

Of Writers And Their Books: We Rob Banks. Tom discusses the 'true' and sad lives of Bonnie and Clyde as told in Go Down Together by Jeff Guinn. This column first appeared 27 September 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: At the Dusk of Dawn

By Tom Chaney

We Rob Banks

Those of us of a certain age remember Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the dashing 1920's desperados Bonnie and Clyde in a 1967 movie by that name. Despite the bloodshed, violence and gore, the movie was fun. We left the theatre siding with the outlaws and despising the cops who brought them ingloriously down with 150 bullets in about sixteen seconds.

The reality of their two-year rampage was a bit different.

Critic Bryan Woolley in the Dallas Morning News describes Clyde Barrow as "a scrawny punk who liked flashy clothes, fast cars and guns. Bonnie Parker was a tiny, almost-pretty waitress and sometime prostitute who wanted to be an actress or maybe a poet. They loved each other. They killed people. They got famous."

Both were products of the desperate poverty rampant in Texas following World War I. Clyde lived near a tent city in the outskirts of Dallas made up of refugees from failed farms -- except that his family didn't even have a tent. Clyde slept under the cart that his father used by day to collect junk.

Bonnie had some better chance until her mason father died suddenly tipping the family over the last little edge of poverty.

Now comes Jeff Guinn with a new and exhaustive account of the infamous couple. His Go Down Together: the True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, [Simon and Schuster, 2009] makes good use of sources heretofore untapped. He uses family records and the collections of those who accumulate crime records to flesh out the tale.

They wanted to rob banks, but more often than not found themselves robbing grocery stores for the bologna, crackers, and beans upon which they frequently existed.

In Eastham prison for his first robbery, Clyde commits his first murder when he kills a jail yard bully who had persistently raped him.

Out of jail, employment was difficult with the cops always harassing him on the job.

Bonnie and Clyde took to the high road and a life of crime. During the two years they were on the loose they stuck up around a dozen small banks as well as grocery stores and gas stations. They killed nine officers of the law and a few citizens who tried to halt their robbing.

Clyde was best at hot wiring automobiles. He was particular in this matter. Allegedly he wrote a satisfied customer letter to Henry Ford.
Dear Sir,

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusivly when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned, and even if my business hasen't been strickly legal it don't hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8.

Yours truly

Clyde Champion Barrow "
On the other hand Bonnie wrote romantic doggerel about their life on the road. These pieces made their way into the papers, and the criminal pair became celebrities.

Until, that is, half dozen lawmen led by former Texas ranger Frank Hamer laid a trap for them on a lonely Louisiana three-rut road on May 23, 1934.

Bonnie and Clyde died ignominiously in a hail of bullets and shotgun blasts. They met their end in the front seat of the latest stolen Ford V-8 -- guns out of reach in the back seat.

Mr. Guinn's book may not be as immediately exciting as the movie version. It is, however, more reliable, based as it is on hundreds of sources. The reader need not wonder where a certain fact comes from.

Go Down Together bids fair to become the definitive account of the desperadoes Clyde Barrow and his lady fair Bonnie Parker.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-09-28 06:28:15
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