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Cultural Re-view: Bonnie and Clyde finally end their criminal reign

Notorious outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker
Notorious outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker Copyright Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Copyright Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue
Published on
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On 23 May 1934, two of the most famous outlaws in history - Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow - were killed in a police shootout.

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Today, the criminal duo - better known by their first names - are the stuff of legend, but they lived very real, and very action-packed lives, before their deaths in Louisiana.

Bonnie and Clyde were Texan lovers, having met at the respective ages of 19 and 20 in 1930 as the Great Depression took hold of the United States. Shortly after their meeting, Clyde was sent to jail, convicted of auto theft - but the sentence didn’t last long as he broke out of prison using a weapon Bonnie had smuggled in to him.

Although he was recaptured, by 1932 Bonnie and Clyde were hardened criminals, teaming up with the Barrow Gang, robbing banks and small stores. They were constantly on the run and not afraid to shoot anybody who might have interfered with their freedom - they’re said to have killed at least nine police officers and four civilians.

Their criminal exploits were famous across the nation and their fame grew even further in 1933 after a police shootout at their temporary hiding place in Joplin, Missouri.

Local police had been informed of apparent bootleggers living at the address. Their discovery that it was, in fact, the Barrow Gang left two officers dead.

The Gang escaped the scene, but left behind many of their possessions including a vast arsenal of weapons, a poem handwritten by Bonnie and a camera along with several rolls of undeveloped film.

The police printed the photos at the local newspaper The Joplin Globe and discovered images of Bonnie, Clyde and fellow gang member W. D. Jones pointing weapons at each other, as well as the now infamous picture of Bonnie clenching a cigar in her teeth and holding a pistol in her hand. The Joplin Globe sent the photos over the newswire along with Bonnie’s poem ‘Suicide Sal’ and the Barrow Gang became front page news across the country.

Bettmann Archive
The most iconic photo which launched Bonnie to criminal 'stardom'Bettmann Archive

Their new notoriety made evading capture significantly more difficult, but the gang’s criminal activities carried on, usually taking the form of robberies, kidnappings and murders.

Many historians say that Clyde knew early on that the only way out for him was death - and on 23 May 1934, his prophecy came true.

Along with Bonnie, he broke out some of the members of their gang jailed in Texas, attacking the prison with machine guns and killing guard Major Joe Crowson in the process.

AP
Larking around with a shotgun - Bonnie and Clyde c.1932AP

The attack triggered former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer to track them down. He eventually found them in the neighbouring state of Louisiana, where police hiding in bushes ambushed the couple in their Ford V8. The pair died in a hail of gunfire after over 130 rounds of ammunition were fired at them by law enforcement officers. Bonnie was 23, and Clyde was 25.

In their death, they were more iconic than ever, with hundreds of visitors swarming the funeral homes where they were lying in state. Over 20,000 people attended Bonnie’s funeral, which meant that her own family struggled to get to the gravesite.

Despite being dead for nearly 90 years, Bonnie and Clyde remain infamous to this day, their legacy helped in no small part by the 1967 film ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty which romanticised the criminal couple.

A 1968 song - unsurprisingly also called ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ - written by Serge Gainsbourg and performed by the late French musician alongside screen icon Brigitte Bardot also added to the couple’s mystique. MC Solaar sampled the track in his hit ‘Nouveau Western’ but the original is well worth a listen if you need more Bonnie and Clyde in your life. 

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