Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


"Death is the Wages of Sin"

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (AP)
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (AP)

Bonnie Parker liked to write poetry about the exploits of her lover, Clyde Barrow, and she found his violence erotic. Deputy Ted Hinton was one of the six officers who ambushed and shot the couple to death. As the last surviving member of that gang, he tells the story in Ambush: The Real Story of Bonnie and Clyde. While he viewed Bonnie as a nice girl who was fairly normal, it's clear that Clyde brought out something in her that was anything but. She had plenty of chances to walk away, to turn him in, to say no to the crimes they were committing, yet she stuck with him to the bitter end.

During the 1930s, when people were suffering from a serious nationwide Depression, outlaw gangs made headlines with their sensational bank robberies, shoot-outs and escapes. The like had not been seen since the James Gang the century before.

Ted Hinton
Ted Hinton

One of the troublemakers in Dallas, Texas, at that time was Clyde Barrow. Hinton knew Barrow's family, so he was aware of how Barrow had gotten his start early. His girlfriend since 1930 was Bonnie Parker, a spitfire. Hinton also knew her from her days as a waitress. She hoped to become a singer or a poet. She was 20 when she met and fell in love with 21-year-old Barrow. Already married to a man who had ended up in prison, she cleaved to the outlaw, whose anger at the intense poverty that restricted him, found expression in a reckless aggression that she admired. His older brother was the same, and the townspeople knew them as "that Barrow Bunch."

The year he met Bonnie, Clyde was sentenced to prison for 14 years for car theft and burglary. He had a fellow inmate cut off two of his toes so he could get out. It didn't work, but he did get paroled from the overcrowded system in 1932. Bonnie had waited for him.

Clyde's first murder was an accident, when a bullet ricocheted off a safe. He hadn't pulled the trigger, but his presence there convinced him he'd end up executed. That added an edge to his adventures: he had nothing to lose, and Bonnie apparently found this exhilarating. Together they went on a spree of robberies, and then began to kill, taking on and losing partners, and always staying together. Police chased them from state to state, but they always eluded capture, and Bonnie wrote poems about it.

Finally, they were trapped, and they went out just as Bonnie envisioneddying together.

On May 23, 1934, six officers awaited the couple on a lonely stretch of road near Gibsland, Louisiana. They had gotten a tip that the couple would be coming down that road. The officers settled in for a long vigil, which finally paid off. The lovers came driving through and the officers just started shooting. "For a fleeting instant, the car seems to melt and hang in a kind of eerie and animated suspension...Clyde's head has popped backward, his face twisted at the shock of pain as the bullets strike home."

Officers who shot Bonnie & Clyde (CORBIS)
Officers who shot Bonnie & Clyde (CORBIS)

The execution lasted about 12 seconds and then the incident was over. Bonnie and Clyde were dead.

The car took 167 bullets, and a coroner later counted the number of wounds that the killers had received. Each was shot more than 50 times. None of the officers was hit. In fact, neither of the fugitives had managed to fire a single shot.

The bullet-riddled car
The bullet-riddled car

The outlaws were towed to town in their car, and people came from miles around to have a look at them and to touch the "death car." They wanted to see for themselves the place where Bonnie and Clyde had met their match. School children ripped pieces from Bonnie's dress and hair.

Despite her desire to be buried next to Clyde, their respective families separated them in death. Yet there was no doubt that they had been in love and had enjoyed their escapades together. Both had probably known that eventually they would be apprehended, but that awareness had failed to stop them. Bonnie had chosen to be with Clyde, and he was a lawbreaker and a killer. She, too, had likely shot at least one of the victims, so wasn't just along for the ride.

Other women have followed their lovers into crime, but some have later claimed that they had no choice. A look at one such case makes this claim hard to believe. Like Bonnie, Karla Homolka appeared to know what she was doing and to enjoy it, as long as she was doing it with her man, "the king." Karla is a classic psychopath who appears to have met the man through whom she could act out those things she might not have done on her own. Not that she flinched from them; indeed, she appeared to thrive on them, but she needed a man to put her own inner depravity into motion.

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