INTRO: This refurbished episode of History Daily originally aired on November 30th, 2021.
It’s November 30th, 1932, in Jasper County, Missouri.
A brand new Chevrolet Coupe coasts slowly through the streets of Oronogo city. The locals can’t help but notice the beautiful burgundy car, with its long hood and flowing fenders. It’s much more striking than any of the old farming trucks and clapped-out vehicles that usually pass along this impoverished street.
Like many other small, rural cities in dust bowl America, Oronogo has suffered great economical strain in recent years, with many businesses and surrounding farms going under.
But inside the Chevy, three well-dressed men in fedora hats have plans to change their fortunes. They’re known as the Barrow Gang. And they’re about to pull off their first bank job.
In the passenger seat is their 22-year-old leader, Clyde Barrow. Clyde tells the driver to park across the street from the Farmers and Miners Bank. As the driver pulls over to the curb, Clyde lifts up his weapon of choice, a Browning Automatic Rifle. The man in the back seat has one too. Clyde likes the Browning because of its rapid-fire capabilities.
Clyde and the man in the back get out of the Chevy, which they stole just for this occasion, and walk across the street to the bank.
Once inside, Clyde fires his rifle into the ceiling and declares that he’s come to make a withdrawal. From under the desk, the cashier reaches for his gun. But the quick burst from the Barrow Gang's Browning rifles cause him to throw down his weapon and put his hands in the air.
Soon, the two robbers are back in the car, money in hand, and speeding away. But they’re not home-free just yet. As Clyde and the gang flee the scene, a band of armed locals - vigilantes - take to their own vehicles and give chase. But Clyde isn’t worried. He anticipated this.
Just yesterday, his girlfriend strolled through the town and scouted it out for them.
She gave the boys a solid description of the bank and the best exit routes. And now, his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker, sits nearby in another stolen vehicle, waiting to help Clyde make his escape.
From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.
History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.
Today is November 30th, 1932: Bonnie & Clyde’s First Bank Job.
Act One: Cop Killers
It’s November 30th, 1932, outside Oronogo City.
On a dusty back road on the outskirts of town, Bonnie Parker sits behind the wheel. She pulls down the sun visor and thinks about how much she loves this shiny new car Clyde stole for her. It’s a Ford V-8 Coupe, fresh off the production line, and its engine can reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour. That’s considerably faster than any police car can manage.
As she waits for Clyde and the others to join her, Bonnie’s left hand rests on the steering wheel. She glances toward her wedding ring, the last vestige of her failed marriage with a young criminal named Roy Thornton. But Bonnie hasn’t seen Roy in years. For all she knows, he’s in prison… or dead.
Clyde is the only man that matters in her world now. The two of them are completely lovestruck. Members of their gang often joke that the two commit crimes to impress each other. True or not, Bonnie is determined to stick with Clyde, through thick and thin.
Just then, she hears gunshots in the distance. In her rearview mirror, she sees the burgundy Chevrolet racing toward her. Clyde leans out of the passenger window and shoots at the cars in pursuit. Bonnie switches on the engine and opens the passenger door just as the bullet-marked Chevy screeches up beside her.
Clyde and the gang abandon the Chevy and bundle into Bonnie’s car. Then she slams her foot on the pedal and hits the highway, putting immediate distance between them and their pursuers. She looks up at the rear-view mirror. Thank you Henry Ford!, she thinks. Bonnie laughs as the cars get smaller in the reflection.
However, when the gang returns to their motel in the nearby city of Carthage, Bonnie, and Clyde are disappointed. They were hoping for three times what they walked away with. But during this Great Depression, even the banks don’t have much worth taking.
Over the following months, the Barrow gang become extremely prolific at armed robbery. They rob stores, shops, and gas stations; and as their crimewave continues, Bonnie & Clyde become two of the most wanted criminals in the country.
But it's not just the stealing that makes them “public enemies”, it’s the ever-increasing body count they leave in their wake, often including officers of the law.
It’s midnight, just a few months later, in January of 1933. Clyde, armed with a shotgun, limps as he creeps up on a shack-like house in Tarrant County, just west of Dallas. The house belongs to a woman named Lillie McBride. Her brother Raymond Hamilton, a member of Clyde’s gang, is in prison. Clyde wants to talk to Lillie about breaking him out.
But just as Clyde approaches the front door, he hears a female voice cry out, “Please don’t shoot my children!” Clyde peers into the window and sees armed police officers inside. It’s an ambush. But the young thief does not flee the scene. He raises up his shotgun and opens fire. The lawmen inside drop to the floor as his shot smashes through the window. The children scream in terror.
From their concealed place on the back porch, Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis and his partner Dusty Rhodes both come running to confront the gunman at the front.
Clyde’s weapon has jammed so he quickly replaces the cartridge, a technique he’s had a lot of practice with as of late. By the time Deputy Malcolm Davis emerges from around the side of the house, Clyde has another cartridge in place. He fires his weapon at point-blank range into the officer’s chest. The shot kills him instantly.
Clyde then turns and fires at Deputy Rhodes, who immediately throws himself to the ground, narrowly avoiding his partner’s fate.
Clyde pivots back to the house. Through the shattered glass he sees that the police inside are already back on their feet. So he unloads his weapon and darts into the shadows of a garden next door. This neighborhood is Clyde’s home turf. He grew up just two blocks from Lillie’s house.
But his limp is worsening as he scrambles from garden to garden. Last year, Clyde was incarcerated at the Eastham Prison Farm for auto theft. The conditions there were brutal. Hoping an injury would secure him a place in a softer prison, Clyde cut off his own big toe with an axe. The self-mutilation turned out to be unnecessary. Six days later, his mother successfully petitioned for his release.
So now he endures the pain of the injury as he emerges a few blocks along onto the city street. A Ford V-8 screeches up beside him with Bonnie at the wheel. Once again she’s been waiting in the car as his getaway driver.
But, although they escape, eyewitnesses identify the limping man as local criminal Clyde Barrow and the young female driver as his girlfriend Bonnie.
As a result of this positive identification, every law enforcement officer in Texas, including the infamous Texas Rangers, will adopt a shoot-to-kill policy on Bonnie and Clyde.
Act Two: Indictment
It’s November 28th, 1933 at the County Courthouse in Dallas, Texas.
Almost a year to the day after Bonnie & Clyde robbed their first bank.
Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the newly elected Governor of Texas, waits inside the red sandstone building for a Grand Jury to issue a murder indictment for Bonnie & Clyde. Considering the many heinous crimes they’ve committed in her state, Ma is wondering what’s taking the jurors so long.
She is the first female governor of Texas. Her husband - known as “Pa” Ferguson - was also a governor of the Lone Star State, until he got impeached for corruption in 1917. But Ma has worked hard to forge her own political path. She’s recently been re-elected, although narrowly. And there are those who consider her to be too soft on the current crime wave.
In recent years, the mid-western states have become overrun with deadly, headline-grabbing hoodlums with colorful nicknames such as Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Machine Gun Kelly. They rob banks, shoot policemen, and drive stolen cars across state lines. They’re constantly moving, which makes them difficult to catch. Many of these criminals - like the notorious John Dillinger - actively court publicity and cast themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods. And, amongst the poorest people in America, they have become more popular than folk heroes.
The country is in the midst of the Great Depression, high unemployment, plunging incomes, huge debts, and mass poverty plague the nation. People in rural communities have lost their homes, farms, and business and so, to them, armed robbers like the Barrow Gang are only taking back what the banks took from them.
Since the incident at the Oronogo bank on November 30th of last year, newspapers have become obsessed with Bonnie & Clyde. In large part, this is due to a discovery that was made back in April when the gang was tracked down to a hideout in Joplin, Missouri. Five police officers arrived in two separate cars thinking that they were about to confront bootleggers. But instead, they found the Barrow gang. A vicious shootout ensued in which gang members killed two of the officers and then fled the scene.
Afterward, when the police searched the Barrow Gang’s hideout, they found a wealth of abandoned possessions including a large arsenal of weapons, a handwritten poem by Bonnie, and several rolls of undeveloped film. The police took these film rolls to a local newspaper and the developed images became iconic.
The photographs revealed Bonnie and Clyde playfully pointing guns at one another as if posing for Hollywood movie stills. One shot presented Bonnie in a stylish dress and black beret, chomping on a cigar and brandishing her Browning Automatic Rifle in front of a stolen getaway car. Another showed Clyde with a fedora in one hand and lifting Bonnie up in an affectionate gesture. Another showed them in a tender, romantic embrace.
They didn’t look like cold-blooded killers. They looked like a young couple in love.
But the police allowed newspapers all over the country to print the photos, as well as Bonnie’s provocative poem - The Story of Suicide Sal.The police hoped the publication of the photo and poem might lead to positive identifications and help them capture the dangerous duo. But instead, the police made Bonnie and Clyde into celebrities; pin-ups of the public enemy era.
But Governor Ma Ferguson is unimpressed. She’s dismayed by the media’s attitude toward these hateful young killers. Ma is outraged by the fact that a decent law enforcement officer, like Malcolm Davis, could be gunned down in the line of duty only to have his murderers idolized. Previously, Bonnie and Clyde have never been indicted. But Ma hopes that will all change today at the Dallas County courthouse.
But Ma worries that the members of the grand jury might not want to pursue murder charges against Bonnie. The photographs prove that she’s complicit in her boyfriend’s crimes, but it’s unclear if she ever pulled a trigger, let alone killed anyone. And also, Bonnie is a woman, and the Grand Jury might be inclined to pursue lesser charges.
Ma looks up to see a young clerk running along the corridor to deliver the news. The Grand Jury is out. When Ma hears their decision, a smile stretches across her face as she heads out onto the courthouse steps to tell the large throng of reporters that Clyde andBonnie have both been successfully indicted for murder.
For Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, it’s the beginning of the end. Over the following months, the multi-state hunt for them will intensify, resulting in a final confrontation with the law that will bring their thrill-seeking crime spree to its inevitable bloody conclusion.
Act Three: Retribution
It’s May 23rd, 1934, 9 AM on a quiet rural road in Louisiana, and eighteen months after Bonnie & Clyde’s first bank robbery.
Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, a tall man in a wide-brimmed hat, hides in a roadside bush and waits for a particular car to pass. Hamer has a posse of five armed officers with him.
Directly beside Hamer is 30-year-old Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton. Hamer selected Hinton to be part of his posse because Hinton used to frequent a café in Dallas where Bonnie worked as a waitress. He even developed a crush on her, so he definitely knows what Bonnie looks like. This is important. The last thing Hamer wants to do is accidentally shoot the wrong woman.
Since February, Hamer has been living out of his car, tracking Bonnie & Clyde with the tenacity of a bloodhound, often just a town or two behind them. But today, he’s finally caught up.
Across the road, a man named Ivy Methvin has parked his truck and removed a tire. Methvin is the father of one of the Barrow Gang members and he’s cut a deal with the Texas Rangers to get a more lenient sentence for his son if he conspires in catching Bonnie and Clyde.
And soon enough, a Ford V8 approaches. The deputies take cover as Methvin waves down the Ford and address the occupants with familiarity. Young Hinton raises his head above the bushes and nods at Hamer. That’s Bonnie, alright.
When Hamer gives the order, all six officers step out from their hiding places, giving Methvin just enough time to run for cover. Then they spray the car with bullets. When the smoke clears, Bonnie and Clyde are dead.
The bullet-ridden crime scene is filmed soon afterward and the shocking footage is distributed even more widely than those original photos of Bonnie & Clyde. The authorities are keen to show Depression-era America that crime doesn’t pay after all.
Bonnie and Clyde started out as small-time thieves. But by the time their story was over, they had grown to become two of the most infamous criminals in American History. They are believed to have murdered at least nine officers of the law and four civilians during their short crime spree which began with a robbery in Oronogo, Missouri on November 30th, 1932.
Next on History Daily. December 1st, 1934. Leningrad mayor Sergei Kirov is assassinated by a lone gunman, prompting Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin to purge the Communist Party of his rivals.
From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.
Audio editing by Mollie Baack.
Sound design by Derek Behrens.
Music by Lindsay Graham.
This episode is written and researched by James Benmore.
Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.