May 23, 2022

The Death of Bonnie and Clyde

The Death of Bonnie and Clyde

May 23, 1934. Notorious American outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde, are killed in a police shoot-out in Louisiana.


Cold Open

It’s early evening on April 13th, 1933 in a garage apartment in Joplin, Missouri.

22-year-old Bonnie Parker lays on a mattress on the floor listening to music and waiting for her boyfriend to get back. Clyde Barrow and his outfit, which will come to be known as the Barrow Gang, spend their days traveling around, robbing, looting… and sometimes killing. But lately, Bonnie and Clyde have been holed up in this rented apartment with several other gang members. Tonight, Bonnie is bored because Clyde is out running errands with one of his cohorts.

So Bonnie decides to pass the time with one of her favorite activities: writing poetry.

As she scribbles away, Bonnie’s eyes light up when she hears a car pull into the driveway. Clyde is back. So she heads for the door, anxious for her lover to walk in the room.

But instead… she hears a shout coming from the streets; and then the crack of gunshots. Inside, the other gang members inside take cover.

Bonnie leaps to her feet and sprints to the window. She sees Clyde and other members of the gang making a b-line for the garage as police cars swoop in and block the driveway. Bonnie grabs a machine gun propped against the wall and throws open the window. She leans out and takes aim.

A squeeze of the trigger sends a torrent of lead into the street.

Bonnie grabs a spare magazine to reload. She looks out onto the driveway and sees Clyde dragging a dead cop across the pavement.

Bonnie knows there are still officers outside and likely reinforcements on the way. So she slams the fresh magazine into place… and empties the gun again. Then she drops the weapon and runs for the door.

Outside, she jumps straight into the passenger seat of a waiting Ford V-8 sedan. Clyde is behind the wheel. The rest of the gang hops in the back.

With a scream of tires, the couple is in the wind.

When the police sweep the apartment, they find a staggering cache of weapons, military rifles, and machine guns. But it’s the poetry notebooks, the camera, and the rolls of undeveloped film that are the real find. By morning, those photographs will be on the front page of newspapers across America, and the country will get its first glimpse at one of the most infamous couples of all time.

Two wild lovers who live by their own rules and answered to no one; but in reality, the bloody crime spree they enacted was violent and deadly, and it came to an equally lethal end when the couple went down in a hail of gunfire on May 23rd, 1934.


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 May 23rd: The Death of Bonnie and Clyde.

Act One

It’s January 5th, 1930, in the neighborhood of West Dallas, Texas.

In the kitchen of a simple house at 105 Herbert Street, 19-year-old Bonnie Parker makes a cup of hot chocolate.

Bonnie’s currently staying here at her friend’s home. She’s been out of work for some time and needed a place to stay. Her friend is recovering from a bad injury. So Bonnie decided to move in and help her heal. But right now, Bonnie’s not thinking about being a caregiver. She’s thinking about how she can’t stop staring at her friend’s handsome guest who stands across from her in the kitchen.

20-year-old Clyde Barrow is a good-looking man. And he seems to be thinking that Bonnie is a good-looking woman. The two strangers can’t stop gawking at each other. They’re both experiencing a similar suspicion: that this encounter feels like love at first sight.

And from this moment forward, Bonnie and Clyde are inseparable. They spend every waking moment together. They swoon in dark corners and call each other pet names. But their whirlwind romance doesn't last. Not long after they meet, Clyde is arrested and put behind bars for auto theft.

Bonnie can’t stand being apart from her new beau, even for a moment. So she smuggles him a gun inside the jail. Clyde uses it to break out and for a brief time, the love birds are reunited. But one week later, Clyde is arrested again. This time, the judge sentences Clyde to 14 years at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. From there, he’s sent off to Eastham to do manual labor on a prison farm.

By January of 1932, two years after meeting Bonnie, Clyde is despondent and desperate for a reprieve from the back-breaking work. One day, while out on work duty, a hopeless Clyde takes an axe and chops off his big toe in an attempt to secure a place in a softer prison. The self-mutilation turns out to be unnecessary. Unknown to Clyde, his mother has already successfully petitioned for his release. Six days later, Clyde limps out of Eastham.

But Clyde is scarred in other ways, too. A family member will later remark, “...something awful sure must have happened to him in prison because he wasn’t the same person when he got out.”

As Clyde walks through the outer gate and takes his first breath of fresh air as a free man, he makes a vow to himself: he’ll never again set foot in a prison, and that he’ll exact revenge on the system that tried to break him. His girlfriend, Bonnie, is all too eager to join him on his quest for vengeance.

Eventually, Clyde forms a gang with Bonnie, his brother Buck and his wife Blanche, and a slew of other unsavory characters. They rob small-town stores, gas stations, and banks; they stage jailbreaks, and gun down cops and civilians. And as they try to stay one step ahead of the authorities, they have several close calls with the law; including the bloody shootout at that garage apartment in Joplin, Missouri in April of 1933.

The gang makes it out of Joplin alive, thanks to their shoot-first style. But they leave two dead officers in their wake. And they also leave behind evidence; including Bonnie’s notebooks and a roll of film.

By morning, the pictures of the Barrow Gang are splashed over front pages all across the country. There are several photos. But the image that will captivate America is that of Bonnie – all 4’11” of her – in a black dress, with a beret, pushed back on her head. She has one foot resting on the bumper of Clyde’s Ford. Her left hand hangs casually over the headlight, and her right hand holds a revolver. The stub of a cigar is clamped between her lips.

Throughout the Spring of 1933, the Barrow Gang continues to roam the countryside, stealing, and looting. And by the time Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree is over, they will have killed at least nine officers of the law and four civilians. 

Soon, their notoriety will capture the attention of powerful politicians and public officials who decide the violence needs to stop. One of these officials will enlist the services of a retired Texas Ranger named Frank Hamer. Frank will be deputized and made a special investigator charged with a single task: to find Bonnie and Clyde and bring them to justice.

Act Two

It’s February 10th, 1934 on a stretch of road in the heart of Texas.

Frank Hamer, a tall man in a wide-brimmed hat, sits in the driver’s seat behind the wheel of his black, four-door sedan. He’s driving from Austin to Dallas on a mission to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde.

In Dallas, Frank’s first stop is at the local sheriff’s office. There, Frank sits down with the Sheriff and starts asking questions. He wants to know everything about the duo; what they like to eat and drink; and the color, size, and texture of their clothes. Soon, Frank has the information he needs. But he needs something else, too. In their meeting, the sheriff pledges his support to the hunt and loans Frank one of his deputies: Bob Alcorn, a good cop who knows the Barrow Gang well.

When Frank and Bob leave Dallas, Frank knows exactly where they’re headed. As he will later explain, “Barrow was hot in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa because the long trail of murder he and Bonnie and the gang had spread over those states. Louisiana was the one spot… where he wasn’t hot.”

But there’s another reason Frank suspects Bonnie and Clyde are in the Pelican State. One of the members of the Barrow Gang is from a town there called Arcadia. He’s a bank robber and outlaw named Henry Methvin.

By 1934, most of the Barrow Gang is either dead or scattered. But Henry Methvin still rides with Bonnie and Clyde. Frank suspects Bonnie and Clyde use Henry’s parents' place near Arcadia as a safe house. And eventually, Frank will put the word out to local, state, and national law enforcement to keep an eye on the Methvin family.

Not long after his meeting in Dallas, Frank, and Bob hit the road eastbound. Frank will spend the next few months traveling back and forth between Austin, Dallas, and Louisiana, chasing down any lead that might bring him closer to Bonnie and Clyde.

But the pair remain elusive. Until April of 1934, when Frank gets a break. He learns that Bonnie and Clyde recently surfaced at Henry Methvin’s parents’ place. Soon, local law enforcement makes contact with Henry’s father, Ivy Methvin. Under pressure, Ivy says he’s willing to make a deal: he will help the lawmen catch Bonnie and Clyde if they agree not to prosecute his son.

So on April 28th, Frank and Bob drive to Arcadia. There, they meet with Henry's father, Ivy, and other members of the family in a remote, wooded area. Frank hands Ivy a letter authorizing him to make any deal that will help bring Bonnie and Clyde to justice. Ivy says he just wants his son Henry’s criminal record wiped clean. Frank gives Ivy his word, but on the condition that the Methvin family give Frank their full cooperation. Ivy swears he will cooperate, and he promises that if his son ever resurfaces, Henry will cooperate too. Frank gives Ivy and the Methvin’s their marching orders: keep quiet and lay low till Bonnie and Clyde pop up again.

But Frank won’t have to wait long. About two weeks later, he gets a call from a sheriff in Louisiana telling him that Bonnie and Clyde are back in the area and that Henry is with them. Hearing this, Frank immediately drives to Arcadia and checks into a motel. There, he waits. 

On the evening of May 22nd, Frank gets another call. This time, the sheriff informs him that Henry is spending the night at the house where his parents are staying and that Bonnie and Clyde are scheduled to meet Henry at the Methvin house tomorrow morning. 

Frank feels it's time for him to move. But he wants to take the duo alive; especially young Bonnie. He has no desire to kill a woman. But he also knows the blood-thirsty couple has a reputation for shooting their way out of capture. So instead of storming in, guns blazing, Frank decides to lay a trap.

The plan is simple. Prior to the 9:00 AM rendezvous, Ivy will park his truck on the side of the road that leads to the house where the Methvin’s are staying. Ivy will pretend he’s changing a tire while Frank, his posse, and members of local law enforcement conceal themselves nearby. When Clyde pulls over to help, Frank will step forward, call out to him, and give the pair a chance to surrender.

But on the morning of May 23rd, Frank’s plan will go horribly wrong. Shots will ring out. And when the smoke clears, the murderous crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde will be over.

Act Three

It’s just before 9 AM, on Wednesday, May 23rd, 1934, in Gibsland, Louisiana; a town 12 miles west of Arcadia.

Bonnie Parker sits in the passenger seat of Clyde's Ford V-8 as it tears down a barren, dusty road. They’re on their way to meet with a fellow gang member, Henry Methvin, at his parents' home. But Bonnie is starving. So Clyde pulls the Ford into the parking lot of a local diner.

As he goes inside for food, Bonnie stares out the window and does her best to keep her mind off of the pain. Last summer, Bonnie and Clyde were in a terrible car accident. Her leg still hasn’t healed properly. 

When Clyde returns, he hands Bonnie a sandwich, pulls the car out of the parking lot, and get back on their way. Soon, Clyde turns onto a quiet, rural road that leads to the Methvin house. But as they near their destination, Bonnie sees something in the distance: a broken-down truck parked on the shoulder. Standing next to it is Henry’s father: Ivy Methvin.

Clyde slows the Ford to a crawl to lend his friend’s father a helping hand. He’s just able to put the car in park when suddenly… a gunshot rings out. It passes through the open driver’s side window of Clyde’s car and strikes him in the head, killing him instantly. Bonnie lets out a blood-curdling scream; a sound that will stay with Frank Hamer for the rest of his life.

Frank will later learn that one of the local law officers got trigger-happy, and fired on Clyde prematurely. The officer will claim that Clyde spotted him and went for his gun. But in the heat of the moment, Frank barely has time to process what’s happening.

Frank will claim he never intended to kill Bonnie. But after the first shot rings out, his instinct takes over. Frank joins his fellow lawmen in unleashing a torrent of gunfire to the still-moving car. Once the Ford rolls to a complete stop, Frank walks up and fires a final round of shots into Bonnie’s lifeless body, still clutching the sandwich Clyde bought her. 

Bonnie and Clyde lived by their own rules. But when backed into a corner, they were cold-blooded killers who never hesitated to pull the trigger. In the wake of their lawlessness, they left countless widows, orphans, and heartbroken families.

It seems inevitable that the infamous couple would meet such a violent end. Bonnie seemed to think so. Just weeks before the couple was gunned down, she handed her mother a poem:

“Some day they'll go down together;

And they'll bury them side by side;

To few, it'll be grief

To the law a relief

But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.”

Bonnie’s foreboding words came true when the pair was gunned down on the Louisiana back roads on May 23rd, 1934.


Next on History Daily.May 24th, 1818. American General Andrew Jackson sparks controversy when he invades Spanish Florida. 

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 Mischa Stanton. 

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Danny Marshall.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.