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IN SEARCH OF BONNIE AND CLYDE
Part III: Further on up the road


EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third part of The Landmark’s Bonnie and Clyde series. To read the first two parts of the story which outline the background of Bonnie and Clyde, Platte County Sheriff Holt Coffey and the epic gunfight the two parties had outside of Platte City, please visit our website at www.plattecountylandmark.com or visit our office at 252 Main Street, Platte City.

Part III: The end of the road
Bonnie and Clyde had thought they had done it again, narrowly escaping the law in yet another town. And they almost did too, until Platte County Deputy Tom Hulett managed to squeeze off a well aimed shotgun blast at the fleeing bandit’s car, shattering the car’s rear window and knocking out their back tires.

A frantic Clyde Barrow turned over his shoulder and surveyed the damage, his sister-in-law Blanche Barrow’s screams piercing throughout the night. Her husband was nearly dead, babbling incoherently as she cradled his head in her lap. His skull was nearly blown off after he was shot in the head by one of Platte County's lawmen. Blanche couldn’t see, glass from the window had lodged in her eye, rendering her blind in one eye.

Clyde figured that the lawmen would give chase or at least attempt to blockade nearby roads, but he had a plan. He always made a point of driving through the towns extensively, plotting getaway routes, in every town he visited and Platte City was no exception.

Foot to the floor, Clyde coaxed his shot up Ford V-8 sedan to speeds in excess of 70 miles-per-hour, heading north on what was then Hwy. 71 toward Platte City. He turned on Hwy. 92 and drove north on Bethel Road to County Road HH. As his tires began to peel away from the wheels and Blanche began to beg him to stop, he pulled over at the corner of Farmers Lane and Winan Road.

He ordered W.D. Jones, the fifth member of the gang, out of the car to steal a car jack from the house on the corner (owned by Cleve Burrell) so they could change tires. He then attended to Buck’s head wound and Bonnie’s leg wound, a deep gash that she received in a previous car crash in Oklahoma that was reopened as they fled the Red Crown Tavern. The old tire, which would be found two days later by authorities, was discarded with a pile of bloody rags a few feet inside the roadside crop line.

He then went east on 92 until he reached the Smithville intersection of Hwy. 169, where he reversed direction and headed south, stopping within the shadow of Kansas City for gas. After fueling, he headed north for Iowa, driving on through the night, finally camping out in a nature preserve in Dexfield, Iowa, desperate for rest.

The bandits would receive no quarter in Iowa, however. A hunter had spotted the bloodied group in a grove and promptly notified authorities. Again, a posse was formed and again the gang would have to shoot it out for their lives.

Virtually surrounded, the gang spotted movements in the brush and they managed to get to a car, where they unsuccessfully attempted to break through the firing lines of what appeared to be dozens of deputies with squirrel rifles. Faced with a hail of gunfire, Clyde lost control of the car and crashed into a tree.

Jones felt a bullet graze his head and he turned and ran, deciding then and there he didn’t fancy being an outlaw anymore. He would run as far as a Houston, Texas cotton field (a few bus trips later) where he was arrested by authorities, who later turned him over to Dallas Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton — a man who shared a history with the killers and would figure in their ultimate demise.

Bonnie and Clyde slipped into the surrounding farmland, hiding in barns and eating fruit they found in orchards, eventually stealing a car and heading back to Texas.

Blanche and Buck weren’t as lucky. Half of his head missing, a hysterical Blanche crying for the lawmen to stop shooting him, Buck was apprehended and taken to a nearby hospital where he died within three days.

Blanche was sent back to Platte City, a passenger in Tom Hulett’s and Sheriff Coffey’s car. Turned over to County Prosecutor Dave Clevenger, she was quickly charged with assault with intent to kill, and held on a $15,000 bond.

Echoes of the battle
After Delbert Crabtree, a Red Crown Tavern attendant, managed to disconnect the blaring horn from the ripped up armored truck Sheriff Coffey’s posse had hoped to pin in Bonnie and Clyde with, the lawmen quickly surveyed the damage from the night’s gunfight.

Bullet holes were everywhere — the windows, doors, gouged deep into the brick facade of the Red Crown Tavern. Mirrors inside the cabins were shattered, bedding torn, furniture busted.

Inside the garage, Coffey found a veritable stockpile of weapons, nearly all of them were hot to the touch. It was quickly ascertained that the gang was using Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR), many of them were modified by the gang to become even more deadly. The gang had taken to sawing off most of the barrel, cutting off most of the stock, leaving just a pistol grip to hold onto. Some of the weapons had three 20-round magazines welded together, a feat of engineering that allowed the bandits to fire off 60 shots in mere seconds.

It was a miracle that the posse had survived.

Over the next few weeks, thousands of tourists streamed into the Red Crown, picking over what should have been a carefully preserved crime scene, a trend that wouldn’t stop until the Tavern was eventually torn down in 1967.
Blanche was sentenced to 10-years in prison on Sept. 4, 1933, after entering a guilty plea designed to save her money and the ordeal of a trial. Even though she was witnessed holding the BAR, Coffey later told family members that he doubted she could have handled the weapon. Still, there was more than enough reason to find her guilty of the charges.
Blanche had always maintained that she was an unwilling participant in the gang’s spree.

“I loved him (Buck) so much, I went along,” she would later say. “I never had done anything wrong but go along with him, but I got my sentence.”

Coffey was certainly glad to be rid of the bandit who was being held in the tiny jail cell on Platte City square. Bonnie and Clyde had a reputation for busting their friends out of jail, and the sooner Coffey could escort her to the penitentiary, the better. In the meantime, armed sentries stood guard on the courthouse square, on the lookout for Bonnie and Clyde’s anticipated (and feared) return.

Interestingly enough, when it came time to transport Blanche to Jefferson City, Coffey chose his recently recovered son Clarence to join him. Clarence had suffered gunshot wounds to his arm, cheek and forehead during the gun battle and spent a few touch and go nights at Bethany hospital, suffering through bouts of deliriousness. Happy to have cheated death the first time, the Coffey’s more than likely looked at the transport of Blanche as a nice way to end this chapter of their life.

They crashed their car on the ride home. Again, they survived, but Clarence had to return to the hospital, re-injuring his head wound and suffering from a slight infection.

On November 21, after a long interview and confession obtained from W.D. Jones, Dallas Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton acted on a hunch that Bonnie and Clyde would attend Clyde’s mother’s birthday celebration. After a brief stakeout, he followed the family to a picnic ground where he managed to shoot both Bonnie and Clyde in the knees before they escaped again.

Hot on the trail, Hinton teamed with a notoriously successful Texas bounty hunter named Frank Hamer after Bonnie and Clyde stage a prison raid on Eastham Prison Farm, the same farm where Clyde was beaten and raped years earlier as a prisoner. An officer is killed, and Clyde’s gang increases in number by five.

On May 22, Hinton and Hamer received the tip they needed: Bonnie and Clyde would be driving a tan Ford V-8 towards Gibsland, Louisiana on Sailes Road. The two men formed a posse of six and lay in wait on both sides of the avenue, using an abandoned truck they hoped Clyde would mistake for a friend's as bait.

Bonnie and Clyde slowed down next to the truck at 9:15 a.m. and began to scan the truck and side of the road for its owner. Having learned their lesson from Holt Coffey, Hamer and Hinton ordered their posse to fire on the spot without fair warning.

It had only been four years earlier that Hinton, then a young officer, had secretly pined for Bonnie Parker as she waited tables in a Dallas truck stop. Now he fired off round after round as her screams penetrated his psyche just like his bullets ripped through her car. As Clyde slumped over, clearly dead, and the firing subsided, Hinton rushed to the car, climbing over the hood to reach the passenger side door. Opening the door, Hinton sees Bonnie during the last moments of her life.

“I see her falling out of the opened door,” Hinton would later write, “...a beautiful and petite young girl...and I smell a light perfume against the burned-cordite smell of gunpowder.”

Bonnie and Clyde are dead at the ages of 23 and 25.
Next week: Platte County and the ghosts of Bonnie and Clyde