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Part II:
Local lawmen shoot it out with notorious bandits

by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

(To read the first part of the story, which outlines the background of Bonnie and Clyde and Platte County Sheriff Holt Coffey, please visit our website:

The Prelude
Even for a highway motor lodge, something struck Red Crown attendant Delbert Crabtree as being odd when the shiny Ford V-8 sedan pulled into the service lot and a young, relatively handsome man got out of the car and asked to see the two adjoining tourist cabins at the edge of the parking lot.

For instance, neither of the women in the car seemed old enough to be the man's mother-in-law, as he had proclaimed.

And Crabtree watched as two well-armed men carried a seemingly injured and petite woman into their rented cabin before pulling the car into the adjoining garage with the tail in first -- as if preparing for a quick getaway. If that wasn’t suspicious enough, it certainly seemed a bit strange when they covered the windows with newspapers and repeatedly peeped out from behind them, nervously scanning the parking lot.

Crabtree informed his manager on duty, Neal Houser. Houser even observed as a pretty young woman who couldn't be more than 22-years-old purchased sandwiches and beer for the gang, paying in coins. Houser commented that she didn’t look like a criminal but thought it was wise to alert the Missouri Highway Patrol's Captain William Baxter. Baxter, in turn notified Platte County Sheriff Holt Coffey and, as Coffey had done in previous encounters, he notified the county prosecutor, David Clevenger.

Up until this point of their careers, Coffey and Clevenger had only dealt with chicken thieves, bootleggers and noisy crap games, so one can imagine that the two lawmen were concerned with the reports of out-of-towners carrying guns holed up in the Red Crown Tourist Camp.

To Red Crown owner Emmet Breen, the matter was a simple one: they were paying customers and he didn't want anybody visiting his establishment to be disturbed -- particularly with a hail of bullets.

Coffey, an expert marksman who was noted for his restraint, was sensitive to Breen's desire. Expert marksman or not, Coffey didn't want to have a shootout, either. This became particularly true after Baxter ran the plates on the Ford and confirmed they were stolen. There was little doubt in Coffey's mind that he was dealing with a criminal gang now. In fact, all indications seemed to point that this gang might actually be the Barrow gang -- Bonnie and Clyde themselves.

Coffey's suspicions were confirmed when Clinton Woodsen (who would later become county treasurer) told him of a peculiar incident that had happened earlier that day at Platte City Drugs.

Platte City Drugs was a favorite place for the local men to hang out in during the time. There, men would drink coke, coffee (or harder stuff) and discuss the local events of the day. Located directly across the street from The Landmark newspaper, it was often a great place to find a source, but in general, not a lot happened there.

Until, in the words of Woodsen, "a rather good looking gal dressed in a slinky riding habit attracted considerable attention" from the men and pharmacist Louis Bernstein. Bernstein sold her some Atropine Sulphate (a muscle relaxant) and some syringes. She paid him in coins, didn't make any conversation and left just as quickly as she came in, careful not to make eye contact with any of the men.

Coffey, like other area sheriffs, had been warned to be on the lookout for a young gang who purchased bandages and medicine (Bonnie Parker had suffered severe leg burns and a gaping wound in an earlier car crash in Oklahoma and Clyde's brother Buck Barrow was nursing various wounds). If this wasn't the Barrow gang, Coffey reasoned, then he couldn't imagine a closer match.

Clevenger prevailed on Coffey to call the Jackson County sheriff, Tom Bash, for support. Clevenger knew that County Judge Harry S. Truman had appropriated funds to Bash which were used to purchase advanced crime fighting tools like armoured assault vehicles and machine guns. Apparently, other area sheriffs knew of this fact, too.

“I’m getting pretty damn tired of every hick sheriff in the county coming in here, telling me they have a bunch of desperadoes holed up and wanting help,” Bash is reported to have told Coffey.

Coffey persisted however, and eventually prevailed on Bash to send an armored “bullet-proof” truck and four gun toting deputies for his posse. As Coffey assembled the posse on the courthouse lawn during a big-band concert, Platte City residents nervously prattled on about the situation at "Highway Junction." The posse numbered an ominous 13 men (some deputized that very day) when they literally drove off into the sunset to begin their siege.

The Shootout
If Holt Coffey had any fear about what he was about to do, it sure didn't show by his actions that night.

He waited quietly for hours, until the Red Crown Tavern closed down for the evening and its patrons had cleared the parking lot. Coffey even brought his 19-year-old son, Clarence, to watch the raid. Across the street, at a service station called "Slim's Castle," a group of witnesses (including Prosecuter Clevenger) watched from the rooftop.

The witnesses saw that Coffey had blocked the carport with an armored truck filled with gun-toting deputies, and had the entire cabin surrounded with officers. He even blocked the entrance of the hotel with another truck and had deputies lying in wait alongside the road in the remote chance that they might even get that far. They expected to see a rout, and that's just what they saw.

It was approximately 1 a.m. when Holt Coffey began his confident march to the doors of the cabin; a six-shooter on his hip and an iron, bullet-proof shield in his left hand. He approached the cabin on the left and gave it a strong, hard knock that could be heard across the street, barking, "Open up, in the name of the law!”

Inside the cabin, Blanche's head shot up. This was the moment she had been dreading all along.

"Wait until we put some clothes on!”

Coffey took a step back, anticipating the worst.

Suddenly, windows from both cabins smashed out, and Coffey was hit from all sides by a tremendous blast of gunfire. Hit head-on by an incredible barrage of bullets, it seemed as if he was being driven back by a high-pressure firehose, the force of the impact spinning him around in a 360 and finally knocking him to the ground.

Clarence Coffey yelled in horror, "Daddy!" He sprinted to his fallen father's side, now the only target for the gunmen, and immediately felt hot lead pierce his arm, cheek and forehead. He, in turn, fell to the ground, but was quickly dragged back into the tavern by another group of onlookers. They quickly took cover in the fireplace, bathroom -- anywhere to escape the constant barrage of bullets.

Still on the ground, hit in the neck by a bullet and with shrapnel flying all around him, Coffey probably didn't have the time to think about what he told his daughter Nancy years later -- that he was done for. Unbeknownst to him before the raid, the Barrow gang had knocked over a National Guard supply depot. The weapons they were using were military issued Browning Assault Rifles (BAR's) and the terrifying noise they made was unlike anything Coffey had ever heard before.

By this time, the lawmen had begun to gamely fire back, peppering the doors of the cabin with machine gun fire.

Inside, Clyde had been taking shots at the officers, alternately firing out of the door and windows of the cabin. At one point, he ordered W.D. Jones, who began that night sleeping on Bonnie and Clyde's floor, to start the car.

Jones ran into the carport and started the Ford's motor, the thick exhaust quickly filling the garage, bullets coming from all angles. It didn't take long for the bullets from Buck and Clyde's BARs' to pierce the armor of the truck in front of the carport, smashing the glass and cutting through Jackson County Deputy George Highfill's leg.

Slumping behind the wheel, Highfill screamed that he had been hit. In the passenger seat, his machine gun jammed from chipped glass, Deputy Jim Thorpe saw no other recourse but to shift the truck into reverse himself, thus clearing the path for the bandit's escape. Another bullet hit the truck's horn, lodging in such a way that the horn began a long, continuous blast.

Thinking the horn was a signal to hold their fire, the already retreating officers stopped shooting altogether.

Clyde tossed his smoking gun to the floor, lifted Bonnie from the bed and quickly ran with her to the car. He ordered W.D. Jones to open the garage door, but Jones hesitated, hearing gunfire again.

Seizing the momentum, Buck Barrow sprang from his cabin and began to wildly spray bullets all over the parking lot. While many officers fled for cover, Coffey, Baxter and the remaining officers quickly fired back, hitting Barrow in the head and sending him reeling backwards, his BAR still spitting bullets.

Seeing her husband shot, Blanche Barrow ran out of the cabin, clutching an assault rifle, too. After falling three times, but quickly popping back up to fire more rounds, Buck finally collapsed into the arms of his tiny wife.

When Clyde and Jones finally opened the door, Jones helped Buck and Blanche get into the car, and the bandits sped out towards the end of the parking lot, narrowly squeezing past the truck that was supposed to block their exit.

Lying in wait at the end of the driveway, however, was Platte City Deputy Tom Hullet. He fired off a shotgun round that shattered the rear window of the car as it passed. The pulverized window sent shards of glass which cut into the left eye of Blanche as she cradled the head of Buck in her lap from the backseat of the car.

Hullet knew he had hit his mark, hearing Blanche scream hysterically from the inside, "I'm blind! I'm blind!"

Watching in shock, the beleagured posse picked themselves up and watched as the bandits sped off into the Missouri night.

After a battle like that, and up against that kind of firepower, no way were they giving chase. They were lucky to be alive.

Next week: The aftermath