May 23

This Day in History

Automotive

May 23, 1934:

Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde shot to death in stolen Ford

On this day in 1934, wanted outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker are shot to death by Texas and Louisiana state police officers as they attempt to escape apprehension in a stolen 1934 Ford Deluxe near Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Beginning in early 1932, Parker and Barrow set off on a two-year crime spree, evading local police in rural Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico before drawing the attention of federal authorities at the Bureau of Investigation (as the FBI was then known). Though the couple was believed to have been responsible for 13 murders by the time they were killed, along with several bank robberies and burglaries, the only charge the Bureau could chase them on was a violation of the National Motor Vehicle Act, which gave federal agents the authority to pursue suspects accused of interstate transportation of a stolen automobile. The car in question was a Ford, stolen in Illinois and found abandoned in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Inside, agents discovered a prescription bottle later traced to the Texas home of Clyde Barrow's aunt.

As authorities stepped up the pressure to catch the outlaw couple, the heavily armed Barrow and Parker were joined at various times by the convicted murderer Raymond Hamilton (whom they helped break out of jail in 1934), William Daniel Jones and Clyde's brother Ivan "Buck" Barrow and his wife, Blanche. In the spring of 1934, federal agents traced the Barrow-Parker gang to a remote county in southwest Louisiana, where the Methvin family was said to have been aiding and abetting the outlaws for over a year. Bonnie and Clyde, along with some of the Methvins, had staged a party at Black Lake, Louisiana, on the night of May 21. Two days later, just before dawn, a posse of police officers from Texas and Louisiana laid an ambush along the highway near Sailes, Louisiana. When Parker and Barrow appeared, going some 85 mph in another stolen Ford--a four-door 1934 Deluxe with a V-8 engine, the officers let loose with a hail of bullets, leaving the couple no chance of survival despite the small arsenal of weapons they had with them.

The bullet-ridden Deluxe, originally owned by Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas, was later exhibited at carnivals and fairs then sold as a collector's item; in 1988, the Primm Valley Resort and Casino in Las Vegas purchased it for some $250,000. Barrow's enthusiasm for cars was evident in a letter he wrote earlier in the spring of 1934, addressed to Henry Ford himself: "While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned and even if my business hasn't been strictly legal it don't hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8."

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