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By Linda Emley
On July 18, 1933, the famous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde checked into the Red Crown Motel in Platte City. After a short visit, they had a shootout with the local lawmen and then moved on to Iowa. Buck Barrow was shot in the head while escaping from Platte City and died in Iowa a few days later. Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and W.D. Jones escaped police fire once more in Iowa and continued on their crime spree until they were finally killed in Louisiana on May 23,1934.
The summer of 1934 turned out to be the final days for some of the other “public enemies” of the 1930s. Thanks to tougher federal statues that made robbing a bank a federal offense and the new two-way radios in police cars, the “good guys” cleaned house. Two months after Bonnie and Clyde were killed, John Dillinger was killed on the streets of Chicago. A few months later, “Pretty Boy” Floyd was killed in Ohio and one month after that, “Baby Face Nelson” was shot in Illinois.
I haven’t found any record of Bonnie and Clyde ever being in Ray County, but a piece of their history did make it to our county.
Here’s what The Richmond Missourian reported on May 11,1936: “Exhibit Barrow’s ‘Death Car’ Here. Davis Bros. & Child Will Show Car in Which Barrow and Bonnie Parker Died. The ‘death car’ in which Clyde Barrow, once public enemy No. 1 and his sweetheart Bonnie Parker met their deaths ending the ghastly, bloody career of two of the United States’ most notorious members of the gangster world, will be on display at the Davis Bros. & Child showroom next Wednesday, May 13, from 1 p.m. till 9 p.m.
The bandit car will be brought to Richmond through the courtesy of Davis Bros. & Child and will be exhibited free to the public. The ‘death car’ is now on a nationwide tour, working in conjunction with the president in a nationwide drive to prevent crime.
With this exhibition, a lecture will be given by C. Wiley Stanley, nationally known criminologist and long connected with the Associated Anti- Crime Union of America. Mr. Stanley gives a brief talk at the car, explaining what happened at the time the bandits were snuffed out by the officers, detailing something of their careers and answering questions that he gives the audience the privilege of asking. This exhibition shows the result of our government’s relentless drive against crime.
Special invitation has been extended to ministers, local officials and police everywhere to come and view the ‘death car’ in which the two notorious criminals were shot to death by operatives of the law.”
The 1934 V8 Ford “Death Car” had been stolen from Jesse and Ruth Warren who lived in Topeka, Kan. The car was returned to them and they sold it for $3,000. It was on display at state fairs, carnivals, amusement parks and a variety of locations for the next 30 years. In the 1970s, it was spotted at a Nevada race track where for one dollar you could sit in the ‘death car”. Finally the car was purchased by Primm Valley Resort and Casino for $250,000 and is on display free for all to see in Primm, Nev.
Bonnie and Clyde had expressed the desire to be buried side by side, but Bonnie’s family did not allow it. They are both buried in Dallas, but in different cemeteries. Over 20,000 people showed up for Bonnie’s funeral. It’s said that Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger sent flowers. Clyde’s funeral was held at sunset on Friday night, May 25 and he was buried next to his brother. Clyde had previously picked out his epitaph which said, “Gone but not forgotten.”
Bonnie and Clyde knew it was just a matter of time before they would be caught, but the following letter shows they had a sense of humor.
On the April 10, 1934, Clyde Barrow wrote a letter to Henry Ford. It was mailed from Tulsa, Okla. and arrived in Detroit, Mich. on April 13. “Dear Sir: – 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 any thing to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 – Yours truly, Clyde Champion Barrow.”
Bonnie wrote poetry while they were on the “run” and I found the following one started off rather humorous. The Story of Bonnie and Clyde (The Trail’s End), By Bonnie Parker: “You’ve read the story of Jesse James, Of how he lived and died, If you’re still in need, Of something to read, Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.”
Once again, I am totally amazed by the stories from our county’s past that can be found in our old newspapers. Long live the newspapers of Ray County!
You can contact Linda Emley at firstname.lastname@example.org