Bonnie Parker Biography

Murderer, Thief(1910–1934)
One half of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde duo, Bonnie Parker became one of America's most famous outlaws during the 1930s.

Synopsis

Bonnie Parker was born on October 1, 1910, in Rowena, Texas. After meeting Clyde Barrow in 1930, Parker eventually entered a world of crime. Robbing banks and small businesses with her partner and affiliated gang, she became one of America's most infamous outlaws of the '30s. Their almost two-year crime spree spanned several states, with the gang responsible for the murder of several people that included law enforcement officials. Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a police ambush in a stretch of highway in Louisiana on May 23, 1934.

Early Life

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born on October 1, 1910, in Rowena, Texas, to Emma and Charles Parker. She had an older brother and a younger sister. When she was just 4 years old, her father passed away and her mother moved the family to an impoverished suburb of Dallas known as Cement City to live with Bonnie's grandparents. Bonnie attended the local schools there and was a bright student who showed a keen interest in poetry and literature, earning honors in her studies. Of a decidedly diminutive stature and thought to be exceptionally pretty, she had dreams of becoming an actress, and in her youth there were no signs of the criminal path that she would follow. 

During her second year of high school, Bonnie became involved with classmate Roy Thornton. In September 1926, just days before Bonnie's 16th birthday, they were married, with Bonnie having gotten a tattoo of their names on her right thigh to celebrate their romance. Their marriage proved to be a tumultuous one, however, with Thornton proving to be physically abusive. The union soon fell apart, though the couple never divorced. In 1929, Thornton was sentenced to a five-year prison sentence for robbery, and Bonnie moved in with her grandmother. She and Thornton never saw each other again.

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie Parker first met Clyde Barrow through a mutual friend in January 1930, when Bonnie was 19 years old. Barrow, who was 20, was a volatile ex-con and a wanted man who had vowed that he would never go back to prison. After spending much time together during the following weeks, their budding romance was interrupted when Clyde was arrested and convicted of several criminal charges pertaining to auto theft.

Once back in prison, Clyde's thoughts immediately turned to escape. By this time, he and Bonnie had fallen deeply in love, and Clyde was overtaken by heartache. Sharing his sentiments, much to the dismay of her mother, a lovesick Bonnie was more than willing to help the man she called her soulmate, and soon after his conviction she smuggled a gun into the prison for him. On March 11, 1930, Clyde used the weapon to escape with his cellmates, but they were captured a week later. Clyde was then sentenced to 14 years of hard labor, eventually being transferred to Eastham State Farm, where he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by another inmate. 

In February 1932, Clyde was released from prison when his mother successfully convinced the judge in his case to grant him parole. (Not knowing of his imminent release and hoping to be relieved from Eastham's harsh regime, Clyde had his big toe and part of another toe cut off in an "accident" just days before. He would walk with a permanent limp and be forced to drive in his socks.) He and Bonnie reunited, and Clyde embarked on a crime spree with a small group of men, robbing banks and small businesses. Bonnie joined the gang in April, but was captured during a failed robbery attempt and imprisoned for two months. While she awaited trial, she passed the time by writing poetry, much of which chronicled her relationship with Clyde. Among Bonnie's collection of later found writings is "The Trail's End," whose last stanza seems to foretell their fate: "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."  

Deadly Crime Spree

In June 1932, the court failed to convict Bonnie after she stated she was kidnapped by the Barrow gang, and she was thus released from custody. She immediately rejoined Clyde, and the couple resumed their crime spree with other gang operatives, taking part in robberies that spanned several states. By 1933, the gang was wanted for several murders, including the deaths of various law enforcement officials. 

In April of that year, after the gang had made their getaway from a Missouri apartment, a roll of undeveloped film was discovered showcasing the couple in staged poses, with the Joplin Globe immediately publishing the images. In June of that year, Bonnie was severely injured in a car accident, with her leg badly burned by battery acid. She often had to be carried for the remainder of her life. 

Despite a massive deployment by law enforcement officials that by late 1932 included the FBI, the infamous couple managed to elude authorities and avoid capture for nearly two years, becoming two of America's most well-known outlaws along the way. By early 1934, they were being pursued by a posse that included Texas Ranger captain Frank Hamer. 

Death and Legacy

After the murder of a police officer in Commerce, Oklahoma, by gang member Henry Methvin, Bonnie and Clyde were pursued for weeks. In the morning of May 23, 1934, they drove into an ambush on Highway 154 in Louisiana, and were killed by police in a hail of bullets. The ambush was in fact set up by the father of Methvin, who wanted leniency for his son.

By the time of their deaths, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were so famous that souvenir-seekers at the scene attempted to make off with locks of their hair, pieces of their clothing and even one of Clyde's ears. Their bodies were eventually returned to Dallas, and despite their wishes to be buried side by side, they were interred in separate cemeteries. Thousands traveled to each of their funerals, with newspapers publishing extra editions to mark the services.

Despite their violent crimes and the dogged, ramshackle realities of their existence, Bonnie and Clyde have been heavily romanticized by the media. Their sensational story has seen numerous retellings, including the 1967 Arthur Penn film Bonnie and Clyde, which starred Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the title roles, a 2011 Broadway musical and a 2013 made-for-TV miniseries starring Holiday Grainger as Bonnie and Emile Hirsch as Clyde. Their bullet-riddled car remains on display at a resort/casino outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!