It possible that in the history of 20th century crime, there may be no two bank robbers that achieved such a tremendous fan club as Bonnie and Clyde. These two criminals have been able to touch that place in the public imagination that adores notorious criminals in the same way that we have made heroes out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Jessie James. Their stories have become full of myth and lore that captures our imaginations.
Like King Arthur and Robin Hood, the legends of Bonnie and Clyde are almost certainly more colorful and exciting than it no doubt was to be Bonnie and Clyde during their short crime spree between 1932 and 1934.
If you think about Bonnie and Clyde, it is hard not to get the image of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway because of the famous movie that was made in which they played the two criminals. Like any entertainment movie based on a real criminal couple, that movie had many accuracies but a few liberties were taken to make the movie work better. Whether the real Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker really were as charming and sexy as those two is in doubt. Almost certainly, they did not know that someday they would be celebrated as probably the criminals we most adore out of all of the history of 20th century crime.
Both Bonnie and Clyde had criminal records before they met. Bonnie served time for a botched bank robbery when she was 22 whereas Clyde became part of the prison population at the tender age of 17 for stealing turkeys in Texas. There is some reason to believe that Clyde went through some abusive treatment while in prison and that is what turned him into a notorious outlaw once he got a chance to put together his famous “Barrow Gang” that went on to so much fame that we remember them to this day.
The make up of the Barrow Gang did include Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law along with other criminals that he and Bonnie knew through their contacts in the criminal world. The gang had been involved in various crimes off and on before their famous string of bank robberies between 1932 and 1934. It was that string of robberies that generated the urban legends about Bonnie and Clyde that actually preceded them as they continued there robberies throughout the southwest.
It is said that people saw them as stars when they entered a bank and held the customers at bay while the gang gathered the money. The legend that the gang took hostages that they treated like family and then they released those hostages once they had made their escape and sometimes even giving the hostages some money to help them get home has been validated in history. Small wonder that “Robin Hood” sense of mythology began to attach itself to the couple.
The colorful and legendary string of robberies committed by Bonnie and Clyde came to and end on May 23, 1934 when they were killed by the police. While there maybe more successful crime sprees in the history of 20th century crime, there is no doubt no more beloved criminal pair than Bonnie and Clyde.