The recent airing of a cable TV movie on Bonnie and Clyde renewed what had been for me a childhood fascination with the lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the infamous lovers whose inter-state crime spree held America enthralled for over two years before they met an untimely and bloody death when ambushed by officers on a rural stretch of highway in Gibsland, Louisiana in May of 1934. I was only about eight years old when I saw their “death car” at a local county fair. In those days, before the famous bullet-riddled Ford V8 finally came to rest at a permanent museum, it was often toured as an attraction at county fairs.
I can still remember the reverent awe I felt as I stood on tiptoe, trying to reach the passenger window of that bullet-riddled door so that I could peek inside. I didn’t know it at the time, but since I was standing on the right side of the vehicle, I would have been looking directly onto the seat where Bonnie Parker died. When the officers had approached the car, someone with a 35 mm camera filmed the graphic scene. This was long before the days of the internet, social media, or even TV. But the newsreel footage would make it into every movie theater in America, to be shown as titillating “entertainment” before and in between films; as scantily clad “news” that was in actuality passing for morbid entertainment for the masses-sound familiar?
for hardened outlaws as them, it would have been a major inconvenience to be riding with a machine gun in one’s lap; not to mention, just plain stupid for safety reasons. Perhaps she might have grabbed the gun from their artillery in the back, in the last second when they realized they were being ambushed, but given the amount of reaction time they would have had, even that seems highly unlikely. Perhaps someone planted the gun in her lap (such a thing would have certainly been right in keeping with what Bonnie’s mother wrote later).Perhaps, in truth, there was no gun at all, but merely another bit of media sensationalism added to the story of Bonnie and Clyde. What we do know: Her body, along with Clyde’s, was riddled with over fifty gunshots. Her right hand was mostly blown off.
As a small child, tiptoeing to see over the edge of that door and into that shattered window, I know exactly what I was hoping to see. Blood, and lots of it. Alas, I was somewhat disappointed. The blood stains were still there, of course. But after fifty years, they had long darkened with age, and what remained had mostly soaked into the upholstery. Bonnie had bled out the most of the two, and the still visible dark stain that covered a sizeable portion of the back of the seat on the passenger side would have come from her.
I couldn’t have realized at the time that the morbid curiosity that led me to peek inside that car (hoping, of course, that I might be rewarded with lots of blood and overlooked body parts that had somehow managed to survive fifty years’ worth of morbid curiosity seekers-while normal enough childhood curiosity on the one hand-was also symptomatic of a much bigger and problematic issue. One that goes to the heart of our humanity.
You might be wondering what any of this has to do with Michael Jackson, or why I’m writing about it on an MJ blog. Well, bear with me for a moment and read on because this is not off topic. It is all going to tie together in due time, I promise.
In the eighty years since Bonnie and Clyde died, their story has often been glamorized, Hollywood-ized, and told over and over from many perspectives. Whether they were true “heroes” pitted against a corrupt government and an even more corrupt law system, or simply low-life thieves and murderers who deserved what they ultimately got, seems to depend largely on whatever political climate they are being viewed from. It’s not surprising that the current film, just like the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway classic that made them cult heroes in the late 1960’s, has come about at a time of economic downturn and government distrust. Every so often, the political climate becomes rife for the anti-heroes to take root. Bonnie and Clyde themselves were victims of the Depression, and like many of their criminal contemporaries, became cultural heroes and icons as much as villains. Every few decades, it seems, their story goes through a revisionist process. Any version of their story is always going to be colored or clouded by the perceptual lenses of our own time, and thus, we may never know the full truth. At the height of their “fame,” it became easy to pin any murder or robbery on them, and there is ample evidence that this happened more often than not. Yet Bonnie and Clyde, two young adults who seemed to glory in the infamy they created, didn’t especially go out of their way to prove their innocence in these cases. What would have been the point? Regardless, their fate had already been sealed. By the time they died, they were damned if they did; damned if they didn’t. If they were innocent of at least a portion of the murders penned on them, who was going to believe it at that point? The story of the real Bonnie and Clyde, far from being a glamorous Hollywood story, was a story of two sociopathic but nevertheless very frightened kids who, when faced with the reality that they were in over their heads, lived a hard and desperate life, on the run for two years, before being gunned down in a hail of bullets.
- October, 01, 1910
- Rowena, Texas
- May, 23, 1934
- Bienville Parish, Louisiana
Cause of Death
- ambush by police
- Crown Hill Memorial Park
- Dallas, Texas