PARKER, BONNIE (1910–1934). Bonnie Parker, outlaw partner of Clyde Barrow, was born at Rowena, Texas, on October 1, 1910, to Henry and Emma Parker. She had an older brother, Hubert (Buster), and a younger sister, Billie. Her father, a bricklayer, died in 1914, and Emma Parker moved the family to "Cement City" in West Dallas to live closer to relatives. In the public schools Bonnie was an honor student. She enjoyed writing poetry and reading romance novels. At four-feet-ten and eighty-five pounds, she hardly looked like a future legendary criminal. In 1926 she married her longtime sweetheart, Roy Thornton. For the next several years, they suffered a tumultuous marriage; however, she refused to divorce him. Bonnie worked at Marco's Cafe in Dallas until the cafe closed in November 1929. About this time Thornton was sent to prison for a five-year sentence. Bonnie had "Roy and Bonnie" tattooed above her right knee to commemorate her marriage to Thornton.
She met Barrow in January 1930. Their romance was interrupted when Barrow was jailed a month later. During this time she wrote to him pleading with him to stay out of trouble upon his release. In early March she smuggled into his cell a pistol, which he used to escape. He was recaptured in Middletown, Ohio, after a robbery and sent to Eastham Prison Farm in Crockett on April 21, 1930. He was released in February 1932, more bent on destruction than before; and Bonnie was more determined than ever to prove her loyalty to him, even to the extent of assuming his manner of living.
Upon his release Parker and Barrow began robbing grocery stores, filling stations, and small banks. In March 1932 Bonnie was captured in a failed robbery attempt and jailed in Kaufman, Texas. Clyde murdered merchant J. W. Butcher of Hillsboro on April 27, 1932. On June 17, 1932, the grand jury met in Kaufman and no-billed Bonnie, thus securing her release. Within a few weeks she connected with Clyde. Once again, they were on the run. The couple killed two officers in Atoka, Oklahoma, where they had attended a dance and were apprehended in the parking lot. For a while they swept through the Midwest and Southwestchallenging the law in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Missouri. They gunned down a grocery-store owner in Sherman, Texas, a citizen in Temple, and another law officer in Dallas. Law enforcement agencies from several states initiated a manhunt but to no avail.
The couple temporarily settled down in a small stone bungalow in Joplin, Missouri, with Barrow's brother and sister-in-law. Not surprisingly, they were rowdy residents, and the neighbors began complaining to the police. Suspicious that this could be the Barrow gang, the officers promptly responded. Upon their arrival they were met by the four inhabitants and a barrage of bullets. After a bloody shoot-out, Bonnie and Clyde escaped. They left behind two more dead lawmen and six rolls of film, from which many of the famous photographs of the couple came.
Bonnie and Clyde traveled constantly, throughout Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Iowa, Illinois, and Arkansas. On June 10, 1933, Bonnie was burned after their car rolled over an embankment near Wellington, Texas, and was treated at a nearby farmhouse. Officials sent to investigate were kidnapped and later freed in Oklahoma. Near Alma, Arkansas, the two killed the town marshall. Later, their gang holed up in Platte City, Missouri. In yet another bloody face-off with the law, Clyde's brother was killed, and his sister-in-law was taken into custody. In January 1934 Parker and Barrow helped their buddy Raymond Hamilton escape from Eastham Farm, and a guard was killed. At this time the head of the Texas prison system and the governor hired former Texas Ranger captain Francis (Frank) Hamer to track down the couple. By the middle of 1934 Hamer and his associates had begun to follow Bonnie and Clyde.
One of the couple's most blatant murders occurred on Easter Sunday, 1934, on the outskirts of Grapevine, Texas. According to a witness, a Ford halted alongside a public highway. The occupants of the vehicle, laughing and talking among themselves, tossed whiskey bottles out of the windows. When the two highway patrolmen stopped their motorcycles to check on the "stalled" car, the people in the car leveled guns at the officers and opened fire. Bonnie reportedly walked over to one of the officers and rolled him over with one foot, raised her sawed-off shotgun, fired two more shots, point-blank, at the officer's head and exclaimed, "look-a-there, his head bounced just like a rubber ball." Less than a week later, on April 6, 1934, Parker and Barrow committed their last murder by killing a constable in Commerce, Oklahoma. Afterward they were in continuous flight, with law officers in pursuit. They drove into a trap near their hide-out at Black Lake, Louisiana, on May 23, 1934, at 9:15 A.M. and were gunned down in a barrage of 167 bullets. Bonnie Parker was found riddled with bullets, holding a machine gun, a sandwich, and a pack of cigarettes; Clyde Barrow, barely recognizable, was clutching a revolver. The car was taken to Arcadia, Louisiana, and the bodies were later delivered to Dallas. Thousands viewed the mangled bodies and the car of the legendary lovers. Finally, amid public clamor and hysteria, the bodies were buried in their respective families' burial plots.
Jan I. Fortune, Fugitives: The Story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker as Told by Bonnie's Mother and Clyde's Sister (Dallas: Ranger Press, 1934). H. Gordon Frost and John H. Jenkins, "I'm Frank Hamer": The Life of a Texas Peace Officer (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). Ted Hinton, Ambush: The Real Story of Bonnie and Clyde (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1979). New York Times, May 24, 1934. J. E. Treherne, Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde (New York: Stein and Day, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Kristi Strickland, "PARKER, BONNIE," accessed January 25, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa17.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 24, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.