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FBI 100 - Bonnie and Clyde

FBI 100
Bonnie and Clyde

05/27/08

Bonnie and Clyde ham it up for the camera
Bonnie and Clyde ham it up for the camera

Part 5 of our history series commemorating the FBI’s 100th anniversary in 2008.

She was just shy of five feet tall, all of 90 pounds, a part-time waitress and amateur poet from a poor Dallas home who was bored with life and wanted something more.

He was a fast-talking, small-time thief from a similarly destitute Dallas family who hated poverty and wanted to make a name for himself.

Together, they became the most notorious crime couple in American history—Bonnie and Clyde.

Their story, though romanticized on the silver screen, was hardly a glamorous one. From the summer of 1932 until the spring of 1934, they left a trail of violence and terror in their wake as they crisscrossed the countryside in a series of stolen cars—robbing gas stations, village groceries, and the occasional bank and taking hostages when they got into a tight spot. Clyde was good with a gun and didn’t hesitate to use it, allegedly murdering at least a dozen people, including police and innocent bystanders alike. Bonnie wasn’t just along for the ride. Though she probably never fired a shot, she was his willing accomplice.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow had met in Texas in January 1930 and by most accounts were immediately smitten with each other. They were just kids. Barrow, already an ex-con, was a few months short of 21. Parker, already an ex-wife (though not officially divorced), was just 19.

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Clyde was arrested a few days after they met, but Bonnie helped him escape by smuggling a gun into his Waco jail. They robbed their way across the Midwest, until Clyde was captured and thrown in jail once more. He was paroled in early 1932 and soon returned to a life of crime, apparently murdering an Oklahoma sheriff and storekeeper. By August, Bonnie and Clyde were together for good and making news, and they were pursued across Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois.

The Bureau joined the chase in 1933. Until then, we lacked the jurisdiction to get involved in what were local crimes. But in the spring of that year we gathered evidence from a stolen car that had crossed state lines—and traced it to the elusive pair. That led to federal interstate car theft charges and enabled us to officially join the manhunt in May 1933.


At that point, Bureau agents went to work, distributing wanted notices with fingerprints, photographs, descriptions, criminal records, and other information to police officers across the country. Agents followed the couple’s trail through many states and into their various haunts, particularly in Louisiana. Bureau agents discovered the couple’s association with Henry Methvin and the Methvin family of Louisiana, and they found that Bonnie and Clyde had been driving a car stolen in New Orleans. The Methvins ultimately decided to help authorities locate the couple.

The end came on May 23, 1934—74 years ago this month. Police officers from Louisiana and Texas, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, hid in the bushes along a dirt road near Gibsland, Louisiana. Around nine in the morning, Bonnie and Clyde drove up in their tan Ford. They slowed down when they came across Henry Methvin’s father Ivy standing beside his truck as if it was broken down. It was a trap. Ivy ducked away, and the officers opened fire. Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly.

In the end, Bonnie and Clyde died as they lived—in a hail of bullets. Their murderous days were over, but their legend—often rooted more in fiction than in fact—would only grow in the years to come.

To learn more about the investigation, see our Famous Cases write-up.