I confess to a strange fascination for visiting infamous crime and historical sites. Today I was able to check a major bucketlist item off.
Before I reveal the location and event, let me explain why. My father, Walter Dennis, was a homicide detective for the San Antonio Police Department from the late 1950s through the mid-1970s. Later he was a U.S. Marshal and worked on the assassination of federal Judge John Woods.
Dad would often take me to the locations of some of his cases. He’d explain what happened, pointing me to the clues, structures and surroundings of the crime scenes.
It’s no wonder I later became the youngest licensed private investigator in Texas in 1976, and worked on many crime scenes.
This led to my bucketlist of crime scenes. Some of the sites I’ve checked out include assassination locations such as Dealey Plaza, Ford Theater, and Ambassador Hotel (JFK, Lincoln and RFK).
Horror houses I’ve visited include Amityville, Sharon Tate (Manson murders), Nicole Brown Simpson (Bundy Drive), Erik and Lyle Melendez (parents murders), Phil Spector (murder of Lana Clarkson), Bugsy Siegel, Phil Hartman, and Dorothy Stratten.
Death locations include Vitello’s Italian Restaurant (Bonnie Lee Baker, Robert Blake), Sam Cooke, Selena, Marvin Gaye, Sal Mineo, Rebecca Schaeffer, and William Frawley.
Historical locations like the OK Corral in Tombstone, Colorado’s Woodland Park RV Park (arrest site of “Texas 7” escapees), Killeen Luby’s (massacre site on October 16, 1991, by George Hennard) and ‘The Butcher of Elmendorf’ Joe Ball site (killed women, fed bodies to his alligators) are just some of a long list I’ve checked off.
Today’s visit was in a remote location where perhaps the most romanticized pair of criminals in American history met the most brutal end imaginable.
When Dodie and I were in junior high school, a movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway became a 1967 phenomenon. They were cast as the title characters of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The film, “Bonnie and Clyde,” also featured Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, and Estelle Parsons.
The real Bonnie and Clyde were a young couple in love, carelessly driving from one town to the next, robbing banks and becoming media sensations in the process.
They started out as two young kids from Texas — Bonnie as a waitress, Clyde as a laborer — then got swept up in the dangerous excitement of the 1930s “Public Enemy Era” typified by famous gangsters like Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger.
Like a hit summer grass fire, their notoriety spread as their crime spree took them from Texas all the way to Minnesota over the course of two years between 1932 and 1934.
And throughout that daring run, they managed to avoid being caught despite their celebrity status. Clyde was seen as a romanticized version of a rebellious gangster and Bonnie was often thought of as his innocent girlfriend, chasing him for love and getting caught up in his lifestyle through no fault of her own.
In November of 1933, a Dallas grand jury issued a warrant for the arrest of Bonnie and Clyde. One of their gang members, W.D. Jones, had been arrested in Dallas in September and had identified Bonnie and Clyde as perpetrators of several crimes, leading to the warrants.
A few months later, another warrant was issued for the murder of a man in Texas, but this time it was $1000 for their bodies.
Ramping up their efforts, police nationwide spent months searching for the pair as well as an accomplice named Henry Methvin.
In Shreveport, Methvin went straight to his family home in Bienville Parish. Bonnie and Clyde would come later in a stolen Ford Deluxe.
On the evening of May 21, 1934, a police posse comprised of six members from Texas and Louisiana police departments set up an ambush on the main road into Bienville Parish. They enlisted Methvin’s father, with whom Bonnie and Clyde were familiar, to wait on the side of the road as a distraction.
The posse waited for Bonnie and Clyde for the entire night, and the next day and night. Then, as they were nearly giving up, the duo arrived.
At 9:15 AM on May 23, the posse got their first look at Bonnie and Clyde, speeding down the backroad at 85 miles an hour in their now-infamous Ford V8. Upon seeing Methvin’s father parked on the side of the road they pulled over.
Then, before Bonnie or Clyde had time to exit, the police officers opened fire. Clyde was killed instantly by a shot to the head, and one of the officers recounted hearing Bonnie scream as she realized he was dead.
The scene quickly descended into chaos with local looters trying to get a piece of the gangsters before the coroner arrived. One man tried to cut off Clyde’s ear, another took pieces of Bonnie’s bloodstained dress. By the time the authorities came to remove the bodies, there was a growing crowd full of people trying to get in on the action.
Today, Dodie and I traveled about 7.5 miles south of Gibsland, Louisiana on remote Highway 154 to the site of the end of Bonnie and Clyde. For me, it was surreal to imagine what happen there over 86 years ago.
Though Bonnie and Clyde had been quite the team in life, in death they were unceremoniously separated. They wanted to be buried together, but Bonnie’s family wouldn’t allow it. Both are buried in Dallas, Texas, but in separate cemeteries.