Some people might not readily associate Bonnie and Clyde with Missouri and the Ozarks. Both were born in Texas around 1910. They grew up there during the teens and twenties. And they met their end in Louisiana in May 1934—killed by a police ambush after one of their partners betrayed them. But the desperate duo committed several of their infamous deeds in this region.
The pair was still relatively unknown outside Texas when they first appeared in Missouri in the fall of 1932. Using a Carthage motor lodge as their headquarters, Clyde and two other members of his gang pulled off a string of robberies in the Jasper County area during November. On the 29th, Clyde sent Bonnie into Oronogo to scout out the Farmers and Miners Bank. The next day, Clyde and his two male sidekicks drove into Oronogo in a Chevy they’d stolen that morning while Bonnie waited just outside town in the getaway car, a Ford V-8. Clyde and one of his partners went into the bank and got into a shootout with the cashier when he resisted the holdup. They scooped up a small amount of money and raced outside to the Chevy, where the third man waited as a lookout. The desperadoes sped out of town through a hail of bullets from citizens who’d hurried to the scene at the sound of gunfire. Outside town, they abandoned the Chevy, hopped in the Ford with Bonnie, and made their getaway.
On January 26, 1933, less than two months after the Oronogo caper, Bonnie and Clyde, along with new partner W.D. Jones, kidnapped Springfield motorcycle cop Tom Persell at gunpoint near the Shrine Mosque after he pulled them over on suspicion. They forced Persell to guide them out of town. A few miles north of Springfield, still compelling their hostage to pilot them, they turned west and traveled at a high rate of speed along the back roads through Golden City and finally came out on a north-south road north of Carthage (present-day I-49/U.S. 71). Late that night, they finally let Persell out unharmed north of Joplin near Carl Junction. As he was getting out of the car, Persell, still unaware who his captors were, asked whether he might have the weapon back that they had taken from him. Clyde told the cop not to press his luck. Slamming the door, he and the rest of the gang sped off, leaving Persell to find his way into Joplin on foot. The cop told his story to a Springfield newspaper the next day. The girl, who kept bumming cigarettes from him, simply “ate fags,” Persell complained, and all three of the gang members were quite profane in their language.
After the Persell kidnapping, Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. went back to Texas and picked up Clyde’s brother Buck and Buck’s wife, Blanche. The five soon returned to Missouri and rented an apartment in south Joplin in early April 1933. On the afternoon of April 13th, the police closed in. Thinking they were dealing with bootleggers, two Joplin policeman, two highway patrolmen, and a Newton County deputy drove up to the apartment in two separate cars. The car containing the city cops and the county deputy blocked the driveway while the highway patrolmen cruised past the residence and parked at the side of the street. The gang immediately opened fire, killing the deputy almost instantly and mortally wounding one of the Joplin officers when they stepped out of their car to return fire. W.D. Jones was wounded in the exchange, but Clyde and Buck kept firing away. Two of the remaining lawmen circled around toward the back of the apartment, while the third kept up a sporadic fire at the front of the building. The five gangsters piled into their Ford V-8, and Clyde revved up the engine and dropped the clutch. The Ford rammed the police vehicle and knocked it down the inclined driveway into the street, clearing a path for the gang’s escape. The Barrow gang sped away at such a high speed that an eyewitness said the Ford almost wrecked rounding a curve south of town at Redings Mill.
Larry Wood is a free-lance writer specializing in the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. His latest book is A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks.