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Bonnie and Clyde: The History of an Infamous Crime Spree

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The year is 1932, Amelia Earhart has just become the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean, Radio City Music Hall has been opened in New York City, and an atom has been split for the very first time. But, an event that shows the true climate in America at the time was the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt: elected in hopes to bring America out of its terrible stage of poverty. The Great Depression started in 1929 and continued to rock the nation all the way until 1939. In the twenties and thirties, all hell was breaking loose. Prohibition was in effect, the economy was the worst it had ever been and the government was ineffective. During this time, people often felt as though they had lost hope and that they had been cheated out of the life they deserved. This is when criminals began to be seen as heroes. 

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow began their crime spree during the height of the Depression, 1932. ‘The media portrayed the American everywhere delighted in the exploits of the soap opera gang’ (Williams et al. 338). Bonnie and Clyde were instant celebrities and not just for their exploits but their seeming uncatchable ways and stunning looks. Because of the Great Depression’s devastation and events in their personal lives, Bonnie and Clyde were forced into a two-year crime spree in which they engaged in shootouts with the police, robbed banks and small convenience stores, murdered civilians and later died in a police ambush. 

In the era of the Great Depression, everyday, middle-class people became the poorest of the poor, experiencing poverty for the first time in their lives. In many cases “anger generated within the general populous in the ‘30s – combined with a newfound tolerance for lawlessness,… resulted in the environment necessary, to foster the rise of the ‘Dustbowl Desperadoes’”. The “Dustbowl Desperadoes” were the everyday people who became criminals during or because of the Great Depression. These people were starting to be seen as heroes. During the Great Depression, people needed something to believe in, and the criminals of the day they believed were stealing back what was rightfully theirs. For example, prohibition was in effect and “thirsty Americans especially needed someone to outsmart the government’s ban on alcoholic beverages”. So when gangs from the ghettos began supplying liquor, they were seen as heroes and became wealthy. The Great Depression’s havoc created the perfect storm for Bonnie and Clyde’s reckless and unlawful ways to thrive. Bonnie Parker was greatly affected by the Depression; yet, she was not the type to engage in criminal behavior. 

Bonnie was a pretty young girl with ginger hair and freckles. She loved fashion earned good grades and showed promise as a young writer, winning the county literary contest in her teens (Williams 335). Bonnie’s father died when she was only four years old. The loss of the breadwinner in the household left Bonnie’s remaining family unable to remain living where they did. So, Bonnie and her family moved to the slums West Dallas to live with her grandparents. Bonnie had big dreams of becoming an actress and overcoming poverty; however, in the slums, there was very little opportunity to actually accomplish them. Consequently, by the age of sixteen, Bonnie was a high school dropout and married to classmate Roy Thornton. Thornton became physically abusive and was jailed for some small robberies. While Thornton was in jail, Bonnie began working as a waitress and met a man named Clyde Barrow who would change her life. 

Clyde Barrow was born in North Eastern Texas. He was the fifth of seven children in a poor farming family. The Great Depression his family especially hard due to the “dust bowl”, a period of dust storms due to a drought. For that reason, his family moved to West Dallas, close to Bonnie. He desired to be a musician; but, that is where his admirable aspirations ended. Clyde began getting into trouble at a young age. One night he and his brother, Buck, stole a car and rode it around town. The police captured Buck; but, Clyde escaped. While being questioned, Buck did not give Clyde up. Clyde was undaunted by his brother’s capture and robbed a different store the next night. When Clyde was twenty he met Bonnie Parker. Right after they met Clyde was sentenced to two years in prison. Bonnie was devastated. So, she vowed to help him escape. Bonnie snuck a gun into the prison and “on March 11, 1930, Clyde used the weapon to escape with his cellmates, but they were captured a week later. Clyde was then sentenced to 14 years of hard labor; eventually being transferred to Eastham State Prison”. In Eastham, Clyde was repeatedly raped and assaulted by an inmate. This altered his criminal motives from boredom to revenge. Now, Clyde would do anything possible to get out of prison. So Clyde asked a prisoners’ help in cutting off his big toe in hopes to get on medical parole. Little did he know that he was scheduled to be released in two weeks anyway due to prison overcrowding. Clyde now walked with a limp and had to drive in socks to ease the pain; but, he was a free man. Clyde decided that he was going to be an honest man and make an honest living; “however, Clyde was released from prison during the Great Depression, when jobs were not easy to come by. Plus, Clyde was little experience holding down a real job”. 

Clyde got a job with the Dallas Glass and Mirror Company and was doing well. But in March of 1932, Clyde lost his job because the police often came to do random searches of him which left him with a bad reputation. Now with no job and in need of money, Clyde and Ray Hamilton, an accomplice, decided to rob a grocery store. During the struggle, “the two men held the store owner at gunpoint and demanded their safe be opened; sometime during the unlocking of the safe, a gun was fried and the grocery store owner fell dead to the ground. The men grabbed the money and fled”. After the murder, Clyde knew he would have to be on the run for the rest of his life. He asked Bonnie if she wanted to come with him and she accepted. And so the infamous crime spree began.

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