Saturday, July 18, 2009

Who Was The Sowers Informant??

Having detailed info on Barrow cousin and U.S. Bureau of Investigation informant Bailey Tynes, I thought I'd profile some of the other betrayers, who were so integral in helping to apprehend Bonnie and Clyde-- beginning with the infamous Sowers informant. It seems near the dawn of 1934, many were beginning to "turn on" B&C. I wonder whether the furiously hunted outlaw couple knew, how much danger they were truly in-- based on information being furnished from within??

One of the great ongoing mysteries within B&C History, is the identity of the Sowers informant?? As I addressed this in my talk at Gibsland this year, and since it's currently topical debate on the Boodles message board-- I thought I'd recount my feelings about this one here, on The B&C History Blog as well. Here's what's known thanks to the Dallas FBI Files:

The informant is mentioned, although not identified by name-- a number of times within the files near the time of the Sowers ambush attempt. Doug Walsh, the Dallas Police Superintendent of Identification-- reveals that Bob Alcorn has an informant, who regularly contacts Clyde Barrow. Dallas Sheriff "Smoot" Schmid is also said to be getting info from one "closely connected with the Parkers or Barrows". As Alcorn and Schmid were working together, this would seemingly be a reference to Bob Alcorn's informant. Schmidt was also thought to have garnered significant information from a captured W. D. Jones-- including the knowledge that B&C were meeting their families during certain nights of the week, in a pasture in the vicinity of Dallas.

Based on reconnaissance from the mystery informant, Schmid and Alcorn spy on not just 1 but "2"-- clandestine meetings between B&C and their families. Its apparent the purpose of these dry runs, was to verify the accuracy of the information provided by Alcorn's informant--
in preparation for the Sowers ambush attempt. With this pair of spying sessions complete, the Sowers ambush was deemed a go. It was Bureau informant Red Webster, who knew "Smoot"-- who relayed the info to the Bureau of Investigation, that B&C were meeting their families on a little used road between Irving and Dallas.

The reason I included the iconic MAD magazine Spy Vs Spy characters at the end of this post, is for the "remarkable" reality-- that based on Red Webster's info regarding "Smoot" and the Dallas Sheriff's Office informant-- it's documented, that while Bob and "Smoot" were busy spying on B&C-- the Bureau was somewhere out in the weeds, spying on Bob and "Smoot" spying on B&C. You just can't make this stuff up!! The Bureau its said, didn't act to apprehend the outlaws on those occasions-- out of respect for Sheriff Schmid's upcoming ambush attempt. So it's clear-- the accuracy and effectiveness of the mystery informant's knowledge was quite good. Therefore I think it's fair to say, the Sowers informant's reputed closeness to the families-- can almost be assured.

Although many have surmised perhaps one of the Parker or Barrow women, might have been responsible for tipping off the Dallas Sheriff's Office regarding the family meeting at Sowers-- Marie Barrow's husband Joe Bill Francis, has long been thought the prime suspect, to have been the Sowers informant. Although nothing is certain within this quest for the truth-- I'm not sure it can be supported, that one of the immediate family members would risk putting their loved ones on the spot, and thus perhaps assure their deaths. However, there may be good reasons to believe in the possibility of Joe Bill being responsible for this betrayal. First as a criminal himself, the authorities in Dallas could have easily "leaned on" Francis for information-- including threatening or torturing him at the "Trinity Valley Confessional". This technique of physically abusing those, who the Dallas Authorities wanted information from, reported occurred on the banks of the Trinity River in Dallas-- thus the reference to its name. Another candidate who would fit all the clues provided, (depending on availability) would be Floyd Hamilton. Floyd was trusted by Clyde-- and also was said to have driven the Barrows, to a number of their clandestine meetings with B&C.

But to me, perhaps the smoking gun, and reason I would support Joe Bill Francis as the Sowers informant-- is a short but most curious letter, from the Dallas FBI Files dated February 6, 1934. This seemingly innocent correspondence, from Dallas Special Agent in Charge D. L. McCormack to Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover involves Joe Bill Francis. It states that fingerprints of one Joe Francis were forwarded to the Division by the Dallas Police Department, and were obtained "confidentially". Francis' prints were to be compared to latent prints secured from the rear-view mirror of a Ford V-8 coupe recovered at Gilmer, Texas. But oddly, after just stating that the Francis prints were forwarded by the Dallas Police-- it is asked of Hoover, that in the event the prints were not forwarded by the Dallas Police to the Division-- that the Division "not" write direct to the Dallas Police Department for this information.

One is left to wonder, why all the stealth over a simple set of fingerprints being shared between law enforcement agencies?? Also with all the notorious criminal elements involved in the B&C probe, what makes Joe Bill Francis "so special"-- that a request for info concerning him, be treated with such secrecy?? Hmm. Upon reading this document, I keep asking myself what would make a 2 bit hood like Francis so important-- that Hoover himself is asked to assure, that info regarding Joe Bill Francis "not" be requested directly through the Dallas Police??? Why not?? Perhaps to not bring attention to him-- because he was known or suspected of being the Dallas Sheriff's Office Barrow family informant?? This explanation for this document seems plausible to me.

I keep looking for the identity of the Sowers informant to be revealed somewhere within the Dallas FBI Files. However so far, this well guarded secret-- seems to have been preserved. One would hope at some point, this key betrayer within B&C History would be revealed. But unfortunately, as is sometimes the case within the saga of B&C-- the Sowers informant, may be one fascinating element of this history-- which may never be known.


Anonymous said...

I followed with great interest your comments regarding accusations against Bonnie Parker and the harm that may be done to family etc. by supposition and innuendo. Yet you have done the very same to Joe Bill Francis. What sources are you quoting when you imply he may have been the informant? If Marie, there is good reason to have suspicions about her point of view. In all this time, I still wait to here from those who should know who that informant was. Both Boots and Buddy should know and even though this was a closely guarded secret the evidence has always stared everyone right in the face. I use both the historical evidence from after the fact to personal information related to me by the last person I know of who in some way was involved. If Joe Bill was the person, would he have remained a close friend to the family for the rest of their lives? Would Clyde still have had contact with him and trusted him? As for the reason for not contacting the Dallas Sheriff it is a little more obvious than the tale you paint. All I ask is the same consideration for families.

There are still stories yet untold by those who were there, but were taught to remain silent, " because nothing good would ever come of telling..."

t o m said...
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