Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bonnie and Clyde Q&A-- Was Killing Bonnie Parker Fair??

Well, you might want to break out the boxing gloves for this one. A viewer from New Mexico keyed in asking this always controversial and poignant question. As far as I can tell, this has been one of those watershed, double edged sword inquiries for decades-- where no matter who wields the sword, they get cut. From my perspective, a recounting of known facts may help in attempting to sort out this great debate. However, in considering the question of whether the killing of Bonnie Parker was fair-- oddly enough answering this question, often seems to lead to a perpetual array of even more perplexing questions.

An obvious first query for this question is-- fair to whom?? Fair to society??-- fair to Bonnie Parker and her family??-- fair for our system of morals and ethics, then or now??-- or fair to those with the benefit of hindsight, who pick apart this 75 year old controversy with the keen vision of a great African cat?? There are those who take the "hard line" regardless-- regardless of compassion, and regardless of historical circumstance. For the hard liners-- Clyde's paramour was a killer, or at the very least a killer by association-- who needed to be stopped along with Barrow at any cost. Death for B&C couldn't come soon enough, for those who identify most with the law-- and as often expressed through the ambush at Sailes, these blood thirsty desperadoes surely got what they deserved. But for others compassion reigns, in making it seem logical through numerous exercises in the hypothetical-- that additional thought could and should have been exercised by the lawmen involved, in attempting to save Bonnie.

These arguments of salvation often center around ideas thought of now, which "may" have been employed, if only they'd been realized then. Or perhaps alternative plans "were" considered in '34 but rejected-- for which we may never know?? It's been rumored for decades, that good intelligence based on the help of informants close to the outlaws, played a key role in taking down B&C. Thanks to the Dallas FBI files, we now know this to be true-- and to a greater extent than previously known. With good info available from informants trusted by B&C, and at least 6 trained officers plus members of the Bureau of Investigation on the ground near B&C in Louisiana-- the question is asked, why wasn't Clyde just picked off by a sniper-- clean and simple, when they stopped to visit those familiar to them-- or to get gas or food locally in Bienville Parish or the surrounding area?? In fairness-- that's a good question.

Also during the ambush, it's clear that
Prentis Oakley likely pressed off the first 2 shots-- one of which killed Clyde instantly. If the Warren car had not been in gear and rolled down the hill toward the embankment when Clyde lost consciousness, would the ambush posse have let loose with such fury-- in catapulting the outlaws to a horrifically earned martyrdom?? With the officers physically so close to the car they would cause to be known as the death car-- were tensions so high, that cooler head's just couldn't prevail when the first shots rang out?? Thus in paraphrasing Lee Simmon's order to literally shoot the hell out of B&C, was this carnage unavoidable and thus inevitable?? Or rather could one or more of the posse members have exercised restraint, when Clyde's head hit the seat it ultimately ended up resting on-- and not fired further which may have saved Bonnie?? Were the intense pent up frustrations of lawmen everywhere in keen evidence that day, which no matter what-- were destined to be taken out on B&C in a bloodbath, even though the officers coolly said they were just doing their jobs??

To me, the answers to all these questions and others which have framed the argument over whether Bonnie deserved to die, can perhaps best be answered by Bonnie herself. From the accounts and conversations we know of, it seems clear that Bonnie was viewed as being too close to Clyde for separation or rehabilitation. Family members tried in vain, to get Bonnie away from Clyde, and by all outward appearances-- she flat out refused. She stayed by her man to the end, and it seems from her own writings-- she knew that death with Clyde was the reality she faced. To me within that stark realization, is the evidence that it was Bonnie's "choice" to go down with Clyde-- and that life for her would have no meaning without him. So for the many who wish for some overt compassion in saving Bonnie, that in reality it seems she never wished for herself-- I would say look to Bonnie Parker, for the answer to this passionate and morally charged question.

Was killing Bonnie Parker fair?? It seems at least to her it was. However when you factor in the possibility that Bonnie may have been pregnant when killed, and that at least one lawman who pulled the trigger didn't seem to give a damn one way or another-- would the reality of a Bonnie pregnancy if true, have changed Bonnie's perception in protecting an unborn child?? Ah, another question-- and a really good one at that.


Shelley said...

Was killing Bonnie "fair"? In my opinion, not just "no" - but HELL NO!!!!

As Nell Barrow put it so poignantly in "Fugitives": "As I look back over the past, I realize that Bonnie's key crime was that she loved Clyde Barrow..."

Bonnie wasn't a criminal at heart, but she was head-over-heels in love with one who was in way over his head when he met her. She tried very hard early on to reform him, begging him to go straight. But after Eastham, there was no turning back. She had to decide. Live and die with the man she loved - or face life without him.

Most of us know Bonnie was a dramatist as well as a romanticist. Her poems clearly indicated that she knew what was coming. And at least on some level, I think that she also rightly envisioned that she and Clyde would not only go down in a hail of bullets, but also go down in history - and thus achieve immortality.

But it didn't have to end up that way for Bonnie. She didn't have to wind up with 50 slugs of lead pierced into her tiny body. For other notorious ladies who stood by their bad boys till the bloody end, the outcome was much better.

John Dillinger's devoted paramour, Billie Frechette, for example, was determined to stay with him for as long as she could, regardless of the consequences. She ended up being arrested in downtown Chicago, as Dillinger watched helplessly - horrified - from down the street. She refused to "cooperate" with the authorities, and served 2 years in prison. By the time she got out, he was long dead. For the next 5 years, she went on a "Crime Does Not Pay" tour with members of his family. Eventually, she married and settled into obscurity. She never had children, and died in 1969, at the age of 61.

Helen Gillis AKA Mrs."Baby Face" Nelson, shared Bonnie's fatalistic views, telling people that she wanted to "die with Les." Although she was with him at the Battle of Barrington when he finally went down with 17 slugs in him, she survived and even managed to escape. A couple of days later, however, she turned herself in. She wound up serving only one year in prison. Helen Gillis died in 1987, out-living Lester by more than 50 years. She never remarried, and was buried beside her beloved husband.

Then of course, we have Blanche Barrow, whose love and devotion to Buck was every bit as unshakable as Bonnie's was for Clyde. Blinded and no doubt in shock, she clung to him to the very end, crying "Don't die, Daddy, don't die!" - even as officers tore them apart. As we all know, Buck died soon afterward - and Blanche was sent off to prison for the next 6 years. But she did get on with her life, re-marrying and (like Helen Gillis) - lived over 50 more years, until 1988.

Although from a different era, another infamous female came out of her ordeal with a far better ending. In early 1958, Caril Ann Fugate went on a murderous rampage with her psychotic boyfriend, killing her mother, step-father, baby sister and 8 other innocent people. Unlike all the other gals here, however; Caril Ann rolled over on her bf, immediately upon their capture, blaming him for everything. Although she claimed to have been held "hostage" by bim, the jury didn't buy it, and she served 18 years in the Nebraska State Pen. At age 14, she was the youngest female to ever be tried for murder. Charles Starkweater, the psycho boyfriend, fried in the electric chair in 1959. Caril Ann was parolled in 1976, and is still alive today. And to this day, she has never spoken publicly about the murders.

While John Dillinger, "Baby Face" Nelson, Buck Barrow - and Charles Starkweather - all met with violent endings, the lives of their women were spared. I do believe that Bonnie Parker's life could have - and SHOULD have - been spared as well. But this is something I will have to elaborate on further, at another time.

A. Winston Woodward said...

An informative and nicely written comment Shelley-- thank you.

BarefootOkieGal said...

Just from what I've read of Bonnie and her love of children, I strongly feel that if she had known that she was pregnant, she would have done things differently. There's no way of knowing whether Bonnie was pregnant or, if she was, if she was aware of it; however, I don't think that if she had known that she was carrying Clyde's child, she would have put that baby in danger.

I have no idea what she would have done... I can only speculate what I might have done in the same circumstances, since I was also once a young girl with romantic notions! (Silly ones, I realize now, but then again, I'm twice the age that Bonnie ever got to be.) I don't see her leaving Clyde, especially if she were carrying his baby. I think she would have tried harder to pursuade him to "go straight," although by this time, there was no way for Clyde to do that. She may have agreed to stay with a relative or someone else until the baby was born, just so she and the baby would not be in danger - but considering her attachment to Clyde, I don't know if she would have been able to do that. She pined for her parents when she wasn't with them - she would have surely pined for Clyde! In a way, I hope that if she was pregnant, she never knew - that way, she would not have had to try to figure out some way to keep the baby safe while still remaining with Clyde, because I honestly don't see any way of Bonnie having both Clyde AND Clyde's baby with her. I don't really see her having the baby and leaving it to be raised by someone else, either, but I suppose that if I were Bonnie, that would seem better than either taking the baby on the run or leaving Clyde...

A. Winston Woodward said...

Having looked into this possibility within a serious research effort for more than a year now, I feel there are many more clues that Bonnie was pregnant than not. And these clues emanate from a variety of unrelated sources. I'm still working on this from many angles. More later.

BarefootOkieGal said...

I will be very interested in hearing any new information! I have heard a lot of speculation that either Bonnie or Clyde may have been sterile due to an STD, but I have also heard that they purchased condoms, which seems to indicate that they were aware of the possibility of a pregnancy. Am eagerly awaiting further revelations!