Saturday, July 24, 2010

Who Introduced Bonnie & Clyde??-- The Answer Appears to be Found "All in the Family"

The event of Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow meeting for the first time, has been told and re-told-- but seemingly from the same source material-- Fugitives.

As related by Emma Parker within Fugitives, the 1934 Parker and Barrow account-- "I had never heard Clyde Barrow's name and didn't dream that such a boy existed until January, 1930. Bonnie, still out of work after the closing of Marco's Cafe, had gone to stay with a girl friend in West Dallas. This girl had broken her arm, and Bonnie went to help with the work. Clyde's folks lived near, and here it was Clyde came and meet my daughter. It all came about so simply, as such momentous and life-changing things often do. Clyde dropped by this girl's house. Bonnie was there, and they met. That was the beginning."

However ultimately it would take some 79 years, along with the release of a long secret file-- for the mystery woman with the broken arm to be known with any certainty, who by her own admission introduced Bonnie and Clyde. As with a number of known or suspected individuals, who's names were seemingly "changed to protect the innocent" within this family memoir-- this person's identity too was shielded. However in reality, one needn't look far-- to discover the truth concerning this close family relation.

Dallas FBI File 26-4114, is a treasure trove of little known or previously publicly unknown Bonnie and Clyde info-- documented from the time of B&C. Such is the case, concerning the key individual within this mystery. On January 5th 1934, renown B&C and Dillinger Bureau of Investigation Agent Charles Winstead filed a report-- of which both handwritten and transcribed versions exist within the Dallas FBI files. This 5 page memo signed by Winstead, had to do with interviews conducted by himself and a peace officer named Carroll in Gladewater, Texas. Many pieces of valuable information were garnered from the more talkative female interviewed (who it's said was against officers generally)-- however much less was learned from the less talkative male.

Some of this knowledge revealed by the woman questioned, included her clarifications concerning the identities and relationships of various Parker and Barrow family members-- the correct ages of B&C-- the story of Clyde's previous love affair with Grace-- information concerning Frank Clause and Clyde Barrow, along with revealing Frank's employer-- the identity of Bonnie's husband Roy Thornton and prison term he was serving-- info on Billie Parker Mace, her age and the deaths of her children-- the fact that this woman's husband who was also interviewed, is questioned regularly by Dallas lawmen concerning B&C-- along with the revelation that B&C won't come near this couple, due to her husband's dislike for B&C's mode of living-- and B&C's concern for their safety, as alcohol was often present. But paramount to a long pondered B&C mystery, was the revelation that it was she-- who introduced Bonnie to Clyde.

If you don't already know, or haven't guessed by now, these were interviews conducted with Buster Parker and his wife Edith Clay Parker. In writing of his interview with Edith Parker, Agent Winstead wrote-- "She said she introduced Bonnie to Clyde." So apparently the woman with the broken arm, who helped to facilitate a fateful love at first sight-- was none other than Emma's daughter in law-- Edith Ray Parker. According to Billie Parker's well documented family history, Edith Ray Clay married Buster in 1929. So I suppose she could be described as a friend to protect her identity-- but in reality as of 1930, Edith was Bonnie's sister in law.

By the way-- these were the same interviews which led to poignant statements by Buster Parker. Buster said he knew Clyde was going to get Bonnie killed, and would rather know Bonnie in a penitentiary than with Clyde. Buster then promised, if ever he should learn of Clyde's whereabouts while separated from Bonnie-- he would give that information to 2 named lawmen. It seems that like a number of others both inside and outside the families near the end-- Buster was willing to turn on Clyde, in his case unabashedly-- in order to save his beloved sister Bonnie.

From time to time, some seem critical of the Dallas FBI files on Bonnie & Clyde, but I never understand why??-- nor do I feel those impressions logically justified. Perhaps for some, it's just a matter of coming to terms with contrary views of heroes-- from one side of this history or another?? But as info like this concerning Edith and Buster Parker is priceless to Bonnie & Clyde History-- I for one am grateful for so much additional B&C knowledge now being available, after so many decades shrouded in darkness. As I see it, an objective view of history should necessarily include all the good, bad and ugly-- and the more info to help discern the truth, the better. Based on new B&C knowledge being revealed, I remain more & more intrigued by accounts within Fugitives-- now being proven as other than told. As always, I welcome your comments.


BarefootOkieGal said...

Buster seems to have been one Parker family member who was completely immune to Clyde's charms! From what I've read on your blog and in other writings, while Billie and Emma were resigned to the fact that Bonnie had made her choice to die for love of Clyde, Buster never quite got to that point. I can imagine that he was very protective of the little sister that he loved so much - I haven't seen any of Buster's comments about Bonnie, nor have I seen a photo of him that I know of, so he's not as deeply rooted in the whole B&C "fantasy." The point of view may well highlight the differences in the way that men and women think about matters of the heart - Billie and Emma, being women, may well have understood (or thought they did) how a woman would want to die for the man she loves. Buster, being a man, may have viewed this "understanding" as nothing but a bunch of romantic nonsense, and was not willing to resign himself to what was going to happen to his sister if she could not be gotten away from Clyde.

This is a wonderful revelation - I can understand why they would want to disguise her identity. Buster may have felt a large amount of guilt that it was in his home that his sister first encountered Clyde. He may have felt responsible in some way for his sister getting involved in a man who would take her away from home and provide her a life as a criminal, always on the run and never being able to enjoy her beauty and youth. I don't know if I've ever read of Bonnie's feelings for Buster, or his for her, but I'm guessing that he loved her every bit as much as Billie did, and the fact that the whole thing started in his home may have been a lifelong burden to him.

A. Winston Woodward said...

There are a few photos of Buster which exist-- and a photo of Edith can be found on Bonnie and Clyde's Hideout. Edith died in 1939. I know of no one, who knows why she died so young. It's my understanding she and Buster were no longer involved, when Edith passed away. Buster lived until 1964. I'll see what I can do about posting a photo of Buster.

BarefootOkieGal said...

I believe I've seen the picture of Edith - hard to check, as here at work they have The Hideout blocked as being too violent!!! (Pesky business intranets...)

Buster is pretty much an enigma to me. He was mentioned in "Fugitives" a number of times, but in later writings I've not been able to find out much about him. I know that he and Edith had a daughter, originally named Bonnie Ray Parker, and that she had to change her name due to kids picking on her - that's Rhea Leen Linder, correct? I see a certain resemblance between Bonnie and Billie and even Emma, and it seems to me that I see a resemblance between Rhea Leen and Billie - I'm guessing that Buster shared that as far as his physical appearance; I'm also guessing that he might have been shorter than average, as Bonnie and Billie and Emma all seem to be fairly small.

Although I can't really get a read on Buster, I can imagine his feelings. After his father died when he was so young, he probably felt that he was the "man of the family," at least to the extent of being the main male protector of his mother and sisters, and it must have been a bitter blow to him when he could not protect Bonnie or save her from her fate.

joe from Canada said...

First of all, I am enjoying this segment that you have recently been peoviding your readers.

This is a very interesting fact, one which opens the door for other questions for me. The story that I have known is that Clyde was visiting a friend if his who had broken a leg (now arm) and that Bonnie happened to be visiting the same person who was also a friend of hers.

Now my question becomes--How is it that Clyde knew Bonnie's sister in law well enough to visit her when she broke her arm? Did Buster know Clyde before this? or Was Clyde visiting Edith because he was Buster's friend? Was Clyde possibly previously involved with Edith and Buster's dislike of him maye have stemmed from this?

I know that you will have some answers for me

Joe from Canada

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hi all--

As the story goes of which I'm most familiar-- Clyde was there to visit his friend Clarence Clay. As we now know, Bonnie happened to be there-- helping her sister in law Edith Clay Parker. I'm not sure anyone alive can provide comment, concerning Buster's impressions of this fateful meeting between Bonnie & Clyde.

I've asked Shelley Mitchell, who's well versed in this topic-- and who's familiar with many interesting nuances of this story, to address some of the comments within this post. I know Shelley will do this topic great justice, and be quite informative.

Shelley said...

Well, Winston, you kinda took the words right outta my mouth already!--but I'll go ahead and take a stab at this anyway.

There are many versions out there as to how B&C first met. I would like to further clarify the opening statement of your original post by saying that most of the "reliable" information regarding this particular topic derives from Fugitives. Lord knows where all those "Kansas City cafe" stories came from!

For the most part, the sources that got it (more or less) right all acknowledge that Bonnie was staying with "a girlfriend" when she met Clyde at her house, but the girlfriend never seemed to have a name! It's also been written that Clyde went to see his friend, Clarence Clay, and Bonnie was there. But there has been insufficient reported detail in linking either scenario--in any one source--to get any kind of clear understanding of the actual circumstances. Until now!

I made the connection long ago that Buster's wife Edith was the sister of Clarence--who happened to be pals with Clyde. But that knowledge still did not reveal the identity of the mystery "girlfriend" who introduced B&C to one another--a mystery no book yet has uncovered. As far as I know, no one has ever spelled it out for us. But now, thanks to those "long lost" FBI files, we now finally have a definitive answer: she is, indeed, Edith!

With so many "nuances" to the story, it helps to "read between the lines" with so much, regarding B&C. According to Emma, in her last conversation with her daughter, Bonnie said to her, "And another thing, mama--when they kill us, don't ever say anything--ugly--about Clyde. Please promise me that too."

I'll bet that was a hard promise for Emma to keep, but she kept her word, at least publicly. I would imagine that Bonnie also wanted to make sure she did not create any hard feelings with Clyde's family when they were gone. But Buster was another story! As the "man of the family", it seems likely he would have taken a more aggressive stance on the situation--and as we now know, thanks to the files, he DID. And wouldn't it also seem likely that Emma would have been supporting his actions, behind the scenes? Buster has always been a shadowy, background figure in the story, but now after so many years, it's been revealed for the first time, that he did what he could to try to save Bonnie from certain death--at any cost.

Frances said...

This post has been most interesting! It makes so much sense now to see why Emma referred to 'a friend' that Bonnie was taking care of. She certainly did not want to involve her son and daughter-in-law if possible.I would like to know more about Buddy and Edith. Another person who apparenty did not get involved with Clyde was his brother, Elwin, or Jack as he was known. Thank you, Winston, for discovering all this information!

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hello Frances--

Thank you for your comment and kind words. Now that so much more info is known concerning the saga of B&C-- I'm intrigued by the lengths taken, to disguise the players within Fugitives. I suppose the anonymity is understandable, given the many personal aspects of this story. However these new revelations, I think may force us to consider this family memoir-- with a much more discerning eye.

Concerning discovery of the file and info from it, as I often point out-- even though Dallas file 26-4114 was brought to light within my inquiry into the dual B&C signatures which I possess, it's really FBI Historian John Fox Jr (who was most gracious in his searches for FBI based B&C info)-- along with the staff of the Dallas FBI field office where this file was housed-- who deserve so much of the credit. I suppose it's a bit like asking someone to dig somewhere for old bottles. Those folks were digging for me-- but they made the discovery.

When John contacted me in late 2006, to say he had a "Christmas present" for me-- I couldn't have imagined what a wonderful historical find it would turn out to be. My only frustration was, it took a good amount of time (somewhere short of 2 years)-- for the files to be declassified, which I understand thankfully were declassified without omission.

At this point I as so many others, truly enjoy delving into these long secret files-- to learn many new things about the history of Bonnie & Clyde. I like to "connect the dots" if you will, in trying to figure out some long wondered B&C mysteries like this one. There are more than 1000 pages within this oh so valuable file. As an aside-- those of us who worked to release the initial public version of this info, felt files rolled better off the tongue than the singular. However as it's noted within the file, different file numbers were combined during the time of B&C to become file 26-4114. Thus the Dallas files seems technically correct. I hope all who can-- will absorb this wonderful info to your heart's content.

joe from Canada said...

In reading these and prior postings and comments,it seems that I am the only one who does not own a copy of or read The Fugitives.

Can someone please tell me where I can get a copy as I cannot locate one

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hi Joe--

Alibris Books online-- but be prepared to spend some pretty good $$-- as a good copy of Fugitives isn't inexpensive. Another option is the 1968 yellow paperback version of Fugitives-- retitled as The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde. Signet paperback 451 Y6333. This one too should be available through Alibris, who's a worldwide book broker.

BarefootOkieGal said...

Joe - if your library system connects to Link+, you can request "Fugitives" on-line and it will be sent to you. That's what I had to do, as my local libary didn't have a copy nor did any of the other local ones within the system. However, my library is affiliated with Link+, which will search all libraries similiarly affiliated - the copy that I got looked as if it was one of the original editions (it was so fragile I was almost afraid to turn the pages!) and it came all the way from the University of Reno straight to my library!

You can look online to find your local public library, and they should have more information about Link+.

Shelley said...

Joe, I have a third suggestion for you that may be simpler and/or less expensive than the other options: try Amazon! I have obtained many of my books through them, and they have a wide selection of new and used books priced for any budget.

"Fugitives" (no "the" in the title) is an absolute "MUST-have" for any B&C collection. You don't need to get a 1934 edition; they are rare and expensive. The 1968 re-published paperback version will work just fine, and it also includes a fine introduction by Nelson Algren, not found in the original. You can get used copies on Amazon for very reasonable prices.

Either way, "Fugitives" is absolutely essential reading. It is "Bonnie & Clyde 101"--the foundation upon which all other knowledge is built upon. I grew up reading this book from childhood, over and over again. Hope you get your own copy soon, and I know you will enjoy reading it very very much!!!

Shelley said...

Frances, this is in response to your comments regarding Jack Barrow not being involved with his younger brother Clyde--and Emma Parker not wanting to involve Buster and Edith when she helped co-author "Fugitives".

This is so true. I think many family members obviously wanted to distance themselves from all the notoriety, and were not mentioned in the family memoirs--"Fugitives"--for this reason. Jack had a family to protect. Clyde's older sister Artie is also completely omitted. LC's involvement is down-played; he is only briefly referred to. And as far as I can remember, Clyde's baby sister Marie is only mentioned once, in passing, in a letter Bonnie wrote to Clyde when he was in jail, I believe. On Bonnie's side, "Cousin Bess" and "Cousin Mary" are ficticious names I'm sure, there was no aunt named "Millie", and there is no mention of Buster having a wife, by any name.

I don't believe it was the intention of Nell Barrow or Emma Parker to deceive anyone or withhold pertinent information. Rememher, this book was written right after the ambush, and the aftermath was still unfolding. Soon, many family members would be dragged into a lengthy court ordeal which would become known as "the Harboring Trial". I'm sure none of the family members wanted to be sent to prison for their associations with B&C; and yet, many of them were sentenced nevertheless. I would think that any information revealed in "Fugitives" could have been used against them.

When I was a kid reading "Fugitives" again and again (that was the ONLY book on B&C, alone, back then--although there were a few other books which included them, but were filled with misinformation)--I always KNEW that there was a LOT more to the story. But "Fugitives" opened that door, and fueled my desire to someday learn the whole true story.

B&C's saga is like one gigantic puzzle. While none of us can ever truly know it ALL, we can come close. "Fugitives" is both heart-warming AND heart-breaking, straight from the families who loved them. Since it was re-published in 1968, a whole slew of B&C books have come out, some far more accurate and complete than others. Between them and countless magazine articles and many first-hand accounts (Blanche, Billie Jean, W.D., Floyd Hamilton, Ralph Fults, etc.)--and now, the 1000+ page FBI Files--we can put all the pieces together and form a fairly clear picture of who they really were, and why they lived and died as they did.

joe from Canada said...

Thank you for the info on getting the book

A. Winston Woodward said...

There are many reasons some B&C books are better than others. The problem in sorting out the truth concerning this history-- is that not enough verifiable information has been known. Shelley's puzzle analogy is a good one. For decades and especially in the modern era (post B&C movie 1967)-- interest in Bonnie & Clyde has surged, but without insider knowledge from the families and others close to the outlaws-- we'd be left greatly in the dark concerning B&C History.

To me, that's why the revelations found within Dallas FBI files are so important. There are very few B&C files which exist with much left in them. Many have been pilfered over the decades, and some remarkably (due to space saving measures?#@!#!?!)-- have been destroyed. I feel in addition to accounts from close knit sources, it's vitally important to have a more independent record-- as expressed by sources outside those close to B&C.

Some have said they feel the FBI files less reliable, since they came from law enforcement sources. My response to those feelings of "sinister" intent-- are that those suspicions are illogical. The Dallas files which were compiled for "internal" use by so many, to aid in the capture of B&C-- would not likely be tainted with untruths, just to make everyone's lives, time and purpose in pursuing B&C more difficult and less meaningful.

There are too many valuable reports, from too many different sources-- including both lawman and civilian eyewitnesses to B&C, "and" the accounts of those who betrayed them-- to be thought of as being anything other than extraordinary information. Plus these reports are documented in remarkably consistent detail. I'm not saying everything within these records is perfect (as few artifacts could be thought of)-- but I don't feel this file's value can be overstated.

Through these records, we also get a much better sense of the coordination and cooperation between law enforcement entities-- and others who felt B&C needed to be brought to justice, than ever before. With all respect to Captain Frank Hamer, who's been portrayed as the most crucial tracker of B&C-- we know now that Captain Hamer wasn't just standing out there with some sort of outlaw dowser, which pointed him in the right direction. I feel it can be stated with good accuracy now, that without the Bureau of Investigation being in Louisiana a full year before the ambush-- and without the cooperation of both Federal and local authorities there, those in Dallas may never have come to Bienville Parish to begin with. As such there are certain elements of truth within this history, which with more known now-- may shift the viewpoints of both individuals and events, to be more accurate.

My issue with Fugitives, now that other independent info has come to light including Billie's personal accounts-- is that Fugitives (and I'm sure for all the "good" reasons mentioned)-- may not be as accurate a portrayal of this history as once thought. We now have to decipher the true players who's identities are shadowed, and "wonder" concerning the depth of truth regarding the accounts told there. To me, what used to be a Holy Grail expose' of B&C-- is less so now, as the truths within it seem less reliable-- based apparently on the families' understandable concern for their own well being. Fugitives is still a hugely important account of Bonnie & Clyde History-- but now, perhaps with reservations.

BarefootOkieGal said...

I've requested "Fugitives" again from my library system - this time I was able to find one that included the foreword! That's the first book about B&C that I ever read - like Shelley, it got me started! The only other book that I remember mentioning B&C was "Bloodletters and Badmen," which is another really old book and contains a lot of misinformation. My parents never tried to censor my reading (it's hard to censor a rabid bookworm!) and I found a copy of "Fugitives" in a used book store. I had heard of Bonnie and Clyde (I was about 8 or 9, so the movie was already out; also, my mom's family grew up in Oklahoma right around the time B&C were driving all around the area and they still talked about B&C when they were grown up) and the cover of the book intrigued me - it showed silhouettes of the couple, holding guns, with big red dots on the silhouettes, and my childish curiosity was piqued - I wondered if those were the places they had been shot! (Remember, I grew up in the era of John Wayne movies, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, and all the good shoot-em'-ups. I wasn't a squeamish kid, having seen plenty of people die on TV!) At any rate, I bought it and read it and enjoyed it. As I grow older and more books become available, "Fugitives" has lost a lot of credibility with me for the reasons Winston brings up, but still... I enjoy reading the family's thoughts and feelings, even if they were filtered through a ghostwriter, and it will give you the basics. (Also, the foreword is quite enjoyable!)

A. Winston Woodward said...

The Nelson Algren intro to the re-titled Signet paperback version of Fugitives, is one of my favorite B&C introductions. Interestingly within this nicely written beginning to the 1968 re-print of Fugitives, Algren criticizes his contemporary John Toland-- concerning Toland's description and sources of B&C sexual rumors.