Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In the Bonnie & Clyde Edition of Clue-- It Was Aunt Pat, With the Matches in the Back Yard

It's often asked, what happened to Bonnie Parker's personal effects-- which may have survived after her death?? It's long been rumored, a member of the Parker family had destroyed Bonnie's belongings-- as the family couldn't stand the pain of reflecting upon Bonnie's death, while being reminded of her. Unfortunately the bottom line of this story "is" true-- however as it turns out, the fate of Bonnie's belongings apparently may have had less to do with sentimentality, and more to do with a personal dispute. As the question of Bonnie's belongings continues to surface, I feel it's important to set the record straight-- and report what I've been told is the truth regarding that most unfortunate event.

Recently I mentioned, one of Emma Parker's sisters played a key role in Bonnie & Clyde History. While revealing a B&C Poll answer concerning Emma being notified of Bonnie's death, I quoted from a news article-- which detailed the presence of both Emma's sister Lelia along with Edith Parker, when Emma took that fateful phone call on May 23rd, 1934 at the Parker residence. As it seems so many within the story of Bonnie & Clyde had nick names, Lelia was better known as Pat. Pat's married name was Plummer. Billie Parker writes of aunt Pat, along with a plethora of Parker and Krause relatives within the family history she compiled. With many thanks to a Parker family source-- I've learned it was Pat Plummer who destroyed Bonnie's things.

Although the more traditional and sentimental explanation still exists, concerning the destruction of Bonnie's chattels which I'm sure many would prefer to hold onto-- apparently the truth is, Billie had given Bonnie's belongings to aunt Pat for safe keeping. They were then housed in some sort of storage shed on Pat's property. But as sometimes happens within the best of families, some disagreement ensued between Billie and aunt Pat. Based on this falling out, apparently one day Pat thought to torch that storage shed-- and did. As such, Bonnie's belongings were no more.

It would be remarkable, to be able to view the personal effects of Bonnie Parker and learn from them. But seemingly as a result of this rift between Billie and aunt Pat, that glorious pent up desire became impossible long ago. As it's not clear when this incendiary decision of Pat Plummer's occurred, nor are the specifics known concerning Pat's disagreement with Billie-- it's conceivable their dispute could have followed the lines of the original story told. Perhaps some within the family were indeed having trouble dealing with Bonnie's death, based on some issue concerning her belongings. Could it be, that Billie wanted to keep these memories where others didn't?? Thus they were placed out of sight and out of mind?? Then aunt Pat puts a fiery end to this controversy through her actions?? Or perhaps, this was just as simple as some bad blood between Billie and her aunt Pat-- which led to a vengeful act against Billie, and thus Bonnie's things were destroyed?? My understanding is, the later could more be the case, but without clarifying info we may never know for sure.

I as others have searched for years, for any trace of the love letters exchanged between Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow while Clyde was imprisoned. A number of these love letters were transcribed in Fugitives-- and provide great insight into the young lovers, as they expressed their feelings for one another. To my knowledge, none of Bonnie & Clyde's many love letters have ever been found. At this point I wonder-- whether Bonnie and Clyde's romantic exchanges didn't go up in smoke, along with Bonnie's other effects in aunt Pat's back yard?!? At least now we know, what's said to be the true story and also who was responsible for the destruction of Bonnie Parker's personal items. Emma's younger sister, Lelia Krause (Pat Plummer) lived between the years of 1893 and 1965. The photo shown, is purely for illustrative purposes. As always, I welcome your comments.


Shelley said...

I always heard that the Barrows kept Clyde's "death shirt" and other personal effects safely packed away in the family's cedar chest. This was a wise decision.

How sad that Bonnie's belongings were entrusted into the wrong hands! We will never know what this treasure trove may have consisted of. In addition to those priceless love letters, there were her personal diaries still in existence at the time "Fugitives" was published and no doubt amongst the torched. The Parkers probably also had clothing that belonged to her, and no telling what all else!

Aunt Pat's vicious act of vengeance is indefensible. It was lke killing Bonnie all over again. I'll bet she wouldn't have had the audacity to pull such a stunt in Emma's lifetime!

Anonymous said...

I always wondered whatever became of certain b&c items like the car that was ambushed at sowers? the car in many of the photos that was stolen from marshall,tx? to the "macabre" souvenir takers that ran up to death car and cut locks of hair,etc. i guess you would have to take there word for it? But they left bloody clothes behind often.Also,did W.D.JONES leave any souvenirs to family regarding his days with B &C? THANK'S.TERRY.

A. Winston Woodward said...

To me, the problem in trying to figure out this aspect of the B&C saga-- is that we don't know all we need to, concerning the motivation for Bonnie's things being destroyed.

For instance, we don't know whether this occurred prior to or after Emma's death?? We don't know how close Emma and her sister were?? Perhaps Pat may have felt she was, or indeed was-- acting in the best interest of Emma, or other members of the family as a whole?? Or perhaps it was just a personal thing between she and Billie?? Either way, I feel the loss of Bonnie's effects to be a loss for history.

Of course Bonnie's belongings, could have been maintained within the family for decades. But just as with many of Clyde's personally owned or created artifacts ie: letters, his prison woodworking etc-- I feel eventually, Bonnie's things would likely have been made known or released into the memorabilia market.

This one's a tough story to know, but as I feel it's important for the truth to be uncovered concerning this history (all be it these many decades later)-- info like this is still of vital interest historically. Sometimes human decisions are not rational, or are unduly influenced by emotion. Perhaps to Pat and maybe others, this decision was rational-- but maybe not.

Thanks to those close to her, we still know a good deal about Bonnie. I would agree that her diaries would be of a priceless nature, in learning more of Bonnie really pre-B&C. Knowing she kept a diary earlier in life, at times I've thought-- "what if" Bonnie had kept a similar record while B&C were on the run??

There is documentation noting some type of ledger, apparently keeping track of bank loot-- found in the death car. I believe this record was in the possession of Henderson Jordan-- which may have been turned over to the Bureau of Investigation after the ambush. This reality is noted in the Dallas FBI files near the end. I wonder what ever became of that ledger, and whether perhaps other written records were confiscated as well-- that are unknown??

Regarding other B&C artifacts of various natures being out there-- I imagine some may still exist. Hopefully these items are identified as being from B&C History. My concern-- is always that some who have B&C artifacts now, may not know what they have-- and thus many items may be discarded upon the deaths of their previous owners. The way things have gone with B&C artifacts, particularly this year and last-- I am hopeful more will surface.

BarefootOkieGal said...

There are any number of reasons why Aunt Pat might have burned that shed, and I don't think anyone will ever be sure at this late date! If she and Emma were as close as Bonnie and Billie, she may have seen burning Bonnie's belongings as a way of sparing Emma more pain - after all, she had been present when Emma heard that Bonnie was dead and she saw her sister's agony. This might be applicable if the items were burned while Emma was still alive - although I don't know if she would have agreed to it, had she known!

I had heard that a family member still owned Bonnie's wedding ring - is that still true, or could that have been one of the items that was destroyed in the fire?

Most families do have "stuff" that was given to them for safekeeping; often there are disagreements regarding how long one is expected to hold onto such things, and other issues. I would hate to think it was something as petty as a family disagreement or bad blood that prompted the destruction of these items.

It's not just not knowing WHY they were destroyed - I'd like to know exactly what all might have gone up in flames!

joe from Canada said...

The following is not meant to be disrespectful to anyone as it is more a view on society in general with me included. It amazes me as to where society puts its values on. We value artifacts from the B&C 's and Dillingers of the world for their infamy yet and I could be wrong, but I haven't not ever seen any items of the victims of criminals- they also had bloodied clothes, diaries, personal items etc - but yet no one seems to care and these people gave up their lives in order to stop the criminals from continuing their killing sprees. The men that gave up their lives at Joplin and Little Bohemia etc etc
I sometimes wonder if when we do glorify criminals of the past we are not encouraging others as a quick route to recognition. I myself own 3 items related to B&C so these comments are directed at myself also. I sometimes need to keep in perspective that B&C at the end of the day were small time criminals that killed many people. But, they continue to fascinate many including myself. Maybe a piece on what happened to the families of the people that were killed by B&C would be in order.

BarefootOkieGal said...

Joe, I can understand your feelings, but I think there's a pretty simple explanation for why artifacts belonging to notorious or famous persons are considered more "valuable" than artifacts associated with the victims: The sentimental value to the family may be worth more to them than any market value.

I'm thinking specifically of one very famous item worn by the victim of a crime: Jackie Kennedy's pink dress and pillbox hat that she wore in Dallas on November 22, 1963. From what I've heard, the family has stored that securely and no one knows where it might be.

I am sure that the victims' families have (or had) items that were worn by the victims when they were killed - some collectors might want to purchase a bloodstained shirt with holes in it if it could be proven that those holes had been put in the shirt by a famous criminal.

I don't know if people purchase artifacts merely to glamorize criminals - in a lot of cases, there is just something nice about owning a piece of history; it's always a good topic of conversation, if nothing else!

Mike Royko wrote an excellent column about the victims of Bonnie and Clyde, right about the time the movie came out. I believe you can find it on the Internet, and parts of it have been quoted in some of the books that I've read lately. While I tend to be sympathetic to B&C in many ways, I never let myself forget that Bonnie rode with Clyde voluntarily; that Clyde was known for his quick temper and his tendency to shoot anyone whom he felt threatened him, and that they did leave a trail of pain and sorrow behind them - pain and sorrow that they caused not only the families of their victims, but pain and sorrow that they caused to their own loved ones as well.

A. Winston Woodward said...

My response to your comment Joe, is I agree-- the victims of Bonnie & Clyde need to be respected. For those who've followed my comments on B&C History for some time, you "know"-- how often I've responded to seeming hero worship of these outlaws, with pointed comments aimed at addressing the reality and scope of the death and human destruction they caused.

But I'm not sure how that reality is incompatible, with addressing an historical circumstance such as the fate of Bonnie Parker's belongings-- which has long been wondered. One of the primary goals of my life, is to discover and report the truth concerning Bonnie & Clyde History. I don't view this history as being a competition, between divergent points of view. It shouldn't be anyway.

As I often mention, I feel the truth regarding B&C history lies in between the extremes. As I see it, to fully understanding this history-- involves realizing that many of the individuals involved in The Barrow Gang were killers, who took the lives of between 12 and 14 people-- mainly peace officers as they called them in the 1930's.

It also involves understanding the tenor and realities of the Great Depression, in coming to terms with the societal issues, extreme hardships and desperation-- which fostered an environment, where desperate people did desperate things. These hardships which resulted in significant human suffering, unfortunately also including a rise in violent lawlessness. From my perspective, it's not sufficient to only understand one side of B&C History without understanding the other. That's why I always encourage striking the right balance, in thinking about all this.

I would make the additional comment that it seems to be human nature, for people to be more fascinated with law breakers than their victims. Also I'm not sure it could be said, that based on the number of killings attributed to them-- Bonnie & Clyde were ever really thought of as small time criminals. It seems that in their day, they became local, regional and national news-- based more on Barrow Gang killings than any other factor. And I think it's fair to say, that today-- Bonnie & Clyde are likely considered the most iconic American outlaws-- and quite possibly, the most iconic historical outlaws worldwide.

To me, it's the love affair of Bonnie & Clyde combined with the sheer brutality associated with them-- that's reached such a great depth within people's psyches, and propelled them well beyond their reasonably petty accomplishments as thieves. I feel these realities combined with the duo's perceived rebellious nature (a common perception of 1930's outlaws)-- is what gives Bonnie and Clyde their enormous fame and appeal.

I have paid homage to the victims of The Barrow Gang often in the past, both on the Internet and live-- and will continue to do so. I welcome your comment, as I feel it serves to keep the proper balance if you will.

I feel all aspects of this history are appropriate to comment on. The fate of Bonnie's belongings has long been questioned, and now that an answer is at hand-- there's no time like the present to discuss it. I would hope all who read this, have a great respect for the many victims of The Barrow Gang. I also hope many will also enjoy commenting on this post.

joe from Canada said...

Thank you for responses, your thoughts, views and knowledge are appreciated. This blog to me represents a learning forum as well as a place for discussion as I know the information I obtain will always be true

Maybe we should have a B and C convention- with Winston being head speaker and master of ceremonies-- other speakers could be family members of B and C.-- we could invite plublishers to sell their books-people can bring B and C items to share etc etc

It goes without saying that this convention should be held in western New York- say Niagara Falls, Buffalo (in order words close to me) I am just thinking of spouses and significant other who are not interested in B&C but want to come along and do something else while we meet. For me as long as there is shopping near by-- Maceys, Marshalls, TJ Maxx my wife will be happy

A. Winston Woodward said...

Thanks for your kind expressions regarding the blog. You know the folks down in Gibsland, LA throw one of these B&C get togethers each May. The Authentic Bonnie & Clyde Festival, is held on the closest weekend to the May 23rd anniversary of the ambush. Arcadia and the ambush site are about equal distances from Gibsland. The B&C Ambush Museum which is a highlight in town, is housed in what was Ma Canfield's Cafe. There's lodging nearby.

I believe others here have mentioned, that Bienville Parish hasn't seemed to have changed much from the time of Bonnie & Clyde. I would agree. It's quite rural there. When they roll out the old cars and people dress in period clothes-- if you close your eyes and then open them-- you could just about swear you'd been transported back in time to 1934. Plus, there's nothing like being in a place where this history actually happened. For those who could spend more time-- Dallas is about 230 miles away.

The times I've attended have been a gas. Many B&C related family members will usually attend. There's also the historian's meeting on Friday night and B&C books & wares are usually offered throughout the weekend. Perhaps many of us will make it there next year.

BarefootOkieGal said...

I'd love to attend one of the festivals at Gibsland - it's a good long drive from California, but if I could get from here to Florida in 3-1/2 days, I'd say I could get to LA in 2-1/2... well, one never knows, but it would be a really great event to attend!

Cindy Dy said...

It's enjoyable to learn more and more from your blog. Thanks for sharing.