Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Bonnie & Clyde History Blog Q & A-- With Gordon Baker

Gordon Baker's new Bonnie and Clyde offering Retribution, has inspired much comment-- some of it polite, thoughtful and genuinely inquisitive, and some to my way of thinking-- rude, self serving and not befitting of historical discussion. Unfortunately within the analysis of Bonnie & Clyde History, there are some who would prefer to play vicious games, rather than add meaningful comment to this history. With that said, there are many more fair minded and polite individuals-- who keep a wary but open mind concerning Bonnie & Clyde History, and who with the proper element of respect-- are willing to consider alternative scenarios within an historical void, which rarely lets in much light.

Perhaps those so critical of Mr. Baker, should take a lesson from the famous quote attributed to Voltaire but likely written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pseudonym S. G.
Tallentyre which states-- “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Within that spirit of fairness, it seems appropriate to comment-- that Retribution consists of a reasonable but brief rehash of Bonnie & Clyde History, derived from a variety of well known sources. And just as a number of Bonnie & Clyde authors have formed their historical opinions based on writings which have come before them, it appears Mr. Baker along with the proper credits-- has accomplished his version of the same. As such although the read is good, Retribution offers little new on the traditional Bonnie & Clyde home front. "However"-- this new e-book's importance and claim to fame, will undoubtedly be it's "7th man" ambush account-- a wildly different and most controversial story espousing the participation of Charles Baker, whom it's said was hired by Frank Hamer to professionally film the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde.

It's purported that to Baker's horror, he witnessed Bonnie Parker plead for her life as well as the life of her unborn child-- only to have those pleas dashed and then be brutally murdered, after the sharpshooting of Prentiss Oakley had already cut down Clyde Barrow within the space of 2 shots. At first what seemed a chance Bonnie would be taken alive, quickly turned to mayhem-- as the ambush posse opened up with remarkable firepower, on just one living individual whom it seemed apparent to Charles Baker could have been saved. Although it's never seemed clear what the posse members realized at the time, or whether their regenerated thoughts only resonated within accounts told afterward??-- when you think of it, based on the totality of ambush recollections-- the sense of Clyde having been hit and likely already dead when Bonnie took the wrath of so many shots-- seems with or without Charles Baker, to have been the reality of the ambush.

However based on this latest ambush account, the key question is-- did an independent observer audibly hear Bonnie Parker plead for her life and the life of an unborn innocent, only to be decimated in cold blood by officers who couldn't control their desire to enact retribution that day-- their own form of roadside justice, regardless of circumstance?? With all the cloaked secrecy surrounding Bonnie & Clyde ambush stories as told over the years, it seems fair to ask whether Baker's account is credible enough to be "the great dark secret"-- and reason for all the conflicting ambush accounts as told, not told or analyzed for all these many decades?? It's not my purpose within this post, to address my opinions or evidentiary comparisons regarding the Baker ambush account. Rather this article, is dedicated to questions and answers addressed to Gordon Baker concerning his book. My next post concerning Retribution, will get to the meat of the matter from an historical viewpoint.

Some have seemingly taken their public interrogation of Mr. Baker to an unhealthy and heartless extreme, under the guise of protecting Bonnie & Clyde historical correctness. Well as someone who staunchly defends Bonnie & Clyde historical accuracy, my view is if someone, "anyone"-- can verify which ambush account is worthy to protect and why??-- well then we have a news flash!! The ambush of Bonnie & Clyde's been solved. But as no one can seem to prove any of the ambush accounts as stated, and it doesn't appear this one can be proven either-- "and" I assure you, even more controversial ambush contentions are on the horizon-- my view is, to maintain an open mind and keep digging for the truth. There are certain aspects of the ambush and it's aftermath, which are pretty much assured. However to this day-- many key elements concerning the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde-- seem about as solid as a dissipating fog.

While some were busy exhibiting non-exemplary behavior toward this latest Bonnie & Clyde author-- I felt it important to reach out to Gordon Baker, in a way fitting of someone who'd presented a new Bonnie & Clyde ambush account. What follows are a series of questions, answers and comments made to and by Gordon Baker. Among many e-mails to hit my inbox in commenting on Retribution, a number of really good questions were advanced-- which I addressed with Gordon Baker both within e-mails and a phone conversation I had with him. Along with queries of my own-- I present here a compilation of questions which many have felt should be asked, along with responses from Gordon Baker. Many thanks, to those who formed questions used in this effort.

Q-- Even though you had an agreement to wait the 25 years until 2010 to tell this story, based on a realization of your own mortality-- why did you risk this information perhaps being lost forever?? Did you ever think to release this information sooner??

GB-- I now understand your concern, as a historian about my waiting so long to make the information public. In that 25 year period, I could have lost my life, and the information I had would have been lost. However, the deal was I had to wait out those 25 years before going public. This was Charles Baker’s wish. No, I never considered releasing the info sooner. I filed the info away and never really thought about it much until the beginning of 2010. Prior to my starting to write the book about B&C at the beginning of 2010, the B&C story was not a big deal to me. It's only since I started to write the book that I have taken more of an interest in the story.

Q--Did Charles Baker make notes of the ambush, and how long after the ambush were these notes made?? Also did you make notes based on Charles story as you heard it?? And did your father perhaps make any notes, based on his knowledge of Charles story??

GB-- Charles did make notes about the ambush, but I have no idea how long after the incident that he did this. I did not make any notes as Charles told me, he would be mailing me a copy of all the information, which he did. My father did not make any notes. Everything I put in the book concerning Charles's participation was taken from his notes.

Q-- Where are Charles' notes now??

GB-- I had all the notes Charles Baker sent me including the envelope till the winter of 2004. It was at that time that my sister destroyed most of my belongings. This is a story about a fight over our parent's estate. It started in 2000 and it is still going on today, eleven years later. In 1999 I purchased a new computer, and that was when I entered the notes Charles had sent me.

Q-- How did your father learn of Charles' ambush account??

GB-- In 1935, Charles father told my dad his son had been with the B&C posse, acting as a photographer. That was all the information he gave my dad and he asked my father to not repeat that information. My dad never told me about that and I only learned he knew about it, the day Charles visited my dad's home in 1985.

Q-- How old was Charles Baker in 1934?? How old was he at his death??

GB-- I believe he was 81 when he died so that would put him at 30 years old in 1934.

(A.W.W. note)-- 1934 plus 51 = 1985. As such, Charles would have died the same year he met with Gordon Baker. Some tight timing-- however Gordon related to me that Charles knew he was dying, and didn't want to pass on without his ambush experience being known.

Q-- Where in Texas did Charles Baker live??

GB-- All I know is that he was living in Texas at the time. I don’t know what part. My father did tell me, because of the type of work he was in, he had to keep on the move to find new jobs and of course the depression of that era didn’t help his cause any. This next comment was speculation on my father’s part. He believed Charles accepted the ambush assignment hoping that it would open up new opportunities, which would further his career.

Q-- Was Charles employed as a newspaper or media photographer-- or was he a freelance photographer, and where was he employed??

GB-- Charles was self employed by himself as a freelance photographer. From my understanding, times were difficult then and being a freelance photographer was not an easy job. Apparently he was quite mobile in his search for work.

Q-- Was Charles Baker an American??

GB-- No, Charles was a Canadian-- who lived in Texas at the time.

Q-- Do you have a photo of Charles, or know of anyone who would??

GB-- I do not have a photo and wouldn’t know where to start to try and get one.
I only met Charles that one time. These were distant relatives and the two arms of the families only visited each other a few times in the 30s.

Q-- Do you feel it would it be possible to locate info on Charles Baker??

GB-- Trying to trace back Charles Baker is a mission impossible job. Too much time has passed. The Baker families did not keep in touch with distant relatives. All my dad's brothers and sisters are dead, and it's the same on my mother's side. The same would be true for all arms of the family tree.

Q-- How did Charles Baker come to meet Frank Hamer??

GB-- I have no knowledge of how he met Hamer or what assignments they worked on.

Q-- What type of cameras were used by Charles Baker in recording the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde, and how could more than one camera have been running at the same time??

GB-- I'm almost certain Charles used a Cine Kodak 8 Model 20 movie camera. This camera was used during the 1930s and was employed by many newspaper photographers. Cameras such as this used wind up spring mechanisms, which allowed 2 minutes of filming time for each side of the film. 2 minutes of film would 1st be shot on one side-- then the film cartridge reversed to allow for an additional 2 minutes of exposure. I believe an external spring action device could be purchased, which could extend the motor time.

(A.W.W. note)-- For reference, here's a link showing how an old style Kodak movie camera worked.


Q-- The January 1st entry in Bonnie's diary seems to allow for the possibility that Frank Hamer was involved in the hunt for B&C prior to the Eastham Prison break. How would this be possible??-- or does this diary entry purport an unknown reality for the emergence of Frank Hamer within this history??

GB-- In reference to your paragraph starting with, “Also the Jan 1st, 1934 reference. I have read the two entries in the diary and yes, you are right, they do appear to be out of sync. When I was entering the notes into my computer I was taking small chunks, typing them in and triple checking them to make sure I had everything correct. In that regard, I am confident that I did not make a mistake. That raises the question, did Charles make a mistake, did Bonnie make a mistake or did Bonnie know something that has not been discovered yet?

Q-- What other info concerning Bonnie Parker's diary was present within the notes you mentioned existed??

GB-- Charles said Bonnie was quite the writer, and as such many of her entries were long-- in talking of the weather, road conditions, reminiscing about things they had done in the past, and places Bonnie would like to go etc. As such, Charles related only what he thought was relevant information.

Q-- L. J. "Boots" Hinton has sometimes related stories from his father which are unpublished. Have you ever spoken to "Boots" Hinton??

GB-- I have never spoken to "Boots" Hinton.

(A.W.W. note)-- As there's an ambush detail, I've heard recounted by "Boots" which I believe has had little exposure over the years-- I felt it important to ask this question. "Boots" has also told me, that he and Gordon have never spoken.

Gordon Baker comments--

The B&C posse had a seventh man with them who was a freelance photographer hired by Frank Hamer. I personally, do not find that impossible or strange to believe. I believe the ambush of B&C was going to be the highlight of Hamer’s career and he was well aware of that. He was also aware that trophy material, like the killing of B&C would be worth a substantial amount of money. However, he had to settle for whatever B&C had with them at the time of the ambush. I believe Hamer made the decision to have the ambush recorded on film because he knew that would be worth money to news services, newspapers, magazines and maybe even the Hollywood film industry.

The reality was with a seventh man at the ambush, there was now a person who could give a more independent account of what happened. However, Hamer was a methodical type of person and to protect himself in case of a major blunder, he swore the photographer to silence with deadly consequences if he ever talked. His actions make sense and his thinking is logical. If the ambush didn't go as planned the last thing he needed was a big mouth photographer causing him major embarrassment.

Charles Baker's account of the ambush was quite close to the other accounts given by the lawmen. There are however, a few differences.

1) The car stopped on the hill for as long as five minutes, before approaching the truck stopped on the highway ahead of them.

2) Between the killing of Clyde and the killing of Bonnie there was an interval of time, where no shots were fired. I don't know how long that period was, but it was long enough that Charles believed they were going to take Bonnie alive.

3) A third difference is the fact that Bonnie was given enough time to yell at the lawmen after Clyde was killed. After reading Charles' notes, there was no question about it. She was trying to surrender to the law and begging for her life. Her efforts failed, but I believe it bought her more precious seconds. During those seconds, the lawmen had to be wondering was this right, to kill a pregnant woman who was a cripple and pleading for her life? In the end, I believe the lawmen looked to their boss for a signal on what to do? Hamer's signal came in the form of the opening shots, which led to over thirty shells entering Bonnie's fragile body.

4) A fourth difference is the fact, Bonnie in her attempt to surrender told the lawmen that she was pregnant. Another unknown that will never have an answer is would Hamer have given B&C fair warning before firing. My personal thoughts are yes he would have. Clyde vowed he would never be taken alive. If Hamer gave them fair warning, Clyde had two choices, reach for his gun or put the gas pedal to the floor. Either way, he was a dead man in my books.

Hamer went to the trouble of hiring a photographer to film the event. I believe he did this, because he figured he could make some money with the film. If that was true then he needed to follow proper police procedures. However, the ambush took a twist of fate, not in Hamers' favor and he had to bury the film.

Third piece of new info. The photographer finding Bonnie's diary. Again this disclosure of information is hard to believe. However, Bonnie was known to have kept a diary. My own thoughts on this are: The lawmen in their haste or excitement did not find the diary and Charles did. It was just pure luck on his part. However, for him to smuggle it out under the nose of Hamer was one gutsy move.

Gordon Baker thoughts at this time

I have read all your emails 3 times, to make sure I understood them. I have read some comments on line. I knew there would be a lot of skepticism. I knew people would want proof almost beyond a shadow of a doubt. I can understand that. So far I've received two nasty emails. Some people are taking this very personal. It's only now, I realize, I should have taken notes and regret that mistake. At that point in time (1985) my interest in B&C was not that great. I was self employed at that time and owned two video movie rental stores. The renting of video movies was very popular in those days and the stores occupied most of my time.

Gordon Baker conclusion to this point

I'm really wondering if I did the right thing, by going public with the info. However, I believe most people have filled in the blanks anyway. I read one comment on line, where the person stated this news is not new. I wish Charles would have gone public with it, long before he died. That way, everyone would have heard the story from the horse's mouth.

Some people think this is all about me selling books. If people want me to give the book away, I'm willing to list it for free. This was about my keeping a promise. I believe the average person in the U.S. and Canada couldn't care less about Bonnie and Clyde. Actually, I did forget to include a couple of items in the book, which are Frank Hamer did give Charles Baker a pat down looking for any film that Charles may have put in his pockets. That was at the same time he asked Charles to open all the cameras. The other item was Charles did say Frank Hamer was a big man and it was very easy to feel intimidated around him. I can tell you that when Charles started talking about the ambush, he became very emotional. It was clear to me that 50 years had not faded the memories. I do remember him telling me, I don't know how those lawmen can live with themselves, after firing their guns on a defenseless cripple woman, who was clearly trying to surrender. It was this part of the ambush that affected him the most I believe, as he mentioned it more than once.

-- Gordon.

A.W.W. Comment--

I will return soon, with a critical look at the Baker ambush account. For those who feel Bonnie & Clyde History shouldn't be explored to it's fullest, because some in their ultimate wisdom wish to pass definitive judgment on this history-- which is so hard to nail down in so many regards-- some beautifully written words of edification.

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

Neither Out Far Nor In Deep
Robert Frost 1936

Friday, February 4, 2011

Just the Thing to Kick Off the New Year Right-- The January 2011 Bonnie & Clyde Polls

I tried to keep things within the realm of easy research, for the 1st batch of 2011 Bonnie and Clyde Polls. So continuing within that vein of simplicity-- here we go. Homer Glaze and Mrs. L. G. Butler, were both said to have witnessed the killing of Howard Hall at his Little's grocery store in Sherman, Texas on October 11th, 1932. When Mr. Hall protested what was apparently Clyde Barrow's abusive and aggressive treatment of him-- Mr. Hall was shot 3 times in the chest. For those who say Clyde wasn't a cold blooded killer and just killed when he had to, the Howard Hall killing is perhaps revealing and fuel for the fire of debate-- as Mr. Hall was reportedly shot a 4th time while dying on the ground. Anger, cursing and abusiveness were noted, culminating in Clyde being indicted for the Hall killing with malice in December of '32.

Contrary to what might seem obvious for the owner of a combination jewelry store, filling station and garage-- John Bucher's training was said to have been as an optician. One can envision the "fine eye" of an optician-- as being useful to a jeweler. 3 filling stations, were reportedly robbed by The Barrow Gang in rapid succession on July 18th, 1933 at Fort Dodge, Iowa. However, it seems in addition to robbing the 3 stations and kidnapping 2 of the station attendants along the way-- some overlooked the 4th robbery committed by Clyde and the gang in Fort Dodge. That of Justin Chevalier, brother of the Texaco owner Leon Chevalier. Justin was relieved of the keys to his car, apparently to prevent the car from being used to trail the outlaws. In one of those amazing Barrow Gang stories, Justin reportedly asked Clyde to throw his keys out the window down the road-- so he wouldn't need to replace them. This "good deed" of a request, was reportedly honored by Clyde.

High powered rifles were said to have been the weapons used by Burley Wetsel and Carl Capp, to fire upon the Barrow Gang as it exited the scene-- after robbing the Farmers & Miners Bank in Oronogo, Missouri on November 30th, 1932. The machine gun fire which was returned in retaliation for the gas men's volley, was said to have just missed Wetsel. Although there seems nothing truly definitive to go on-- a comparison of photos with Emma Parker standing next to Bonnie (who was reportedly just shy of 5 feet in height)-- and Cumie Barrow standing next to a 5 foot 1 inch Blanche, seem to show Emma to be the taller of the Bonnie & Clyde mothers. Although both a teller and a customer at the Henry & Sons bank in Lancaster, Texas, couldn't positively identify Clyde Barrow and Ray Hamilton as the robbers of their bank that late February day in '34-- Clyde's newspaper feud with Ray Hamilton seemed to reveal all that needed to be known to implicate them. Even though 4 vehicles were said used in an elaborate plan to evade the law-- it was Henry Methvin believed to have been at the wheel, when Clyde and Ray exited the bank.

And in a question I though some might get but didn't-- Dr. James Wade's coroners office was in Arcadia-- but his personal practice was located in Gibsland. The burned out remains of his physician's office, is located just across the street from what was Ma Canfield's Cafe-- now occupied by The Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum. I've found an article in the past noting that Dr. Wade's clinic had burned-- but I've never been able to determine when this destruction occurred. Within photos I've taken while in Gibsland, archived here in the B&CHB photo gallery-- in the right shots, you can see the scorched empty space which evidence notes (with the remains of 3 different tile floor patterns visible)-- that the vacant area once housed 3 storefronts. As I understand it, Dr. Wade's practice was located in the far left space.

And finally concerning Joe Gunn and his experience with The Barrow Gang at Reeds Spring, Missouri in February of '34-- it seems the most widely held belief based on interviews with Mr. Gunn, had him walking "to" the store when picked up by the gang near Fred Tolbert's farm. Therefore, he would likely not have had his groceries with him, when apprehended by a powerfully armed and formidable Barrow Gang lineup that day.

Many thanks as always, for your participation in the B&C Polls. Look for the February polls to be posted soon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Again and Again "and Again"-- A Rude and Non-Productive Bonnie & Clyde History

One of the least enjoyable things I do concerning Bonnie & Clyde History, is having to comment from time to time-- about those who would attempt to influence which Bonnie & Clyde accounts are acceptable to advance and believe-- and which ones aren't. This history is sometimes so polarized, that kind of thing can actually occur. However within my focus on advancing Bonnie & Clyde truth, narrow minded attempts at historical censorship don't fly with me-- and have caused flaps over the years among some of us with our ears to the ground within this history. As I believe Bonnie & Clyde History should be wide open for new or lesser known accounts to be told and examined-- I never understand the need for the judgmental recompense which can sometimes occur.

Regarding the effort by some, in attempting to discredit the new Bonnie & Clyde book Retribution and it's author Gordon Baker-- prior to more knowledge even being known concerning it's alleged revelations-- unfortunately, I find that a typical reaction by some "gate keepers" of Bonnie & Clyde History-- who in my view couldn't be more wrong. The lack of decorum within this history can be remarkable-- and as I see it, vengeance and threats shouldn't be part of any Bonnie & Clyde historical issue. Passion yes-- but passion to a fault-- no. Plus among some, there could be viewed a discernible conflict of interest-- in appearing to protect other ambush theories and "revelations"-- which to many, may end up being even more unbelievable and non-provable than the Baker account. In my view, all Bonnie & Clyde stories should stand on their own merits (or lack there of)-- and be sorted out based on honest and straight forward investigative analysis-- not childish, cursory and non-productive nonsense.

To all who've sent derogatory e-mails or worse here & there-- or have commented so viciously about this new Bonnie & Clyde effort with it's controversial ambush account, I would ask-- how can you look to shut down possible revelations within Bonnie & Clyde History no matter how "outrageous"-- just because you feel they're not true?? Then like some great protectors-- feel you're doing a service for this history, by attempting to eliminate historical assertions before they're even investigated. Hell if some had their way, I suppose we'd have no Bonnie & Clyde articles or reference materials at all-- based on a rain of skepticism and examinations on the vaunted Internet. As such-- many Bonnie & Clyde books and postulations, could be judged too controversial for publication.

BTW-- for those who send e-mails my way with unsavory comments, apparently aimed at my providing a forum for Bonnie & Clyde accounts you don't feel are cool-- please know I am proud to feature B&C accounts of many types, and don't plan on changing my independent looks into Bonnie & Clyde History anytime soon. Now would I publish an account which said Bonnie & Clyde jumped over the moon?? No-- but other accounts which seem to merit consideration, will find a forum for exploration here.

I would ask why an ambush account like Frank Hamer's, who has Bonnie & Clyde going no faster than 30 MPH when ambushed, be subjected to more or less scrutiny than this account-- or for that matter a total of 4 accounts, which have a warning shouted to Clyde by 3 different officers?? Those conflicting ambush accounts, made by lawmen who were experienced in providing detail concerning circumstances they found themselves in-- but yet couldn't seem to get their stories straight, have been meticulously examined for more than 75 years. So why then is it wrong to examine this new account?? Those who react negatively to new Bonnie & Clyde stories being advanced-- don't seem to like it when the possibility of a Bonnie pregnancy is brought up-- just as now in shooting down this ambush account which involves a Bonnie pregnancy as well. Hmmm.

Apparently for some who fancy themselves as saviors of Bonnie & Clyde History-- anger, hate and censorship are honorable. The Internet and some e-mails are abuzz with less than polite comment on Retribution, as well as threatening language which I find deplorable. I'll be most interested to see, what happens when certain new theories and revelations surface (of which I'm aware)-- and some within this history rush to discredit those questionable assertions. Others can banter behind the scenes, to find hollow justification in support of this kind of thing-- but I cannot. I'm going to learn what I can about these new ambush contentions, and report on them in an objective and historical way.

A parallel concerning Jeff Guinn has been advanced in comparing my handling of Go Down Together to Retribution. "Many" have had issues with Guinn's "True" Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde. The difference in Guinn's case, was I knew based on correspondence and documentation-- that there were likely issues with his diligence, concerning the Bonnie prostitute angle-- his admitted use of a report based on apparent supposition concerning his ambush account-- and conflict between one of his interviews, and a previously held interview with the same individual. In addition, Jeff's "remarkable" statement to me that "all written history is ultimately best guess"-- well that didn't help his credibility with me either. So in the case of Go Down Together, there appeared to be multiple issues with that Bonnie & Clyde effort-- which when compared to this new ambush account, at least up until now don't apply. It could be, that there won't be enough objective evidence to support this bold new assertion-- but at least the reporting of it, may not have the same issues as found with Go Down Together.

My feeling is there should be civility within Bonnie and Clyde History, that this history should be fully explored-- and in regard to searches for Bonnie & Clyde truth, that the chips should fall where they may-- and not be stacked the way some feel they should look. As always, I hope for a better Bonnie and Clyde History-- and return now to more enjoyable historical tasks.