Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Baker Ambush Account-- The "Pause" is the Key

Right up front I'll say I've wrestled with my approach to this post. On the one hand-- I suppose many might feel the proper way to provide stark analysis and comment, re: the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde as published within Gordon Baker's Retribution-- would involve a point by point comparison to other known ambush accounts, as stated by participants who witnessed all hell breaking loose on earth-- that uncomfortably warm 1934 morning near Sailes, Louisiana. However as many are already entrenched within their favorite ambush stories, and generally seem unwilling to consider alternative possibilities-- I'm not sure what use those comparisons would be. The reality seems to be, that polarizing viewpoints based on conflicting stories of the ambush-- may too long be set in stone within many to be adjusted.

Plus the problem I see with that approach, involves the same roadblock as evidenced since 1979-- Ted Hinton's account of the ambush. For no matter who believes what concerning the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde-- in revealing his "come clean" version of events that day, Hinton's account directly or in effect frames all other ambush accounts as told by posse members who talked-- as cover up stories. As these other versions of the ambush differ from Hinton's account and each other in most curious ways-- the question we're forced into by default, is which story to believe??

Some might picture that most uncomfortable gap between the proverbial 'ol rock and a hard place to explain this dilemma-- while others may view this historical debacle, as tantamount to paddling against a stiff current-- and thus after much effort, arriving at no place in particular. Plus concerning the Baker ambush account, although this story could be true-- there's almost no evidence to substantiate it. Thus to me, for some to go through the creative exercise of forming elaborate arguments regarding which detail is or isn't feasible within the Baker story seems fruitless-- as the proof's not available and the accounts being compared to can't be substantiated by intense scrutiny either.

In preparing for this article, I felt it important to re-visit source accounts of the ambush as published at the time-- rather than count on well traveled Bonnie & Clyde reference book versions, so often editorialized over the years. I thought perhaps this approach could help ferret out overlooked clues from the unadulterated interviews of those who were there, where talking points could be derived to address Baker's version of the ambush.

Hamer gave an interview the morning after the ambush, which was published in the Dallas Post Dispatch. Another Hamer account, which included said secret Hamer info as related by a Hamer friend-- was published within Startling Detective Magazine. In a similar fashion, Henderson Jordan's ambush story was also published later on-- and can be found in the November '34 issue of True Detective magazine. Bob Alcorn gave an interview the day of the ambush-- published the following morning in the Dallas Morning News. And perhaps the most famous ambush account, can be found within Ambush-- Ted Hinton's B&C memoir published posthumously in 1979, which to many serves as his legacy.

Among conflicting tales, told by 6 lawmen trained in the art of observing and relating "detail" within their peace officers duties, but who strangely couldn't agree on many key elements of the ambush-- along with accounts told by other witnesses that day-- there's one crucial clue which to my mind holds the key to the Baker account. That pause-- as believed heard directly after Prentiss Oakley squeezed off the 1st 2 shots killing Clyde Barrow. As told by Gordon Baker, within Charles Baker's account of the ambush-- this discernible pause is prominently noted. And as seemingly related no where else to date, Baker fills in that gap in time with a Bonnie Parker plea for mercy and attempted protection in vain-- for her unborn child. As told within Retribution-- these brief but clearly audible cries went un-headed, and shortly thereafter-- Bonnie was shot to pieces.

Of interest to me-- is that Mr. Baker's not the 1st to buck the lawmen's version and reveal the possibility of a pause having occurred, before a brutal barrage of shots penetrated the Warren car-- passing through a likely already dead Clyde and killing Bonnie Parker. However there's plenty of disagreement, in sorting out this apparent independently confirmed and controversial claim. In examining the raw interviews-- the comparisons go as follows.

Within his ambush account,
Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan notes witnessing a number of very specific and audible verbal exchanges between Ivy Methvin, Clyde and Bonnie. Then with Methvin diving for cover, Jordan states-- "The sharp report of rifle sounded. It's echo was drowned by the roar of six guns. Lead was poured into Barrow's car." Thus Jordan seems to reveal the slightest of pauses-- enough time for the echo of the 1st shots to ring out, before any following shots were fired.

Bob Alcorn never mentions Ivy Methvin, Prentiss Oakley, the Warren car coming to a standstill or any pause in saying--"Clyde began to slow down. All of us jumped up from behind that little mound. We had rifles and shotguns pointed at him. By this time he was in fifty feet of us. He saw us and reached over grabbing for what we later learned was his gun. We let him have it. His head flew back. Bonnie toppled forward. The car careened to the left and ran into a sandbank. We didn't know whether we killed them or not".

Frank Hamer in employing hindsight within his interview the next morning, recalls the moment of the ambush with curious detail-- in saying "Clyde was driving less than 30 miles per hour. I raised up and commanded them to halt. At the same instant, Clyde reached for his 12 gauge sawed off shotgun leaning on the seat between him and Bonnie, and Bonnie reached for a 16 gauge sawed of shotgun. I gave them a chance to halt but they didn't, so we gave 'em the same medicine they've given so many others. *Note-- This is the interview, which may have forever framed Hamer's opinion of having killed Bonnie Parker in the eyes of many by his stating-- "I hated to shoot a woman-- but as I looked down my rifle barrel I remembered that Bonnie Parked had taken part in the murder of nine peace officers. I remembered how she kicked the body of a highway patrolman at Grapevine, Tex., Easter Sunday, and fired a bullet into his body as he lay on the ground. Bonnie just got in the way of bullets intended for Clyde Barrow. A woman like that had something like that coming to her."

However, within a later vintage article on Frank Hamer entitled Outlaw Tamer of the New West-- more is recounted of the ambush in a more dramatized story, including info said supplied by an unnamed friend of Hamer's. Although this article contains seeming exaggeration, out and out falsehoods and often contradicts Hamer's earlier version as told at the time of the waylay-- some details (such as B&C reaching for weapons)-- actually support other ambush stories. However note that Prentiss Oakley's 1st shots are conspicuously missing. Thus no pause. Among other things not mentioned-- there's no mention of Ivy Methvin.

This article recounts the ambush as this-- Hamer restrained his impatient aides and at 9:30 they sighted a V-8 coming up the rise. A truck slowed the Ford up and at the crest of the hill the car came almost to a complete stop. Six rifles leveled at the man and the girl in the car. "It's Barrow," cried Hinton and Alcorn
confirmed. Six voices cried "Hands up!" Barrow dropped a hand into his lap for the weapon that lay there. Bonnie reached for a shotgun at her side. The six rifles Browning automatics all, roared. Lead smashed through the windshield, through the windows, through the body of the car. Barrow's head slumped onto his chest and his body rolled oddly and lifelessly over into the seat. His foot slipped from the clutch and the car started up jerked forward in high for a few feet and into a ditch. The Hail of leaden death never let up until the automobile had settled over onto one side. Hamer found Barrow drooped lifelessly over the car door, one ear and the back of his head torn off, his chest driven in by 50 bullet wounds. Terribly mutilated also was Bonnie, one hand clutching a pack of cigarets, the other an automatic shotgun. Hamer turned away, slightly ill.

Hinton's version of the critical moment was expressed as this-- "He has pulled even with the engine part of the parked truck, twenty feet in front of me, and he is in my gunsight, though his car is still moving. Suddenly, Alcorn's deep bellow "HALT!" arouses him. Alongside him Bonnie screams, and I fire and everyone fires, and in the awful hell and noise Clyde is reaching for a weapon, and the wheels are digging into the gravel as he makes a start to get away. MY B.A.R. spits out twenty shots in an instant, and the drumbeat of shells knifes through the steel body of the car, and glass is shattering. For a fleeting instant, the car seems to melt and hang in a kind of eerie and animated suspension, trying to move forward, spitting gravel-- etc".

Nicely written, but here's a question-- again what happened to Prentiss Oakley's 1st 2 shots?? Those shots are not apparent, nor is any pause seemingly discernible at all in Hinton's account. Although not in interview form with him directly, fortunately-- Prentiss Oakley apparently related thoughts of his ambush experience to friends-- who revealed some of Oakley's comments over the years. These revelations have been available in video form. Importantly, Oakley admitted firing first-- but said he wasn't sure why he fired. It's thought the intense pressure of the moment, may have caused Oakley (with a bead on Clyde)-- to squeeze his trigger initially. But again, true to other ambush posse accounts-- I don't recall these stories of Oakley's exploits, including mention of a pause after his firing.

However in throwing a gleaming monkey wrench into the lawmen's accounts-- this pause "is" noted within the accounts of independent observers, some of whom were present to witness the ambush with both their eyes & ears-- and some who instead witnessed it just aurally. As told within Bonnie & Clyde A 21st Century Update, Jim Knight notes that Prentiss Oakley emptied 5 shots into the Warren car, with only the 1st shot having hit Clyde in the temple killing him instantly. Jim states that as witnessed that day, only Oakley's 1st 2 shots stood out on their own-- with the final 3 being drowned out within the carnage which ensued. Buddy Goldston is footnoted as the source of that info, from his Remembering Bonnie and Clyde documentary interview.

John Neal Phillips also makes reference to this pause in firing, within his iconic Bonnie & Clyde rendering Running with Bonnie and Clyde. In this offering, Prentiss Oakley took 2 shots prematurely-- with Hinton seeing Clyde's head snap back. Then all six officers opened fire. It's seems unclear from John's account-- how long this pause was noted to be. The man named as the source of this critical info, concerning Oakley having fired with the pause that followed-- is Gibsland resident Olin Jackson. Mr. Jackson was working in the fields some 2 miles away, at the time of the ambush. Olin who to me was a good but testy interview, and who recently passed away having reached his late 90s-- told this now famous story of having heard the initial shots-- followed by a pause and then a wrath of gunfire. Mr. Jackson's claim has been chronicled in both video form, and within some of the more reputable Bonnie & Clyde historical reference books.

Although none of these accounts note a duration for this pause (which would be key to the Baker account)-- as I understand it from my many talks with "Boots" Hinton, who heard this story from Olin-- Mr. Jackson noted a slight pause before additional gunfire erupted. How slight is slight-- may be the "most" important element in wading through the Baker ambush account. As mentioned, not even Ted Hinton who professed to have exposed the truth within his account of the ambush-- mentions this discernible pause and thus offers no details from that experience. But it seems to me, those sympathetic to the lawmen have been forced to comment on this gap in time-- and admit to a contradiction in events as reported, based on independent witness accounts.

This opens up the possibility to all sorts of contradictions to the reality of that day-- as the lawmen themselves couldn't seem to get their stories quite straight. Concerning that pause in firing-- as others independent of the law and independent of the Baker account witnessed this pause-- I am inclined to believe such a pause indeed occurred. But it's what happened within that pause, that's important to Baker's story.

The crux of the Baker ambush account is that Frank Hamer hired Charles Baker, said to have been a freelance Canadian born photographer living in Texas at the time-- to record on film the capture of Bonnie & Clyde. Within this story, Hamer's motivation seems to involve preserving for some future use (perhaps his own)-- professionally shot footage of the ambush. Thus Charles Baker is reported as the "7th man" at Sailes that day, who chronicled the ambush. The film from 3 strategically placed movie cameras, was said to have been confiscated by Hamer-- who made sure no footage remained out of his possession.

As further explained within Retribution, during that pause & after Prentiss Oakley had noticeably killed Clyde-- Bonnie was said to have pleaded for mercy-- with enough time seemingly having elapsed for Baker to believe the posse might take Bonnie Parker alive. But then to Baker's horror, Bonnie is executed in a hail of bullets. After the ambush, and with posse members self absorbed in sifting through the bounty of their efforts-- Charles Baker is able to abscond with Bonnie's diary, which was well hidden under Bonnie's seat. This diary apparently revealed a final Bonnie Parker poem (Retribution)-- and diary entries from January 1st, 1934 until the morning of the ambush. It's said Bonnie's final diary entry, eerily foretold of her own death on that very day.

Of course the beauty of Retribution from a documentation viewpoint-- is that there isn't any. It seems the most crucial element of Baker's proof (Charles Baker's notes)-- were destroyed in a vindictive act by a Baker relative. I don't know about you, but I guarantee you one thing-- if those were my notes, they would have been locked up tight in a safe deposit box so that no cruel fate could befall them. I suppose Gordon Baker's explanation of Bonnie & Clyde not being of particular importance to him in 1985, couldn't have been better illustrated-- than by his apparent disregard for the value of those irreplaceable notes, which today could be historically monumental.

I've read much of the overzealous banter re: Retribution, as professed by those within this history who like to spread their skepticism like a blanket-- and pick apart any and all minutia within the saga of Bonnie & Clyde to the point of obsession. I myself don't feel it makes any difference, which wind up cameras may have been used by Charles Baker-- or where he was when the proceedings in Arcadia were unfolding. Hell-- the cloak of secrecy concerning the ambush of B&C casts such a dark shadow, I would challenge anyone to recount the actual events as they occurred that day-- based on any one or combination of ambush accounts. It's my belief, the full truth concerning the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde may never be known.

To me this is simple-- we could debate Retribution for years, but I don't feel we need to. Could Charles Baker have been at the ambush at the invitation of Frank Hamer?? Sure. Could he have recorded the ambush on film that Hamer confiscated?? Sounds like Hamer to me. However-- did this event actually happen as portrayed within Retribution??? I would ask politely, how these accounts could be believed objectively-- with nary a shred of proof??? I would feel more comfortable concerning Charles Baker, if some evidence of his existence could be shown. We know much about the 6 who fired at Bonnie & Clyde-- but nothing about Baker, with the exception of a word of mouth account and secondary notes. Could Baker and his participation within this history, just be one of those deep dark Bonnie & Clyde secrets-- never meant to see the light of day?? That could be a fair assessment-- as I believe many of those secrets exist. However I must say, the already murky ambush of B&C is hardly the place-- to throw in this added historical mystery without some element of proof. Concerning Baker and his story-- having a disclaimer act as a barricade at every turn, is not good for historical disclosure.

Regarding the pause which I feel so important-- based on independent witness accounts, no matter what the lawmen said that day or later in life-- I for one believe there was some discernible pause after Prentiss Oakley's 1st shots rang out. And the lawmen themselves may have evidenced this, with the claim that Bonnie was heard to scream after the law's presence was known. That's an interesting clue, as it too notes a space in time for reflection-- but at what point this scream occurred (pre or post Oakley's shots)-- would be vital to know. I'm still searching for a Bonnie scream from source material at the time, but am not sure this Bonnie reaction was noted until later. Hinton notes it after Alcorn's warning and prior to any shooting having started. It's funny-- they "let them have it"-- but some still had time to hear Bonnie's scream. Another seeming inconsistency.

However none of those who witnessed a pause in the firing, seemed to note a pause long enough for Bonnie to have made her plea as noted by Baker. In this case, the timing of gunshots wouldn't lie-- and that timing element-- a pause long enough for Bonnie to plead for 2 human lives and attempt to surrender-- doesn't seem apparent within what could have been terrific corroborating evidence. To me, the length of the pause is the "key" in being able to support or reject the Baker ambush account. In my view-- the amount of detail as reported within that pause by Baker-- could not likely occur within the space of time noted by independent observers. While others may choose to hash out the minutia of this to their heart's content-- I'll stick with this key moment as being most important.

Many know, after looking into a possible Bonnie Parker pregnancy now for close to 3 years-- I make no bones about the fact that at this point, I believe Bonnie may have been pregnant (or thought she was) when killed. I feel there may eventually be enough evidence to support this Bonnie circumstance. Nonetheless-- without even cursory proof for it's claims, I can add little additional credence to a Bonnie pregnancy based on the Baker ambush account. Having said that-- I respect very much Gordon Baker's valiant and stated desire, to have done right in honoring Charles Baker's dying request concerning this story.

You won't get me to say that I doubt Gordon Baker, or attack him as some defenders of the B&C Status Quo have done. I have no tolerance for unwarranted or vicious personal attacks-- whether within an historical context or elsewhere. Historical commentary based on substance is one thing-- immaturity and the use of personal slurs is quite another.

And for those who like to cast stones at me-- yes-- when compared to Gordon Baker, I view my criticism of Jeff Guinn's B&C book in a much different manner. To me, there's no apparent willingness to overtly tout the sensational within Baker's book-- or mold non-facts into facts, while noting via footnotes or e-mail that due diligence was employed-- or use materials with dubious merit from supposed B&C authorities, to make inference where inference cannot logically be made-- or publish claims based on the wrong provenance, when the correct provenance was easily obtainable-- or to utilize a "catch all" disclaimer, which in effect releases him from any and all responsibility historically-- in stating that "all written history is ultimately best guess." That's more the work of a hired gun, with literary experience in writing of vampires and Santa Claus. The simple truth is-- evidence is required to validate historical claims. Otherwise stories such as this, fall into the realm of Bonnie & Clyde lore. And Lord knows-- there's never a shortage of B&C lore.

It's most unfortunate more evidence isn't available to support Charles Baker's claim-- or of the existence of Charles Baker himself. Perhaps this could be sorted out in the future. Proof of the existence of Baker would help immensely, toward considering Retribution and it's ambush account as a viable Bonnie & Clyde work.

I don't believe anyone living, can substantiate exactly what occurred at the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde. I'm must say I'm to the point, where I don't feel confident in any of the stated ambush accounts. There seem too many conflicting and important differences noted, to know for sure what occurred that day-- except that Bonnie & Clyde were indeed killed by the 6 lawmen known to have participated (rightly or wrongly) in that carnage. But I suppose without this profound element of mystery within B&C History, filled with it's many fascinating uncertainties-- there would be little to do but say "Yep-- that's the way it was". And what fun would that be?? Also what can be made of the reported Bonnie Parker poem Retribution-- which accompanies this new B&C book, and could sound the part of a Bonnie poem-- but is it??

As always-- I welcome your comments.


joe from Canada said...

Hi Winston
Great piece of writing.You and I have had some difference of opinions in the past as you know but I have always enjoyed your writing and well thought out process of research. I have also enjoyed our conversations. I have read Retribution and I agree with your comments. A++ for your pieces on Retribution

Frances said...

Excellent article!

BarefootOkieGal said...

It's really hard to know what really happened, especially after all these years and with the deaths of everyone who was actually present! It's pretty much agreed that there was enough of a pause between Clyde's death and Bonnie's for people to have heard her "...scream like a panther." It's possible that Bonnie was not merely screaming in horror and terror, but that she was trying to convey a message - but no one else has ever stated that they heard anything more than screams; no one is admitting to have heard any words. While it's possible that Bonnie was injured by one of the first shots that hit Clyde, she apparently wasn't killed - here we run smack into Bonnie's fatalistic attitude and determination to die with Clyde: At the critical moment, did Bonnie abandon her desire to die with Clyde? And if so - was it out of fear for her own life, or was it fear for an unborn child? We know Bonnie screamed - there's just no proof as to whether she was just shrieking wordlessly or whether she was indeed trying to convey an important message.

Jim from Atlanta said...

Hola Winston,
I recommend that we first find the in common portions of the stories to find the definitive truth. Take the widely known version that have a common likeness.
We know that Oakley fired first.
We know there was a slight pause between the first two shots and the barrage--what it a very slight split second or a pregnant pause (pardon the pun).
Now what if a camera were taking pictures--THERE IS NO SOUND--so other than judging who shot when--there would be no difinitive evidence of Bonnie's alleged pleading.
Let's put a list of common items the posse told to find the truth.
Just a thought.

Tim Hensley said...

after reading much on the ambush, i felt the versions by the lawmen were in conflict. 8 or 9 holes are seen in the front windshield on bonnie's side of the car.frank hamer said to have fired them into her. why did hamer kill bonnie over and over. surely he knew she was dead. always wondered did he have an extra unknown hate for her that drove him to over kill her.

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hi Tim. I'm not at all convinced Hamer did "over kill" Bonnie. I'm not one for the Jeff Guinn sensationalized version of the ambush-- as I don't buy the report he based his version on. I believe that "research" to be materially flawed.