Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is Frank Hamer's Role in Bonnie & Clyde History Overblown??

Bonnie & Clyde History is ripe with lore, and from virtually every angle.  For it's villains and heroes have their documented truths-- as well as truths deemed unsubstantiated.  Recently, while reading an article published concerning the 80th anniversary of the ambush of Bonnie & Clyde-- I noted a reference often attributed to Frank Hamer-- in having discerned the travel patterns of Bonnie & Clyde, which according to some-- became a key element in their capture.  For those who revel in the aggrandizing postmortem memoir "I'm Frank Hamer"-- Captain Hamer was instrumental in the capture of Bonnie & Clyde.  So much so, with just his presence on the case-- Bonnie & Clyde and all the world surely knew the "jig was up" for them. 

And then there's that mental image of Hamer pouring over Bonnie & Clyde sightings, to "finally" do what others couldn't-- crack the code of Bonnie & Clyde travel, to exploit some pattern of predictability in tracking down the pair-- like bloodhounds released into the woods after a wounded animal.


However, objectively-- I'm not so sure that case can be made.  The Dallas FBI file on Bonnie & Clyde (26-4114) is a most interesting collection of law enforcement records, which reveals a plethora of realities concerning the hunt for Bonnie & Clyde, not known to the public prior to their release.  Within this file-- the sell-out of Bonnie & Clyde by the Methvin family along with the help of a couple of others, is finally documented without reservation.  Also, the presence and diligence of the U.S. Bureau of Investigation within Louisiana, in helping take down Bonnie & Clyde-- is noted to have commenced as much as a year prior to the ambush.  In fact-- the level of involvement by J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau, in helping to flush out Bonnie & Clyde-- was surely not realized prior to release of this file.    
 
BTW-- within notation of Louisiana happenings concerning Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan and associates-- it's quite clear, it was "their" contacts-- "their" informants who sought out Bienville Parish lawmen, which ultimately led to the capture of Bonnie & Clyde.  Hamer was of course shown in photos next to Sheriff Jordan after the ambush-- however, many miss the point of jurisdiction regarding the waylay of Clyde & Bonnie.  For that was Henderson Jordan's posse-- not Hamer's.     


Within the Dallas files, it "is" noted, that Hamer hit the road with Bob Alcorn to conduct "boots on the ground" research in tracking Bonnie & Clyde.  This includes an interview with store employees, concerning a dress sold to a Parker relative-- who apparently was shopping for Bonnie.  Thus the green dress with flourishes, hand-drawn by Hamer as found in the Joplin, MO P.D. file on Bonnie & Clyde, sent to Joplin Chief of Detectives Ed Portley on March 15th, 1934-- became a dress to be "on the lookout for" within the hunt.  A copy of the letter from Hamer to Portley appears in the Joplin file-- while the corroboration of the search, which led to Hamer's artwork and letter to Portley-- appears in the Dallas file. 

In my opinion, that dress could've been worn by Blanche within a quite flattering photo taken of her (see below).  Of course Bonnie in being quite petite, could've worn that dress as well-- as she and Blanche were known to be about the same size.  The dress worn by Blanche, although not exactly matching Hamer's drawing-- is close to his artwork.  



So there is documentation concerning Hamer tracking down a unique dress, he thought could be used to help ID Bonnie.  But does documentation exist concerning Capt. Hamer's ability to crack the "Barrow travel code"??  L.J. "Boots" Hinton tells of his father Ted's recollection, of Dallas Sheriff "Smoot" Schmid, scouring news accounts from the freshest newspapers available-- attempting to anticipate Barrow's next move.  And that Northwestern section of Louisiana, did hold an advantage for the law, in that once there-- the selection of roads to travel were few.  However-- there "is" an eyewitness account-- to tell of the lengths Clyde went to, in covering his tracks.   

Within an interview conducted with Hilton Bybee, made after his capture from being on the run with an expanded Barrow Gang after the Eastham Prison break-- Bybee tells of the extraordinary journey Clyde and the gang traversed, which defied logic in tracking him.  To illustrate this-- I borrow from a prior post here concerning Bybee's revelations concerning his Barrow Gang exploits.  

Beginning on Tuesday January 16th, The Barrow Gang visited Hillsboro, traveling country roads-- then onto Rhome via Grapevine. While in Rhome, Clyde, Raymond and Bonnie went into Dallas. The gang spent the night on a country road near Wichita Falls. Next, traveled into Oklahoma. Then turned back and got a car that night (Wednesday)-- at Vernon. Drove all day (Thursday) in Oklahoma and decided to come back to Texas and rob a bank. Then returned on Thursday night, staying near a river. It was onto Frisco on Friday. Next they visited McKinney for groceries. Friday night Palmer and Methvin went to Hugo to case stores and rob a filling station. Clyde was upset about the small haul ($7.00)-- and drove country roads to DeQueen, Arkansas on Saturday. Then the gang hit Fort Smith. Got a paper at a Fort Smith drug store Sunday morning, and headed back to Oklahoma.
'Stayed Monday night on country roads in Oklahoma.

Next reportedly they went up into Joplin, Missouri-- staying around Joplin and that country due to the good gravel roads. 'Got $400. in a small town nearby. Bonnie cut the money. Then it was onto Texarkana Tuesday night-- and Shreveport on Wednesday. 'Came through Fulton-- then to Caddo Lake, Oil City, Marshall and Terrall. Clyde, Bonnie and Hamilton then went back to Dallas. Next it was onto Decatur and Alvarado-- McQueen, Wichita Falls and Electra-- then to Vernon and headed for Lubbock but changed their minds. Thank goodness a break-- where were we??

Terrall, Vernon, Spring Lake-- Joplin, Lubbock, Amarillo, Wichita Falls-- Vinita, and Vega-- WOW!! Now imagine being the law, and trying to figure out a pattern to The Barrow Gang's speedy meanderings-- based solely on reported sightings. People have asked me many times-- whether there's a map which shows Bonnie  & Clyde's travels??  Based on Hilton Bybee's recollections-- I'm not sure one could accurately be created. 

So did Frank Hamer really figure out a travel pattern for Barrow Gang conveyance??  If so, I hope he had "lot's" of multicolored pushpins with  which to dot the landscape in explosive clusters-- to help fill a map with Barrow Gang movements.  To me-- this Frank Hamer aggrandizement, is one of many within Bonnie & Clyde History.  Was Capt. Hamer's reputation alone, enough to move the ball in this case-- or was he the "ultimate hero", for almost single-highhandedly capturing Bonnie & Clyde??  My thought is-- beyond some posthumously assigning credit where less credit may be due-- don't forget about all the other dedicated souls, who contributed to the capture of Bonnie & Clyde.  For although their reputations are less imposing than the ex-Texas Ranger Icon-- in a number of cases, their diligence can be proven.          

2 comments:

Janie Junebug said...

What an interesting post. When were those documents released to the public?

Love,
Janie

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hi Janie-- Dallas file 26-4114 was declassified by the FBI and released in 2009. To my knowledge, none of the more than 1000 pages within this file were redacted.

The Joplin Bonnie & Clyde file was used by a former Joplin Police Commander, concerning a documentary made a few years before the Dallas file was available. Both are "remarkable" archives of information, not previously known to the public until the points they were released.