Monday, March 30, 2015

Is It Right, To Celebrate The Birthdays of Bonnie & Clyde??

Those who know me-- know me to be fair, honest and balanced concerning the history of Bonnie & Clyde.  However not all who study this history, exhibit what I believe a requisite impartiality-- in order to report events "as they were" vs the way some wish events to have been.  In fact, dealing within the history of America's most notorious 1930's outlaws-- may be one of the most polarizing experiences in all of historical studies.  

Sometimes impassioned debate concerning Bonnie & Clyde history, spills over into verbal combat and even physical threats being made-- within Bonnie & Clyde cliques concerning the most miniscule of detail.  For it seems those passionate about this history, choose sides faster than a pick-up basketball game-- ripe with loyalist images of either the "ruthless yet venerable" outlaws or "Saint-like" lawmen to cajole even the calmest of individuals into uncharacteristic action.

This brings me to the topic of birthdays.  Bonnie & Clyde aficionados familiar with this blog surely know-- I rarely bring to the fore any reminder of birthdays within this history regardless of individual.  I do so deliberately-- for I don't feel it right to highlight birthdays within an historical forum.  I leave that to those, who feel idolizing Bonnie, Clyde, their cohorts or the "God-fairing" adversaries who fought them-- the right thing to do concerning this history.  I do not. 

It does seem, those who immortalize Bonnie & Clyde-- almost always post birthday wishes for the loving but murderous pair, without mention of the many they killed-- and thus ignoring birthdays those folk's & families never got to celebrate, within years surely lost in having been snuffed out by members of The Barrow Gang.  Of course, those with a soft spot for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow-- will wheel out any number of "esscuses" for the actions of their heroes, in having killed others so callously or out of "necessity".  

"They just had to kill you see-- but the way they killed wasn't murder, it was self-preservation".  And so goes some twisted logic.  But you know, with a suicide pact in place-- at any time, Bonnie & Clyde could've ended their suffering and the suffering of others due to their actions.. but apparently-- that thought never came to mind, or if it did-- gained no traction.     

However, I will point out and I believe most fairly-- that economic pressures caused by The Great Depression, "were" surely catalysts for lawlessness and a monumental skewing of normal social norms-- a mutation of admirable human behavior into much less than such, perhaps unequaled in at least American history.  So is it right to celebrate the birthdays of Bonnie & Clyde??  For their families.. of course.  But for the rest of us, in deciding whether or not to celebrate the birthdays of those who deprived so many others of their big days-- a question that perhaps merits thought.     

That being said-- as many have so passionately reminded us of the birthday of Clyde Barrow having just past-- I once again find it a good thing, to remind all of those who lost their lives at the hands of the iconic outlaws many wish to ascend to pedestals-- at least when birthdays roll around. 
John N. Bucher-- Hillsboro, Texas 4/27/32
Eugene Moore-- Atoka, Oklahoma 8/5/32 
Howard Hall-- Sherman, Texas 10/11/32 
Doyle Johnson-- Temple, Texas 12/26/32
Malcolm Davis-- Dallas, Texas 1/6/33
John W. Harryman-- Joplin, Missouri 4/13/33 
Harry McGuinnis-- Joplin, Missouri 4/13/33
Henry D. Humphrey-- Alma, Arkansas 6/26/33
Major Crowson-- Huntsville, Texas 1/16/34
Wade McNabb-- Near the TX/LA border 3/29/34 **believed by some (including me) to warrant inclusion in this list
E. B. Wheeler-- Grapevine, Texas 4/1/34
H. D. Murphy-- Grapevine, Texas 4/1/34
Cal Campbell-- Commerce, Oklahoma 4/6/34

Along with all who now have passed concerning this history-- may God rest your souls in peace.    


Monday, March 16, 2015

Bonnie & Clyde at Dexter-- One Suicide Pact, One Empty Gun?? and One Escape From the Feller Farm. But How to Reconcile the Stories??

When it comes to Bonnie & Clyde History, many things are surely known-- while others are not.  Such is the case concerning the consecutive gun battles of Platte City, Missouri and Dexter, Iowa.  Lawmen have their versions, many of which were published within news articles-- and therefore subject to embellishment by themselves or reporters alike, to include bravado unrealized and less than accurate knowledge having festered like Dandelions among Spring grass.  Then there are the Bonnie & Clyde books-- some more reliable than others, based on diligence of research and reliance on those news articles.  Concerning the books-- Bonnie & Clyde "lore" is usually either acknowledged as such, or miraculously transformed into fact without cause, in order to over-sensationalize the already sensational. 

It is interesting though, to read some quite detailed accounts of these gunfights-- via Dallas Bonnie & Clyde Bureau of Investigation file 26-4114-- not previously released, when many of the best Bonnie & Clyde books were published.  These versions have the advantage of professional lawmen having interviewed Peace Officers on the scene, who participated in the events-- while these battles were still fresh.  Some criticize these files, viewing them as slanted towards the lawmen's  point of view.  I don't-- in feeling the diligence involved in officially chronicling these events important.  Lawman to lawman-- especially lawman to the Bureau at that time, to me-- is better info than lawman to reporter.  

In addition, there are the small number of interviews with Barrow Gang members, some of which obtained by Peace Officers upon capture-- and thus could be considered info obtained under duress.  And some, such as W. D. Jones' interview with Playboy Magazine-- which contains wonderfully personal insider knowledge recounted voluntarily, although some 35 years after the fact-- and without guidance concerning publisher intervention and editing.  One would think these Gang accounts "good as gold" concerning info provided-- however amongst those who would surely know-- apparently there's "wiggle room" between some historical accounts.  Then not to be outdone-- don't forget the family stories, which depending on who you believe-- have revealed some remarkable insights into Bonnie & Clyde, made known by those privy to info held within a tight circle of participants.   

This brings us to considering Dexter, Iowa and the near annihilation of the Barrow Gang in July of '33-- along with one quite interesting aspect of Billie Parker Moon's unpublished manuscript.  Within her memoir was an account attributed to Bonnie Parker, concerning the shootout at Dexfield Park and Bonnie & Clyde's suicide pact-- apparently in place since nearly the beginning of their exploits.  The quote from Billie reads as follows--

But very few people know about the suicide pact the kids made early in their wanderings-- when they finally realized they could never get out of the life they had made for themselves. The movies never mention the fact that after a shootout at Dexter Park, Iowa, Buck was almost dead and his wife was blinded from flying glass fragments. Bonnie, Clyde and another companion, W. D. Jones, had to abandon the Buck Barrows and escape by swimming across a river. All three were seriously wounded, to a point where Bonnie told me the water around them was red with their mingled blood."

"Clyde handed their only gun-- the only weapon they salvaged in the mad fight-- to W. D. and told him if the police moved in, he was to use the gun on Bonnie. He told W. D. to tell lawmen Bonnie and Clyde had forced him to stay with their gang. Clyde dragged himself across a nearby field, stole a car and returned to pick up Bonnie and W. D."  "We heard Clyde coming back but we didn't know it was him" Bonnie said. "When he finally got close enough to whisper his name to us, W. D. already had the gun at my head-- cocked and his finger on the trigger."
Billie Parker
However this account from Bonnie told via Billie, is in disagreement with the story told by W. D. in '68, and serves as an addendum to the story told by Marvelle Feller-- who was also there to witness the 3 remaining members of the Barrow Gang's escape from the hell they found themselves in at Dexfield Park.  Many if not most within this history have taken Marvelle Feller's story concerning Bonnie, Clyde and W. D.'s escape from the Feller Farm "to the bank" over the years.  You know the story-- where Clyde duped the Fellers with an empty gun-- the only gun left to the Barrow Gang's disposal at Dexfield Park.  Fooled by an empty gun??  Well of course, the Fellers not knowing that-- complied and watched their car driven away in a last-ditch Barrow Gang escape from certain death. Feller apparently said he only learned Clyde's gun was empty, from W. D. Jones' Playboy revelation.

John Marvelle Feller
So then, how could Clyde have had only one weapon and still left W. D. with a gun to Bonnie's head??  Easy-- same gun. If Bonnie & Billie were was right, Clyde went looking for a way out, spotted a solution via the Fellers and returned for them.  Then, Clyde surely could've threatened the Fellers with the same gun he left with W. D.. 

So was the gun loaded or not??.. "that" is the question.  A question no one alive today can answer.  However--  it seemingly makes no sense for W. D. to traumatize Bonnie by placing a gun to her head with the hammer cocked thinking she was about to die-- if the gun was empty.. does it??  And no sense for Clyde who loved Bonnie, to allow that to happen.  Thus despite what W. D. said-- if Bonnie and Billie are right-- W. D. was either wrong about the gun being empty or thought he was wrong.  Maybe it's just me-- but I think it would've been easy for W. D. to omit sensitive info concerning Bonnie & Clyde in perhaps not telling all he knew-- for as his respect for them seemingly never waned, he always appeared loyal, polite and chose his words carefully whenever referring to their exploits. 

W. D. Jones in later years
One rub between versions of the gang's escape from the Feller Farm, involves whether Clyde brought Bonnie & W. D. to the car-- or the car to them??  Since Marvelle Feller told the story on behalf of his family-- his account was that Bonnie and W. D. were brought to the farm and interacted with perhaps all Feller family members on site.  As that seems too many people to denounce-- I feel that part of Billie's account could be wrong. 

However Bonnie is "quoted" concerning the gun to her head incident.  Everyone I've spoken to who knew Billie personally, has had the same impression of her-- in that she held no respect for those who weren't truthful.  So you be the judge.  My instincts are to believe the suicide pact account-- and feel W. D. "true blue" to his friends Bonnie Parker and  Clyde Barrow-- so true blue, as not to admit-- he might have killed Bonnie per Clyde's instructions. 

Want yet 3 more accounts of the Dexfield Park shootout-- one  by the Dexter Town Marshal at the time along with 2 others??  Please find them here--

There seem to be a number of issues with Marshal Love's account of the shootout-- vs the recollections of others which seem more numerous and consistent.  The main  problem with Love's beliefs, have to do with bullet wounds suffered at Dexfield Park-- wounds he felt occurred previously at The Red Crown shootout.  Besides the admissions and observations made by others at the time, some of whom were the ones shot-- I would think such serious injuries, wouldn't allow for that amount of time to pass without treatment.  Buck's demise of course, was the prime example of that.  

Controversy and disagreement within Bonnie & Clyde History??  Say it ain't so.  And so it goes..

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dexfield Park, Iowa-- More Than Just The Location of a Bonnie & Clyde Shootout

Although not readily available, if you look hard enough-- info on the old Dexfield Amusement Park can be found.  Of course all these decades later-- the location of the abandoned center for family fun in Dallas County, Iowa, is perhaps best know as "ground zero" for the famous Dexter Bonnie & Clyde shootout. 

However in it's heyday-- Dexfield Park was much more than the location of an iconic gun battle.  Dexfield Park opened in 1915, located between Dexter and Redfield on the south side of the Raccoon River.  The Park was open on Sundays, with pool open during the week-- and thus people came from near & far, including from Iowa's capital Des Moines. It's been noted that often-- there would be thousands of people in attendance there.

The park featured a quite large cement swimming pool fed by the nearby “Marshall Springs”. Also present, were a bevy of drinking fountains offering the local spring water-- said to possess healing qualities.  There was a bath house that rented out swimming suits and towels. Also present, was a large open-air dance hall where dances with bands were held.  The Park which provided entry from the west-- had a box office where $2.00 would be paid for admission (using 1920 as a guideline-- about $25 in today's dollars).  On the south side of the pool there was a pavilion with restaurant-- with sandwiches, soft drinks, and ice cream served.  A diving tower was also in place (visible in the photo above)-- which apparently provided excitement for some, and legitimate danger for others.  

There were rides, a Merry-Go-Round, Ferris Wheel, a shooting gallery and various Fair stands, where games of chance were held.  Also a large movie screen provided a venue for free movies, which were shown Sunday evenings. For campers-- a free camp ground was available as well, for those with tents or who chose to vacation there.  There was a Zoo nearby, with animals to fascinate young and old alike.  Also a skating rink and area where canoes could be rented, for excursions along the Raccoon River. 

After enjoying a long run in the Sun as a spot for family fun, relaxation and entertainment-- Dexfield Park closed, with apparent hopes of reopening, ironically around the time of Bonnie & Clyde.  But alas-- that was not to be.   

Dexfield Park location as it exists today.  The identity of the lady head-high in the Iowa corn, is unknown.

So when Dexter, Iowa is mentioned today-- it seems besides it's fine people and country landscape, for many 2 things come to mind-- President Harry Truman's Farm speech in September of '48.. and of course the hastily orchestrated "near end" for The Barrow Gang. For it was there, that Bonnie & Clyde's suicide pact came within an instant of fruition, Blanche was captured, W. D. Jones demonstrated remarkable strength, loyalty and bravery-- and Buck Barrow finally fell, in the Summer of '33.

For those who visit this historic site-- a marker's now in place overlooking where Dexfield Park once stood.  I suppose another example to prove, that sometimes truth is in the eye of the marker maker.  "Barrow Gang Captured at Dexfield Park"??  Well, that's partially true-- but in reality, a much more powerful Barrow Gang would rise again-- only to be destroyed from within by dissension and betrayal-- and finally silenced near Sailes, Louisiana nearly a year later. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Within Bonnie & Clyde History-- It Seems The Best Defense For Joe Bill Francis.. Is No Defense At All

For years now, I've had an open invitation here on The B&CHB-- for anyone with knowledge of Joe Bill Francis, to please provide an explanation or proof if it exists-- which would exonerate him from being considered the Sowers informant.  I have offered this forum, to publicize the Francis family's expressions concerning Joe Bill should they wish.  One thing I've learned in dealing with Sowers and Joe Bill-- seemingly his family supports him without reservation, but also without anything concrete in defense, beyond love and a respect for the man.  It's surely understandable for a family to stick together through thick and thin-- however,  many if not most familiar with Bonnie & Clyde History, feel Joe Bill was most likely the informant who may have come closest to helping nab Bonnie & Clyde prior to their ambush at Sailes in May '34. 

For it's thought Joe Bill Francis provided insider knowledge (whether willingly or coerced)-- which led directly to Smoot Schmid's Dallas Sheriff's Department waylay on November 22nd, 1933.  And as far as it's effectiveness-- this seeming betrayal was nearly deadly for the notorious pair from West Dallas.  For indeed while still alive-- Bonnie would confide in her sister Billie, the Sowers ambush was the closest Bonnie & Clyde had come to dying.  

However not just Bonnie & Clyde Historians and aficionados have shared this suspicion.  For both Parker and Barrow family members have either directly made or intimated this claim-- as well as some close to the Barrow Gang as well.  Privately and within interviews, Billie Parker made no bones about Joe Bill being the informant-- and
within her memoir when speaking of Sowers, even singling out "the man who drove us that night"  as the man who betrayed them.  That man of course, would have been Joe Bill Francis. This memoir although never published-- was meant for public consumption.   Billie even went as far as to detail her belief as to Joe Bill's payoff for betraying Bonnie & Clyde.. "a used car and a few dollars".

And although some hang their hats on claiming Marie Barrow never fingered Joe Bill-- John Neal Phillips when interviewing Marie, said he heard Marie admit it could have been Joe Bill.  Also within John's "oh so useful" interviews with Barrow Gang confidants while still with us to comment-- Floyd Hamilton apparently had no doubt the informant was Joe Bill.          

Even Ted Hinton has been cited as verification concerning Joe Bill's identity as the Sowers Informant-- when Floyd Hamilton was said to have gotten a non-verbal admission from Hinton concerning Joe Bill within a conversation held between the 2 of them.  Sometimes it seems body language or a wink and a nod are enough.  

With John and I having exchanged e-mails concerning this-- I "thank" John Neal Phillips for his unique perspective, and am grateful for his input-- in having been fortunate enough to have interviewed many so closely associated with this history.  

Now as noted within other articles on this subject published here-- I've had the honor and privilege of having heard from Joe Bill's grandson, who was most gracious in providing wonderful details concerning Joe Bill's life after his Bonnie & Clyde days.  And although I've gone to considerable lengths, to make known my interest in this subject is purely historical and thus harbor no ill-will toward Joe Bill and the Francis family (and why would I??)-- I've also taken considerable heat from another relative, who at one point felt I was somehow being unfair. 

In the heat of anger, I was even wrongly accused of making up the documented correspondence between Dallas Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge D. L. McCormack to J. Edgar Hoover, dated February 6th, 1934 concerning Joe Bill.  Oh yes-- there's that document too-- which I at least feel is the "smoking gun" concerning Joe Bill's conduit of information to the authorities.  If anyone has alternative reasoning, why Hoover himself was asked to assure secrecy concerning Joe Bill with the Dallas P.D. I'd like to hear it.      

Anyway-- concerning this relative who says to have known Joe Bill well-- it seems at some point she had a change of heart, and approached me apologetically to ask that I please call her to hear proof of Joe Bill's innocence.  Of course I agreed-- and as asked, tried and tried again to reach her-- leaving phone messages then following up with e-mails, in hopes of "finally" hearing a viable defense concerning Joe Bill straight from someone close to him.  However, as has happened before when honing in on some resolution concerning this-- I received no response/ communication stopped. 

Of course, you never know what's going on in people's lives-- so again, I wish to be fair and ask with the utmost respect and anticipation for this individual's information-- to please contact me once again.  I must say regardless of my diligence within this history-- I can follow up with people just so much, before the "old school" in me feels anymore of an approach would be impolite.  But when someone within a Bonnie & Clyde family inner circle approaches me concerning a Bonnie & Clyde historical event-- rest assured I "will" respond-- as in this case. 

Unfortunately and as previously experienced concerning Joe Bill Francis-- the process has reached a point of silence.  And maybe it will remain as such, as perhaps no defense can indeed be offered??  And that's a shame-- for when someone who knew him, advances the idea of a defense finally being made concerning Joe Bill and Sowers-- it seems only fitting, those who reached out to me in offering such information-- please follow through, for the benefit of Joe Bill, the Francis family and Bonnie & Clyde History. 

And as has been true for quite some time now-- my offer concerning this still stands.