Monday, April 6, 2015

Bonnie & Clyde-- Folk Heroes, Cold-Blooded Murderers.. Or Something In-Between??

Grapevine Lampoon With A Message
As Easter Sunday and Grapevine are poignant markers within Bonnie & Clyde History, I've decided again to focus on Grapevine.. however this time, from the viewpoint of an intriguing question.  I don't think many doubt Grapevine was a turning point, in shifting public perception away from Bonnie & Clyde as glamorous outlaws on the run to prolific desperate killers-- but why this "tipping point" in public perception??.. and what does a seeming collective fascination with crime and it's consequences say about us as a society??  

As the high-rolling heyday of the Roaring 20's gave way to the dire struggles of the Great Depression-- public fascination with crime turned from the glamorous urban gangster types such as Al Capone and Dutch Schultz to fugitive rural bandits like Bonnie & Clyde and John Dillinger.  This new breed of outlaw was admired for their daring, mobility, and what were viewed as their "populist affronts" toward government and wealth-driven industries during legitimately tough times, when "regular folks" were reeling.  While romance and criticism of government power permeated newspaper, magazine, and film reel accounts-- radio at the time provided a different view of crime and criminals.  More about that shortly.

People Gathered At Grapevine Location, Viewing Markers Placed Where Officers Wheeler & Murphy Fell 
In missing nary an opportunity to sell their wares, 1930's newspapers seemingly loved Bonnie and Clyde-- with reporters carving out a populist path for them-- describing the loving pair within a range of interpretations consisting of everything from heartless killers to Depression Age Robin Hoods. Whether actually heroes or villains within the public eye-- their still solidifying iconic image when splashed on the front pages of newspapers, sold millions of copies to a fascinated and oft anti-establishment minded public-- thirsty for a way to "fight back" themselves, and make their frustrations heard to anyone who would care.

Spry Bonnie & Clyde Headline
Radio on the other hand seemingly held at least a short-lived & perceived  advantage over their print-media foes, in carving out an alternative editorial interpretation of '30's crime.  For radio outlets fancied telling these stories more from the viewpoint of the police-- who were themselves hungry for PR, in the wake of striving for increased organization and professionalism during the time of Bonnie & Clyde.  Therefore rather than romanticizing gangster culture as the film industry faced a wrath of  criticism for-- radio programs like the CBS radio series Gang Busters which aired in 1936-- tackled the legend of Bonnie and Clyde by touting legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer as a hero of the story, and portraying Bonnie and Clyde as deviant psychopaths. Thus in a remarkable and self-directed re-write of recently evident and documented populism-- responsibility for “guilt” as portrayed on '30's radio for the criminal activities of the pair, was left for the public themselves-- apparently admonished by the "powers that be" concerning views sympathetic to criminals and in support of legal protections like parole.

As an aside here-- the radio interpretation of Bonnie & Clyde as inept deviants, along with books such as "I'm Frank Hamer", risque' cartoons and True Detective stories fueled by lore which well could've had their start within J. Edgar Hoover's FBI-- may have greased the slippery slope which became Bonnie & Clyde sexual rumors.

Grapevine Front Page
Anyway, within "after the fact" interpretations, concerted effort was employed to strip glamour and romance from the pair-- however, at the apex of their crime spree-- Bonnie & Clyde enjoyed likely an unmatched notoriety and populist respect, fueled by the print media.  I would think this evident, at least until the Eastham Breakout.  However by January '34 or shortly thereafter, perception concerning the death toll from Barrow Gang escapades of selfishness or survival (depending on your viewpoint)-- seemed to grow exponentially within the minds of many.  Thus the idea of glamour as a dynamic, may have been replaced by an "Oh my God" factor-- where people's innate goodness and common sense took over-- in the realization that the murderous pair and their cohorts had to be stopped.

Why do I call the deadly consequences of Grapevine selfish acts on the part of Bonnie & Clyde??  Because in looking to arrange an Easter meeting with their families as most people got to do (but surely they weren't "most people")-- the gang as it was composed that day, decided to sit in a fairly conspicuous location for hours on end, while Joe Palmer was dispatched to notify their families of the impending meeting.  Not a characteristically smart move for Bonnie & Clyde, to remain static in one spot for very long.  Also in trying to multitask, in hoping to set-up a wary Raymond Hamilton for death due to betrayal during the very same hiatus from the road-- I'm not sure how many could call that a non-selfish act??  Thus to me, 2 selfish acts led to 2 deaths-- and
a quite large misstep, in galvanizing an impressive array of law enforcement agencies against them.  As if they didn't already have enough trouble, staying a short step or 2 ahead of the law. 

Mine might be a minority view re: Bonnie & Clyde's need for family love causing death-- but I stick by it nonetheless.  For some time, I've keyed on the need for Bonnie & Clyde clandestine family meetings as being a catalyst for murder.  As leaving the country apparently wasn't viewed as an option-- the unrelenting love for their families, seemed to skew Bonnie & Clyde's thinking-- to the point they would continually pursue this quite challenging goal of meeting, no matter the risks and at all costs-- even lives.
And for those who claim Barrow Gang killings weren't technically murder, but rather self-defense.. even though Bonnie & Clyde's actions (including these family interactions) caused confrontations-- I leave that logic to the "hero worshipers".
E.B. Wheeler
So at some point and perhaps as a result of the Easter Sunday slaughter of 2 young Peace Officers-- the populist outlaws and sometimes takers of lives, morphed into ruthless and focused killers of good law-fairing folks.  These raw and amended feelings seemed to work quickly at eroding compassion for Bonnie & Clyde within the minds of many.  Thus the killings of  E.B. Wheeler, H.D.Murphy and Cal Campbell within a 5 day period-- along with the pronounced violation of sanctity of Easter Sunday having been splashed with the blood of an upstart Peace Officer hit home.  At that point, not only did the metal and resolve of law enforcement strengthen in short order-- but apparently so too the conscience of a populous, unduly influenced by uncharacteristic poverty.  This melding of common sense, goodness and law enforcement resolve in supporting the "right side"-- vs those who had tipped the balance too far askew and thus needed to be reeled in-- proved a potent combination, and one the Barrow Gang would not overcome.   

I do wonder, how many realize the extent of the reported response of Texas law enforcement inspired by the Easter Sunday killings of Wheeler and Murphy??  For it was noted via news reports, that after the killings-- a relentless search was waged by a multitude of heavily armed officers-- in order to flush out and capture Bonnie & Clyde "dead or alive".  This man and woman hunt included the dispatching of 25 men from the Dallas Police armed with machine guns in an effort to search each by-road and main highway around Grapevine.  10 Deputies from Sheriff R.A. "Smoot" Schmid's Dallas Sheriff's Department covering the county along with 16 Fort Worth Detectives and a homicide squad made up of Fort Worth Police Dept officers.

H.D. Murphy
Also lending hands, minds and machines-- were the Texas State Highway Patrol and the volunteering of various other officers, in an effort to support their fallen comrades.  A hideout in Denton County was identified (a garage with cleared land around it) as having been used by the pair, with Bonnie Parker ID'd as having been witnessed nearby.  Also offering their resources, were both the Dallas and Fort Worth Offices of the Federal Bureau of Justice. The extent of the Bureau of Investigation's marked participation in the hunt for Bonnie & Clyde wasn't fully known, until the declassification and release of Dallas Bonnie & Clyde file 26-4114 in 2006-- but as in Louisiana, this wealth of G-Men and their considerable resources, did add an important edge to law enforcement in their pursuit of The Barrow Gang.  I also wonder, how much Bonnie, Clyde and the boys knew of all who trailed them??  Of course in 1935, the Bureau would then be known as The FBI.

As The Noose Tightened.. Did Bonnie & Clyde Know The End Was Near??  Some say Bonnie's Expression Here Says It All.

So was the image as published by the Dallas Morning News and re-printed above a telling one??.. and was Grapevine indeed a turning point in this history??  I think very much so-- and perhaps more akin to the truth, Grapevine "was" the final turn toward the "home stretch"-- for Bonnie & Clyde, the law, and for people needing to return to some sort of sanity & balance after having suffered so much personal degradation.  Yes, indeed the noose was already tightening on Bonnie, Clyde and the Barrow Gang-- with an increasingly untenable position day to day the stark reality, which would lead to their inevitable end.  But Grapevine and depending on how you look at it, yes even the goodness of Easter Sunday-- seemed to play on the hearts and minds of many-- thus sealing the deal.

Grapevine Memorial Marker, Located On What Was Dove Road Across The Street From Spot Officers Wheeler and Murphy Were Slain
And what of our fascination for crime and criminals??.. has much changed since the time of Bonnie & Clyde??  For more than 80 years now, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow have been part of broader symbolic struggles that logically exceed their historical stance, and crimes committed. But today-- more traditional criminal-types have been joined by the likes of modern-day serial killers, mass murderers, and a new generation of "gangstas" in capturing our imagination and serving as a new symbolic battleground.  So have we as people grown, in order to reject the notion of glamour within crime??  Seems Snails move faster.