Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bonnie and Clyde History Amended-- Mary O'Dare Found After 77 years.

Some historical figures within the saga of Bonnie & Clyde, have never been lost.  Indeed many of this history's best known characters, have been "so" well documented-- they and their families have had to fight for any semblance of privacy, as throngs of the Bonnie & Clyde faithful have done their best to scratch & claw and pick apart their lives.  But unlike some with greater notoriety-- a few key players within this history have seemingly been lost to time-- with rumor substituting for fact, and question marks the only symbols of their well being.  Thus has been the case for Mary O'Dare.  For 77 years, since her conviction at the 1935 Bonnie & Clyde harboring trial, it's seemed no one's had nary an inkling of what happened to her??  Among rumors swirling around Mary, was a particularly cruel story-- which had her dying from a drug overdose while in prison-- among other illicit tales with no way to prove any of them.

However these days, the reach of the Internet can be a game changer.  In January 2011, I published an article here on The Bonnie & Clyde History Blog focused on Mary O'Dare-- which in part asked for assistance, should anyone know of her post Bonnie & Clyde years.  Thankfully, my plea for historical clarity was answered by e-mails from 2 members of the Chambless family-- they themselves, unaware of Mary's link to Bonnie & Clyde History until decades after the fact.  As Mary apparently led a life far removed from her 1930's reality-- for many next generation Chambless relatives, the truth concerning Mary's  Bonnie & Clyde past was only learned of in 1981-- and for some just a short 12 years ago.

Mary (center) with Brother Joe Chambless Jr. and Niece Lois in N.J.  The red vegetables  in the bushel containers are hot peppers-- a Chambless crop and  family favorite. 

But as sometimes the case with "deep dark" family secrets-- it takes a death bed admission to reveal the truth, even among those who've "thought" they've known an individual all their lives.  Such could've been the case concerning Mary within the Chambless family.  But as it turned out-- Mary was still alive when revelations concerning what many consider her "sordid past" were made known among those she loved.  This clash of realities, apparently led to contentious moments-- when a still fiery Mary unwilling to re-visit her prior liferesponded to such approaches (even when made by those she trusted)-- with stalwart fits of anger and rebuke. 

This is where we'll pick up the story.  
With many thanks for the kindness of one of Mary's Nieces, who'd known Mary for nearly 60 years and another Chambless family member (who by choice prefers to remain publicly anonymous)-- I'm pleased to say much more re: Mary can now be toldThus the woman who Bonnie & Clyde seemingly despised, and played a pivotal role in the split between Clyde and Raymond Hamilton-- will finally have her more human side revealed.

I've often thought should Ray have remained partnered with Clyde-- The Barrow Gang's ruthlessness in also having added Joe Palmer and Henry Methvin, would've been a formidable force. And skipping to the chase-- for those wishing to answer the searing question of how long Mary lived-- it now appears clear Mary outlived every member of The Barrow Gang, if not every person directly associated with Bonnie & Clyde History.  Mary who was born May 24th 1915, lived until just shy of her 95th birthday-- passing from this world just 2 years ago on May 16th 2010 in Bakersfield, California. 

It seems after her Depression Age jaunts involving 4 early marriages and Bonnie & Clyde, "and" with 2 of her siblings having moved West-- Mary did as wellMary settled in Hesperia, California and operated a business in Crestline-- within the realm of her love for antiques.  Indeed it seems Mary was a known authority on olden treasures-- with Fenton lamps and firearms being of particular interest.  Her final husband (reportedly her 6th)-- Chuck Collins, was a real estate developer who owned shopping malls among other ventures. 
Thus Mary's final married name was Mary Collins. In addition to her California holdings, it's said Mary also owned land in New Mexico.

Mary's home in Hesperia, California.

Known as an astute business woman, Mary was intelligent, good with money and adept at always wanting to look her best.  Thus Mary's reputation for her heavy use of make-up and extravagance followed her into later life.  So too did her demeanor-- in sometimes being let's say, more than a bit ornery.  But for those she loved-- the fiercely private Mary had a softer side too.  An example of this was Mary's taking in and caring for her ailing Sister late in life.  Indeed despite Mary's reputation for having been so uniquely mean and disagreeable to many-- for those closest to her, she could leave some with the more measured impression "she was always nice to me". 

 Mary's home-- interior.

Speaking of Sisters, and since more than one Chambless influenced Bonnie & Clyde History-- it might pay to note the Chambless clan. Mary's Mother was Elmira Morris and her Dad Joe Chambless Sr.  One of her Grandmothers a woman named Princess, was said to be a full blooded Cherokee.  As such Mary's middle name was Princess.  Mary had 8 brothers and sisters-- Joe Jr., Arlie, Odell, Arnold (also known as Shorty)-- T.P., Mamie (a brother)-- Ruth and Gloria.  As longevity seems happily rampant within the Chambless family-- at least 2 of Mary's siblings are still living, with one brother's fate and whereabouts unknown.

 Mary's home-- patio.

Odell Chambless who holds a key place within Bonnie & Clyde History, as the man for whom the January 6th, 1933 Lillie McBride sting was intended-- and where an unwitting Clyde Barrow walked into the wrong trap, and killed Tarrant County Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis-- Odell's story too is an interesting one.  Apparently Odell didn't serve much of his Bonnie & Clyde era prison term.  Instead he was offered a "Dirty Dozen" style agreement with the Army-- where if he survived front-line duty in Europe, he would be pardoned.   

So those who know Odell survived the Bonnie & Clyde years-- now know he survived his front-line challenge, and while in Europe met his German born wife Katie.  After military service, Odell and Katie entered the U.S. through Philadelphia-- 1st passing through New Jersey, then onto Texas, next to California and finally settling in Washington State.  Odell passed in January 1994-- with Katie following in February '96.

 Mary's home-- interior.

Within this article, I'm including photos of Mary's Hesperia, California home and surroundings-- to give all a sense of Mary's style and personal tastes.  Among other things I've learned concerning Mary, is the unfortunate possibility that Mary's alleged stint at prostitution in the '30's-- may have been as a result of family need.  A statement has been attributed to Mary, which says she wasn't proud of what she did then-- but many have no idea just how bad things were.  So like Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and scores of folk within this saga-- Mary seems to have experienced The Great Depression and it's remarkable hardships in personal terms.

View of California mountains from Mary's home.

Another thing I've learned from Mary's niece, who'd known her since the early 1950's-- was past the time of Bonnie & Clyde-- Mary wasn't known to have used narcotics.  Just as with many in life who've experience "wild" younger days-- Mary's reported drug use in the '30's may well have had a stark basis in truth.  This impression has been strengthenedby the belief that Raymond Hamilton became a "hop head" as reported by some close to him.  But when it came to Mary's middle years and beyond-- apparently earlier missteps in this regard, had no lasting consequence. 

Mary it seems had many friends-- and even a beloved Poodle named Pepi, who Mary loved to the point she had an obituary published for her pooch-- and a burial for the dog, which surpasses what many people do for their pets.  Another personal insight into Mary-- was that she retained her alertness late into life, drove until her final years and was said to be "sharp as a tack" until a throat ailment took her quickly just shy of age 95. 
But make no mistake-- Mary wasn't exactly known as a patient person, and often exhibited her trademark mean and quick temper-- apparently still in good form from earlier years.  She did however show great affection for some family and friends-- such as her beloved Brother Joe Chambless Jr. and family.

                    Mary with Niece Shirley-- another of 
                     Joe Chambless' daughters.

It's surely outstanding, that much remarkable truth is now better known-- concerning Mary Chambless O'Dare Collins.  But for those looking to dig for more-- such as locating Mary's headstone, let it be known there isn't one.  For perhaps in a final stroke of privacy and petulance-- Mary's ashes were carried aloft in a plane and scattered over the California mountains she loved.  Thus the woman knocked by many, but now viewed through the lens of a nearly 100 year life-- with family and career and seeming remorse for her past-- perhaps Mary will finally be seen as an historical figure with more to offer, rather than just her brief moment in the Bonnie & Clyde Sun-- so long ago.

My profound thanks go out to the Chambless family, for their kindness, willingness to aid history-- and trust they've placed in me.  

This exclusive story concerning Mary O'Dare,
is ©2012 The B&CHB.  All rights reserved.                        


BarefootOkieGal said...

Thank you for the update!!! When I read about the later life of Mary O'Dare, I can imagine Bonnie's life if somehow she had been separated from Clyde and not killed by his side. I'm not sure exactly how that could have been accomplished, unless some of her family members "kidnapped" her during one of the family visits (and this would have had to have been done with Clyde's knowledge and consent - and there is a chance that he would have done anything he could to keep the woman he loved alive, even if they had to be separated) - but I can imagine Bonnie as an older woman, her "wild" days behind her, living out her years in much the same way that Mary O'Dare did. Even if she never had children of her own, we know that she loved children - and I can see her being the neighborhood "Grandma" and baking cookies and babysitting and just generally being a sweet ol' gal!

Unknown said...

I am the niece of one of Mary's husbands and I remember her with great love and fondness. I was just a little girl when she came into my life for a short time. She truly loved me and took care of me. After she left us we were told that she went to beauty school and opened her own shop somewhere around L. A. When I knew her we lived in Fresno. As with Mary, my uncle quit his bank robbing days and became a gentle and well loved family member.

Unknown said...