On the 23 May 1934 the notorious outlaws, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow were killed in a police ambush alongside what is now Highway 154, eight miles south of the small town of Gibsland in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, USA. In September 2022, eighty eight years after that event my brother Adrian and I accommodated ourselves in the Exacta Inn in Minden off Interstate 20 just 8 miles west of Gibsland. From there we visited the area and ambush site. This part of NW Louisiana where this criminal duo were killed by six law enforcement officers is an unremarkable and very quiet rural location.

The site which can now accommodate a few parked vehicles is marked and commemorated by a heavy granite stone plinth erected by Bienville Parish Police Jury. It is a registered US Historical Marker and regularly adorned with floral tributes. Since the original feature was positioned another stone and steel structure to the right of it has been added which remembers the six law enforcement officers who prosecuted the ambush.

Over time both features have also been damaged by souvenir hunters and expressionists. There are scrawled and penned tributes, the stone monument has had pieces chipped out of it and both features have been damaged by gunfire. It is perhaps a reflection of American society which can be both thoroughly respectful and fiercely divisive and destructive. The local authorities regularly clean and repair the site and there is now a clear warning to potential violators that they risk prosecution.

This is the ambush site looking north towards Gibsland from where Clyde Barrow was approaching. The posse were in the brush on the right. In 1934 the route was designated as Louisiana Highway 418. The immediate surrounding landscape has not changed since May 1934. The road is wider now and the surface is now sealed asphalt. The tree line is further back. In May 1934 it was a macadam surface which was an off white crushed stone construction. The site today is not difficult to find if you are prepared to venture deep into the United States and off the interstate highways.

The events leading up to the ambush vary somewhat depending on sources. The escalation of Bonnie and Clyde’s criminal exploits, their prominence in the press and how they were perceived by American society offers good reason. One should consider the accuracy of records, lost detail, the sequence of events as they unfolded for the individuals directly involved. Confused aspects, exaggerated facts and added features that might have been invented.

Following such events some people with perhaps just a modicum of involvement or witness value grabbed at some craved notoriety by distorting the truth or making up side stories. The six law enforcement officers directly involved were very tight lipped about their plans and for good reason. They didn’t grandstand after the event or give overt press interviews. Despite so much speculation there are however undisputed facts about what occurred.

The heavily armed six man posse knew there was a likelihood of Bonnie and Clyde coming into their staged ambush site.

They succeeded in forcing or influencing Clyde Barrow to slow down directly in front of them.

Once the firing started Barrow and Parker were shot to death; there were no other casualties.

Barrow’s stolen Ford V-8 was, as usual, laden with firearms and ammunition.

Clyde Barrow had become a murderous criminal throughout the 1932-1934 period in the southern and central US states. He had developed into a complete psychopath. As time progressed he became increasingly heavily armed and ruthlessly determined to drive and shoot his way out of any police ambush or operation to detain him. Constantly on the move with his girlfriend Bonnie Parker they were often accompanied by other gang members. Born into poor families residing in the slums of West Dallas in Texas, the pair became popularised during the Great Depression period when their exploits were captured by the press. Their modus operandum however became consistently violent and murderous. Supposedly forced into a life of crime this curiously well-dressed pair became garnered as anti-establishment celebrities. A journalist had described them as, ‘Romeo and Juliet in a getaway car’.

Bonnie Parker met Clyde Barrow in January 1930 at the age of 19, he was 21. She fell in love with him but all the time they were together she remained married but apart from her husband Roy Thornton, another criminal who was actually in prison when she was killed. B&C were a bizarre union. They attracted a form of distorted hero/heroine worship, as young determined examples of an oppressed society. They weren’t however snubbing the rich and prosperous by robbing the major banks and distributing the stolen funds amongst their struggling friends and families like Robin Hood characters. They were indeed generous with their criminal gains but their targets were more commonly hard working folk who ran simple gas stations, funeral parlours and grocery stores.

Barrow stole his mode of transport; he favoured Ford V-8’s, the performance road cars of the day. Automobiles in those days had simple ignition locks if indeed owners bothered to use them but Barrow was a skilled thief. Just weeks before their demise they had stolen the car they would be eventually killed in. This was the famous Cordoba grey Ford V-8 sedan they had stolen from outside the property of Jessie and Ruth Warren in Topeka, Kansas. The Warren’s had saved hard for their purchase and had paid just over $800 which included some extras, ($14,000 today). They’d only had the car two weeks. When Barrow drove off in their car it apparently had just over a 1,000 miles on the clock. He would put another 6,000 miles on it up to the day of the ambush.

Always moving, holed up in temporary or loaned accommodation, motels or roadside camping spots Barrow did the driving and always reversed cars into any parking position, (gangster style), for efficient and fast getaways. He also stole firearms and mustered large numbers of them. One of his favoured weapons was the 30.06 BAR, the Browning Automatic Rifle. A fully automatic squad support weapon designed specifically for the military, he had resorted to breaking into National Guard armouries to steal these weapons.

Other individuals would ride with the Barrow Gang, they would come and go. One member was his own brother Buck Barrow, a petty criminal who had influenced his younger brother. Buck Barrow would die from wounds received during two police shoot-outs in July 1933. Another character was William Daniel Jones always referred to as WD Jones. A wayward boy, he was just 16 when he first joined the Barrow gang. In an interview with Playboy magazine in 1968 Jones described how Barrow was always concerned and prepared for potential police ambushes. In rural areas he would hone his shooting and driving skills and drills by suddenly stopping the car they were in and quickly discharging weapons using tree’s or road signs as targets.

The image above is WD Jones posing alongside a damaged road sign. You can see bullet penetrations on the left and WD Jones has got his arm through a hole caused by close range shotgun blast. Ironically, Bonnie and Clyde would eventually be killed in a roadside ambush in exactly the manner Barrow had regularly prepared himself to counter.

Clyde Barrow orchestrated the Eastham State Prison Farm breakout in Waldo, Texas,16 January 1934. Five prisoners escaped including Henry Methvin and a guard was shot dead. The Texas authorities had had enough; the Barrow gang up to this point had committed more killings in this state than any other so Texas took the lead. The Texas Prison Authority initiated an operation to put an end to Barrow gang. They started by employing a very experienced and highly efficient retired Texas Ranger. This was Frank Hamer who had a reputation for getting a job done and was more than prepared to hunt down and face dangerous armed criminals like Clyde Barrow. Hamer chose to include another former Ranger, a friend and close colleague, Maney Gault. They were sanctioned as operating as members of the Texas Highway Patrol.

Law enforcement agencies had to combine their resources in order to put a stop to the Barrow gang rampages. Cross state boundary jurisdiction had to be authorised by the Division of Investigations – DIO, (which became the FBI in 1935). It developed into a complex operation. Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton from the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department joined the group, Hamer and Gault knew them. Ted Hinton could identify the outlaw pair, he knew both Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in Dallas when he was a postal worker and before he joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1932.

The other two posse members were Louisiana officers, Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Oakley. This was important because Henry Methvin had re-joined the Barrow gang and his family were in NW Louisiana. Sheriff Jordan had quietly and diligently started investigating the likelihood of the Barrow gang using the Methvin home near the small settlement of Sailes as a hideout and safehouse. With the help of undisclosed informers he began to build a picture of likely development and movement. He had been conveying intelligence to the DIO. The four Texas officials were directed to work with their Louisiana colleagues. Henderson Jordan was to become a key figure when an eventual plan to put in a confront and capture operation steered towards his jurisdiction in Louisiana. Past experience and failures meant this had to be precise because an ambush operation had been instigated before and it failed.

Just six months before the Louisiana operation, Barrow and Parker were ambushed by Texas law enforcement officers on 21 November 1933. This took place on a quiet stretch of road near the town of Sowers, Texas. This team comprised Sheriff Richard ‘Smoot’ Schmid and deputies Ted Hinton, Bob Alcorn and Ed Caster. The operation failed, mainly as a result of Barrow, who was there to meet family members apparently having an uneasy gut feeling. He accelerated away in the stolen Ford V-8 he had at the time. This was compounded by Sheriff Schmid who had a stoppage with his .45 Thompson sub machine gun. The other officers wounded Barrow and Parker and managed to disable the car. A stray round however from Bob Alcorn’s 30-06 BAR injured 14 year old Mary Stovall who was reading a book in her parents farm house that was in the line of fire. Clyde Barrow’s car was damaged sufficiently to abandon it but he quickly held up another one and completed a getaway.

Frank Hamer had history to learn from and he fully appreciated the task. He knew he would have to study Barrow’s movements, tendencies and methods and work closely with his colleagues. Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn had already faced Clyde Barrow, they knew exactly what to expect. The image below is a colourised photo of Frank Hamer and Maney Gault.

By the time the posse had been employed to track down the Barrow gang, Clyde Barrow had been involved in the killing of 6 police officers in shootouts and cold blooded murders and a further 3 citizens in botched robberies where folk had tried to stop him stealing from them. These killings had taken place in Texas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Three months after the Eastham breakout Henry Methvin had joined up with Clyde Barrow again. On April 01 1934, Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, Henry Methvin and possibly Raymond Hamilton were outside their car which was parked alongside a quiet road near Grapevine in Texas. Three motorcycle police officers rode past; the two younger members on their first patrol decided to go back and check out the group and their car. They didn’t know who they were and their actions were intended to be routine and very low key. The gang shot them dead on the road as they approached.

So now in the posse’s process of tracking Clyde Barrow down and assessing his movements, he and his gang had killed again. One can imagine the affect this had on Frank Hamer and his colleagues and the increased pressure and expectation that accompanied it. Just five days later the Barrow gang compounded that further when they struck again, killing another police officer in Sowers, Texas. Clyde Barrow was securing the worst possible end game for himself and Bonnie Parker and any other gang member accompanying them.

Hamer’s directive was to stop Clyde Barrow. If that resulted in capturing him the amount and weight of evidence to convict Barrow for murder was overwhelming. However, all the law enforcement agencies involved, the supporting agencies and the appointed posse knew that Barrow was never going to give himself up easily and the realistic outcome might be a shoot-out in which Barrow would have to be quickly and totally overwhelmed. Hamer knew that Clyde Barrow would always be prepared to shoot and drive his way out of a confrontation.

By late May 1934 the posse had successfully established that Barrow and Parker were indeed planning to visit the Methvin’s in Louisiana. They also knew that Henry Methvin along with Clyde Barrow were wanted for the recent Grapevine police murders in Texas. Hamer advised Ivan Methvin that he and his team were determined to apprehend Barrow. He further suggested that his son could possibly escape the death penalty for the Grapevine murders if he helped his team apprehend Barrow. The deal, and only applying to the Texas murders was a state pardon for his son in return for information leading to the official capture of Clyde Barrow. Apparently, Ivan Methvin agreed for the sake of his son’s life.

Sources are always vague about how the posse decided to set up their ambush on Highway 154 between Gibsland and Sailes. In 1934 it was Louisiana Highway 418. They had certainly learned something significant. The consensus points at Clyde Barrow using Ivan Methvin’s address along that route as a hideout, and meeting point. The Methvin family were dirt poor and it was purported that they had occupied properties in Ruston, west of Arcadia and Ashland to the south of Sailes. It seems certain that the Methvin’s were squatting in an abandoned home off the Sailes crossroads. Clyde Barrow was heading somewhere south of Gibsland on the 154 that day. He clearly, after breakfast in a Gibsland café set out on that route for a very specific reason. The law enforcement intelligence gathering was entirely accurate from whatever source they gleaned it.

The images below are the view south from the ambush position. The Methvin’s home at the time, in the small settlement of Sailes was where Clyde Barrow was possibly heading. It was less than two miles from this location.

Frank Hamer and Henderson Jordan, (within his own jurisdiction), were concerned about the idea of trying to arrest or apprehend Barrow in a built up area, worried that a possible or even an inevitable shoot-out would place a lot of innocent folk at risk, especially if the team made even the smallest mistake in identifying exactly where Barrow was. The entire posse knew Clyde Barrow would give no thought to risking anyone who was caught in a crossfire.

The team had to force Barrow to slow down at the ambush/stop point without arousing suspicion. If Clyde Barrow had spotted a threat on the 154 ahead of him he would have engineered a 180 degree turn and been gone. Had they not put something in place he could have easily passed at 60 mph with no problem, it was a perfectly straight stretch of road.

At some time in the plan the posse reasoned that they would involve Ivan Methvin by positioning his wood-pulp truck at the chosen site on Highway 154 and faking a wheel change in clear view of approaching traffic. This was in anticipation of Clyde Barrow recognising Methvin’s truck on the side of the road seemingly broken down and stopping to assist. The heavily armed law enforcement team would be positioned just inside the brush in front of the treeline on the east side of the road just beyond but adjacent to Methvin’s car. Hamer was primarily set to arrest Barrow but he and his team were totally aware that Barrow would try, (if he realised in time that he had been duped), to shoot his way out.

Of course there is a view that Hamer and his team had no intention of simply stopping Clyde Barrow and prosecuting an arrest, they were set to prosecute an ambush with overwhelming firepower. Whether Ivan Methvin was forced or influenced to assist them, the plan worked. Methvin wanted to save his son, so he had reason.

Whatever researchers and historians think or what uninvolved officials and press surmised at the time one thing very few if any don’t know, both then and now is what it’s like to be in a position where you are lying in wait or searching for desperate and ruthless armed insurgents. Such an experience grips your entire soul, you are entirely focused.

These six men were prepared to confront a murderous outlaw who always had guns close to hand and would resort to using them without any hesitation. Clyde Barrow had now been involved in the killing of 9 police officers. Whilst they anticipated the arrival of the pair, they had no way of knowing if there were additional gang members in the car who were also prepared to use firearms. Whilst Bonnie and Clyde’s supporters at the time might insist that they were simply murdered in overwhelming circumstances they were not there facing the risk.

It always intrigues me how folk so removed from such violent events are so keen to offer very determined opinions.

This particular road was quiet and it’s not much different today. At some point, Methvin’s truck was placed in position and the team laid up concealed in the brush. In a black and white re-enactment film taken the day after the ambush there was waist to chest high foliage between the road edge and the treeline. This was perfect cover and enabled the posse to rise up and immediately gain a field of fire.

There is some debate as when the posse got into position but they were definitely there by the evening of the previous day. Their cars were well off the road and hidden amongst the trees. The team remained in place throughout the night, getting concerned that the intelligence was incorrect. In a statement one of the team described how Ivan Methvin was not actually at the side of the road with his vehicle, he was actually restrained and sat with the 6 man posse. That might have been the case during the dark hours perhaps.  A number of cars apparently passed the ambush site before Methvin positioned his wood-pulp truck, whether it was that evening or on the morning of the 23rd. This naturally caused tension amongst the posse as they were setting up.

The image below, looking south towards Sailes was taken after the ambush and the perhaps the following day when there was a re-enactment for evidence purposes. I suspect the car in the image is possibly positioned to represent where Barrow’s car ended up. It is not the actual car. The two police officers are just posing for the photograph.

Gibsland residents interviewed in the 1960’s were keen to add snippets of local knowledge. Amongst these very clear interviews there was a suggestion that the ambush site at the top of a gentle hill with a clear views north and south was indeed one of Barrow’s mail drop/meeting sites. Studying the location, it is entirely plausible. The abandoned abode that Ivan Methvin was apparently occupying was less than two miles further south from the chosen ambush site. Another statement was offered by a lady who at the time was a schoolchild on a school bus driving north towards Gibsland an hour before the ambush. The bus stopped at the site where Methvin’s truck was ‘stranded’. The driver, totally unaware of what was being set up offered to help Ivan Methvin in a neighbourly fashion but Methvin just waved him away insisting all was in order.

As the morning drew on Hamer was actually preparing the team to withdraw and reconsider their actions, frustrated that they had possibly got it wrong. Then just before 09.15  a car trailing a dust plume came into view travelling at high speed from Gibsland. It was a Ford V-8, they could hear it approaching. As it got closer, Ted Hinton who had been positioned on the right of the line facing the road confirmed Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were in the car. As Ivan Methvin’s truck came into Clyde Barrow’s view, (he would have seen it from about half a mile out), he slowed as he neared it. The Posse anticipated that he would recognise who’s vehicle it was, (he had actually purchased it for Ivan Methvin), and would hopefully not suspect anything suspicious. The truck was blocking the right hand side of the road which would force Barrow to move left and closer to the team. Barrow and Parker were alone in the car.

There are conflicting reports of what happened as Barrow’s car slowed to a crawl alongside Methvin’s truck. Methvin claimed that he had an exchange of words with Barrow. At the same time another wood-pulp truck appeared coming from the other direction, it slowed right down when Barrows car pulled slowly to the left to come alongside Methvin.

Frank Hamer stated in his report that he stood up with his .35 Remington Model 8 rifle and shouted a warning. The posse claimed that Barrow moved inside the car, seemingly he didn’t throw his hands up to surrender. From Barrow’s perspective it is likely he wasn’t aware of the size of the posse and he was considering an escape option. Deputy Prentice Oakley was the first to fire with two shots in quick succession. He shot Clyde Barrow in the temple which in all probability killed him instantly. The rest of the posse rose up from the brush in a line about two metres apart from each other and began to open fire. They continued to fire into the car as it rolled past them. Perhaps not intending to create an image of cold blooded slaughter by firing 130 rounds of varied ammunition into the car, these law enforcement officers were determined to dictate the outcome.

It is unlikely that Barrow, sat in a moving car surrounded by his firearms would have been happy to simply surrender. He had escaped before. He and Parker were unaware of the readiness of this posse. When the firing started the two men in the wood-pulp truck approaching from the south dived out of their vehicle and into the brush.

Frank Hamer refused to be interviewed by the press in the aftermath but in more private references it was alleged that he never made mention of Ivan Methvin being part of the ambush plan. He was a man of few words outside his profession.

Gibsland residents interviewed in the 1960’s were keen to add snippets of local knowledge and speculation. Amongst these very clear interviews there was a suggestion that the ambush site at the top of a gentle hill with a clear views north and south was indeed one of Barrow’s mail drop/meeting sites. Another statement was offered by a lady who at the time was a youngster on a school bus driving north towards Gibsland an hour before the ambush. The bus stopped at the site where Methvin’s truck was ‘stranded’. The driver, totally unaware of what was being set up offered to help Ivan Methvin in a neighbourly fashion but he just waved him away insisting all was in order.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Parker were buried separately in Dallas cemeteries. Bonnie had 20,000 people at her funeral, Clyde Barrow apparently had 15,000. Bonnie Parker’s family were upset and dismayed at the life and existence Bonnie led in the final years of her life and none of the Parker’s attended the Barrow funeral. The Barrow family were equally devasted by what had become of their sons but they attended Bonnie Parker’s funeral. Emma Barrow, Bonnie’s mother vehemently refused to allow them to be buried together. At their graves today, people still leave flowers and coins in tribute. At Clyde Barrow’s grave some people leave empty firearm shell cases.

The story of Bonnie & Clyde immortalised them in the 1967 film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. A colourful and glitzy portrayal, the film starts with some effort to be accurate. It descends however into pure fantasy and the ambush scene is a complete farce with no effort to display the location accurately or portray it as it occurred. Warren Beatty was an executive producer and had Frank Hamer’s character in the film portrayed as a dim villainous cop and even temporarily captured by Clyde Barrow. The production was sued by Gladys Hamer and her son and Beatty settled out of court in 1971.

Famous incidents before and since have been blighted by film producers and authors in their determination to distort the truth for one simple reason; to make money. Enlightening us with conspiracy theories and fictional alternatives, their methods are compelling. The biggest ever was probably the assassination of JFK.

The Highwaymen, a Netflix production in 2019 starring Kevin Costner as Frank Hamer and Woody Harrelson as Maney Gault tells  the story from the perspective of the lawmen involved. It is gritty, well presented and far more accurate portrayal than previous attempts. The ambush scene was filmed at the actual site in Louisiana. The images above are stills of the prepared scene. The production went to great lengths to recreate the location as it would have been in 1934. The story adaptation was created by the screen writer, John Fusco and the film was directed by John Lee Hancock.

In 2012 I had a book published in the UK called Gunfire Graffiti – Overlooked Gun Crime in the UK. I wrote it under the pseudonym of Matt Seiber. It was a close study about the illegal experimentation with firearms on the roadside. It is surprisingly commonplace in the UK but unsurprisingly widespread in the USA. What I also discovered was it is a practise perpetrated by some gun criminals and Clyde Barrow as we now know was a regular advocate.

With regard to this I was interested to see what I could find in the vicinity. Covering a radius of 8 miles from the site on day two of our visit in September 2022 we conducted a cursory search. We found over 30 gunfire damage locations on a labyrinth of country roads. This included damage inflicted to the large green official historical roadside information markers indicating the ambush location a mile north and south on the 154. They have both been shot through with firearms.

A detailed search would undoubtedly have found more. In this part of Louisiana does that infer a connection to the memory of Bonnie and Clyde? Is it a form of glorified trolling,  gestures of anti-establishment protest, macabre celebration, or is it just coincidence. The Hungerford Massacre, a mass shooting perpetrated by Michael Ryan in 1985 was a horrific event in the UK and is well documented. What is overlooked is the fact that Ryan like Clyde Barrow was a roadside shooter. Furthermore the quiet market town of Hungerford has since been surrounded by roadside gunfire damage sites. A strange, macabre practise.

I call them signatures; most folk never notice them.

In the Netflix production there is a scene where Hamer and Gault, (Costner and Harrelson), find what they consider to be a location where Bonnie and Clyde had possibly camped alongside a lake. There is a steel No Trespassing sign and upright through which there is a bullet hole. Hamer loads a Colt Monitor, ( a law enforcement version of the military BAR), and empties a magazine into the structure with dramatic effect. Of course this is representing the United States in 1934 and adds to the whole drama of the film but it is not at all removed from real life reality nearly ninety years later.

Today, the state of Louisiana has the second highest population proportional gun crime and death by firearm record in the USA. Their neighbour Mississippi comes first. It is perhaps ironic that Bonnie and Clyde were eventually killed in a state where they had never killed any of their victims . I enjoyed Louisiana, it is a beautiful state and seemingly left untouched at the time by the gun-toting Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Louisiana has sadly made up for it now.