By Anne Adams
Although modern criminals don’t always become folk heroes, that was certainly the case in the early 1930s when Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow robbed and killed their way through the Midwest.
Sadly, the couple who somehow acquired a facade of sympathetic romantic adventure was known to law enforcement as vicious thugs.
Like many others, Henderson County residents certainly followed the gang’s activities, particularly since Clyde had family in the area. This also meant that there were often numerous reports to law enforcement of how he and his gang had been seen and how each had to be investigated.
An early report was described in the Dec. 30, 1933, issue of the Athens Weekly Review under a headline that declared: “Barrow Said To Have Been Seen Near Big Rock.” The reporter described how two men and a woman “believed to have been Clyde Barrow and companions had been seen Sunday hiding in the Big Rock community.”
Local officials searched but could not find anyone. The reporter also added that “several children who had ventured away from their parents Sunday while a number of citizens were enjoying a picnic in the Big Rock vicinity” had returned to make the report. They mentioned that the woman seemed to be tending to a shoulder wound for one of the men.
A few months later, Henderson County officials had to follow up new reports. According to the Jan. 11, 1934, Weekly Review, local authorities searched nearby communities to check out persistent rumors that Barrow — the “noted West Dallas desperado” — was hiding out in the areas of Tool and Aley in western Henderson County. The reporter related that Clyde’s uncle (his father’s brother) lived in the area.
Sometimes, reports described what the tipster felt were suspicious situations and individuals. One was reported in the Jan. 25, 1934, Review and described under the headline, “Armed Men Hiding at Fincastle Prove to be Trappers.”
Armed with “six high-powered rifles, a shot gun, and sub machine gun,” Henderson and Anderson County officials traveled to the “Fincastle section” to check out reports that Barrow and his associates were hiding there. The posse found “two tough looking” men who were actually trappers and had been working in the area. The men gave Longview addresses, one turned over a firearm, and later it came out that one of them was an ex-convict and he was arrested.
A few weeks later, as reported in the Feb. 1, 1934, Athens Weekly Review, Barrow seemed to elude the officials. Of course, that’s assuming he was even in the area.
The reporter started with the information that Barrow and two others were “positively identified by a West end resident who knew Barrow as a youth” in a part of Henderson County where they found a camp on Cedar Creek near the double bridge eight miles southwest of Mabank. A few hours before, Jesse Sweeten and a posse of six Henderson county officers arrived at the scene.
At the camp, the lawmen found where Clyde and his gang were supposed to be, but they had apparently already departed, leaving evidence of their presence. Bonnie Parker’s shoe prints were identified as well as those of two men.
Area residents had seen their car, a Ford V-8 sedan, that left tire prints. Also, Sweeten found two shotgun shells and a scrap of paper with some figures on it, as well as a part of a name.
The final report came as described in the Athens Weekly Review of April 12, 1934, how Sweeten and his deputy and others traveled to the Peeltown area and the bottoms of the Trinity River.
Beginning in Kaufman, the search encompassed “a wide area in the River bottom country in the Peeltown area and was met at the river’s edge by a posse of approximately thirty officers which had formed on the opposite side of the river.” However, there seemed to be no trace of Barrow and the others.
Sweeten described the search: “Let me tell you that members of the State Highway Patrol are really after that rat, following the slaughter of two patrolmen at Grapevine last week. They are conducting one of the most determined searches I ever saw a group of officers push.”
It all came to an end on a dusty Louisiana road when the couple was gunned down on May 23, 1934.