Bonnie and Clyde: Interest in Depression outlaws hasn’t waned

By Wesley Harris

Eighty-eight years ago this week, outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were ambushed and killed by a team of law enforcement officers a few miles south of Gibsland. While it spelled the end to a reign of terror across the South and Midwest, the notorious legacy of the partners in crime endures.

The 29th Authentic Bonnie and Clyde Festival is slated for this weekend. Friday night at 6:00 p.m., a presentation by historians will be held in the Gibsland Bank Annex. The event is $15 and includes a jambalaya supper. Free events are scheduled all day Saturday from recreated shootouts, live entertainment, bingo, a look-a-like contest, and a parade.

Not that interest in the pair had waned, a 2019 motion picture spurred renewed fascination with the Depression Era bank robbers and spree killers. After debuting in theaters, “The Highwaymen” became available on Netflix. While the 1967 classic film “Bonnie and Clyde” focused on the outlaw lovers, the new movie portrays the efforts of former Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) to stop the gang’s binge of robbery and murder. The film aimed to do dramatic and historical justice to the moment the posse opened fire on the duo a few miles south of Gibsland in Bienville Parish on May 23, 1934.

Dozens of north Louisiana banks were robbed during the Depression but there is no evidence Barrow and Parker were responsible for any of the heists.

Not for lack of trying. On April 27, 1933, the Barrow gang sat for most of the morning in front of the Ruston State Bank. After their surveillance, they decided to steal another car to use in the getaway.

Sophie Stone lived a room at the Brooks Boarding House three blocks from the bank on North Trenton Street. The young woman, Lincoln Parish’s home demonstration agent, was home for lunch when she saw a man get into another boarder’s car. She alerted Mr. Dillard Darby who was inside eating with his family.

Darby ran out of the house and tried to jump on the running board of his car as it pulled away. Unsuccessful at stopping the thief, Darby ran back into the boarding house and told L. K. Brooks to telephone the sheriff that his car had been stolen.

Stone suggested they take her car and try to catch the thief. They took off north headed out of Ruston and finally spotted Darby’s car in Dubach as it turned west toward Hico.

In a statement, Darby said, “We followed the car to about a quarter of a mile the other side of Hico and decided to abandon the chase, turned around and headed back toward Hico and Dubach. A car with four persons in it flagged us down and asked us if we had seen a black Chevrolet coach. I jumped out of Miss Stone’s car and ran toward the other car. When I approached the car, the man driving threw a gun on me and asked me why I had been following that car. I told him it was my car, and this seemed to infuriate him, and he struck me with the butt of his pistol on the back of the head knocking me over Miss Stone’s car. One of the two women in the car got out and jerked Miss Stone out of the car and slugged her in the back of the head and told her to get into their car. 

“One of the men jerked me up and made me get into the car also; the car had a man and one woman in the front seat. And in the back also. They turned off on a gravel road toward Bernice as the driver said he was going to kill us.”

The driver who slugged Darby was Clyde Barrow. Stone was pistol whipped by a smelly, dirty Bonnie Parker. The back seat occupants were Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law, Buck and Blanche Barrow.

Clyde and Buck argued about killing or releasing them. They cursed Darby and Stone for spoiling their plans. They only wanted to “borrow” Darby’s car for the bank holdup and would have driven it only about 150 miles.

“As we approached Bernice,” Darby continued, “they told us to make no sound as they had to buy some gasoline, and they didn’t want to kill us there or to kill anyone anybody at the station. At the station they inquired after my car and headed back toward Dubach to look for it. Just as we were leaving the filling station at Bernice, [Ruston] Mayor [C.C.] Goyne and [Town Marshal] W.D. Risinger passed us and the man said, ‘There goes two Ruston laws. I hope they try to stop us, I would like to fill both of them full of lead!’

“When the bandits found out that my car and the driver wasn’t between Bernice and Dubach they went toward Junction City, and then on toward El Dorado. At El Dorado they bought gas and oil and had it put in a can. About five to six miles out of El Dorado they stopped the car and put the gas and oil in it.”

Clyde and Buck again got out of the car to discuss the fate of their hostages. They eventually let Darby and Stone out of the car. “They started to drive off and then stopped,” Darby said. “One of the men got out and threw a $5 bill down on the road telling me that they had probably carried us further away from home than we had planned on going. And there was a money to use to telephone the sheriff, who would be glad to come and get us and take us home.”

Darby and Stone flagged down a motorist, paying him the five dollars to take them to the nearest town. Darby telephoned Lincoln Parish Sheriff A. J. Thigpen to report the crime. Darby’s brother-in-law picked up the stranded victims returned them to Ruston.

Darby saw one submachine gun, three automatic rifles, three sawed off shotguns, six automatic pistols, a revolver, and plenty of ammunition piled in the back of the car. Darby’s car, which had been stolen by young gang member W. D. Jones, was found abandoned at McGee, Arkansas the next morning.

At the time of the kidnapping, Darby and Stone had no idea who had grabbed them. The driver said if they were to recognize their pictures anywhere and it led to their capture, it would mean the electric chair for them. Darby and Stone viewed photographs a day later and identified Bonnie Parker and Blanche Barrow as the two women. A day later, they were shown additional photos and identified the Barrow brothers.

Stone, later Mrs. W. H. Cook, was horrified by the 1967 Hollywood movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Asked about the film, Cook said, “That was just terrible. It was the biggest lot of nonsense I ever saw. I couldn’t believe it. They made those people look like heroes when they were really just common criminals.”

Cook was also incensed that the scene depicting her and Darby at the boarding house featured them smooching on the front porch swing. “Why, he was married and inside eating lunch with his wife when that car was stolen!” she said in an interview. “I was sitting [alone] in the swing on the front porch.”

Perhaps Sophie Stone Cook can now rest in peace knowing a more accurate portrayal of Bonnie and Clyde’s last days has been produced. “The Highwaymen” ambush scene was shot in the exact spot on the road in Bienville Parish south of Gibsland where the final showdown took place. The now-paved state highway was covered in dirt to replicate the original look.

The film recreated the town of Arcadia, where the bullet-riddled car, still containing the duo’s bodies, was towed to a furniture store with a morgue in the back room. The startling scenes of the crowd mobbing the dead criminals in the moving car are accurate, with the director noting he actually had to tone down that visual.