Blanche Barrow

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Blanche Barrow
Buck and Blanche FOIA FBI.jpg
Blanche and Buck Barrow, 1931
Born (1911-01-01)January 1, 1911
Garvin, Oklahoma
Died December 24, 1988(1988-12-24) (aged 77)
Dallas, Texas
Cause of death
Cancer
Criminal status paroled after 6 yrs
Spouse(s) John Callaway (1928–1931)
Buck Barrow (1931 – until his death, 1933)
Eddie Frasure (1940 – until his death, 1969)
Parents Matthew Fontain Caldwell (father, deceased)
Lillain Bell Pond (mother, deceased)
Ricky (adoptive son)

Blanche Barrow (January 1, 1911 – December 24, 1988) was a fringe member of the Bonnie and Clyde gang and the wife of Clyde Barrow's brother Buck. Brought up by her father, she had a poor relationship with her mother. Blanche ran away from an unhappy marriage when she met Buck Barrow. She was often described as unusually attractive; she fell in love with and married Buck who was a decade older, and a fugitive. With her encouragement, he surrendered. Two years later he was not only released but granted a pardon that wiped out his conviction; if he had chosen to make the best of it, Buck had a splendid opportunity for a fresh start with the 22 year old Blanche. But, over her objections, Buck insisted on going with his brother.

Clyde, thirsting for revenge against the law, led a gang that had already claimed five lives during armed robberies that were often bloodily botched. Blanche and Buck spent three weeks with them at a Joplin hideout, Blanche doing cooking and washing for the others, before the group's dissolute behavior led to a raid in which two policemen were killed. Left behind were newsworthy photos of Bonnie posing with Clyde, and documents that identified Buck and Blanche. Tracked down months later by heavily armed police, the gang again escaped, but Buck was wounded in the head by a bullet and Blanche in the eyes by shards of glass from blown out car windows. Five days later police again closed in on the gang hiding out in an abandoned amusement park in Dexter, Iowa (about 33 miles from Des Moines). A bloody gun battle broke out and Buck was shot 4 times in the back. The others, including the crippled Bonnie, escaped through brush, but Blanche was captured after she refused to leave Buck's side, who was fatally wounded and drifting in and out of consciousness.

Blanche thought Sheriff Holt Coffey remarkably fair and sympathetic, but she claimed that while interrogating her J. Edgar Hoover had threatened to gouge out her remaining good eye. Paroled after serving six years in prison, her life was unremarkable thereafter, although she was consulted by actors and filmmakers for the popular 1967 film in which Estelle Parsons gave an Academy Award winning portrayal of Blanche that she thought unrealistic. In a 2013 mini series, Blanche was portrayed by Sarah Hyland.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Blanche Barrow was born Bennie Iva Caldwell in Garvin, Oklahoma. She was the only child of Matthew Fontain Caldwell (June 23, 1871 – September 19, 1947) and Lillian Bell Pond (c.1894 – February 24, 1995). At the time of her birth, her father was 40 years old and her mother was 16 years old. Her parents divorced while Blanche was still a young child, and she was raised by her father, with whom she had a close relationship. Her father made his living as a logger and a farmer. Matthew Caldwell was a devoutly religious man and occasionally preached as a lay minister. At age 17, Blanche was wedded to the much older John Calloway, a marriage arranged by her mother. Blanche ran away. In her book, My Life with Bonnie and Clyde, Blanche said the experience with Calloway left her unable to bear children.

Marriage to Buck Barrow[edit]

On November 11, 1929, while hiding in Dallas County from her husband, Blanche met Buck Barrow, a twice-divorced criminal with children from a previous marriage, several days after meeting Blanche, Buck was shot and captured following a burglary in Denton, Texas. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in the Texas State Prison System. On March 8, 1930, however, Barrow escaped from the Ferguson Prison Farm near Midway, Texas. In interviews with author/historian John Neal Phillips, Blanche was frank about the fact that she not only knew of Buck's escape, but that she hid with him. Blanche and Buck were married in Oklahoma, honeymooning in Florida. Blanche was described as strikingly attractive, with sculpted cheekbones that set off her dark eyes. Despite going ahead with the wedding while knowing Buck was an Texas prison escapee, within months she, and his family, convinced him to turn himself in. Two years later he was pardoned, meaning that legally he was no longer an ex convict; if Buck had wanted to give up crime this would have been a golden opportunity. A few days after being released Bonnie and Clyde met Buck and Blanche at Blanche's mother's home and persuaded Buck to vacation with them in Joplin, Missouri.[1] Blanche agreed to visit with Clyde, whose gang was already responsible for five murders when Buck joined, to be with her husband, but continued trying to talk Buck out of running with Clyde and Bonnie.[2]

Barrow Gang[edit]

Clyde Barrow began as a reckless car thief, he has been described as thoroughly incompetent criminal; resentment at his incarceration inspired the prison break scheme that he saw as the main objective of his gang. Never stealing large amounts of money, they attained fame through a series of unplanned murders, a distinguishing feature of which was use of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), which was a long ranged military machine gun. Bonnie Parker was also temperamentally unsuited to her lot in life; considered bright at school, with a gift for creative writing and speaking well enough to be warm up speaker at political rallies, she was married at 16 to a neighbourhood criminal. Fascinated by movies, and having become disenchanted with the locality, (twice writing in her diary "Why don't something happen?") she fell in with the bravado of Clyde and was without doubt complicit in his crimes. Photos of her posing with weapons and a cigar created much of her public image, she was later to vehemently deny ever smoking cigars; WD Jones said he had never seen Bonnie firing a gun. She is said to have had a pistol on her when killed although not all weapons with similar provenance are universally acknowledged to be authentic. She was able to think clearly in fraught situations, and it was she who got the hot-headed Clyde out of danger on occasion.[3][4][5][6]

Devoted to her man, Blanche did not especially like Bonnie or Clyde. Buck, accustomed to deference from his younger brother had difficulty in accepting Clyde as the leader he saw himself as. Bickering stemming from the enforced proximity further increased Blanche's disenchantment over the four months she spent with the gang. She also had little taste for her use as the gang's factotum, being preoccupied with her own adornment and clothing; her memorable appearance in riding breeches that were tight across the rump was still being remarked on decades later.[7][8]

Fugitive[edit]

Blanche and Buck spent three weeks with them and W. D. Jones in Joplin, Blanche to her chagrin ended up doing cooking and washing for the others. The group's loud (they consumed a crate of beer a day) card games, and an accidental discharge of the BAR by Clyde, led two carloads of armed police police to confront the group as suspected bootleggers on April 13. Clyde responded by instantly opening fire; two of the policemen were killed while others took cover from the automatic weapons welded by the gang. Jones received a straight-through wound. Blanche was pulled into the getaway car, having ran down the street after her bolting pet dog. She later wrote that when being driven away from Joplin, she felt "all my hopes and dreams [were] tumbling down around me".[9] Documents left behind identified Buck and Blanche, there were also photos of Bonnie provocatively posing with Clyde that were reproduced in newspapers and made national celebrities of them. On June 10, Clyde, who though a skilled driver of his favored Ford V8s, frequently drove the dirt roads at 70 mph, missed 'bridge out' signs and crashed the car, leaking battery acid inflicted burns to Bonnie's legs that crippled her and caused excruciating pain.[10][11][12][13][14][15]

Two-unit Red Crown Tourist Court. Using his cabin's internal connecting door, Clyde entered the garage from where he fired with a BAR. 39°18′43″N 94°41′11″W / 39.31194°N 94.68639°W / 39.31194; -94.68639 (1933 Site of Red Crown Tourist Court Platte City, Missouri)

The discovery of half burnt bandages meant the gang were suspected to be in the vicinity when they stopped at what was, unbeknownst to them, a popular meeting place for local law enforcement in Platte County, Missouri on July 18. Blanche was given coins to pay for renting a cabin, checking in as three, then sent for food for five. Next day, ignoring that the manager had made a point of getting the garage doors opened so he could note their licence plate, which was a stolen one that Clyde had foolishly kept, Blanch was sent to pay in coins for another night's rent. The manager mentioning a refund if they informed him they were leaving before night. Blanche thought it an odd remark, and warned Clyde the manager was the punctilious type likely to have informed the law about any suspicions he had, which he in fact had. By midday the licence plate had identified them, and enabled Sheriff Holt Coffey to get assistance from a sceptical Sheriff of Kansas City. Clyde, having taped newspapers across his cabin windows, was unable to see that anything was amiss.[16]

At 1 a.m. on July 20, at the head of a heavily armed posse of about 13, and with a bulletproof sedan blocking the garage door for the Barrow's car, and bearing a steel shield, Sheriff Coffey knocked on one of the gang's two cabins, saying that he needed to speak to them. Blanche's answer of 'just a minute' was a pre-arranged alarm phrase that alerted Clyde, he went into the garage from where he could see Coffey through a glass panel in the door, and fired through it with a BAR. Coffey, who was not angling the shield to that line of fire dived away amid a covering barrage from the posse in the blacked out surroundings. In perhaps the only occasion that the high powered weapons were especially useful, point blank BAR fire caused minor injuries to the armoured sedan driver, who maneuvered clear of the front of the garage door, thereby freeing an escape route for the gang's car.

Buck and Blanche had to to leave the cover of their cabin and round the building to get to the garage, and thus exposed, were targeted by the posse, Buck fell with a piece of his skull blown out. Blanch stopped and while under fire dragged him into the car, helped by Clyde, Jones using his BAR. When the car emerged it was hit repeatedly and as Clyde drove them away glass was blasted into Blanche's eyes, virtually blinding her left.[17]

Capture[edit]

Blanche, not long after being captured. Her breeches were extraordinarily daring for 1933.

Two hundred miles away, and having acquired another car, they camped off of an overgrown dead end road in a park near Dexter, Iowa, Buck's injuries were too severe to leave.[18][19] Within four days they were identified by purchase of medical supplies, and bloodstained refuse a stroller discoved. With the road covered, a 50 strong posse, mainly townspeople armed with shotguns and hunting rifles, approached the camp soon after dawn. Clyde and Jones opened fire with BARs on the half dozen that they saw. An attempt to drive off ended when the car was wrecked on a tree stump. Although the posse suffered no casualties, which may have been deliberate or the difficulty of aiming the weapons, like all in gunfights with the Barrow gang they were shocked by the sudden concentration of firepower from Browning Automatic Rifles that they were subjected to, and the hail of bullets ripping through the wood gave them pause. Jones and Clyde were lightly wounded and the other car was shot to pieces; abandoning the heavy BARs, the gang ran further into the woods at right angles to the posse's approach.

Blanche and Buck separated from the other three when he collapsed. After he was again wounded, they stood up and surrendered. The photograph shows a distraught Blanche moments after she was pulled away from Buck, who is lying yards to the right. Due to her impared vision, Blanche thought the camera was a gun and she and Buck were about to be summarily shot.[20][21][22]


With Jones carrying Bonnie, the trio, descended a slope and entered thick brush that extended up to a riverbank. The posse members were wary of entering the undergrowth, where they might find the tables turned, and they contented themselves with firing into it at random, wounding Bonnie with shotgun pellets, and yelling at the fugitives to surrender. The capture of Blanche and Buck and, according to Jones, Clyde being shot at while scouting some distance distance away, may have distracted the posse. Clyde's trio, now only armed with an empty pistol, crossed the river to a farm and, appropriating the farmer's car with kerosene for fuel, they made good their escape.[23][24][25]

Imprisonment[edit]

July 27, 1933 — Blanche was in prison until 1939.

Blanche said she accompanied the gang to be with her husband. Apparently she gave no useful information despite pressure to cooperate for a light sentence, although she must have known much that could have helped catch Bonnie and Clyde, such as the identity of those who were still helping the fugitives. Sent to Platte County, Missouri, Blanche was charged with assault with intent to commit the murder of Sheriff Holt Coffey, who had narrowly escaped death (his teenage son received a substantial wound to the arm). She found, to her surprise, that Coffey bore no grudge against her. She was convicted on the charge and sentenced to 10 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary. Treatment was unable to save the vision in her left eye.[26] In 1935, subsequent to Jones having gave the authorities a thorough account of the gang's use of Blanche to communicate with their families, she and he, along with a score of others including family members of Bonnie and Clyde, were tried for 'harbouring'. Both during her time in prison and after her parole she remained in close contact with Coffey and his family, as well as with Platte County prosecutor David Clevenger. She was released after six years, the same time served by Jones.[27]

Life after release[edit]

Following her release from prison, Blanche Barrow moved to Dallas, Texas, working in various jobs. In 1940, she married Eddie Frasure. One year later, she completed her parole, however police continued to monitor her whereabouts and she often was contacted when arriving in a new city. Blanche enjoyed reminiscing with her friends, a Barrow sister and a sister of Parker, as the trio went fishing with beers, though in later life she said Bonnie and Clyde now seemed like characters in a book she had read.[28] Eddie died in 1969, and Blanche died from cancer on December 24, 1988, a little over a week away from her 78th birthday. She was survived by her 94-year-old mother. She is buried in Dallas's Grove Hill Memorial Park under the name "Blanche B. Frasure".[29][30] Her memoirs, My Life With Bonnie and Clyde, were published in 2004 (ISBN 0-8061-3715-0).

Reaction to the film Bonnie and Clyde[edit]

On April 10, 1968, at the 40th Academy Awards ceremony, Estelle Parsons won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Blanche in the film Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Blanche was unhappy with the film; in an interview with author/historian John Neal Phillips, she said, "That movie made me look like a screaming horse's ass."[31][32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Barrow pp. 24-35.
  2. ^ http://www.cbsnews.com/news/book-em-go-down-together-the-true-untold-story-of-bonnie-and-clyde/,Book 'Em: Go Down Together ...The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, retrieved 21/6/2014
  3. ^ http://www.rrauction.com/past_auction_item.cfm?ID=3269104, RR auctions past auction items,- Bonnie Parker Colt Detective Special .38 revolver, retrieved 23/6/2014
  4. ^ http://www.redriverhistorian.com/bonnie.html, REd River Historian, Breakin' the Law: Bonnie & Clyde Haunts, retrieved 23/62014
  5. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nYGLzHaifw, Bonnie & Clyde Ambush: Frank Hamer's Rifle?, retrieved 23/62014
  6. ^ Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde By Jeff Guinn p 254-257
  7. ^ http://www.thewrap.com/lifetime-bonnie-clyde-costume-designer-marilyn-vance/., Wrap, Covering Hollywwod, Lifetime's ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ Costume Designer Reveals Secrets to Movie's Killer Fashion retrieved 20/5/2014
  8. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/books/chapter-go-down-together.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0,NYT Books,FIRST CHAPTER, ‘Go Down Together’ by Jeff Guin, retrieved 20/62014
  9. ^ Barrow and Phillips, pp 56.
  10. ^ Red River Plunge of Bonnie and Clyde: Collingsworth Pioneers Park, US 83 north side of Salt Fork of the Red River: Texas marker #4218 – Texas Historical Commission
  11. ^ James R. Knight, "Incident at Alma: The Barrow Gang in Northwest Arkansas", The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Arkansas Historical Association Winter, 1997) 401. JSTOR 40027888.
  12. ^ Parker, Cowan and Fortune, p 132
  13. ^ Jones, W.D. "Riding with Bonnie and Clyde", Playboy, November 1968. Reprinted at Cinetropic.com.
  14. ^ http://www.redriverhistorian.com/clydeart.html
  15. ^ http://www.redriverhistorian.com/clydeart.html, Red River Historian, The Lonely Roads of Bonnie and Clyde, retrieved 20/6/2014
  16. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/books/chapter-go-down-together.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0,NYT Books,FIRST CHAPTER, ‘Go Down Together’ by Jeff Guin, retrieved 20/62014
  17. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/books/chapter-go-down-together.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0,NYT Books,FIRST CHAPTER, ‘Go Down Together’ by Jeff Guin, retrieved 20/62014
  18. ^ Descriptions of the Platte City ambush: Barrow pp. 109-22, 271-78; Phillips pp. 140-5; Guinn pp. 211-19; U.S. Bureau of Investigation memo describing Platte City and Dexfield Park events, August 17, 1933, FBI file 26-4114 Section 1 pp. 300-25.
  19. ^ http://www.redriverhistorian.com/clydeart.html, Red River Historian, The Lonely Roads of Bonnie and Clyde, retrieved 20/6/2014
  20. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/books/chapter-go-down-together.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0,NYT Books,FIRST CHAPTER ‘Go Down Together’ by Jeff Guin, retrieved 20/6/ 2014
  21. ^ http://www.redriverhistorian.com/clydeart.html, Red River Historian, The Lonely Roads of Bonnie and Clyde, retrieved 20/6/2014
  22. ^ Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde By Jeff Guinn p 254-257
  23. ^ Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde By Jeff Guinn p 254-257
  24. ^ Descriptions of the Platte City ambush: Barrow pp. 109-22, 271-78; Phillips pp. 140-5; Guinn pp. 211-19; U.S. Bureau of Investigation memo describing Platte City and Dexfield Park events, August 17, 1933, FBI file 26-4114 Section 1 pp. 300-25.
  25. ^ http://www.redriverhistorian.com/clydeart.html, Red River Historian, The Lonely Roads of Bonnie and Clyde, retrieved 20/6/2014
  26. ^ Barrow, Blanche, edited by John Neal Phillips (2004). My Life With Bonnie and Clyde. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3715-5. p. 150
  27. ^ Barrow, Blanche, edited by John Neal Phillips (2004). My Life With Bonnie and Clyde. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3715-5. p. 150
  28. ^ Blanche Barrow's Life After Prison.
  29. ^ "Blanche Caldwell Barrow". Find a Grave. Retrieved October 24, 2010. 
  30. ^ Barrow, Blanche, edited by John Neal Phillips (2004). My Life With Bonnie and Clyde. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3715-5. p. 150
  31. ^ Blanche Caldwell Barrow. Interview by John Neal Phillips, November 3, 1984.
  32. ^ http://www.cbsnews.com/news/book-em-go-down-together-the-true-untold-story-of-bonnie-and-clyde/,Book 'Em: Go Down Together ...The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, retrieved 21/6/2014

Further reading[edit]

  • Barrow, Blanche Caldwell and John Neal Phillips. My Life with Bonnie and Clyde. Norman, London: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8061-3625-1.
  • Phillips, John Neal. Running with Bonnie and Clyde, the Ten Fast Years of Ralph Fults'. Norman, London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996, 2002. ISBN 0-8061-2810-0.

External links[edit]