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Bonnie & Clyde

Feb 8, 2022
History
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22
minutes

They are probably the most infamous criminal couple in history, and their story of love, robberies, murder and running away from the law has been immortalised in books, film, TV series, song, and popular culture.

But who were the real Bonnie & Clyde?

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:00:28] They are probably the most infamous criminal couple in history, and their story of love, robberies, murder and running away from the law has been immortalised in books, film, TV series, song, and popular culture.

[00:00:45] So, in this episode we are going to tell the real story of Bonnie and Clyde - who they actually were, why they turned to a life of crime, what they actually did, and how they were eventually stopped.

[00:01:01] I should say that this episode is a request from Agnese, an awesome member from Latvia, so Agnese, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:10] Ok then, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:15] Our story starts at the start of the 20th century, in Texas, in the United States.

[00:01:22] Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910, and had lived a relatively privileged, middle-class life. She did well in school, she was a talented actress, she wrote poems and stories, and her childhood was, by all accounts, a happy one.

[00:01:42] She met a boy, Roy Thornton, in her second year of high school, and six days before her 16th birthday the pair were married.

[00:01:53] Roy Thornton was not a nice man. He drank heavily, he beat Bonnie, and he would stay away for long periods of time, most likely having affairs with other women.

[00:02:07] If that wasn’t bad enough, he was also a criminal, and spent much of the years immediately after they were married behind bars, in prison. 

[00:02:20] Although the marriage was not a happy one, Bonnie never divorced him, and wore her wedding ring for the rest of her life.

[00:02:28] It appears that, despite having been a creative, talented and promising young girl, Bonnie was attracted to bad men.

[00:02:40] And in January of 1930, when she was 19 years old, she met a man she immediately fell in love with and would forever be associated with: Clyde Chestnut Barrow.

[00:02:53] Clyde Barrow had been born into poverty - his family lived under a wagon for a few months because they didn’t have enough money to stay in a house. But he, like Bonnie, was a talented young man, and showed early signs of promise

[00:03:12] He was very musical, and was an excellent guitar player.

[00:03:16] But, he showed early signs of waywardness, early signs that he wasn’t so keen on obeying the law.

[00:03:27] The first crime he was caught for, when he was only 17 years old, had been for taking out a rental car and deciding not to return it. Essentially, for stealing a car.

[00:03:40] Remember this, as cars, and deciding to separate them from their legal owners, will be a theme throughout this story. 

[00:03:49] Clyde soon turned to a full-on life of petty crime. He would steal from shops, he would steal cars, he would commit all sorts of relatively small but certainly not victimless crimes.

[00:04:06] And indeed, when he met Bonnie, in January of 1930, he was actually on the run from the police.

[00:04:15] It didn’t take long for the police to catch him, and two weeks after he had met Bonnie, he was caught and thrown in jail. 

[00:04:25] The duo had immediately fallen for each other, it had been love at first sight, and they continued to write to each other while Clyde was in jail, professing their love for one another.

[00:04:39] Bonnie even managed to smuggle in, to secretly bring in, a pistol to Clyde while he was in jail, allowing him to break out and be reunited with this young girl he had been longing to see again, Bonnie.

[00:04:56] Unfortunately, he was caught shortly after, and sent back to prison, this time to the infamously terrible Eastham Prison Farm.

[00:05:07] From here, there was no escaping, and inmates suffered terrible beatings by the guards. One guard would reportedly even murder inmates, shoot them in cold blood, and then claim that they had been shot while trying to escape.

[00:05:26] It wasn’t just the guards that were committing murders. While in prison, Clyde also committed his first recorded murder. 

[00:05:35] He was being sexually assaulted by another prisoner, and he managed to break free, pick up an iron pipe and hit his attacker so hard over the head that he died.

[00:05:47] However, another prisoner, one who was already serving a life sentence and who wouldn’t ever get out of prison anyway, said that he did it, so Clyde was never actually charged with this murder.

[00:06:02] If the beatings and threat of sexual assault weren’t enough, the days in prison were spent doing back-breaking hard-labour in the fields. 

[00:06:13] It was too much for Clyde, and to avoid being sent out to work he cut off two of his toes. 

[00:06:21] Now, it’s not known whether he cut them off himself or if he got another inmate to do it for him, but this gives you an idea of quite how much he wanted to avoid this work, that he would literally cut off body parts to avoid it.

[00:06:39] Little known to Clyde, his mother had been working hard to try to get him released from prison, and two weeks after chopping off his toes he was released on parole, he was released from prison.

[00:06:54] There had been no need to injure himself, but the damage was done, and Clyde walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

[00:07:03] Now a free man, or at least a man on parole, he was able to be reunited with Bonnie.

[00:07:11] Reportedly he tried to get his life back on the straight and narrow, he tried to live an honest, crime-free life, and did manage to do so for two weeks, but it was impossible.

[00:07:25] He was released in February of 1932, at the middle of the Great Depression. A quarter of the country was unemployed, and Clyde was an ex-con, he was a convicted criminal.

[00:07:40] Whenever he got a job, he would lose it, and he decided, screw it, I’ll just take what I can’t get legally.

[00:07:49] He was also a deeply bitter man after his release from prison. He vowed to get revenge on the guards who had treated him so badly, and to get equal with the Texas authorities.

[00:08:04] According to one of his fellow inmates, a man who would later join his criminal gang, Ralph Fults, during his two years in prison Clyde changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake”.

[00:08:18] Their crime spree began.

[00:08:21] Initially, Clyde and Bonnie teamed up with Clyde’s fellow inmate, Ralph Fults. They robbed shops, gas stations, and small businesses. 

[00:08:32] It’s not clear exactly what their motives were. There is one theory that they were trying to earn enough money to buy guns and launch an attack on the prison where Clyde had been kept, to get revenge on the guards.

[00:08:48] They certainly weren’t trying to get rich, and the amounts of money that they would steal were generally pretty low.

[00:08:57] Over the next 12 months or so, so this is between 1932 and 1933, their gang grew in number, and they started to commit their first murders, both of police officers and shop owners.

[00:09:14] It should be said that, for all of their criminal career, Bonnie and Clyde appeared to try to avoid killing members of the public unless absolutely necessary, although they did end up killing at least nine police officers and four members of the public.

[00:09:30] For the first 12 months or so of their small-time criminal career, they went relatively unnoticed, at least by the American public. The robberies were small, and they were far from the only criminals who had killed policemen. 

[00:09:48] This, remember, was the era of the bank robber

[00:09:53] John Dillinger, who you can hear about in episode number 222 by the way, John Dillinger was in full swing, and there were plenty of hardened criminals robbing shops, banks, and all manner of businesses, and killing plenty of cops in the process.

[00:10:11] So, Bonnie and Clyde were far from the worst, and they went under the radar, they weren’t really known about, until March of 1933.

[00:10:23] Clyde’s brother and his wife had joined the gang, and they were all hiding out in a house in Missouri. The gang liked to party, and they would stay up late playing cards, making lots of noise, and drinking.

[00:10:39] Now, remember that this was the Prohibition Era, alcohol was still illegal. So when neighbours alerted the authorities that there was drinking going on, they came to investigate.

[00:10:52] Five officers approached the building, and when the gang got wind of what was going on, when they realised that they were in trouble, they fired their guns on the police officers, killing one officer outright and fatally wounding another.

[00:11:10] The gang escaped, but left behind all of their possessions.

[00:11:15] When officers later searched the house, they found guns, poetry that Bonnie had written, and a camera with undeveloped film.

[00:11:25] When they developed the pictures, they were amazed at what they had found, and if you have ever seen old black and white pictures of Bonnie & Clyde, they will likely be from this camera.

[00:11:38] The pictures showed Bonnie and Clyde holding guns, playing around, looking into each other’s eyes lovingly, and kissing.

[00:11:48] The police officers made these photos available to the media, who pounced on them, they jumped at the opportunity to create this sensational story.

[00:11:59] Here were two beautiful young people, madly in love, with one of them, Bonnie, in love with a man who wasn’t her husband.

[00:12:10] They looked like a couple on the most marvelous adventure, but they were murderous criminals.

[00:12:16] In one picture Bonnie is smoking a cigar and has a pistol in her hand. In another, which is actually the image we’ve used for this episode, she is pointing a shotgun directly at her lover.

[00:12:30] It was the kind of story that the media loved, and overnight they were catapulted to nationwide fame.

[00:12:40] Reportedly, Bonnie loved the fame. She had always wanted to be a star, to be in the movies, and to be famous, and now she was, albeit for the wrong reasons. 

[00:12:52] The problem was that, now they were famous, they couldn’t go anywhere, and their lives were far from glamorous.

[00:13:01] Previously, they had been able to rent houses, to live a semi-normal life, at least in terms of going into towns and so on.

[00:13:12] But after their pictures were plastered all over the newspapers, they were no longer able to do this.

[00:13:19] They had to live outside, camping in tents, and sleeping in stolen cars.

[00:13:26] They would have to wash in rivers, and eat whatever they could get their hands on. 

[00:13:32] The newspapers portrayed them as this young couple of lovers on the run living a glamorous life, but the reality was far from it.

[00:13:43] What’s more, it wasn’t just the two of them. There was Bonnie, Clyde, but also Clyde’s brother, his wife, and Clyde’s friend, W.D. Jones.

[00:13:54] Later accounts from Clyde’s sister in law, Blanche Barrow, show quite how unromantic and stressful life on the road must have been for the gang.

[00:14:04] There were five of them, spending all day together, travelling normally just in one car, and they were always looking around them, keeping a lookout for a suspicious member of the public or, worse, a police car.

[00:14:20] The punishment if they were caught would be the electric chair, understandably something that they all wanted to avoid at all costs.

[00:14:30] And they were constantly running out of money. See, they were never very good at the actual robbery part. 

[00:14:38] They robbed around ten banks in total, but the most that they ever managed to take was $1,500, which is about $30,000 in today’s money.

[00:14:50] See, it was the Great Depression, and there simply wasn’t much money going around.

[00:14:57] One time they even tried to rob a bank only to find out that it had failed, it had gone bankrupt, the week before.

[00:15:06] There were numerous close shaves, many near encounters, with the police, and indeed in July of 1933 Clyde’s brother was killed and his sister in law arrested after a shootout with the police.

[00:15:22] Then at the start of 1934, the tide started to turn against the pair, public opinion shifted and there was an even greater feeling among the police that Bonnie and Clyde needed to be stopped.

[00:15:38] In January of 1934, Clyde decided to get revenge on Eastham Prison, the prison where he had been held, sexually assaulted, and had a miserable two years.

[00:15:50] He managed to get weapons to the prisoners, who promptly broke out of prison, killing a prison guard in the process.

[00:15:59] This was highly embarrassing for the authorities, and the hunt was now on.

[00:16:05] To make matters worse for the pair, in April of 1934 they shot and killed two Texas road policemen who had approached their car.

[00:16:16] The newspapers jumped on the story. One of the young policemen who was murdered was about to be married, and his fiancée wore her wedding dress to his funeral.

[00:16:28] Eye witnesses later said that Bonnie and Clyde had fired the shots, despite another member of the gang, Henry Methvin later claiming that he had fired the first shot, not Bonnie.

[00:16:42] The damage was done, and in the public’s eyes Bonnie and Clyde had gone from romantic duo to cold-blooded cop-killers.

[00:16:53] What’s more, they were being chased by one of Texas’s most notorious policemen, a man named Frank Hamer. 

[00:17:02] Frank Hamer had a fierce reputation for catching criminals, and the official records have him as having killed 53 people personally and having been shot seventeen times. 

[00:17:16] He had been persuaded to come out of retirement to get Bonnie and Clyde, and he was firmly on the case.

[00:17:24] He knew how to use a gun, but he clearly also knew how to use his head. 

[00:17:31] He tracked the movements of Bonnie and Clyde, and realised that they tended to stay close to the state borders. 

[00:17:39] They did this because police officers from one state couldn’t follow a criminal from one state to another. It was a smart move on Bonnie and Clyde's part, but it was predictable, and it was to be their downfall.

[00:17:56] Frank Hamer, the policeman leading the hunt, had identified Henry Methvin as a member of the gang, and had approached Methvin’s father. 

[00:18:06] In exchange for helping the investigation, Hamer would spare his son.

[00:18:13] The elder Methvin agreed to collaborate, and a trap was set. They believed that Bonnie and Clyde would be travelling down a particular road to meet Methvin’s family on a particular day. 

[00:18:28] The elder Methvin agreed to wait on the road in his car with the idea that Bonnie and Clyde would see his car and stop to talk to him.

[00:18:38] Meanwhile, Hamer and his team would be hiding in the bushes. 

[00:18:45] They waited and waited almost a day, went past with no car. 

[00:18:50] Then, all of a sudden, they heard the sound of a car screaming down the road. Clyde was behind the wheel, and sure enough he did stop to speak to Methvin’s father.

[00:19:04] Before he realised that it was a trap and could pull out his gun to defend himself, the officers jumped out from behind the bushes and opened fire.

[00:19:15] Over 130 bullets were fired, and Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly, at the ages of 23 and 25 respectively. 

[00:19:26] When word got out of their death, people flocked to the nearest town to try to get a glimpse of the pair. 

[00:19:35] The population of the small town swelled from 4,000 to 12,000 overnight. People tried to cut off Bonnie’s hair and even cut off Clyde’s fingers and ears as a memory, but they were beaten away by the police.

[00:19:53] The legacy and legend of Bonnie and Clyde is, as you may now realise, very different to the truth.

[00:20:01] They were immortalised in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde”, and the French duo, Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, released a song about them in the same year. 

[00:20:13] Both versions highly romanticise the real story, and have Bonnie and Clyde living this wonderful adventure and outsmarting the police at every turn.

[00:20:26] The reality is, as we’ve just heard, very different.

[00:20:31] But it was entirely predictable, and both Bonnie and Clyde knew how their story would end.

[00:20:39] Bonnie, in fact, wrote a poem about it, which was discovered at the same time as the photos. The poem read: 

[00:20:49] Some day they’ll go down together;

[00:20:51] And they’ll bury them side by side,

[00:20:55] To a few it’ll be grief

[00:20:57] To the law a relief

[00:20:59] But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:21:05] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:21:11] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that if you had a slightly romanticised version of the story in mind, then at least this has put the record straight.

[00:21:23] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:27] Is the true story different from what you had thought?

[00:21:31] And as for Bonnie and Clyde, why do you think they did it? 

[00:21:35] Did they just start and couldn’t stop? Were they victims of their situation? Hamer Or were they bloodthirsty murderers?

[00:21:44] How should we really remember Bonnie and Clyde?

[00:21:48] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:52] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:02] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:07] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:00:28] They are probably the most infamous criminal couple in history, and their story of love, robberies, murder and running away from the law has been immortalised in books, film, TV series, song, and popular culture.

[00:00:45] So, in this episode we are going to tell the real story of Bonnie and Clyde - who they actually were, why they turned to a life of crime, what they actually did, and how they were eventually stopped.

[00:01:01] I should say that this episode is a request from Agnese, an awesome member from Latvia, so Agnese, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:10] Ok then, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:15] Our story starts at the start of the 20th century, in Texas, in the United States.

[00:01:22] Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910, and had lived a relatively privileged, middle-class life. She did well in school, she was a talented actress, she wrote poems and stories, and her childhood was, by all accounts, a happy one.

[00:01:42] She met a boy, Roy Thornton, in her second year of high school, and six days before her 16th birthday the pair were married.

[00:01:53] Roy Thornton was not a nice man. He drank heavily, he beat Bonnie, and he would stay away for long periods of time, most likely having affairs with other women.

[00:02:07] If that wasn’t bad enough, he was also a criminal, and spent much of the years immediately after they were married behind bars, in prison. 

[00:02:20] Although the marriage was not a happy one, Bonnie never divorced him, and wore her wedding ring for the rest of her life.

[00:02:28] It appears that, despite having been a creative, talented and promising young girl, Bonnie was attracted to bad men.

[00:02:40] And in January of 1930, when she was 19 years old, she met a man she immediately fell in love with and would forever be associated with: Clyde Chestnut Barrow.

[00:02:53] Clyde Barrow had been born into poverty - his family lived under a wagon for a few months because they didn’t have enough money to stay in a house. But he, like Bonnie, was a talented young man, and showed early signs of promise

[00:03:12] He was very musical, and was an excellent guitar player.

[00:03:16] But, he showed early signs of waywardness, early signs that he wasn’t so keen on obeying the law.

[00:03:27] The first crime he was caught for, when he was only 17 years old, had been for taking out a rental car and deciding not to return it. Essentially, for stealing a car.

[00:03:40] Remember this, as cars, and deciding to separate them from their legal owners, will be a theme throughout this story. 

[00:03:49] Clyde soon turned to a full-on life of petty crime. He would steal from shops, he would steal cars, he would commit all sorts of relatively small but certainly not victimless crimes.

[00:04:06] And indeed, when he met Bonnie, in January of 1930, he was actually on the run from the police.

[00:04:15] It didn’t take long for the police to catch him, and two weeks after he had met Bonnie, he was caught and thrown in jail. 

[00:04:25] The duo had immediately fallen for each other, it had been love at first sight, and they continued to write to each other while Clyde was in jail, professing their love for one another.

[00:04:39] Bonnie even managed to smuggle in, to secretly bring in, a pistol to Clyde while he was in jail, allowing him to break out and be reunited with this young girl he had been longing to see again, Bonnie.

[00:04:56] Unfortunately, he was caught shortly after, and sent back to prison, this time to the infamously terrible Eastham Prison Farm.

[00:05:07] From here, there was no escaping, and inmates suffered terrible beatings by the guards. One guard would reportedly even murder inmates, shoot them in cold blood, and then claim that they had been shot while trying to escape.

[00:05:26] It wasn’t just the guards that were committing murders. While in prison, Clyde also committed his first recorded murder. 

[00:05:35] He was being sexually assaulted by another prisoner, and he managed to break free, pick up an iron pipe and hit his attacker so hard over the head that he died.

[00:05:47] However, another prisoner, one who was already serving a life sentence and who wouldn’t ever get out of prison anyway, said that he did it, so Clyde was never actually charged with this murder.

[00:06:02] If the beatings and threat of sexual assault weren’t enough, the days in prison were spent doing back-breaking hard-labour in the fields. 

[00:06:13] It was too much for Clyde, and to avoid being sent out to work he cut off two of his toes. 

[00:06:21] Now, it’s not known whether he cut them off himself or if he got another inmate to do it for him, but this gives you an idea of quite how much he wanted to avoid this work, that he would literally cut off body parts to avoid it.

[00:06:39] Little known to Clyde, his mother had been working hard to try to get him released from prison, and two weeks after chopping off his toes he was released on parole, he was released from prison.

[00:06:54] There had been no need to injure himself, but the damage was done, and Clyde walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

[00:07:03] Now a free man, or at least a man on parole, he was able to be reunited with Bonnie.

[00:07:11] Reportedly he tried to get his life back on the straight and narrow, he tried to live an honest, crime-free life, and did manage to do so for two weeks, but it was impossible.

[00:07:25] He was released in February of 1932, at the middle of the Great Depression. A quarter of the country was unemployed, and Clyde was an ex-con, he was a convicted criminal.

[00:07:40] Whenever he got a job, he would lose it, and he decided, screw it, I’ll just take what I can’t get legally.

[00:07:49] He was also a deeply bitter man after his release from prison. He vowed to get revenge on the guards who had treated him so badly, and to get equal with the Texas authorities.

[00:08:04] According to one of his fellow inmates, a man who would later join his criminal gang, Ralph Fults, during his two years in prison Clyde changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake”.

[00:08:18] Their crime spree began.

[00:08:21] Initially, Clyde and Bonnie teamed up with Clyde’s fellow inmate, Ralph Fults. They robbed shops, gas stations, and small businesses. 

[00:08:32] It’s not clear exactly what their motives were. There is one theory that they were trying to earn enough money to buy guns and launch an attack on the prison where Clyde had been kept, to get revenge on the guards.

[00:08:48] They certainly weren’t trying to get rich, and the amounts of money that they would steal were generally pretty low.

[00:08:57] Over the next 12 months or so, so this is between 1932 and 1933, their gang grew in number, and they started to commit their first murders, both of police officers and shop owners.

[00:09:14] It should be said that, for all of their criminal career, Bonnie and Clyde appeared to try to avoid killing members of the public unless absolutely necessary, although they did end up killing at least nine police officers and four members of the public.

[00:09:30] For the first 12 months or so of their small-time criminal career, they went relatively unnoticed, at least by the American public. The robberies were small, and they were far from the only criminals who had killed policemen. 

[00:09:48] This, remember, was the era of the bank robber

[00:09:53] John Dillinger, who you can hear about in episode number 222 by the way, John Dillinger was in full swing, and there were plenty of hardened criminals robbing shops, banks, and all manner of businesses, and killing plenty of cops in the process.

[00:10:11] So, Bonnie and Clyde were far from the worst, and they went under the radar, they weren’t really known about, until March of 1933.

[00:10:23] Clyde’s brother and his wife had joined the gang, and they were all hiding out in a house in Missouri. The gang liked to party, and they would stay up late playing cards, making lots of noise, and drinking.

[00:10:39] Now, remember that this was the Prohibition Era, alcohol was still illegal. So when neighbours alerted the authorities that there was drinking going on, they came to investigate.

[00:10:52] Five officers approached the building, and when the gang got wind of what was going on, when they realised that they were in trouble, they fired their guns on the police officers, killing one officer outright and fatally wounding another.

[00:11:10] The gang escaped, but left behind all of their possessions.

[00:11:15] When officers later searched the house, they found guns, poetry that Bonnie had written, and a camera with undeveloped film.

[00:11:25] When they developed the pictures, they were amazed at what they had found, and if you have ever seen old black and white pictures of Bonnie & Clyde, they will likely be from this camera.

[00:11:38] The pictures showed Bonnie and Clyde holding guns, playing around, looking into each other’s eyes lovingly, and kissing.

[00:11:48] The police officers made these photos available to the media, who pounced on them, they jumped at the opportunity to create this sensational story.

[00:11:59] Here were two beautiful young people, madly in love, with one of them, Bonnie, in love with a man who wasn’t her husband.

[00:12:10] They looked like a couple on the most marvelous adventure, but they were murderous criminals.

[00:12:16] In one picture Bonnie is smoking a cigar and has a pistol in her hand. In another, which is actually the image we’ve used for this episode, she is pointing a shotgun directly at her lover.

[00:12:30] It was the kind of story that the media loved, and overnight they were catapulted to nationwide fame.

[00:12:40] Reportedly, Bonnie loved the fame. She had always wanted to be a star, to be in the movies, and to be famous, and now she was, albeit for the wrong reasons. 

[00:12:52] The problem was that, now they were famous, they couldn’t go anywhere, and their lives were far from glamorous.

[00:13:01] Previously, they had been able to rent houses, to live a semi-normal life, at least in terms of going into towns and so on.

[00:13:12] But after their pictures were plastered all over the newspapers, they were no longer able to do this.

[00:13:19] They had to live outside, camping in tents, and sleeping in stolen cars.

[00:13:26] They would have to wash in rivers, and eat whatever they could get their hands on. 

[00:13:32] The newspapers portrayed them as this young couple of lovers on the run living a glamorous life, but the reality was far from it.

[00:13:43] What’s more, it wasn’t just the two of them. There was Bonnie, Clyde, but also Clyde’s brother, his wife, and Clyde’s friend, W.D. Jones.

[00:13:54] Later accounts from Clyde’s sister in law, Blanche Barrow, show quite how unromantic and stressful life on the road must have been for the gang.

[00:14:04] There were five of them, spending all day together, travelling normally just in one car, and they were always looking around them, keeping a lookout for a suspicious member of the public or, worse, a police car.

[00:14:20] The punishment if they were caught would be the electric chair, understandably something that they all wanted to avoid at all costs.

[00:14:30] And they were constantly running out of money. See, they were never very good at the actual robbery part. 

[00:14:38] They robbed around ten banks in total, but the most that they ever managed to take was $1,500, which is about $30,000 in today’s money.

[00:14:50] See, it was the Great Depression, and there simply wasn’t much money going around.

[00:14:57] One time they even tried to rob a bank only to find out that it had failed, it had gone bankrupt, the week before.

[00:15:06] There were numerous close shaves, many near encounters, with the police, and indeed in July of 1933 Clyde’s brother was killed and his sister in law arrested after a shootout with the police.

[00:15:22] Then at the start of 1934, the tide started to turn against the pair, public opinion shifted and there was an even greater feeling among the police that Bonnie and Clyde needed to be stopped.

[00:15:38] In January of 1934, Clyde decided to get revenge on Eastham Prison, the prison where he had been held, sexually assaulted, and had a miserable two years.

[00:15:50] He managed to get weapons to the prisoners, who promptly broke out of prison, killing a prison guard in the process.

[00:15:59] This was highly embarrassing for the authorities, and the hunt was now on.

[00:16:05] To make matters worse for the pair, in April of 1934 they shot and killed two Texas road policemen who had approached their car.

[00:16:16] The newspapers jumped on the story. One of the young policemen who was murdered was about to be married, and his fiancée wore her wedding dress to his funeral.

[00:16:28] Eye witnesses later said that Bonnie and Clyde had fired the shots, despite another member of the gang, Henry Methvin later claiming that he had fired the first shot, not Bonnie.

[00:16:42] The damage was done, and in the public’s eyes Bonnie and Clyde had gone from romantic duo to cold-blooded cop-killers.

[00:16:53] What’s more, they were being chased by one of Texas’s most notorious policemen, a man named Frank Hamer. 

[00:17:02] Frank Hamer had a fierce reputation for catching criminals, and the official records have him as having killed 53 people personally and having been shot seventeen times. 

[00:17:16] He had been persuaded to come out of retirement to get Bonnie and Clyde, and he was firmly on the case.

[00:17:24] He knew how to use a gun, but he clearly also knew how to use his head. 

[00:17:31] He tracked the movements of Bonnie and Clyde, and realised that they tended to stay close to the state borders. 

[00:17:39] They did this because police officers from one state couldn’t follow a criminal from one state to another. It was a smart move on Bonnie and Clyde's part, but it was predictable, and it was to be their downfall.

[00:17:56] Frank Hamer, the policeman leading the hunt, had identified Henry Methvin as a member of the gang, and had approached Methvin’s father. 

[00:18:06] In exchange for helping the investigation, Hamer would spare his son.

[00:18:13] The elder Methvin agreed to collaborate, and a trap was set. They believed that Bonnie and Clyde would be travelling down a particular road to meet Methvin’s family on a particular day. 

[00:18:28] The elder Methvin agreed to wait on the road in his car with the idea that Bonnie and Clyde would see his car and stop to talk to him.

[00:18:38] Meanwhile, Hamer and his team would be hiding in the bushes. 

[00:18:45] They waited and waited almost a day, went past with no car. 

[00:18:50] Then, all of a sudden, they heard the sound of a car screaming down the road. Clyde was behind the wheel, and sure enough he did stop to speak to Methvin’s father.

[00:19:04] Before he realised that it was a trap and could pull out his gun to defend himself, the officers jumped out from behind the bushes and opened fire.

[00:19:15] Over 130 bullets were fired, and Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly, at the ages of 23 and 25 respectively. 

[00:19:26] When word got out of their death, people flocked to the nearest town to try to get a glimpse of the pair. 

[00:19:35] The population of the small town swelled from 4,000 to 12,000 overnight. People tried to cut off Bonnie’s hair and even cut off Clyde’s fingers and ears as a memory, but they were beaten away by the police.

[00:19:53] The legacy and legend of Bonnie and Clyde is, as you may now realise, very different to the truth.

[00:20:01] They were immortalised in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde”, and the French duo, Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, released a song about them in the same year. 

[00:20:13] Both versions highly romanticise the real story, and have Bonnie and Clyde living this wonderful adventure and outsmarting the police at every turn.

[00:20:26] The reality is, as we’ve just heard, very different.

[00:20:31] But it was entirely predictable, and both Bonnie and Clyde knew how their story would end.

[00:20:39] Bonnie, in fact, wrote a poem about it, which was discovered at the same time as the photos. The poem read: 

[00:20:49] Some day they’ll go down together;

[00:20:51] And they’ll bury them side by side,

[00:20:55] To a few it’ll be grief

[00:20:57] To the law a relief

[00:20:59] But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:21:05] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:21:11] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that if you had a slightly romanticised version of the story in mind, then at least this has put the record straight.

[00:21:23] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:27] Is the true story different from what you had thought?

[00:21:31] And as for Bonnie and Clyde, why do you think they did it? 

[00:21:35] Did they just start and couldn’t stop? Were they victims of their situation? Hamer Or were they bloodthirsty murderers?

[00:21:44] How should we really remember Bonnie and Clyde?

[00:21:48] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:52] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:02] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:07] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:00:28] They are probably the most infamous criminal couple in history, and their story of love, robberies, murder and running away from the law has been immortalised in books, film, TV series, song, and popular culture.

[00:00:45] So, in this episode we are going to tell the real story of Bonnie and Clyde - who they actually were, why they turned to a life of crime, what they actually did, and how they were eventually stopped.

[00:01:01] I should say that this episode is a request from Agnese, an awesome member from Latvia, so Agnese, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:10] Ok then, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:15] Our story starts at the start of the 20th century, in Texas, in the United States.

[00:01:22] Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910, and had lived a relatively privileged, middle-class life. She did well in school, she was a talented actress, she wrote poems and stories, and her childhood was, by all accounts, a happy one.

[00:01:42] She met a boy, Roy Thornton, in her second year of high school, and six days before her 16th birthday the pair were married.

[00:01:53] Roy Thornton was not a nice man. He drank heavily, he beat Bonnie, and he would stay away for long periods of time, most likely having affairs with other women.

[00:02:07] If that wasn’t bad enough, he was also a criminal, and spent much of the years immediately after they were married behind bars, in prison. 

[00:02:20] Although the marriage was not a happy one, Bonnie never divorced him, and wore her wedding ring for the rest of her life.

[00:02:28] It appears that, despite having been a creative, talented and promising young girl, Bonnie was attracted to bad men.

[00:02:40] And in January of 1930, when she was 19 years old, she met a man she immediately fell in love with and would forever be associated with: Clyde Chestnut Barrow.

[00:02:53] Clyde Barrow had been born into poverty - his family lived under a wagon for a few months because they didn’t have enough money to stay in a house. But he, like Bonnie, was a talented young man, and showed early signs of promise

[00:03:12] He was very musical, and was an excellent guitar player.

[00:03:16] But, he showed early signs of waywardness, early signs that he wasn’t so keen on obeying the law.

[00:03:27] The first crime he was caught for, when he was only 17 years old, had been for taking out a rental car and deciding not to return it. Essentially, for stealing a car.

[00:03:40] Remember this, as cars, and deciding to separate them from their legal owners, will be a theme throughout this story. 

[00:03:49] Clyde soon turned to a full-on life of petty crime. He would steal from shops, he would steal cars, he would commit all sorts of relatively small but certainly not victimless crimes.

[00:04:06] And indeed, when he met Bonnie, in January of 1930, he was actually on the run from the police.

[00:04:15] It didn’t take long for the police to catch him, and two weeks after he had met Bonnie, he was caught and thrown in jail. 

[00:04:25] The duo had immediately fallen for each other, it had been love at first sight, and they continued to write to each other while Clyde was in jail, professing their love for one another.

[00:04:39] Bonnie even managed to smuggle in, to secretly bring in, a pistol to Clyde while he was in jail, allowing him to break out and be reunited with this young girl he had been longing to see again, Bonnie.

[00:04:56] Unfortunately, he was caught shortly after, and sent back to prison, this time to the infamously terrible Eastham Prison Farm.

[00:05:07] From here, there was no escaping, and inmates suffered terrible beatings by the guards. One guard would reportedly even murder inmates, shoot them in cold blood, and then claim that they had been shot while trying to escape.

[00:05:26] It wasn’t just the guards that were committing murders. While in prison, Clyde also committed his first recorded murder. 

[00:05:35] He was being sexually assaulted by another prisoner, and he managed to break free, pick up an iron pipe and hit his attacker so hard over the head that he died.

[00:05:47] However, another prisoner, one who was already serving a life sentence and who wouldn’t ever get out of prison anyway, said that he did it, so Clyde was never actually charged with this murder.

[00:06:02] If the beatings and threat of sexual assault weren’t enough, the days in prison were spent doing back-breaking hard-labour in the fields. 

[00:06:13] It was too much for Clyde, and to avoid being sent out to work he cut off two of his toes. 

[00:06:21] Now, it’s not known whether he cut them off himself or if he got another inmate to do it for him, but this gives you an idea of quite how much he wanted to avoid this work, that he would literally cut off body parts to avoid it.

[00:06:39] Little known to Clyde, his mother had been working hard to try to get him released from prison, and two weeks after chopping off his toes he was released on parole, he was released from prison.

[00:06:54] There had been no need to injure himself, but the damage was done, and Clyde walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

[00:07:03] Now a free man, or at least a man on parole, he was able to be reunited with Bonnie.

[00:07:11] Reportedly he tried to get his life back on the straight and narrow, he tried to live an honest, crime-free life, and did manage to do so for two weeks, but it was impossible.

[00:07:25] He was released in February of 1932, at the middle of the Great Depression. A quarter of the country was unemployed, and Clyde was an ex-con, he was a convicted criminal.

[00:07:40] Whenever he got a job, he would lose it, and he decided, screw it, I’ll just take what I can’t get legally.

[00:07:49] He was also a deeply bitter man after his release from prison. He vowed to get revenge on the guards who had treated him so badly, and to get equal with the Texas authorities.

[00:08:04] According to one of his fellow inmates, a man who would later join his criminal gang, Ralph Fults, during his two years in prison Clyde changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake”.

[00:08:18] Their crime spree began.

[00:08:21] Initially, Clyde and Bonnie teamed up with Clyde’s fellow inmate, Ralph Fults. They robbed shops, gas stations, and small businesses. 

[00:08:32] It’s not clear exactly what their motives were. There is one theory that they were trying to earn enough money to buy guns and launch an attack on the prison where Clyde had been kept, to get revenge on the guards.

[00:08:48] They certainly weren’t trying to get rich, and the amounts of money that they would steal were generally pretty low.

[00:08:57] Over the next 12 months or so, so this is between 1932 and 1933, their gang grew in number, and they started to commit their first murders, both of police officers and shop owners.

[00:09:14] It should be said that, for all of their criminal career, Bonnie and Clyde appeared to try to avoid killing members of the public unless absolutely necessary, although they did end up killing at least nine police officers and four members of the public.

[00:09:30] For the first 12 months or so of their small-time criminal career, they went relatively unnoticed, at least by the American public. The robberies were small, and they were far from the only criminals who had killed policemen. 

[00:09:48] This, remember, was the era of the bank robber

[00:09:53] John Dillinger, who you can hear about in episode number 222 by the way, John Dillinger was in full swing, and there were plenty of hardened criminals robbing shops, banks, and all manner of businesses, and killing plenty of cops in the process.

[00:10:11] So, Bonnie and Clyde were far from the worst, and they went under the radar, they weren’t really known about, until March of 1933.

[00:10:23] Clyde’s brother and his wife had joined the gang, and they were all hiding out in a house in Missouri. The gang liked to party, and they would stay up late playing cards, making lots of noise, and drinking.

[00:10:39] Now, remember that this was the Prohibition Era, alcohol was still illegal. So when neighbours alerted the authorities that there was drinking going on, they came to investigate.

[00:10:52] Five officers approached the building, and when the gang got wind of what was going on, when they realised that they were in trouble, they fired their guns on the police officers, killing one officer outright and fatally wounding another.

[00:11:10] The gang escaped, but left behind all of their possessions.

[00:11:15] When officers later searched the house, they found guns, poetry that Bonnie had written, and a camera with undeveloped film.

[00:11:25] When they developed the pictures, they were amazed at what they had found, and if you have ever seen old black and white pictures of Bonnie & Clyde, they will likely be from this camera.

[00:11:38] The pictures showed Bonnie and Clyde holding guns, playing around, looking into each other’s eyes lovingly, and kissing.

[00:11:48] The police officers made these photos available to the media, who pounced on them, they jumped at the opportunity to create this sensational story.

[00:11:59] Here were two beautiful young people, madly in love, with one of them, Bonnie, in love with a man who wasn’t her husband.

[00:12:10] They looked like a couple on the most marvelous adventure, but they were murderous criminals.

[00:12:16] In one picture Bonnie is smoking a cigar and has a pistol in her hand. In another, which is actually the image we’ve used for this episode, she is pointing a shotgun directly at her lover.

[00:12:30] It was the kind of story that the media loved, and overnight they were catapulted to nationwide fame.

[00:12:40] Reportedly, Bonnie loved the fame. She had always wanted to be a star, to be in the movies, and to be famous, and now she was, albeit for the wrong reasons. 

[00:12:52] The problem was that, now they were famous, they couldn’t go anywhere, and their lives were far from glamorous.

[00:13:01] Previously, they had been able to rent houses, to live a semi-normal life, at least in terms of going into towns and so on.

[00:13:12] But after their pictures were plastered all over the newspapers, they were no longer able to do this.

[00:13:19] They had to live outside, camping in tents, and sleeping in stolen cars.

[00:13:26] They would have to wash in rivers, and eat whatever they could get their hands on. 

[00:13:32] The newspapers portrayed them as this young couple of lovers on the run living a glamorous life, but the reality was far from it.

[00:13:43] What’s more, it wasn’t just the two of them. There was Bonnie, Clyde, but also Clyde’s brother, his wife, and Clyde’s friend, W.D. Jones.

[00:13:54] Later accounts from Clyde’s sister in law, Blanche Barrow, show quite how unromantic and stressful life on the road must have been for the gang.

[00:14:04] There were five of them, spending all day together, travelling normally just in one car, and they were always looking around them, keeping a lookout for a suspicious member of the public or, worse, a police car.

[00:14:20] The punishment if they were caught would be the electric chair, understandably something that they all wanted to avoid at all costs.

[00:14:30] And they were constantly running out of money. See, they were never very good at the actual robbery part. 

[00:14:38] They robbed around ten banks in total, but the most that they ever managed to take was $1,500, which is about $30,000 in today’s money.

[00:14:50] See, it was the Great Depression, and there simply wasn’t much money going around.

[00:14:57] One time they even tried to rob a bank only to find out that it had failed, it had gone bankrupt, the week before.

[00:15:06] There were numerous close shaves, many near encounters, with the police, and indeed in July of 1933 Clyde’s brother was killed and his sister in law arrested after a shootout with the police.

[00:15:22] Then at the start of 1934, the tide started to turn against the pair, public opinion shifted and there was an even greater feeling among the police that Bonnie and Clyde needed to be stopped.

[00:15:38] In January of 1934, Clyde decided to get revenge on Eastham Prison, the prison where he had been held, sexually assaulted, and had a miserable two years.

[00:15:50] He managed to get weapons to the prisoners, who promptly broke out of prison, killing a prison guard in the process.

[00:15:59] This was highly embarrassing for the authorities, and the hunt was now on.

[00:16:05] To make matters worse for the pair, in April of 1934 they shot and killed two Texas road policemen who had approached their car.

[00:16:16] The newspapers jumped on the story. One of the young policemen who was murdered was about to be married, and his fiancée wore her wedding dress to his funeral.

[00:16:28] Eye witnesses later said that Bonnie and Clyde had fired the shots, despite another member of the gang, Henry Methvin later claiming that he had fired the first shot, not Bonnie.

[00:16:42] The damage was done, and in the public’s eyes Bonnie and Clyde had gone from romantic duo to cold-blooded cop-killers.

[00:16:53] What’s more, they were being chased by one of Texas’s most notorious policemen, a man named Frank Hamer. 

[00:17:02] Frank Hamer had a fierce reputation for catching criminals, and the official records have him as having killed 53 people personally and having been shot seventeen times. 

[00:17:16] He had been persuaded to come out of retirement to get Bonnie and Clyde, and he was firmly on the case.

[00:17:24] He knew how to use a gun, but he clearly also knew how to use his head. 

[00:17:31] He tracked the movements of Bonnie and Clyde, and realised that they tended to stay close to the state borders. 

[00:17:39] They did this because police officers from one state couldn’t follow a criminal from one state to another. It was a smart move on Bonnie and Clyde's part, but it was predictable, and it was to be their downfall.

[00:17:56] Frank Hamer, the policeman leading the hunt, had identified Henry Methvin as a member of the gang, and had approached Methvin’s father. 

[00:18:06] In exchange for helping the investigation, Hamer would spare his son.

[00:18:13] The elder Methvin agreed to collaborate, and a trap was set. They believed that Bonnie and Clyde would be travelling down a particular road to meet Methvin’s family on a particular day. 

[00:18:28] The elder Methvin agreed to wait on the road in his car with the idea that Bonnie and Clyde would see his car and stop to talk to him.

[00:18:38] Meanwhile, Hamer and his team would be hiding in the bushes. 

[00:18:45] They waited and waited almost a day, went past with no car. 

[00:18:50] Then, all of a sudden, they heard the sound of a car screaming down the road. Clyde was behind the wheel, and sure enough he did stop to speak to Methvin’s father.

[00:19:04] Before he realised that it was a trap and could pull out his gun to defend himself, the officers jumped out from behind the bushes and opened fire.

[00:19:15] Over 130 bullets were fired, and Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly, at the ages of 23 and 25 respectively. 

[00:19:26] When word got out of their death, people flocked to the nearest town to try to get a glimpse of the pair. 

[00:19:35] The population of the small town swelled from 4,000 to 12,000 overnight. People tried to cut off Bonnie’s hair and even cut off Clyde’s fingers and ears as a memory, but they were beaten away by the police.

[00:19:53] The legacy and legend of Bonnie and Clyde is, as you may now realise, very different to the truth.

[00:20:01] They were immortalised in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde”, and the French duo, Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, released a song about them in the same year. 

[00:20:13] Both versions highly romanticise the real story, and have Bonnie and Clyde living this wonderful adventure and outsmarting the police at every turn.

[00:20:26] The reality is, as we’ve just heard, very different.

[00:20:31] But it was entirely predictable, and both Bonnie and Clyde knew how their story would end.

[00:20:39] Bonnie, in fact, wrote a poem about it, which was discovered at the same time as the photos. The poem read: 

[00:20:49] Some day they’ll go down together;

[00:20:51] And they’ll bury them side by side,

[00:20:55] To a few it’ll be grief

[00:20:57] To the law a relief

[00:20:59] But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:21:05] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Bonnie and Clyde.

[00:21:11] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that if you had a slightly romanticised version of the story in mind, then at least this has put the record straight.

[00:21:23] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:27] Is the true story different from what you had thought?

[00:21:31] And as for Bonnie and Clyde, why do you think they did it? 

[00:21:35] Did they just start and couldn’t stop? Were they victims of their situation? Hamer Or were they bloodthirsty murderers?

[00:21:44] How should we really remember Bonnie and Clyde?

[00:21:48] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:21:52] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:02] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:07] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.