by W.D. Jones
reprinted from Playboy Magazine
"BOY, YOU CAN'T GO HOME. You got murder on you, just like me."
That's what Clyde told me. That was what he said after I seen him kill Doyle Johnson in Temple, Texas, on Christmas Day, 1932. For me, that's how it all started.
I had got with Clyde and Bonnie the night before in Dallas. Me and L. C., that's Clyde's younger brother, was driving home from a dance in his daddy's old car. Here come Bonnie and Clyde. They honked their car horn and we pulled over. I stayed in the car. L. C. got out and went back to see what they wanted. Then he hollered at me, "Hey, come on back. Clyde wants to talk to you." Clyde was wanted then for murder and kidnaping, but I had knowed him all my life. So I got out and went to his car.
He told me, "We're here to see Momma and Marie." (That's Clyde's baby sister.) "You stay with us while L. C. gets them.'' I was 16 years old and Clyde was only seven years older, but he always called me "Boy."
Them was Prohibition days and about all there was to drink was home-brew. That's what me and L. C. had been drinking that Christmas Eve and it was about all gone. Clyde had some moonshine in his car, so I stayed with him, like he said, while L. C. fetched his folks. They lived just down the road in back of the filling station Old Man Barrow run.
After the visiting was over, Clyde told me him and Bonnie had been driving a long ways and was tired. He wanted me to go with them so I could keep watch while they got some rest. I went. I know now it was a fool thing to do, but then it seemed sort of big to be out with two famous outlaws. I reckoned Clyde took me along because he had knowed me before and figured he could count on me.
It must have been two o'clock Christmas morning when we checked into a tourist court at Temple. They slept on the bed. I had a pallet on the floor.
Next morning, I changed two tires on that Ford Clyde had. Clyde really banked on them Fords. They was the fastest and the best, and he knew bow to drive them with one foot in the gas tank all the time. We went into town and stopped around the comer from a grocery store.
Clyde handed me an old .41-caliber thumb buster and told me, "Take this, boy, and stand watch while I get us some spending money." Later, I found out that gun wouldn't shoot because there was two broken bullets stuck inside the chamber. I had to punch them out with a stick.
I stood outside the store while Clyde went in. Bonnie was waiting in the car around the corner. After he got the money, we walked away toward Bonnie. Now, the blocks in them days was longer than they are now; and before we got halfway back to the car, Clyde stopped alongside a Model A roadster that had the keys in it. I don't know if he'd seen something over his shoulder that spooked him or what. But he told me, "Get in that car, boy, and start it." I jumped to it. But it was a cold day and the car wouldn't start. Clyde got impatient. He told me to slip over and he'd do it. I scooted over. About then an old man and an old woman run over to the roadster and began yelling, "That's my boy's car! Get out!" Then another woman run up and began making a big fuss. All the time, Clyde was trying to get it started. He told them to stand back and they wouldn't get hurt. Then the guy who owned it run up. Clyde pointed his pistol and yelled, "Get back ' man, or I'll kill you." That man was Doyle Johnson, I learned later. He came on up to the car and reached through the roadster's isinglass window curtains and got Clyde by the throat and tried to choke him.
Clyde hollered, "Stop, man, or I'll kill you." Johnson didn't move, and Clyde done what he had threatened. About then he got the car started and we whipped around the corner to where Bonnie was waiting. We piled into her car and lit a shuck out of town.
It all seemed pointless then as to why Clyde wanted that car. I've thought about it since, and I figure he must have wanted the laws to think we was in Johnson's car. Of course, he didn't have no way of knowing he was gonna have to kill Johnson.
We headed out of town toward Waco. A mile or two down the road, Clyde pulled over and said, "Boy, shinny up that pole and cut them phone wires. We don't want no calls ahead." I done it and we went on.
As I look back, cutting them phone wires was slick. That was about all you had to do to cut off the law in them days. There wasn't no two-way radio hookups like now; and when a police used them long-distance phone wires to call the next town, it run up expenses. Them was hard times and even towns didn't have much to spend. There wasn't as many laws then, either, and they just couldn't catch up with Clyde in them V8 Fords he drove. Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn, the Dallas lawmen I come to know a year later, told me Clyde was about the best driver in the world. They said them Fords and Clyde's driving was what kept him and Bonnie free them two years. Hell, I knowed that. I rode with him. He had me drive some when he was tired, but Clyde stayed behind the' wheel when the heat was close. He believed in a nonstop jump in territory -- sometimes as much as 1000 miles --whenever it got hot behind. He and Bonnie didn't in- tend to ever be taken alive. They was hell-bent on running till the end, and they knowed there was only one end for them. Sometimes I thought Clyde liked the running. He dreaded getting caught, but he never give up robbing to work for a living. I reckon Clyde just didn't want to work like other folks. For one thing, he never liked getting his hands dirty.
I've seen that Clyde and Bonnie movie. The only thing that ain't plumb silly the way they play it is the gun battles. Them was real enough to almost make me hurt. I've still got some lead in me from themfights with the law. When I tried to join the Army in World War Two after I got out of prison, them doctors turned me down because their X-rays showed four buckshot and a bullet in my chest and part of a lung blown away
The way they showed Clyde is all wrong. Clyde never bragged. And he wouldn't have lived 90 days running his mouth like they had it. Quiet as a cat with the dogs close was the way he was.
That C. W. Moss in the movie was me, up to the end, when he let his old man turn in Clyde and Bonnie.. It was Henry Methvin that done that, not me I was in jail when that happened. The papers was right when they said Moss was a composite of me and Methvin.
Moss was a dumb kid who run errands and done what Clyde told him. That was me, all right. But they messed up showing Moss as driver of the car so much and having him fix on it all the time.
Clyde drove most always, 'cause he didn't trust nobody else to drive like he could. As for me working on the car, I'd change a tire or a battery or something like that. But we'd junk a car if anything went wrong with it and get another one. I don't know how many cars I stole for Clyde. I do remember we never kept one more than a week or so, because it'd get too hot.
Now, I had been in trouble with the law before I turned out with Clyde and Bonnie. The first time was over a hot bicycle a kid got caught with. He laid a story on me. It was when I was 11 years old and selling newspapers on a Dallas street corner --newspapers I couldn't even read. I had never liked school and I dropped out after the first grade, before I learned reading and writing. Somebody else had to tell me the headlines in the papers, so I'd know what to hawk. I knowed nothing about that bicycle, and I finally convinced the law of that.
Another time,' me and L. C. got picked up in Louisiana after a car wreck. The laws took us back to Dallas to face car-stealing charges. The car we had torn up belonged to a bootlegger who had hired us to deliver his liquor. We got to pulling on a bottle and just hooked 'em with the liquor and the bootlegger's car.
I first saw Clyde Barrow under the Oak Cliff viaduct in Dallas when I was five years old. His family and my family was camped out there because we had nowhere else. Daddy had brought Momma, a daughter and five sons to Dallas from Henderson County, Texas, where he was a sharecropper. Times was hard and lots of folks was moving off farms in them days. We finally got a house in West Dallas and Daddy went to work at an iron plant. The Barrows moved into a house down the street. About a year later, Daddy, my sister and my oldest brother took sick and died of the flu. Momma, when she got herself out of the hospital and was well from the flu, supported us four boys as best she could. She done washing and took in boarders, and us kids did what we could to make a buck. Momma tried another marriage a few years after Daddy died, but he couldn't put up with us kids. Because of that, she couldn't put up with him. Momma was never one who could divide her loyalty.
Clyde run with my older brother and he used to come calling on a girl who boarded at my house. He went with her before Bonnie. He had a good job then with a big manufacturing plant in West Dallas. I was just a kid, but Clyde always treated me nice and I liked him. Then one day, his girl moved off to where her folks was in Oklahoma, and I heard he'd got her in a family way. Clyde took up with Bonnie after that.
He was pushing that Ford for all it was worth toward Waco when Bonnie said, "What you gonna do, honey? You can't go back to Dallas now. That man's shot and probably dead." He was, too, we found out later.
"Hell, I know that. He can't go back, either," Clyde said, nodding at me. "You know that, don't you, boy? You can't go home. You got murder on you, just like me. You can't go home."
He was right. They was supposed to take me home to Dallas that Christmas Day. He had promised that, but I couldn't go home after Doyle Johnson got killed. I had murder on me, just like Clyde said. I was an outlaw, too, now, so I stayed with them. The robbing and the killing. never stopped, and neither did we.
I run with Clyde and Bonnie for more than eight months. That was all I could stand. I left them up in Mississippi and hitchhiked back to Texas. The law caught me in Houston. My running was over. I was in the joint when word came on May 23, 1934, that Clyde and Bonnie was killed near Arcadia, Louisiana. I've heard stories since that Clyde was homosexual, or, as they say in the pen, a "punk," but they ain't true. Maybe it was Clyde's quiet, polite manner and his slight build that fooled folks.
He was only about five feet, six inches tall and he weighed no more than 135 pounds. Me and him was about the same size, and we used to wear each other's clothes. Clyde had dark hair that was wavy. He never had a beard. Even when he didn't shave, all he had on his chin was fuzz.
Another way that story might have got started was his wearing a wig sometimes when him and Bonnie had to drive through a town where they might be recognized. He wore the wig for disguise and for no other reason.
Clyde never walked right, either. He'd chopped off his big toe and part of the second toe on his left foot when he was in prison, because he couldn't keep up, with the pace the farm boss set.
Or the story could have come from sensation writers who believed anything dropped on them and who blew it to proportions that suited their imagination.
I knew alot of convicts the years I was in prison -- some of them years on Eastham Farm where Clyde had served his time-and none of them had a story on him being a punk. Matter of fact, nobody -- not the police who asked me questions for hours and hours or the reporters who got in to see me-ever mentioned it. The subject just never come up then.
It's just here recently, more than 30 years since Clyde was killed, that I've heard the story. I was with him and Bonnie. I know. It just ain't true.
Some of the tales about us robbing banks all the time ain't true, either. The time I was with Clyde and Bonnie, we never made a bank job. He liked grocery stores, filling stations and places there was a payroll. Why should we rob a bank? There was never much money in the banks back in them days in the Southwest. But that's not the way the papers put it. They'd write we was heisting a bank in Texas when we was actually off in Tennessee or somewhere else. I remember one time we stopped at a tourist court in a little town. I went across the road to an inn to get some sandwiches. The waiter was all excited. "Bonnie and Clyde was just here," he told me. "They stopped for gas. The police come out, but they got here too late. Bonnie and Clyde was already gone and they couldn't catch them." It shook me some when he said that, but I stayed calm.
I took the food back to the tourist cabin and told Clyde what the man had said. He got a good laugh out of that, but after we had eat, he said, "You know, that man might have been giving us a tip. He might have recognized us. We better move on."
I always figured some of them reporters was holed up somewhere with some booze during the time they claimed they'd been off with the law in hot pursuit of the outrageous Barrow gang. They was just writing from their imagination, it seemed to me. I couldn't read what they was saying in the papers then, but we'd pick up the newspaper in whatever little town we was traveling through and Bonnie would read it aloud. That way, we kept up with where the law thought we was and we'd head in the opposite direction.
We never stayed long in one place. It was too risky. We had to keep moving. When our clothes got dirty, we'd take them to a cleaners if we thought it was safe. But we didn't wait until they was ready. We'd drive on somewhere else and, in a week or two, swing back to pick them up, if there was no heat behind. Sometimes we never got back. We'd buy new clothes.
Any shopping we done was done alone. Me and Clyde would wait in the car down the street while Bonnie went in and got what she wanted. Or he would go in a store while we waited out in the car.
Clyde always believed in being prepared. He was the quickest man I ever seen. He never wanted to kill. He'd kidnap the police instead of killing them, if he could. But he killed without hesitation when he had to, because he wanted to stay free. He was the complete boss, not Bonnie, like some have said. Clyde dominated all them around him, even his older brother, Buck. Clyde planned and made all the decisions about what to heist and when to pull out and leave a job alone. One time, up in Tennessee, we were on the way to hit a cotton mill. We figured there was a big payroll there. But Clyde called it off, because there was water in the 'ditches alongside the road we'd have used and we wouldn't have been able to cut cross-country to make time on the getaway.
I followed him, just like everybody who was ever with him did.
Clyde never had no big vice to indulge like the robbers you read about nowadays. He was no dopehead. He never drank to excess. He didn't gamble. Clyde just wanted to stay alive and free, and Bonnie just wanted to be with Clyde. He'd made the first wrong turn and couldn't go back. He was the kind who'd kill in a hot instant and everybody who knew him knowed it. Nobody fooled around with Clyde.
He had that sawed-off 16-gauge automatic shotgun along with him all the time. It had a one-inch rubber band he'd cut out of a car-tire inner tube attached to the cutoff stock. He'd slip his arm through the band and when he put his coat on, you'd never know the gun was there. The rubber band would give when he snatched it up to fire. He kept his coat pocket cut out so he could hold the gun barrel next to his hip. It looked like he just had his hand in his pocket.
The meanest weapon in our arsenal was Clyde's automatic rifle we'd stolen from a National Guard armory. He had cut off part of the barrel and had got three ammo clips welded together so it would shoot 56 times without reloading. Clyde called it his scatter-gun. We had, a couple of regular automatic rifles and some pistols. There was so many guns in the car it was hard not to show them when we got out at a filling station or tourist court.
Clyde liked to stay sharp and would sometimes hit the car brakes of a sudden, bounce out to the roadside and open up with that cutoff automatic rifle on a tree or a sign for practice. He was never more than an arm's reach from a gun, even in bed, or out of bed on the floor in the night, when he thought we was all asleep and couldn't see him kneeling there. I seen it more than once. He prayed. I reckon he was praying for his soul. Maybe it was for more life. He knowed it would end soon, but he didn't intend for it to be in jail.
Bonnie was the only one Clyde trusted all the way. But not even Bonnie had a voice in the decisions. His leadership was undisputed. She always agreed with him when he ' hinted he might like to hear her advice on something. As far as I know, Bonnie never packed a gun. Maybe she'd help carry what we had in the car into a tourist-court room. But during the five big gun battles I was with them, she never fired a gun. But I'll say she was a hell of a loader.
One time she did pick up Clyde's shotgun and threaten him with it. He'd said something to me because the jack I was using to change a flat tire kept slipping. Clyde thought it was taking too long. Bonnie come to my side and held Clyde at gun point. He turned around and walked off. When 'a car stopped and the driver asked if we needed help, Clyde told him. "Hook 'em. We don't need nobody's damned help." The heat back of us was getting close 'enough to put Clyde on edge at anything. I finished changing the flat and took the shotgun from Bonnie so Clyde could come back to the car. We'd been drinking white lightning, and you know how that is. Clyde wasn't a heavy drinker. There wasn't time, and he needed to stay alert. But he liked to nip some. When he did, Bonnie would sometimes have to coax him back in the car. She'd tell him, "Come on now, honey. The laws might be right on us. Please, honey, come on. Let's get moving."
Bonnie was always neat, even on the road. She kept on make-up and had her hair combed all the time. She wore long dresses and high heels and them little tams on her head. She was a tiny little thing. I reckon she never weighed more than 100 pounds, even after a big meal. But them big meals was usually bologna and cheese sandwiches and buttermilk on the side of the road. Run, run, run. At times, that seemed all we did.
She had light-colored hair, but she dyed it different shades. She seemed to like to do that, and Clyde approved. It made a good disguise. She even dyed his and my hair. Only once for me, though. In them days, dyeing hair took more than a little time. She had me all wrapped in towels and I had to sleep that way one night. It worked, though. My hair come out black as coal.
Bonnie smoked cigarettes, but that cigar bit folks like to tell about is phony. I guess I got that started when. I gave her my cigar to hold when I was making her picture. I made most of them pictures the laws picked up when we fled Joplin, Missouri, leaving everything in the apartment except the guns. I seen a lot of them pictures in the newspapers afterward -- Them little poems Bonnie made up made the papers, too. She would think up rhymes in her head and put them down on paper when we stopped. Some of them she kept, but she threw a lot of them away.
There was never a whole lot of talk among us when we was on the road. Often what seemed like hours of silence would be broken as Clyde looked at her and said something like, "Honey, _ as soon as I find a place, I'm gonna stop. I'm tired and want to get some rest." He always called her "Honey" or "Baby" and she called him "Daddy" or "Honey." They called me "Boy." I got to where I called Bonnie "Sis" and Clyde "Bud." We couldn't say each other's names, because somebody at a filling station or a tourist court might pick up on them and call, the 'law.
Bonnie was always agreeable with Clyde, but they did have some fallings out. I've seen them fall out over a can of sardines. He jerked it out of her hands and opened it with his pocketknife, and her trying to tell him it had an opener. But I never heard them call each other bad names. They hardly ever used dirty words. I've heard today's teenagers use words worse than Clyde and Bonnie, and they was deadly outlaws.
Sometimes, when she got puffed up about something, Clyde would kid her and say, "Why don't you go on home to Momma, baby? You probably wouldn't get more than ninety-nine years. Texas hasn't sent a woman to the chair yet, and I'd send in my recommendation for leniency." She'd laugh at him then and everything would be smooth again.
Bonnie was like Clyde. They had grit. They meant to stay free or go down together.
Clyde had good manners, just naturally. It fooled lots of folks, like that policeman in Missouri. We was driving over a bridge and the motor law rolled up beside us and told us to pull over, Clyde smiled and told him, "Just a minute, sir."
It was night and Clyde wanted to get off that bridge before he stopped. But that policeman come on real nasty. "Stop right here now," he said.
Clyde kept right on going and saying, "Just a minute, sir." When we got off the bridge, Clyde turned up a little street and stopped. The policeman come up to the door. That's when Clyde throwed that little shotgun in his face, and that law done a turn around.
Clyde told me, "Get out and unharness him, boy." I jumped out and took the policeman's pistol. Clyde told us to get in the back seat, and we climbed in the car. We drove about 150 miles before the car's battery run down and the car quit.. The generator wasn't working right. We was just outside a little town, so Clyde told me, "Boy, you're gonna have to go get a battery. Take him with you." And that's what we done. Me and that policeman went into town and took a battery out of a car and took turns carrying it back to where Clyde and Bonnie was waiting. You'd have thought we was working buddies.
We had a pair of pliers and a wrench and that policeman worked right hard to get that battery in the car like Clyde wanted. We got the car started and Clyde turned him loose. We drove off and left him there. He had to walk back to town, but he was thrilled just to be alive and free again, and he thanked us.
We never wanted to kill nobody. But during the time I was with them, five men got it. Four of them was lawmen shot in gun battles. We was hit, too. Sometimes we was hurt so bad it seemed like the end. I got' shot in the side at Joplin, and my belly ached so bad I thought the bullet had stopped there. Clyde wrapped an elm branch with gauze and pushed it through the hole in my side and out my back. The bullet had gone dean through me' so we knew it would heal. A lawman shot off the tips of two of my fingers in Arkansas after me and Buck made a job there. There was two officers, and they run onto us accidentally as we was getting away. We had hit another car and they stopped to see about that. Buck killed one. The other run off and hid up the road on a farmhouse porch. Our car was wrecked, so we got in the police car and was about to take off when that law started firing. That man could shoot. All he had was a pistol and he was about 200 yards away from us, but he knocked the horn button off the steering wheel with me trying to get the car turned around. That's how he got my finger tips.
Clyde and Bonnie wasn't along that time. He was taking care of her back at the tourist court. She'd been burned so bad none of us thought she was gonna live. The hide on her right leg was gone, from her hip down to her ankle-. I could see the bone at places. She had got hurt when we run off into a river bed where the bridge was out near Wellington, Texas. The car caught fire while Bonnie was still hung inside. It was nighttime, but some farm folks sitting on their front steps had seen us go off the road. They helped get Bonnie out; but when they seen all them guns in the car, they called the law. Clyde drew on them when they rolled up, and we took their car. He set them in the back seat with Bonnie across their laps, and we drove on to meet Buck and his wife, Blanche. Buck was all for killing the two lawmen; but Clyde, thinking how gentle they had been with Bonnie, said no. He told Buck to tie them up in the woods and we'd be. on our way. When Buck come back and told how he'd tied them to a tree with barbed wire, Clyde got mad. "You didn't have to do that," he said.
Bonnie never got over that burn. Even after it healed over, her leg was drawn under her. She had to just hop or hobble along. When she was so bad at first, we had to carry her to the toilet and take her off when she finished and put her back in bed.
I was carrying her on my back-half stumbling, half swimming-when me and her and Clyde got- away from that posse near Dexter, Iowa. That's where Buck and Blanche was captured. Buck died a few days later. Clyde had a machine gun holding the posse off us. He'd taken a shot in the leg and was hopping along. I'd been hit in the chest with a bullet and taken some shotgun pellets in the face and chest and was losing a lot of blood. Then Clyde caught a bullet in the head on the side. It must have bounced off a tree, because it didn't go in. It just dazed him. He run out of ammunition just as we got to a little river. We didn't have nothing to shoot with no more, but we made it across. Clyde went ahead and run up on some farmers, who don't know he's out of bullets, and he, gets their car. That's how we finally got away.
Way on down the road, when we figured it was safe, we bought gas. We was wearing some sheets that was left in the car. We'd cut holes in them to stick our heads in. Bonnie was lying in the back seat all covered up. The gas-station man looked at us funny, but it was wear sheets or show how bloody and shot up and muddy we was.
I reckon most folks find it hard to believe we never went to no doctor, but that's a fact. We stole a few doctors' bags out of cars and used that medicine. And we bought alcohol and salves at drugstores. But we couldn't risk going to a doctor and getting turned in.
I left Clyde and Bonnie after they was healed up enough to get by without me. Clyde put me out to steal a car and I hooked 'em back to Texas.
I'd had enough blood and hell.
But it wasn't done yet. I had to pay. A boy in Houston, where I was working for a vegetable peddler, knowed me and turned me in to the law. They tried me for killing a sheriff's man at Dallas. Clyde done it, but I was glad to take the rap. Arkansas wanted to extradite me, and. I sure didn't want to go to no Arkansas prison. I figure now that if Arkansas had got me, one of them skeletons they've dug up there might have been me.
That Bonnie and Clyde movie made it all look sort of glamorous, but like I told them teenaged boys sitting near me at the drive-in showing: "Take it from an old man who was there. It was hell. Besides, there's more lawmen nowadays with better ways of catching you. You couldn't get away, anyway. The only way I come through it was because the Good Lord musta been watching over me. But you can't depend on that, neither, because He's got more folks to watch over now than He did then."