The Ballad of Bonnie Parker's Death Glasses
Bonnie and Clyde remain two of the most notorious outlaws in U.S history.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the Barrow Gang's four-year crime spree of robbery, murder and mayhem made Bonnie and Clyde superstars.
Folk heroes to some, and despicable murderers to others, the couple captured imaginations across America and continue to fascinate people to this day.
Memorabilia from the outlaw couple is highly sought-after, and an upcoming sale at RR Auction will offer one of the most personal items ever seen on the market: Bonnie Parker's blood-stained death glasses.
Ahead of the sale, here's a look at how a small piece of bloody history can reveal the truth behind the legend.
"Some day they'll go down together, and they'll bury them side by side,
To few it'll be grief, to the law a relief, but it's death for Bonnie and Clyde."
When Bonnie Parker wrote this short verse, discovered in a discarded notebook, she already knew that their fate was set.
Too many banks had been robbed, and too many people had died. The police were closing in, and they couldn't run forever.
Bonnie and Clyde finally met their end on May 23, 1934, amidst a hail of bullets on a quiet stretch of back road in Louisiana.
Having been double-crossed by their associate Henry Methvin, who was seeking a pardon for his own crimes, they were ambushed by a posse led by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.
After receiving a tip-off, Hamer and his posse were lying in wait, and instantly appeared from the bushes, emptying their weapons into the couple's stolen Ford V-8 with such force that the car almost tipped over.
According to reports, Parker and Barrow were each shot more than 20 times, and their bodies were so riddled with bullet holes that the mortician struggled to embalm them properly.
The bodies of Barrow and Parker, along with their 'Death Car', were then towed to the nearby town of Arcadia. As their corpses lay in the back room of a local funeral parlour, the town rapidly became a tourist attraction, as people came from miles around to see their blood-stained vehicle.
Frank Hamer and his men took their pick of the spoils recovered from the car, claiming weapons such as Barrow's 1911 Army Colt .45 Pistol and a Colt Detective Special .38 revolver found stuck to the inside of Parker's thigh with medical tape.
The blood-stained glasses were also recovered, and were mentioned specifically in more than one newspaper report of the time – perhaps almost in surprise, as they contrasted her public image as the glamorous gun-toting, cigar-chomping gangster's moll.
That image came from a series of photographs recovered from the gang's hideout in Missouri. Barrow and Parker posed like movie stars, waving guns around and dressed to the nines in the latest fashions.
They looked sexy and dangerous, and the newspapers ate it up - but it was nothing more than the playful fantasy of two young lovers.
In reality, Parker was a smart, small-town girl who grew up in poverty, writing poetry and dreaming of escape. She fell in love with a dangerous man, and stuck with him until the end, but she never fired a gun, and used her influence on Barrow to calm his violence.
"She wore eyeglasses—the kind one wears to see better, not dark ones for glare or disguise," wrote reporter Tom Ashley in The Shreveport Journal.
"They were silver rimmed, and fell from her shot-torn face as her limp form was lowered from the car onto a funeral truck. The glasses were thickly splotched with blood, the blood of a killer’s girl friend whose thorny trek through a short-lived life, haunted by man-hunting officers, was lastly and effectively pricked with the carrying out of orders to ‘shoot to kill.’"
The glasses were now a macabre memento – but their story wasn't over yet, and they came back to haunt Henry Methvin with a vengeance.
Louisiana Sheriff T. R. Hughes still had a bone to pick with Methvin, despite his pardon from Texas Governor Ma Ferguson. He knew he was untouchable for his previous convictions, but the pardon didn't extend to any future crimes, and Methvin was still suspected of a string of armed robberies, car thefts and murder.
Hughes packed up a collection of personal items recovered from Bonnie and Clyde's car, including the glasses, and sent out the word that he had some personal effects to return to Methvin. Three months later he got his man.
Having previously helped set an ambush for his cohorts, Methvin now walked into one of his own. The Denton Record-Chronicle reported that "Methvin brazenly walked into Sheriff T. R. Hughes’ office to obtain clothing which belonged to him, Barrow and the Parker woman."
"I’m Henry Methvin and I’ve come to get some clothes of mine you’re holding," he proclaimed. He was instantly arrested, then extradited to Oklahoma and sentenced to death for the murder of Constable Cal Campbell. However, his sentence was commuted in 1936, and Methvin was eventually paroled in 1942.
After successfully using the glasses as bait, Sheriff Hughes then gifted them to a Mr. A. O. Olson, an Oklahoma oil millionaire with drilling operations in Louisiana.
Years later, Olson later gave the glasses to D. A. 'Jelly' Bryce, a legendary lawman who conducted private investigations for him on the side.
Having once been shot from her face by a trigger-happy posse, Bonnie Parker's death glasses ended up in the collection of a man who survived 19 gun battles, and was regarded as the fastest gunfighter in the history of the FBI.
Also on offer at RR Auction is one of Bonnie Parker's rings, hand-crafted for her by Barrow as a symbol of their love whilst serving time in Eastham Prison Farm.
During his incarceration in 1930, Barrow was involved in jewelry-making, leathercraft and woodworking, and was regarded as a fine craftsman.
The silver-toned ring takes the form of a three-headed snake with red and green stones for eyes, and bears Barrow's personal hallmark of a musical note struck by an arrow.
The subject seems fitting, as a fellow inmate later stated that prison had changed Barrow "from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake".
"Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison because he wasn't the same person when he got out," said his sister Marie, and she was right.
He had gone in a thief and left a stone-cold killer, having beaten another inmate to death with a lead pipe during his stay. Soon after his release his crime spree began, and Barrow's new ruthless streak spelled death for anyone who got in his way.
The hand-made ring was discovered amongst a stash of Parkers personal effects in 1933, after the couple had escaped another ambush by the skin of their teeth.
Whilst on their way to a Barrow family gathering in Texas, the pair came under attack from a posse led by local Sheriff Smoot Schmid, who had received a tip-off about the planned party.
Barrow and Parker's car was shot repeatedly and both received leg wounds – but remarkably they managed to escape the scene on-foot, leaving Schmid and his men to recover personal items and claim them as trophies.
The ring was later recorded in Schmid’s own inventory as "Bonnie Parker Ring (3 Silver Snakes with Tiny Jewels)".
Today the names Bonnie and Clyde are synonymous with sex and death: a pair of doomed lovers on the run from the law, like Romeo and Juliet with machine guns.
But despite the legends, the Hollywood movies and the sensational reports, items like Parker's glasses and the ring remind us that they were real people who led short, tragic and remarkable lives.
The RR Auction 'Gangsters, Outlaws & Lawmen' sale opens on June 15, and runs online until June 22.
The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.
Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.
Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.