The Spectacularly Incompetent
Bonnie And Clyde

In a new book, Jeff Guinn chronicles the never before told true story of how Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s crime spree almost ended three weeks after it began.

To get money to buy a replacement arsenal, the gang members planned a simultaneous April 11 stickup of two banks located in Denton’s main square, only to be scared off that morning when they saw two Texas Rangers sitting in a car parked on the square. It was odd that the Rangers would be hanging around in town. They usually arrived to investigate after a crime had been committed. Clyde suspected someone in his new gang might be an informer, but he had no proof and decided to go ahead with plans for the Eastham raid.

Besides its recurring need for better weapons, the Lake Dallas Gang was also having second thoughts about whether it had enough members to successfully carry out the Eastham attack. Clyde and Fults knew two brothers in Amarillo who might agree to join them, so they drove 365 miles northwest to the Texas Panhandle to track them down. Red had asked to come along. He brandished his .44 revolver and bragged that he’d “part the hair” of any cop that got in their way.

They arrived in Amarillo on April 13, but the brothers, never identified in any existing Barrow Gang lore, were nowhere to be found. Clyde, Fults, and Red turned back toward Dallas, but their car broke down in the small town of Electra about 200 miles east of Amarillo. Normally, that wouldn’t have presented a problem. Clyde could have easily hot-wired another car. But an Electra city employee named A. F. McCormick found it suspicious that a trio of strangers had apparently parked in front of a warehouse, and he called Electra sheriff James T. Taylor to investigate. Taylor hurried over with J. C. Harris, another city employee. They arrived in Harris’ vehicle just as Clyde, Fults, and Red left their stalled car and began walking into town, undoubtedly planning to steal another automobile. Taylor leaned out and asked the trio if they had a problem. Fults explained their car had died, adding they were from Wichita Falls. Small-town Texas sheriffs often made the assumption that young male drifters were up to no good. Taylor said he would have to take them into custody and check out their story. Instead of surrendering, Clyde pulled a .45 and told the sheriff and Harris to put up their hands. As they did, McCormick drove up in a Chevrolet. Fults, who had just relieved Taylor of his revolver, pointed the gun at McCormick and made him a captive, too. Then Clyde and Fults jammed into McCormick’s car with the three prisoners. There was no need to make room for Red—he’d run away as soon as the confrontation commenced. Clyde later decided that Red was the traitor who had tipped the Texas Rangers to the aborted April 11 bank robberies in Denton.

Clyde and Fults hadn’t anticipated having three hostages on their hands, one a sheriff. As Clyde drove south out of town he and Fults began apologizing to Taylor, McCormick, and Harris for causing them any inconvenience. About eight miles out of Electra, they pulled the car to the side of the road and let the trio go. Fults kept Taylor’s gun, joking “We’ll take good care of this.” There was a clear risk in releasing three witnesses who’d gotten good looks at them. Kidnapping was considered a much more serious crime than car theft or bank robbery. But whatever mayhem Clyde and Fults were hoping to commit on Eastham prison guards, they intended no physical harm toward anyone else.

To elude potential pursuit, Clyde drove back north toward Oklahoma. Once past the state line, he planned to drive east for a while, then south back to Denton, where he and Fults could rejoin the rest of the Lake Dallas Gang. But they were barely underway again when McCormick’s Chevrolet ran out of gas. Clyde wasn’t necessarily negligent in checking—car gas gauges in the early 1930s were notorious for inaccurate readings.


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