While living in Waco, I would occasionally drive past the old McLennan County courthouse. I had first seen the feature film Bonnie and Clyde while living there. However, I mistakenly thought that both Bonnie and Clyde had escaped from the jail at the McLennan County Courthouse in the midst of their short crime spree. Only years later would I learn the details about how Bonnie had helped Clyde and two others escape.
Clyde Barrow had been arrested in Denton County on about February 21, 1930, per the Denton Record-Chronicle, in connection with the burglary of the Motor Mark Garage several months earlier. While Clyde was being held for that crime, he was indicted March 3, 1930 by the McLennan County grand jury along with William Turner for burglary and automobile theft. Turner and Barrow had been transferred to the McLennan County jail in Waco by Denton County officers around March 5, 1930. Once in Waco, Barrow pled guilty to seven of the charges, reportedly including the theft of a vehicle belonging to one W. W. Cameron, a well known Waco individual. Turner, Barrow and one Emery Abernathy were confined in the same part of the jail in adjoining cells.
On March 11, 1930, Turner was sentenced to serve four years each in 25 cases of burglary, Abernathy was being held on a bench warrant in connection with 10 cases of burglary and theft and Barrow was held pending transfer to Huntsville. Later that night, the trio escaped from the McLennan County jail. The early newspaper reports stated that when Assistant County Jailer Irving F. Stanford opened the cell door to deliver some milk to Turner, the inmates covered him with a gun that had been slipped to them. After securing Stanford’s keys, they then compelled Huse Jones, the turnkey, to open the door, allowing them to flee out to Sixth Street. The report went on to state that officers fired several shots at the trio, but none were thought to have taken effect.
The relationship of Bonnie and Clyde was not widely known at the time and the newspaper reports simply reported the jailbreak event with no further comment about how it had been accomplished. Clyde had met Bonnie Parker only a few weeks earlier at the home of a mutual friend in Dallas. Bonnie had been married since 1929 to a Roy Thornton, but Thornton had been incarcerated since shortly after their marriage and the couple had not lived together as huband and wife for several months. Bonnie quickly became infatuated with Clyde.
Bonnie came to Waco while Clyde was in jail and reportedly had learned that Clyde and the others were about to be transferred to Huntsville the following day. Jeff Guin’s excellent book Go Down Together states that Clyde devised a plan for the trio’s escape. William Turner’s parents lived nearby in East Waco, just across the Brazos River from downtown Waco and were not at home during the day. Turner had hidden a handgun in the house. After learning this, Bonnie went to the home, retrieved the revolver and brought it back to the jail. It is believed that she concealed a weapon in her clothing (one report said that it was in her bra) on her last visit to the jail and on that occasion, she gave it to Clyde. As far as we know, this was Bonnie’s first criminal act with Clyde Barrow.
After escaping, the prisoners made their way on foot heading north from the courthouse, stole a succession of cars and left the county. The escape made the front pages of area newspapers for several days. Bonnie had been staying with relatives in Waco, but hitchhiked back to Dallas after Clyde did not return to get her. The couple did not communicate in the interim. Clyde had apparently decided that Texas was too “hot” for him and made his way to Ohio with the other two individuals. Their freedom was short lived, however. The trio committed a few more crimes before they were arrested in Middletown, Ohio.
On March 21, 1930, McClennan County Sheriff Leslie Stegall arrived in Middletown to take custody of the trio and return with them by train to Texas. When they arrived, they were marched in chains from the train station to the Court House. Turner was sent to Kansas to serve a term for robbery. Clyde was sentenced to 14 years in cutody. After a few months, Barrow was transferred to the prison where he would go on to have some nightmarish experiences that would change him forever, the Eastham Prison Farm.
© 2016, all rights reserved.