(Image credit: findagrave.com)
Roy Thornton was the husband of Bonnie Parker. He was born in 1908 to Wilmer Harrison Thornton (1863-1945) and Florence May Marcy Thornton (1878-1920). Roy was killed in an attempted prison break from the Huntsville State Prison on October 3, 1937. His remains were interred at the Hutchings-Alston-Haden Family Cemetery, also known as the Eastham State Farm Cemetery. He and one other inmate were slain when they and two dozen other inmates attempted to break out of the prison.
Blessed with naturally good looks, Thornton had met Bonnie Parker when they were in high school in Dallas. They were married on September 25, 1926 when Bonnie was 16. However, they were only together a little more than a year, separating for the third and final time in December, 1927 due to Thornton’s alleged infidelity. Thornton is thought to have tried to reunite with her another time, either in 1929 or 1931, but was rebuffed by Bonnie. Although they remained separated for the rest of their lives, they never were divorced. It is also to be noted that much of the time Bonnie and Clyde were together, Thornton was incarcerated. In one newspaper article, Thornton is referred to as a Dallas welder. Otherwise, not much is publicly recorded about Thornton, other than his convictions.
The failed 1937 prison break referred to above is the one we hear the most about, since it is the one in which Thornton was killed, but he had also tried to escape in 1933 and then again in 1934, a couple of months before Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed.
In early March, 1933, he had just been sentenced to five years in prison for robbery. About a week later, he successfully escaped from the Ellis County Jail in Waxahachie, only to be recaptured shortly thereafter. He was finally transferred to Huntsville where nearly one year later in March, 1934, he tried to escape again, along with some other inmates.
In the 1934 attempt, no one was successful. Warden W. W. Wald was interviewed and gave details of the attempt. An Associated Press headline on March 7, 1934 attributed Thornton’s motivation to be that he was “crazy” about Bonnie Parker. However, no comments from Thornton were included, so this may have been Warden Wald or someone else’s personal opinion.
Warden Wald revealed that one inmate, Pete Finch, had been armed with a knife and was holding it to the throat of prison guard Howard Bass. Bass yelled out, getting the attention of fellow guard Gus Gray who fired, wounding Finch. While this was going on, the remainder of the prisoners involved tried to reach two ladders that had been propped against the prison wall. The rest of the guards opened fire. Three of the five inmates were wounded, including Finch (serving 10 years for burglary), Edward McArthur (also serving 10 years for burglary) and Charles Frazier (serving two 99-year sentences for robbery with firearms). Surrendering but not injured were Thornton and Robert Hill, who was serving 99 years for robbery. Robert Hill, you may recall, was one of the gang who took part in the so-called “Santa Claus” robbery of an Eastland, Texas bank.
The prisoners had escaped from their cell block with a key made in the prison blacksmith shop. They fled the building down a fire escape and continued to the prison yard where they came across guard Howard Bass who happened to be unarmed at the time, since guards inside the walls were not allowed to carry weapons. A prisoner working the switchboard had activated the escape alarm after hearing the gunfire, alerting the other guards in the prison who helped put down the escape attempt.
To the best of our knowledge, by that time, Roy Thornton was facing these two sentences: a five year sentence for the robbery of the Ligon and Hamm store in Red Oak, Texas, and a fifty year sentence for the armed robbery and kidnapping of W. L. Bogie, a railroad worker whom he and an associate robbed and tied to fence. Their loot in the latter case was a watch and one dollar. A page purporting to be Thornton’s prison record shows the date 1933-6-16 and on the next line, the addition of fifty years to it. Below that was the date 1983-6-16. Without parole, Thornton would have been a prisoner until 1983.
No one likely knows the exact reason for Thornton’s obsession about wanting to escape. After Bonnie was killed in 1934, Thornton was quoted in a United Press newspaper article as saying that he was glad that Bonnie and Clyde went out like they did (being killed). “It was much better than getting caught,” he added. Although the circumstances of their deaths and his may have been different, this may be one of the most telling statements about the mindset of Roy Thornton after he was incarcerated. He may have been unhappy enough about his predicament that he was prepared to accept the same fate as Clyde and Bonnie, and he finally did.
[Paul Mosley narrates this post here.]
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