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Law Officers Killed by the Barrow Gang: Major Crowson (Victim Number 6)

05 Dec

The headline of the Corsicana Daily Sun, January 16, 1934, read “Noted Texas Desperado Shoots Down Guards On Eastham Prison Farm,” referring to Clyde Barrow. Though Clyde was directly involved in the prison break, the headline overstated Barrow’s role in the death of one guard and the serious injury of another. Guard Major Crowson (Major was his given name) was said to have been shot point blank in the abdomen by convict Joe Palmer.  Another guard by the name of Olin Bozeman was shot in the hip, apparently by convict Raymond Hamilton although in early accounts, various other prisoners were said to have shot the guards.  Bozeman recovered from his wounds, but Crowson succumbed to his gunshot wound some eleven days later, after identifying Palmer as the one who shot him.

The escape plot had been conceived in Dallas some weeks earlier to free Ray Hamilton, who had been jailed at the prison since August 8, 1933. Hamilton, then nineteen years old, had boasted at his sentencing that “there is no prison that will hold me; I’ll be back with Clyde before you know it.”  The plan had been brought to Clyde Barrow and Floyd Hamilton by a former prisoner named Jimmy Mullens who had been released from Huntsville only a week earlier.  Some accounts say that Mullens had been promised $1,000 to contact Barrow and set up the escape plan.

Perhaps lesser known than some of the Barrow associates, Joe Palmer escaped with Ray Hamilton and two other individuals (Henry Methvin and W. H. Bybee) in the Eastham incident.  Palmer had been incarcerated for robbery perpetrated with the use of firearms or other deadly weapons, the sentence for which could be life or not less than five years.  He was referred to as a “lifer.” His actual sentence is not readily available, but it is believed that his sentence prior to the escape was on the longer end of the spectrum.  Palmer was in the process of appealing his sentence, but the appeal was “declined” after he escaped.  Palmer was known to have lived at least for some time in the Dallas area, having been born in Texas in 1906, and was older than Ray Hamilton who had been born in 1914.  The two had apparently become acquainted in prison.

Newspaper reports stated that Ray Hamilton was serving a combined 263 years for murder, bank robbery and other crimes.  Hamilton had previously been associated with the Barrow Gang.  The escape was accomplished by an associate of the group having smuggled handguns into the prison.  Palmer is thought to have then hidden them in a brush pile near where the prisoners were expected to be working on the day of the escape.  The work groups were clearing some timber at the Eastham Prison Farm, about forty-five miles north of the Huntsville Prison.  Soon after the prisoners reached the work site, Palmer dived into the brush pile and came out with a .45 pistol and was quickly joined by two other prisoners who retrieved the other pistols.  As they began firing, Guard Bozeman took a bullet to his hip.  Another bullet knocked Bozeman’s shotgun out of his hands.  Guard Crowson took a bullet to the abdomen and also fell to the ground.

About that time witnesses said that two other individuals believed to be Clyde Barrow and Mullens rose from a drainage ditch and began issuing covering fire.  A number of the prisoners escaped with Mullens, Parker and Barrow.  When the ground fog and gun smoke cleared, Ray Hamilton, Palmer, Methvin and Bybee had all squeezed into the Ford V8 coupe and sped away toward Lovelady, later stopping for gas in Hillsboro.  Another prisoner named French had escaped and fled on foot, but he was recaptured shortly afterward.

There is no obvious explanation why Bonnie Parker accompanied Barrow and Mullens in the escape rather than Floyd Hamilton.  It was speculated that perhaps Clyde wanted Bonnie with him in case they had to flee to parts unknown and that Floyd Hamilton would be able to join them later on his own.

Major Joseph Crowson passed away on January 27, 1934 at Huntsville’s Memorial Hospital from complications of his wounds and pneumonia.  At the time of his death, he was thirty-three years old.  He was listed as single and his next of kin were his parents.  Crowson was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Lovelady, Houston County, Texas.

Both Palmer and Ray Hamilton were recaptured on different occasions and were returned to Huntsville where they were both executed on May 10, 1935 for the death of Crowson and their other crimes.  Prior to his execution, Palmer had said that he had worn dark shades and slipped into Clyde’s funeral and graveside services in Dallas about eleven months earlier.  Palmer was originally buried in the prison cemetery but in 1999 a new headstone was laid for him at the San Jose Burial Park in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.  Ray Hamilton was twenty years old at the time of his death.  He was buried in Elmwood Memorial Park on the eastern side of Dallas near the intersection of Buckner Boulevard and Scyene Road in Dallas County, Texas.

The other two escapees who fled with Clyde Barrow and company were not charged with Crowson’s murder.  Bybee was apparently a last minute substitution for gang member Ralph Fults, who had been moved to another part of the prison shortly before the escape plot was carried out.  Bybee was captured later in the month of January 1934.  He managed to escape the prison farm again in 1937 and was killed by a posse in Arkansas a short time later.  Methvin was also was eventually returned to prison.  He served a number of years until he was paroled in the mid 1940s.  Methvin lost his life when he was struck by a train in 1948.

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