The Barrow Gang, led by the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, stormed across multiple states in a deadly crime spree lasting a year and a half. The gang killed both civilians and law officers when cornered or threatened, and escaped capture multiple times. Despite their formidable skill at evading (or simply mowing down) the law, the beginning of the end for the notorious Barrow Gang came from a stash of coins.
Clyde Barrow had his first arrest in 1926, at the age of 17, after failing to return a rental car on time; he was arrested again shortly afterward, with his brother Buck, for possession of stolen turkeys. Though he held legal jobs from 1927-29, Clyde also robbed stores, stole vehicles, and even cracked safes. After several incarcerations, he was sentenced to Eastham Prison Farm in the spring of 1930. He suffered terrible abuse in the prison (much of it from other inmates), and emerged as a hardened criminal with a grudge against law enforcement and the prison system. Ralph Fults, incarcerated at the prison farm with Clyde, reported that he changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake” during the 2 years he was at the farm.
Bonnie Parker married Roy Thornton at the age of 15, but soon grew estranged from her husband (though they never legally divorced.) She met Clyde Barrow at the house of a friend (according to the more credible reports), and the two fell in love at first sight. When Clyde rounded up friends and family to create his gang, Bonnie stayed by his side.
The numbers and members of the Barrow gang fluctuated, though Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche were frequently part of the group. They robbed over a dozen banks, as well as small stores and rural gas stations; they killed 9 police officers and several civilians, as well as the occasional kidnapping. Despite a great deal of public popularity, the ruthlessness of the Barrow Gang soon turned public opinion against them. A set of photos from their hideout in Joplin, Missouri, (many taken by Bonnie, who had a lifelong interest in photography) which fell into police hands after a raid, portrayed the Barrow gang as laughing criminals, brandishing guns and smoking cigars. These photos were almost certainly taken in jest (as well as poor taste); the reality of the gang’s life on the road was far less picturesque.
These photos, embellished by a press desperate for the next sensational crime story, ended up cementing Bonnie Parker’s image as a hardened gun moll and the power behind the throne; Bonnie Parker never killed anyone, though she did fire a Browning Automatic and was present for over 100 felonies. As the gang become more notorious, it became harder to find accommodation, forcing them to sleep in campground and bath in cold streams.
On June 10th, 1933, Clyde missed a warning sign at a Texas bridge and rolled the car into a ravine. Bonnie sustained a severe leg injury (sources agree it was a third-degree burn, but whether it was from a gasoline fire or battery acid has not been determined.) This made it harder than ever for the group to hide; Bonnie had to hop on her good leg or be carried, and was in constant need of medical supplies.
The beginning of the end came in July of 1933, at the Red Crown Tourist Court, in Platte City (now part of Kansas City), Missouri. The owner of the hotel was already suspicious when he saw the Barrow car being backed into the garage “gangster style,” for faster getaway. However, it was when Blanche Barrow paid for lodgings, five dinners, and five beers entirely in coins that he became certain he was dealing with robbers. He informed local law officials, which led to a shootout that mortally wounded Buck and resulted in Blanche Barrow’s arrest.
Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree came to an end a few months later in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, when they were caught in an ambush of questionable legality, gunned down by a hail of gunfire from law enforcement.
Though history does not record which coins Blanche Barrow paid with, we do know what coins would have been in wide circulation at the time. The Lincoln wheat cent (minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco) and Buffalo nickel (minted in Philadelphia and San Francisco) were common, as well as the Mercury dime (minted in Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco).
The Standing Liberty quarter was minted primarily in Philadelphia until 1930, with a few quarters coming out of Denver and San Francisco; it was replaced by the Washington quarter in 1932 (minted at all three locations.) The Walking Liberty half-dollar would also have been in circulation.
The gang might also have used the $10 Indian head coin, and the famous $20 Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin, possibly acquired during their bank robberies. Morgan and Peace dollars might also have formed part of the haul, though not minted during those years; some Indian Head cents and Barber coins would also likely still have been in circulation and part of the stolen money.
At least two coins were recovered from the legendary couple’s car. A 1921 Morgan dollar, one of two said to have been taken from Clyde Barrow’s jacket pocket, sold for $32,400 in 2012. The coin was taken from the couple’s car by Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton, who was one of the gunman during the ambush; Hinton’s son wrote a letter to accompany the Morgan, detailing the recovery of the coins. “Nothing has ever been mentioned, written, or published about Clyde’s jacket being in the car right after the melee that morning. Only Ted and the other five posse members were aware of the jacket … I was later made aware of the jacket.” Hinton sold the coins in 1946 to a Dallas buyer, who later traded the coin to settle a debt with the notorious Gambino mob family. According to Coin World, “This provenance is detailed in a letter from Michael Kozlin. Kozlin reportedly received the coin in 1986 from his grandfather, Armand Castellano, a convicted bank robbery get-away-car driver and a cousin to Paulie Castellano. Armand had reportedly received the coin in 1966. Within the last year, according to RR Auction President Bobby Livingston, Kozlin contacted Linton Hinton, ‘who confirmed the details of the origin of the coin from Barrow’s jacket pocket.’ “