Review

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde

by Jeff Guinn

Pretty Boy Floyd told his wife not to help them when they were
on the run and desperate. “Master criminal John Dillinger
dismissed Clyde and Bonnie as ‘a couple of kids stealing
grocery money.’” Within a couple of years, four
notorious outlaws would be dead. But only one, Bonnie Parker, had
written a poem predicting her death and correctly foreseeing that
she and Clyde Barrow would “go down together” --- a
foreboding they had shared for most of their brief life
together.

Bonnie was a cute, sassy teen who longed for fame and attention.
Clyde, like Bonnie, came from the poorest of “white
trash” families in the hopeless desolation of West Dallas in
the early Depression years. When they met, they both knew that fate
had flung them together and their lives would be linked until death
did them part. In the meantime, they chose to cling together as
well-dressed high-profile thieves and occasional murderers (though
no killing was ever linked to Bonnie) --- a life on the run, often
sleeping in fields and eating takeout dinners in their stolen cars.
Both had a way with words. Bonnie wrote numerous poems, and Clyde
at the height of his notoriety sent an elegantly phrased missive to
Henry Ford, praising his V-8 sedan as the criminal’s choice,
with a hint of literary irony --- “I have drove Fords
exclusively when I could get away with one.” One senses,
after reading this exhaustively researched and dramatic biography,
that either of these young people --- smart, energetic, burning
with ambition --- could have achieved much if they had not been
dragged early into the shadowy lowlife.

For Clyde it started with petty theft of chickens, but he soon
graduated to cars, and that was perhaps his best skill.
Limelight-hungry Bonnie may have resorted to occasional
prostitution in her zeal for money, makeup and men, but once she
joined up with Clyde she took on all the trappings of a
cold-hearted moll, faithful to her man to the bitter end. Clyde
killed his first man as a teenager, bludgeoning a sadistic rapist
who had made Clyde his victim for many months in prison. That
con-to-con crime was ignored and seemed justified, but it probably
gave the young man a notion that dealing death wasn’t such a
terrible sin after all.

Yet Clyde, it was said, prayed every day and took good care of
his family. Both Bonnie and Clyde gravitated again and again to
West Dallas and set up meetings with their parents and siblings
seemingly right under the noses of the authorities, even as they
were among “America’s Most Wanted” for their many
bank robberies and petty hold-ups. There was only one brief period
when they truly enjoyed life on the lam, hanging out in Oklahoma
for a while with one accomplice and stealing only what they needed
for a few days at a time, enjoying sojourns in neat little tourist
courts where they experienced the only luxury of their impoverished
lives.

Yet to over-romanticize them (as was done in the press of the
times and in the 1960s movie Bonnie and Clyde) would be
wrong. Clyde loved to break into armories and always carried
an enormous stockpile of deadly weapons like the Browning Automatic
Rifle, nothing more than a lightweight heavy-fire killing machine.
And while Bonnie may not have taken direct part in their criminal
activities (opinions on that vary), she managed
Clyde’s business behind the scenes, making sure none of
his sleazy buddies betrayed him (she failed notably, the last
time).

Drawing on sources not previously tapped, such as family
memorabilia and never-before-published contemporary accounts, Jeff
Guinn’s book builds the excitement of the Barrow Gang’s
chaotic, often comical crime spree up to the suspenseful and
violent final moments, when Barrow and Parker were cruising down a
Louisiana back road for a meeting with a fellow criminal and met
instead with a nest of lawmen led by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.
Hamer had already killed more than 50 lawbreakers (and taken 17
wounds) by the time he and his companions opened fire on Bonnie and
Clyde. Bonnie died with a sandwich in her lap, and neither she nor
Clyde ever touched a weapon in their last seconds on earth.

Their deaths were as controversial as their lives, and after
death their legend persisted, in books and several Hollywood films.
Even the clothes they wore and the car they died in were put on
display for money. Rumors flew --- that Clyde had died with a
suitcase full of money, that Hamer had taken the cash, that the
families had salted it away. Everyone who viewed the corpses was
shocked at how diminutive both youngsters were, and how bloodied
and mutilated by the 150 bullets that had torn through their
trapped bodies.

Whether as a tale of two doomed lovers or two blood-thirsty
criminals, the story of Bonnie and Clyde stands as a poignant,
human saga about desperate outlaws who “know the law always
wins” as Bonnie wrote in the above mentioned poem, which she
titled “The End of the Line.” Guinn, an award-winning
author and journalist, sums it up with a description of Clyde
Barrow’s tombstone: “...The four word motto Clyde asked
his parents to inscribe remains true in ways he never could have
imagined: Gone but not forgotten.”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 22, 2011

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde
by Jeff Guinn

  • Publication Date: March 9, 2010
  • Genres: Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1416557075
  • ISBN-13: 9781416557074