LOS ANGELES - On the morning of May 23, 1934, Clyde Barrow — a small-time criminal who had worked his way up to celebrity bank robber and spree killer — stopped his stolen Ford V-8 on a rural road near Gibsland, La. Inside were an arsenal of stolen automatic rifles, sawed-off semi-automatic shotguns, assorted handguns and several thousand rounds of ammunition and, of course, the love of his life, Bonnie Parker.
It was 9:15 a.m., and Barrow was carrying his Elgin pocket watch with a Wadsworth 10-carat gold-filled screw-back case. That was when his time finally ran out. A posse of six fired off 130 rounds, led by Frank Hamer, who had more than 50 kills notched on his belt and was seen as the personification of the macho Texas law enforcement code: “One riot, one ranger.”
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When the smoke cleared, Barrow was dead — with 17 holes in his body. Reports say that Parker had time to scream before she too died, perforated with 26 holes.
The watch, however, survived (in a manner of speaking) — and can be yours: It’s being auctioned Sept. 30 in New Hampshire. Officials hope to get $50,000 to $100,000 for the watch, though the “sky’s the limit,” Bobby Livingston, vice president of RR Auction in Amherst, N.H., said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Also up for bid is the Colt .38-caliber revolver that Parker had pasted to her inner thigh with medical tape, as well as the .45-caliber pistol that Barrow kept in his waistband. Each weapon could bring between $100,000 and $200,000, said Livingston. Barrow’s cosmetics case is also on the block.
For Livingston, what makes the artifacts valuable is their link to the love-soaked couple who led a gang on a violent rampage of terror. “Their story still resonates. All those Depression-era gangsters perceived by the public fighting against big banks and the corruption of government. That resonates today,” he said.
In the ‘30s, some gangsters were the rock stars of their day. John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd were dashing, Robin Hood-like figures, celebrated in word and song and much later in lush Hollywood movies. Bonnie and Clyde were part of that tradition too, their star wattage amplified by the idea that love and glamour conquer all. They similarly received the Hollywood treatment, glorified in the 1967 film starring Warren Beattie and Faye Dunaway.
Alas, the truth is probably a touch less romantic. Barrow had several small-time arrests — at one point ending up in Eastham Prison Farm, where he was sexually assaulted. If Barrow had any desire for revenge, it was against the Texas prison system, and he eventually achieved that goal in 1934 when he and his gang engineered the Eastham Breakout.
During the crime spree between 1931 and 1934, the gang was said to have robbed a dozen or so banks in several states in the Midwest and the South, but the usual target was more often rural stores and gas stations. The numbers vary depending on the reports, but some 13 killings have been blamed on the gang; all but a few were law enforcement officers.
After their deaths, the artifacts were fought over. The current lot comes mainly from the estate of a Texas collector, and some items are from the estate of Barrow’s sister, Marie.