Bonnie and Clyde in Iowa

Notorious Depression-area criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, along with Clyde’s brother Buck, Buck’s wife Blanche, and their accomplice W.D. Jones, were nearly captured in Dexter, Iowa, about thirty-three miles west of Des Moines, in 1933. In the early 1930s the infamous gang had been on a crime spree, robbing small-town restaurants, banks, and gas stations, killing twelve people in the process.

After a gun battle with lawmen in Platte City, Missouri, they arrived at Dexfield Park, an abandoned amusement park near Dexter, on July 19 or 20, 1933. Buck had a bullet in his skull and Blanche had shards of glass in her eye, so the gang hoped to hide out until the two recovered enough to travel. They camped out in the woods near Dexter, and Clyde went into town a few times to shop for food and clothing, buying chicken, pies, and soda pop. He also bought gauze and tape to treat Buck’s wound since it was obviously impossible to take him to a doctor.

On Sunday, July 23, local farmer Henry Nye discovered their campsite by chance and reported the bloody bandages, burning car mats, and bullet-ridden car he had seen to John Love, Dexter night marshall, who called Dallas County sheriff Clinton Knee in Adel. Knee, along with about fifty other lawmen, including some from the Des Moines Police Department, surrounded the Barrow encampment. They were met with a barrage of gunfire from the gangsters, and after an extended gun battle, Clyde, Bonnie, and W.D. Jones escaped through an unguarded route over the South Raccoon River. Buck, too seriously wounded to go on, stayed behind, and Blanche stayed with him. The escapees made their way to the nearby Vallie Feller farm, where they stole a car and fled. In Polk City they abandoned the Feller car, now bloodstained and with a shattered window, stole another car, and subsequently were reported seen in LuVerne, Sutherland, and Denison, Iowa, and even in Des Moines. None of the sightings panned out.

Buck Barrow died in a Perry hospital five days after the incident. Blanche Barrow was returned to Missouri and sentenced to ten years in prison for her part in the Platte City conflict.

By 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were back in Iowa. They robbed the First State Bank at Rembrandt, the State Savings Bank in Knierim, and were suspected of robbing other banks in Stuart and Lamoni. They were on the run for several months, until May 23, 1934, when they were killed at a roadblock ambush in Gibsland, Louisiana.

On the Trail of Bonnie & Clyde, Then and Now,
edited by Winston G. Ramsey. London, Battle of Britain International, 2003.

One-Armed Bandits and Other Stories of Iowa’s Past and Present,
by George Mills. Ames, Iowa, Focus Books, 1997.

Reprinted from the DMPL Local History pages.

See also FBI Famous Cases and Criminals

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