Why are we fascinated by gangsters, thugs and criminals? Even tales nearly 100 years old can attract large audiences, as seen when the Dexter Roundhouse was recently packed with people wanting to hear again the bloody stories of Bonnie and Clyde and the 1933 shootout at the Dexfield Park north of Dexter.
Local historian Rod Stanley told the crowd how Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, Clyde’s older brother Buck Barrow, Buck’s wife Blanche Barrow and the teenaged W. D. Jones came to spend 4 or 5 days camping in the Dexfield Park and making trips in and out of Dexter.
Prior to entering Iowa, three of the gang members had been hurt in a shoot out in Platte City, Mo. Part of Buck’s skull had been shot off, and his brain was visible. Blanche had glass in her left eye, and Bonnie had third degree burns from her ankle to her hip, a result of Clyde’s not seeing a “road closed” sign, running off a bridge and causing the car to catch fire.
Stanley reminded his listeners that in 1933 the road going through Dexter was a busy road, and Dexter had more than 70 businesses along its main street, including about a dozen gas stations. The people of Dexter were used to having lots of strangers in town, although they had to admit that it was strange that there was a car that was always backed into parking spaces and was always left running.
That car was Clyde’s, and he was in town on a number of errands. He was buying new shirts and other clothing from John Love, who worked as a clerk and shoe repairperson at a local clothing shop. Love was also the town constable. Clyde was buying aspirin and bandages at the drug store, and he tried to buy morphine by saying he was a veterinarian. He was also buying take-out meals for the gang and blocks of ice and peroxide for Buck’s head.
Although notorious nationwide, Clyde went unrecognized among Dexter’s shoppers.
It was farm hand Henry Nye who came across bloody bandages and clothing as he was hunting blackberries near Dexfield Park. The gang was most likely “car shopping” in Perry at the time—in other words, stealing Ed Stoner’s V-8 Ford. Nye called Constable Love, who spotted five people and two cars through a pair of binoculars. Love in turn called Dallas County Sheriff Clint Knee, who said he’d received reports of the Barrow Gang in the area. A posse quickly formed.
They suspected it might be the Barrow Gang but did not know for sure. The posse approached the campsite at Dexfield Park about 5:30 a.m. Someone was roasting a hot dog. He or she threw the hot dog into the fire, grabbed a Browning automatic rifle and immediately started shooting above the posse. The Browning weighs 18 pounds and has a 20-shot clip that empties in 2-1/2 seconds. It’s a military-style weapon that gave the Barrow Gang a huge advantage over their pursuers, as did Clyde’s preferred get-away vehicle, the V-8 Ford.
Bonnie, Clyde, Buck and W. D. Jones were all shot that day. Bonnie, Clyde and W.D. escaped through the Feller farm, while Buck and Blanche were captured. Buck was taken to King’s Daughters Hospital in Perry, where he died five days later from pneumonia. Blanche was ultimately sent back to Platte City, Mo., and sentenced to 10 years in prison, serving about five before her release. She later became a beautician and led an honest life.
W.D. Jones stayed with the Barrow Gang about eight more months and then one day, when he was sent to town to steal a car, he just kept going and never returned.
Legends of the Dexfield Park shootout still circulate locally. Doris Feller, Marvelle Feller’s daughter-in-law, recounted the story as told to her by Marvelle, the son of Vallie Feller. Father, son and hired hand heard gunshots as they were doing the morning chores, but this was not unusual because people used the area for target practice and also hunted in the area.
Clyde later came onto the Feller farm with a .45-caliber pistol and demanded a car. At one point, Marvelle’s mother and sister came out of the house to warn the men of outlaws in the area. W. D. and Bonnie were in the back of the Feller’s car, and Clyde was at the wheel. Marvelle had to show Clyde how to shift gears. He assured Marvelle that he’d be well paid for the use of the car. Authorities monitored the Feller’s mail for a year, but nothing was ever received from Clyde. W. D. Jones later reported in an interview that Clyde’s pistol had been empty.
The Feller car was driven to Polk City and abandoned. Feller had it towed home for $15 and later traded it away in Stuart.
Buddy Barrow, the son of Clyde barrow’s youngest brother, L. C. Barrow, joined Stanley to share memories and answer questions from the crowd in the Dexter Roundhouse. Buddy was born 14 years after the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde. He said Clyde’s motive was never money but revenge. Clyde had spent time in a notorious prison and when he got out, he vowed that he’d never go back again.
Buddy said Clyde committed his first murder while in prison, killing a man who had molested him. His experiences in prison, with guards who turned a blind eye to such abuses, was what turned Clyde against law enforcement, according to Buddy Barrow.
Once Clyde left prison and tried to get a job, he was constantly watched and harassed by law enforcement, whom he said would never leave him in peace. He went to Ohio and Michigan to find jobs, but he always missed his family and would return home to Texas.
Clyde was fascinated with Jesse James, who was his hero. He didn’t drink alcohol or take drugs because he wanted his mind clear. The gang would often steal doctors’ bags out of their cars and treat their own wounds. Clyde lived out of his car and was on the road practically non-stop, travelling from Texas to Canada and from coast to coast.
According to Buddy, the Barrow family sued when they found out about the now-famous 1967 Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty movie coming out because they didn’t want the story told. They felt there was nothing glamorous or romantic about it.
Both Clyde and his brother L.C. tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy, but the Navy wouldn’t take either of them. Had the Navy admitted them, there might have been no story of Bonnie and Clyde.