We were standing in the parking lot of an empty building next to an overgrown cemetery when a couple approached.
He seemed like a friendly fella. She had big purple rollers in her hair. They were both rocking an '80s vibe. It was kinda cute.
I would learn that they were in Dallas for a high school reunion, but before getting ready for the shindig, they had decided to make a quick visit to the cemetery (because, who doesn't, right?). They wanted to see Clyde Barrow's gravesite -- again.
As we talked into the late afternoon, with nobody else in sight, it became clear that this couple knew more than a thing or two about Bonnie and Clyde, North Texas' homegrown Depression-era gangsters. They had traveled to numerous sites where the notorious duo left their mark -- from the west Dallas area where Bonnie Parker grew up to the spot where Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in 1934, near Gibsland, La.
At one point during our conversation, the woman with the curlers leaned in close and whispered:
"I hate to say this, but they were murderers."
But I could tell she didn't hate saying it. In fact, I think she kind of liked it. We were both fascinated by the outlaw legacy of Bonnie and Clyde.
And at that moment, I knew I would devote many of my free weekends over the next few months to winding along country roads, camera in tow, documenting my own B&C-fueled odyssey. Along the way, I've seen the calaboose in Kemp, Texas, where Bonnie was locked up after a wild night, and the spot along the Red River near Wellington where Clyde missed a detour sign and rolled his car into the river. I've met aficionados, enthusiasts and all sorts of characters. Like Bill, a North Texas history buff who has a cash register that Bonnie and Clyde once liberated, as well as a barber's chair that Clyde had likely spent some time in.
And the more questions I asked, the more photos I shot, the more interested I became.
See Clif Bosler's Bonnie & Clyde photo slideshow by clicking here.
I watched a National Geographic special on Bonnie and Clyde, and one of the experts interviewed was Jeff Guinn, the former Star-Telegram books editor turned bestselling author. His book Go Down Together (2009) has become one of the bibles of Bonnie and Clyde history, and I devoured it, too.
Here's some of what I learned.
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow are about as local as you can get when it comes to 1930s gangsters. Bonnie was born Oct. 1, 1910, in Rowena, Texas. Her mother moved the family to Cement City, an industrial town ever so slightly west of downtown Dallas. The location was known for producing -- you guessed it -- cement. Clyde was born March 24, 1909, in Ellis County, not far from Dallas. In the early '20s, his family temporarily lived in harsh conditions under a Trinity River bridge, the Houston Street Viaduct. His father eventually acquired what would become a small service station on Eagle Ford Road (now Singleton Boulevard) that is still standing (see photos).
Clyde turned to a life of crime early. Bonnie married just before she turned 16, but was already separated when she met Clyde in 1930.
In 1932, fresh out of prison, Clyde Barrow assembled a small gang, which included Bonnie. That's when their infamous crime spree began.
They were known as much for sticking up grocery stores and filling stations as they were for robbing banks, but set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and a healthy dislike for the rich and powerful, the young couple's exploits were romanticized. Bonnie stuck by Clyde to the bitter, bloody end. That's part of the enduring fascination with them. (That, and Arthur Penn's movie Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.)
The allure of these iconic outlaws remains strong today. Books abound. Restaurants are named after them. A four-part miniseries about Bonnie and Clyde, starring Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger, is scheduled to air later this year on Lifetime. There's even an annual Bonnie and Clyde festival in Gibsland around the anniversary of their deaths (May 23, 1934). It includes costume contests, a jambalaya dinner and a re-enactment of the famous ambush.
So as I stood outside Western Heights Cemetery in west Dallas that day, I didn't realize it, but I was joining a band of Bonnie and Clyde history hunters. Outlaws of a different sort, who are willing to go to great lengths to find another morsel of B&C mythology.
The gate at the cemetery was locked, so I was peering through the black iron fence searching for Clyde's burial site when the couple (yep, that couple) got out of their vehicle and started toward me. I asked if they knew where Clyde's grave was, and they pointed to a corner of the cemetery next to Fort Worth Avenue.
Standing on a short concrete wall, I could just make out the gravestone, which was covered in flowers and liquor bottles, and, on this day, had shotgun shells neatly lined up in a row along the back of the stone slab.
I pointed my camera over the fence, and with a long lens was able to snag a few photos. The couple said their goodbyes and left to finish getting ready for their reunion. I left, too, knowing that this would be the first of many Bonnie and Clyde photo adventures to come.
Click on the image below to get to Clif Bosler's Bonnie & Clyde slideshow.
L.J. "Boots" Hinton is the son of Ted Hinton, a Dallas County deputy sheriff who was among the six lawmen who hunted down and killed Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana on May 23, 1934. Here, L.J. recounts his father's story and the events leading up to the famous ambush.
Audio interview clips:
Click the link below for an interactive map of a dozen Bonnie & Clyde sites to visit.
View A dozen Bonnie and Clyde sites to visit in a larger map
1. Clydes burial site
2. Barrow family service station
3. Fish Trap Cemetery, Bonnie's original burial site
4. Bonnie's schoolhouse
5. The Devils Back Porch
6. The Kemp calaboose
7. Texas Tourist Camp and Cafe
8. Ponder State Bank
9. The Collingsworth County Museum
10. Salt Fork of the Red River
11. Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum
12. Ambush site
Resources: Books, sights and sites to check out to learn more about Bonnie and Clyde
Jeff Guinn's book Go Down Together
The Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, La.
Frank R. Ballinger's Bonnie & Clyde's Hideout: texashideout.tripod.com/bc.htm
Red River Historian: redriverhistorian.com/
The Watermelon Kid presents Adventures in History & Genealogy: www.watermelon-kid.com
A. Winston Woodward's Bonnie and Clyde blog: bonnieandclydehistory.blogspot.com
Dallas Historical Society: www.dallashistory.org/history/dallas/bandc.htm