It was a beautiful automobile with a lot of special equipment. Fancy seat covers, bumper guards, a metal cover on the extra tire, an Arvin hot water heater, and on the radiator cap a leaping greyhound in chrome. The windows not only rolled up and down, but also slid backward almost two inches for partial ventilation. The running boards were wide, and the doors, both front and back, swung outward toward the rear to open.
Ford Dealers of the 1930's advertised that this new V-8 would get nearly twenty miles to the gallon at forty-five miles an hour, but it could go much faster then that. The Warren's car had been assembled at River Rouge plant in February, by June, Henry Ford would sell a million V-8's. But little did they know that this Ford was to be the most famous.
For a month and a half the Warrens ran the car at low speeds to break it in smoothly. By late April they had driven 1,243 and had paid the balance owed on it. On Sunday, April 29, 1934, she took the car out for a fast run and returning home, she parked it in the driveway and left the keys in the ignition.
Shortly after one o'clock, the neighbors saw a man and a woman repeatedly circling the block in a Plymouth coupe. Later they returned, this time with a man riding on the right running board. He jumped off, climbed into the Warrens car, started it, backed out of the driveway, and sped away. The Warrens wouldn't see their new Ford for three months.
On the following Monday, a report came to the Kansas State Police that a car fitting the description of the Warrens Ford, but bearing out-of-state license plates, had been spotted near Ottawa, Kansas, parked off the road behind a hedgerow. By Monday afternoon the State Police had found the spot but there was no car, only the tracks of new tires and some cigar butts. Although law officers over the entire Mid-west and Southwest stayed on the lookout, the gray Ford dropped out of sight.
On May 23, 1934, a representative of the Associated Press notified the Warrens that their car had been found. The Kansas State Police had verified it by the motor number, and it's location was Arcadia, Louisiana. It had been driven 7,500 miles in the 25 days since it was stolen and now bore Arkansas license plates.
But there was only two things that was wrong with the car. The upholstery was blood-soaked, and the vehicle itself had 107 bullet holes in it's body. In that evening local newspaper, the Warrens soon learned why, as the headlines read, "Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow Shot Down In Louisiana."
In a few moments of violence, the Warren's Ford became famous. On that day six officers ambushed the southwest most bloodiest couple, on Highway 151 just outside on Gibland, Louisiana. Inside the trunk was some 15 other license plates stolen from states over the Midwest, also an arsenal of assorted rifles, pistols, sawed-off shotguns and ammunition. In the back seat were more guns, some clothes, a blanket, and Clyde Barrows saxophone. Movie magazines were under the front seat, and one between Bonnie's feet, open to the page she had been reading.
After inspecting the car and its contents, the lawmen took all the guns and ammunition from the trunk and put them in Sheriff Henderson Jordon of Bienville Parish, car. While one of the men took a few feet of movie film, two others went to get the coroner in Arcadia, the parish seat.
Soon everybody in the area knew what happened and by the time the coroner arrived, a souvenir-mad mob had gathered, everyone trying to get mementos. Bits of window glass were broken off, swatches of blood-soaked clothing or upholstery were ripped away, along with what they were trying to do to the bodies, made the coroner to order the officers to have the car towed into Arcadia. Examining the bodies on the country road was impossible.
A wrecker was summoned, the gray Ford was hooked to it, and with Bonnie and Clyde still inside, it pulled along the fifteen miles into Arcadia, stopping occasionally like a circus to let curious clusters of people along the road peer into the car at the bodies. Behind the wrecker a long line of cars followed.
When the procession reached town, the wrecker moved up the main street and unhooked its grisly cargo in front of Conger's Furniture Store, in the rear of which there was a morgue, where the bodies were taken when removed from the Ford.
Outside on this street the car was faring badly. The gathered mob methodically stripped it of anything which would break off. The glass of one window had been entirely broken away; several attempts were made to steal the chromium greyhound. Those that near the car reached in for the padding from the car seats. None of the lawmen outside could keep the crowd back.
To protect the car and any evidence in it which they might later need, they asked Marshall Woodward, the local Ford Dealer, to haul the car to his garage at the motor company and to lock it out of sight. Again a weaker appeared and backed into the crowd. As the car moved away, people followed it down the street and around the corner to the motor company. The car was taken inside the garage, and the big doors were closed, chained, and locked.
The crowd soon turned angry at being denied a view of the death car. There was talk of breaking the lock. Children and small men tried to pull the chain just enough to squeeze inside. The corrugated tin doors, braced only by two-by-fours, were straining at their nails. Mr. Woodward, feeling obligated to protect the car and protect his garage, call Sheriff Jordon, saying, "Henderson you got to do something. They are going to tear my garage door down!"
Sheriff Jordon answered, "See if the car will run. If it won't, hook it up to the wrecker again and bring it up to the courthouse. We'll lock it in the jail yard."
Woodward did not relish sitting on the seat, but he got inside, turned on the ignition key and pressed the starter. Surprising, the car's motor cranked. Despite the many bullet holes in it's shell, it's motor and steering were undamaged. The V-8 had stood the test.
Woodward drove out of the garage, through the crowd and up a steep hill to the courthouse and jail, where behind a ten-foot chain fence topped with barbed wire, the car was parked, out of reach at last of those who wanted pieces of it. The crowd soon arrived again, and it clustered around the jail, peering through the fence, much put out that the sheriff would not let anyone inside for a closer look. In disgust, many people left the jail yard and returned to town. Days later after everything died down the car was returned to Marshall Woodward's motor company.
After Jesse and Ruth Warren were notified that their car had been found, a Kansas, "master showman and display expert", Duke Mills, approached Jesse Warren with a plan to exhibit the car at the World Fair in Chicago; he wanted to rent the car for $50.00 a week and pay Jesse a commission of the take. Warren's agreed and sent Mills and a lawyer named Hall Smith to Louisiana to get the car. When the showman and the lawyer reached Arcadia, they went to Sheriff Jordon, who was holding the car for evidence and the car was denied.
Then Mrs. Ruth Warren arrived in Bienville Parish to claim her car, but Sheriff Jordon again refuse to release it. She then hired a Arcadia attorney W.D. Goff to represent her. It all ended up in federal court where Judge Benjamin Dawkins, ordered that the car be deliver to United State Marshal George Montogomery and papers were served to his wife, for Sheriff Jordon was out of town. The car was denied again.
Then Judge Dawkins ordered Sheriff Jordon to appear to show cause as to why he shouldn't be held in contempt of court for refusing to surrender. There the sheriff successfully defended his position in secreting the car with pleas that it had been removed to an unknown destination for safekeeping for a grand jury investigation, and for protection against curious crowds which sought to remove parts as souvenirs. In his testimony, Sheriff Jordon disclosed that the car was now in the custody of Marshal Woodward, the Ford dealer, awaiting his order of disposition.
The position taken by the sheriff was that the automobile should be held until the Grand Jury convenes in September session of 1934 and it's customary that all the facts and exhibits in the case be placed in possession of the inquisitorial body.
In a case of this kind, such effects as are connected with the case are held by the sheriff or another officer at least where they may be had on short notice. The officers in such actions are entitled to this protection, and that is the stand Sheriff Jordon took in the matter of delivering the car in question to anyone.
Sheriff Jordon stated he wants the rightful owner of the automobile to receive justice, and wanted the car delivered to him or her when the ownership is established. Numerous parties have claimed to own the car, but none have established their ownership. The motor number and model number of the car dose not correspond with the car in the suit filed by the Warrens.
Also brought out, a representative of the United States Government, owner of several of the weapons taken from the Barrow car, has agreed that all such exhibits should remain in possession of the sheriff's office until after the grand jury's session which will have consideration of the case.
With all of this Judge Dawkins concurred in the opinion of the sheriff that the automobile should be protected. He instructed Sheriff Jordon to deliver the car to Marshal Montgomery on the writ, he in turn ordered Montgomery to seize the car, to appoint Sheriff Jordon custodian, and return it to him for safekeeping.
It wasn't till August of 1934 that the ownership was established to the Warrens. In an article in The Bienville Democrat, Sheriff Henderson Jordon stated the following about the affair.
"I'm glad the Warrens was able to establish their ownership of the car," Sheriff Jordon stated, "and it closed the incident. I feel that I was acting as the sheriff of a Parish or any other officer of the law should act under the circumstances. Delivery of the Barrow car, which had apparently increased many times in value, was a bigger responsibility than some people realize, and it would have been foolharded for me to deliver the car to a claimant simply because he stated that the car belongs to him, and specially so when he failed to produce proof of his claim. The Warrens credentials, at the time they sued for the car, did not describe the car I held, and I was unwilling that the car should be turned over to them such time as they could proved their ownership. They have done that to my satisfaction, and the car is in their hands," the sheriff concluded."
The car was driven by Marshall Woodward to Shreveport, Louisiana, where it was loaded on a van and hauled back to Topeka, Kansas. Jesse didn't want anything to do with it, thought it was horrible, parked in the driveway, just a mess. What would he do with a bloody car full of bullet holes? But his wife, Ruth knew what to do, taking control and leased it to John Castle of United Shows, who exhibit it first at the Topeka Fairgrounds. But in September of 1934, Castle defaulted in paying rent. It took the Warrens, another trip to court to repossess the car.
Getting it back she rented it for $200.00 a month to Charles Stanley, a carnival man from Cleveland. He started booking the bullet-riddled vehicle at Ford and other dealerships throughout the country. The first recorded stop the car took was in Leavenworth, Kansas, at the Flutharty Motor Co., 523 Delaware. Between 1934 to 1939, Stanley, billing himself the "Crime Doctor" and under the sponsorship of the National Anti-Crime Association, displayed the car calling it, "Barrow-Parker Exhibition Car" as part of his traveling circus.
By 1940, the Warrens were in a bitter divorce. When the property was finally divided, Ruth received, one bullet-ridden V8 Ford Sedan. Five months after regaining the title, Ruth sold it to Stanley for $3,500.00. During the time Stanley rented the car, the public had begun to pay less and less attention to it, primarily because there were several other cars making rounds at fairs, each advertised as the car in which Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed in. Some four or five fakes were being shown as the real one and people often scoffed at Stanley's exhibit as fraudulent. For this reason he was able to buy the car at a bargain. After getting the automobile, Stanley settled down to display it in an amusement park in Cincinnati. Interest in it continue to wave. By the late forties the Crime Doctor was sick of telling youngsters who Bonnie and Clyde were. It seemed to him nobody remembered them and nobody cared.
In Atlanta in 1952, a carnival showman named Ted Toddy was making a movie called "Killer All," a documentary about notorious gangsters of the 30's. Someone suggested he try to find a famous gangster's car to accompany the movie. Toddy had heard of the automobile in Cincinnati, and since a part of the film dealt with Bonnie and Clyde and that bloody day when they were killed, he got in touch with Stanley. By November, 1952, the car exchanged ownership again, this time for $14,500.00.
Toddy exhibited his film in theaters all over the nation, the car was hauled around in a moving van, along with it. When the film no longer interest people, Toddy went into semi-retirement, and the famous Ford was stored away in a warehouse in Atlanta. While the authentic death car gathered dust, at least five fakes were showing up at fairs, carnivals, and shopping centers, still bringing in enough money to keep their exhibitors going.
In 1967, when the Warner Brothers released the Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway movie called "Bonnie and Clyde", there arose a flood of new interest in the two desperados, even more then in their lifetimes. Toddy again found himself to be the owner of a very famous car and everybody was asking to see it. Toddy took it out of the warehouse, cleaned it up, placed in two grotesque dummies to represent the dead killers, and went back on the road. He threatened to sue Warner Brothers for using a white car in the movie because it made people think his grey car was a fake.
At the same time, he began prosecuting the owner of every fraudulent car he encountered. The exhibitors of the fakes, however, were hard to catch. They showed their cars for two or three days and then they were gone. When they were challenged by ticket buyers, they professed that theirs alone was the real death car.
One of the shams, owned by a company out of Houston calling itself the Lam-Sir Corporation, was exhibited at the Texas State Fair. When the man at the ticket booth was questioned about the authenticity of the car he was showing and was asked whether the owner in Atlanta might get wind of his deception, he scoffed, "They can't prove this isn't the car. Its to hard to separate fact from legend." Despite the lies and fraud Lam-Sir escaped prosecution.
But in Georgia, Toddy stopped two fraud exhibitors. In one case, he used as a court witness Ted Hinton, the only living member of the six man team who shot Barrow in 1934. Under oath Hinton testified that he had examined Toddy's car and found it to be the real one. His memory was uncommonly sharp, for he had not seen the automobile during the thirty-five years which had elapsed since he shot at it. This case was won hands down.
When Ted Toddy spoke of the Death Car he stated it had a magnetic appeal. "I've seen people kneel before it or do the sign of the cross. Women have walk away weeping. People come back to see it again and again, and they just stare." despite the fact that the car had grossed over a million dollars, Toddy, old and near death, sold it at a auction in 1973 for $165,000 to Peter Simon, owner of Pop's Oasis Raceway Park, in Jean, Nevada, 25 miles from Las Vegas.
Here every hour, tourists went into a theater where news-reel footage of the death of Bonnie and Clyde was shown. At the end of the film, the lights go out, the screen goes up and there stands the car, illuminated by black lights. The audience could go up on the stage to see the car, touch it, and could even take photographs sitting in it. Later it was said he sold the car at a loss.
Today the owner of the Barrow car, Gary Pimm, displays it near the California-Nevada border at the hotel and casino called Whiskey Pete's. He later purchased Clyde Barrow's light blue western style shirt and a one inch swatch of the dark blue trousers he was wearing that day on May 23, 1934 in a auction for $85,000 and has put in in his exhibit.
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