Mar 16, 2016
Steve Gomez - Chief Investigator

Of Criminals and V-8’s – The History of the “Bonnie and Clyde Death Car”

(Photo Courtesy Of The Dickinson County Historical Society & The Jeffcoat Photography Museum)

(Photo Courtesy Of The Dickinson County Historical Society & The Jeffcoat Photography Museum)

It would have been nice to think that they didn’t see it coming. The hail of bullets, the crash, the gun smoke, the blood. After all, there was a lot in life that they DID see coming. But the end, particularly this end, they saw coming a mile away.

Hell, she even wrote poems about it.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were gunned down in 1934 on a country road in Louisiana as they paused to see if an old man needed help with his car.

Don’t get me wrong. They didn’t pause for any old man they might see on the side of the road. They weren’t those sorts of outlaws.

Usually an old man on the side of the road was an easy mark, and if Clyde Barrow were willing to lend a hand, he would only be more inclined to steal the car as soon as it was road worthy.

No, this old man they knew, or at least thought they knew. He was Ivan Methvin, the father of Henry Methvin, the newest addition to the Barrow Gang. At least he was since he had jumped into Clyde Barrow’s car when the gang broke another member out of the Eastham Prison Farm.

Henry was absent and Bonnie and Clyde had come to Ivan’s house looking for him. They knew the area and they had laid low there before. They had met Henry’s father and they figured if anyone knew of his whereabouts, it had to be his Pa.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car Ad

(Photo Courtesy Of The Dickinson County Historical Society & The Jeffcoat Photography Museum)

Henry’s Pa knew exactly where his son was. Far away from the area, and far from the Barrow gang. Ivan had recognized the gang and knew that his son had gotten in deep. So deep that he cut a deal with local law enforcement. If they would forgive his son’s crimes then he would set up an ambush for the notorious Bonnie and Clyde.

Law enforcement agreed because they would have forgiven Satan’s trespasses if it would have led them to the Barrow Gang. They waited behind Methvin’s car and when the two passed, six officers opened fire with sub-machine guns and Browning automatics.

What was left wasn’t pretty but souvenir hunters flocked to the scene to get a piece of the notorious robbers’ clothes or gear. And in some cases, a piece of the notorious robbers themselves.

One member of the posse, however, had the foresight to save the biggest, grandest souvenir for himself. Despite the fact that he was rendered temporarily deaf from the hail of bullets. And that souvenir would go on to have quite a story of its own.

Charles Stanley Bonnie and Clyde Death Car

(Photo Courtesy Of The Dickinson County Historical Society & The Jeffcoat Photography Museum)

The “Bonnie and Clyde Death Car” as it was called, was a 1930’s era Ford V-8 sedan, built for speed and handling. In fact, months earlier Clyde Barrow had written Henry Ford himself a letter praising the virtues of the automobile, telling the manufacturer that whenever he could “get away” with one, he did.

As a result of the ambush the Ford was riddled with bullet holes and all the windows on the vehicle were smashed. The interior of the car was pockmarked by bullets and ripped apart. The ambush destroyed the bodies of both Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and while the Ford V-8 was a resilient automobile, the scene wasn’t for the faint of heart.

The first person to claim the car was one of the Sheriff’s posse. Despite the fact that the car was evidence to a legal case, however, it was also a stolen car, and the last person who had legal claim, the posse member, was also the one who fought the hardest to keep it.

Eventually it took a federal judge to order that the car be returned to its rightful owner, Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas. Barrow had stolen the car from Warren days before the ambush and the judge ordered, despite the condition, that the car be returned to her.

With a blood-soaked and bullet ridden car now the official property of Ruth Warren, she did the only sensible thing she could with the vehicle.

She rented it out for parties.

Officially the car was available for lease, but the public was hungry for a glimpse at the lives of America’s most desperate and star-crossed lovers and nothing provided a more intimate glimpse of that life.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car Exhibit

(Photo Courtesy Of The Dickinson County Historical Society & The Jeffcoat Photography Museum)

If you had a business and wanted to drum up publicity, there was no better attraction. And if you had a cause and wanted to get attention, as well as make a buck, it was easier than robbing banks.

You could see the car, touch the car, and even get your picture taken, for the low, low price of one dollar.

Just never mind what those stains were.

The “Death Car” continued to be a lucrative and popular attraction, but it needed someone with vision to really put it over the top. Luckily there was Charles Stanley, the Crime Doctor.

Charles Stanley was a lecturer and presenter for the National Anti-Crime Association. Stanley’s job was to travel with carnivals and give presentations on the “Wages of Sin” and the “Corruption of the Youth.”

As a married, god-fearing man, Stanley really did believe in his crusade to save the innocent from being corrupted by society’s “criminal element.” Since he saw Bonnie Parker as one of those “innocents” corrupted by her attraction that “criminal element,” what prop could emphasize the danger more than the “Bonnie and Clyde Death Car?”

Stanley was a born showman and the crowds ate up his presentation. After initially renting the car, he purchased the vehicle from Warren. The “Death Car” was the centerpiece of Stanley’s show.

In addition to exhibiting the car, Stanley would show slides and newsreels featuring Bonnie and Clyde, as well as other famous criminals of the 20’s, like John Dillinger and “Baby Face” Nelson.

Charles Stanley’s fame grew right along with the “Death Car” and he was soon featured on radio shows as a famous crime expert, “The Crime Doctor.”

Stanley eventually left the road and took a job as the Director of Special Events at Coney Island. The “Death Car” went on exhibition at Coney Island for a few years.

(Photo Courtesy Of The Dickinson County Historical Society & The Jeffcoat Photography Museum[/caption]

(Photo Courtesy Of The Dickinson County Historical Society & The Jeffcoat Photography Museum

Then, with the public’s interest in Bonnie and Clyde waning, Stanley put the car in storage until he ran into an associate, Ted Toddy, who was putting on his own crime show. “The Crime Doctor” sold Toddy the car for $14,500.

Toddy’s show was smaller than Stanley’s had ever been, and never reached its popularity, but a couple of years after Toddy bought the car the unexpected happened.

In 1967 Warner Brothers released Bonnie and Clyde, a film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. It sparked the public’s interests in the bank robbers and made the “Death Car” a hot property again. With its popularity at an all-time high, the car sold in 1973 for $175,000, at the time the most ever paid for an automobile.

When Stanley was asked about it afterwards, he shook his head and replied “If I had only known!”

Again due to the popularity of the duo, many impostor “Death Cars” made their ways to carnivals and car shows, with their owners swearing that they owned the “real article.” To make matters even more confusing, the “Bonnie and Clyde Death Car” from the 1967 movie also went on exhibition.

Today the “Death Car” is owned by Whiskey Pete’s Casino in Primm, Nevada. It is on display there, and has been, for years, where it is kept company by many of the “Public Enemy Era’s” greatest artifacts, including the shirt Clyde Barrow wore when he met his end.

The car is kept under glass and its doors are secured, so there are no more photo ops or poses allowed. But occasionally the old car DOES get out, for the odd tour or road show, and in its time, the old Ford V-8 has generated more cash than the Barrow gang ever stole.

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