When lawmen eager for revenge used a field near Gibsland, La. to set the trap for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, they wrote the tiny town into a macabre love story that's fascinated generations.
GIBSLAND, La. — When lawmen eager for revenge used a field near this tiny town to set the trap for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, they wrote Gibsland into a macabre love story that’s fascinated generations.
Local officials expect visitors to quadruple the population of the town today and Saturday for a festival marking the 75th anniversary of the bank robbers’ bullet-riddled demise. Interest in the couple remains strong here and elsewhere, with two books on them being released this year and actress Hilary Duff signed on for a new movie about their violent, ill-fated romance.
“They knew they would die, but they would die together. It was a love story that shamed Romeo and Juliet,” said L.J. “Boots” Hinton, 75, who runs the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum. He is the son of Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton, one of the lawmen who gunned down the duo.
A granite marker along a two-lane hardtop marks where the couple — who robbed and murdered their way across six states — were killed May 23, 1934. Barrow and Parker were 25 and 23, respectively.
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Four re-enactments of the ambush that pumped more than 100 bullets into the couple are planned for the festival, which also will include a pancake breakfast, parade and Bonnie and Clyde look-alike contest.
“For us, it’s timber, oil and Bonnie and Clyde,” said Pat White, mayor of the town of 1,200, about 45 miles east of Shreveport. “The festival is about the area. It’s about Gibsland. It’s about history.”
Gibsland’s main street is almost unchanged from the morning when Bonnie and Clyde passed through. Squat brick buildings line the two-block strip. The wooden sidewalks were replaced in 2001, and three buildings burned a few years before that.
Ma Canfield’s Cafe, where Barrow bought two egg sandwiches 15 minutes before he was gunned down, now houses Hinton’s museum, which opened in 2005. Its collection includes photos and films — including one made immediately after the shootings — and memorabilia from the couple’s lives.
Members of the Texas Rangers were in Shreveport in mid-May 1934 when they learned from an informant that Bonnie and Clyde planned to visit a home in Bienville Parish, near Gibsland. Knowing the routes in and out were few, they set up an ambush and waited.
Half a dozen rangers, sheriff’s deputies and local police officers hid in the woods for two days and two nights. They were ready to give up when Bonnie and Clyde hurtled toward them in a stolen Ford and the shooting began.
By the time the gunfire stopped, Bonnie and Clyde were dead.
The mystique that developed around the star-crossed lovers and their gang of cold-blooded killers has grown.
The shirt Clyde was wearing the day he died was sold at auction for $85,000 in 1997 by a family member. His trousers, also auctioned in 1997, were cut into one-inch squares and peddled for $200 each. They now are reselling for up to $500.
Numerous books have been written, including a dozen in the past decade. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway played the duo in a 1967 blockbuster movie, and there have been musical stage plays more recently. In music, the couple has inspired hits ranging from Merle Haggard’s 1968 country song “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde” to rapper Jay-Z’s ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde.”
The movie starring Duff, a $15 million independent production titled “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” begins shooting in July.
John Neal Phillips, a Dallas professor who has written two books about the couple, argues interest is even stronger now than it was around the time the Beatty movie was released.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “When I first started working on this 30 years ago I couldn’t even get a publisher to even answer my mail. Now I hear from people about them all the time.”