by Mary Hooper
“You’ve read the story of Jesse James,
of how he lived and died.
If you’re still in the need
of something to read,
here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.”
-- from “The Trail’s End” by
When Alva Trummel was driving home from the rodeo he attended in Sun City on Labor Day, Sept. 4, 1933, he probably looked forward to supper and a pleasant evening with his wife and children.
It would be a while before Trummel would get a bite to eat, or see his family.
According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Trummel was within a mile and a half of his home, which was six miles east of Wilmore in Comanche County, when he encountered a roadblock.
A Ford coupe straddled the roadway.
Puzzled, Trummel slowed his Chevrolet to a stop. Puzzlement must have given way to terror when three men, brandishing handguns, and a woman got out of the Ford. One of the men also carried a machine gun. They told Trummel they wanted his car. The woman, Trummel noticed, had a badly injured leg.
He might have been more terrified, and perhaps fascinated, had he known that one of the men was Clyde Barrow and the woman Bonnie Parker, already legendary as Bonnie and Clyde, America’s infamous “crime couple.”
During the Depression, criminals with flair and panache became folk heroes. People who faced foreclosure, who didn’t have jobs, whose kids didn’t have enough to eat, admired swaggering outlaws such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson because they defied authority and got away with it. Folks liked them even if they were killers.
Few Depression-era criminals excited the public imagination more than Bonnie and Clyde. Long after their brutal, violent deaths, they lived on in memory and legend, and came to cinematic life in the boffo 1967 movie, “Bonnie & Clyde,” in which they were played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.
In reality, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow weren’t tall and glamorous like their Hollywood reincarnations. Bonnie was not quite five feet tall, weighed about 90 pounds, and had short curly blonde hair and small, pretty features. Clyde was five feet six inches tall, scrawny and had Vulcan-like pointed ears.
Newspapers and the radio kept people up to snuff on the misdeeds of the Barrow gang, their robberies and murders, but it appeared that Alva Trummel didn’t know who he was dealing with, nor, later on, did the young people whose picnic the gang interrupted near Meade.
The four strangers left the Ford – they had stolen it near Meno, Okla. – along the road and roared off in Alva’s car, with, for some reason, Alva. This was typical of the Barrow Gang, according to sources. When they hijacked a car, they usually kidnapped the owner, probably to not leave a witness who could alert “the laws.”
Alva, interviewed by The Dodge City Globe, speculated that the bandits hijacked his car because it was roomier than the Ford. They were transporting lots of guns and ammo, and also may have been concerned with the woman’s comfort.
Alva’s wife, Irene, happened to be in her front yard when her husband’s car sped by. She was sure the car was Alva’s but she didn’t see him in it. That’s because his kidnappers had ordered him to duck down out of sight, and since you don’t argue with people traveling around with a machine gun, he ducked down out of sight.
Heading west, they broke into a schoolhouse and stole buckets, rope and towels. The gang continued across Clark County and into Meade County. Here, Clyde, who always drove fast, lost control of the Chevy and it plunged into a ditch. This was just outside the city of Meade, where, the Barrow Gang might have been interested to know, the Dalton Gang once had their hideout.
Well, this was a fine howdy-do. Now what?
They noticed a group of people and their cars along the Crooked Creek Bridge. These were three young married couples and one unmarried couple who had gone to a city park in Meade to have a picnic, but finding all the picnic tables occupied, drove a short distance away to the bridge to eat their fried chicken. It was about 8:30, they had just started to chow down and were laughing and joking and having a good time when a tall, slender man appeared. They looked up.
“Pardon me, fellows,” he said, “I’m stuck in a ditch. Will you fellows come up and pull me out? I’ll pay you for it.”
Two of the men, Bill Brock and Alvin Gerber, said, “Why, sure.” They and the tall stranger drove in Alvin’s car about 200 yards down the road to the ditched car. They tied a rope to the rear bumpers of both cars and Alvin’s car strained to pull the Chevy out. It wouldn’t budge. Then the Good Samaritans noticed that the stalled car was full of people – Alva, Bonnie, Clyde and another bad guy. No doubt somewhat irate, they strongly suggested that those in the car get out and help. To this, one of the 20-something occupants of the car said to the 50-year-old Alva: “Get out, dad, and push. You’re big and stout.”
Alva, a big tall man weighing around 220, got out. Clyde also emerged, holding his arm. “Boy, I sure hurt myself when I ran in the ditch,” he complained.
Despite all the pushing and pulling, Alva’s Chevy remained stuck. Now the desperadoes were eyeballing Alvin’s auto.
“I knew they were pretty bad eggs,” Bill said.
As if to prove this, Clyde pulled two handguns out of his pants pockets and leveled them at Bill and Alvin. The other guys produced guns too. Alvin and Bill put their hands up.
“Take those hands down. We don’t want this to look like a holdup,” said a bad egg.
“We both told them that we would do anything we could to get them out and really pleaded for our young lives, for those hombres really had blood in their eyes,” recalled Bill.
At this point, the tall man was told to go to the town park nearby and commandeer a car. Before he did, he helped the woman out of Alva’s car and into Alvin’s.
“Her right leg was seriously wounded and hanging loosely and she was moaning which showed to us that she was suffering terrible. And we could see from the moonlight that her clothing was saturated with blood,” Bill recalled.
Two of the other picnickers, Clifford Meyer and Waldo Sargent, wondering what had become of Bill and Alvin, moseyed down the road to see if they’d made any headway in hauling the stranger’s car out of the ditch.
Meanwhile, the tall man found a likely getaway car in the park, and told a woman who was sitting in it that he was taking it. She screamed, alerting friends nearby who were playing croquet. They dashed to her rescue; the men grappled with the would-be hijacker and a woman bopped him on the head with her mallet. He sank to the ground and was overpowered.
Heeding the commotion, the rest of the Barrow gang hurriedly moved their guns and ammo from Alva’s car into Alvin’s and roared off, leaving the tall man, one Henry Messingill, in the lurch. And Clifford, Waldo, Bill, Alvin and Alva standing alongside the road, no doubt very glad to see them go, although Alvin may have wished they hadn’t absconded in his car.
Only afterwards, as they hashed over their experiences with law enforcement and the press, did they realize that the mysterious strangers were Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The third gangster was never identified.
Marie Trummel Hormann, of Lenexa, one of Alva’s three children, has a dim memory of the day her father was kidnapped. She was 4 years old.
“I vaguely remember the car going past the house. My mother couldn’t understand why Dad didn’t stop because it was dinnertime. She got upset about that. Later on someone called and told her what had happened. I remember her crying and people coming to the house.”
Her father didn’t talk much about his adventure with the notorious outlaws.
“I do recall him talking about the person in the back seat but not saying much about her except that she was wounded very severely. He also said they had a lot of guns. Other than that, I guess he took it matter of factly. He was concerned about the damage to his car after they ran it into a ditch,” said Hormann.
Pat White, who lives in Coldwater, is a great-niece of Alva. Her grandfather, Orda Trummel, and Alva were brothers. She too doesn’t recall Alva having much to say about the experience, at least not to the kids.
“Uncle Alvie would just kind of chuckle and shake his head and say, ‘I can’t believe this really happened to me but it did’,” White recalled.
While on the lam with the gang, Alva noted that they talked about a gun battle they had had that morning in Oklahoma. That may have been the reason for Bonnie’s injury, although sources say her right leg was horribly burned with battery acid when Clyde flipped their car over in the Texas Panhandle in June, 1933. The burn ran the length of her leg, causing the muscles to contract and the leg to “draw up.” She could not walk unaided after that.
The Barrow Gang’s spree began in February, 1932, when Clyde was paroled from prison in Texas. He had met Bonnie two years earlier at a friend’s house in Dallas. The two fell madly in love. During their two-year criminal binge, the gang compiled an appalling record of 12 homicides and numerous bank robberies, armed robberies, kidnappings and car thefts. Although Bonnie was depicted in the press as a gun-totin’ moll, she apparently never carried a gun or killed anyone. She was an accomplice, though.
“During the five big gun battles I was with them, she never fired a gun. But I’ll say she was a hell of a loader,” said gang member W.D. Jones in a memoir.
Bonnie and Clyde were made to order for the sensation-seeking press of the day. After the gang fought off the cops in Joplin, Mo., in April of ’33, officers found rolls of film in a car they abandoned. The film yielded many of the famous photos of the duo -- Bonnie perched on Clyde’s shoulder, Bonnie clowning around with guns and chomping on a cigar. Also found were some of the rhyming couplet poems Bonnie was fond of writing.
The spree ended on May 23, 1934, when a posse of Texas and Louisiana lawmen ambushed them on a dirt road in Bienville Parish in Louisiana, firing a fusillade of 160 rounds into the Ford V-8 they had stolen months earlier in Topeka. Clyde was shot 17 times, Bonnie 26. So riddled were their bodies, the undertaker said, that they leaked embalming fluid.
Bonnie knew the end was near. “The Trail’s End” concludes:
“Some day they’ll go down together
they’ll bury them side by side.
To few it’ll be grief,
To the law a relief,
but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”
Bonnie was 23 years old, Clyde 24
Sources include Wikipedia, oldpoetry.com, dallasnews.com, and Jerry Ferrin’s Comanche County, Kansas, History and Genealogy site on rootsweb.com.