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Speakeasies, Illegal Booze, Gangsters and an Iconic Cut-Down Shotgun: Bonnie Parker’s Whippit

Will Dabbs, MD

The American public devoured the stories like a starving man devours food. The Great Depression had devastated the American economy and most everybody was poor. Today’s “poor” sport inexpensive, government-subsidized cell phones. The poor of that day did not eat. Out of conditions of unimaginable despair and deprivation ordinary Americans thirsted for release. They found it in moving pictures and larger-than-life tales of the motorized gangster.

Prohibition birthed a massive trade in illegal alcohol, and the resulting organized crime changed the American landscape. Illegal drinking establishments called “Speakeasies” sprang up all across the country, while the trade in bootlegged booze to keep them in operation skirted law enforcement and netted millions. Along the way, the archetype of the renegade outlaw created some of our nation’s most notorious criminals.

John Dillinger was the apex predator. Sporting movie star good looks and enough narcissism to keep him seeking the spotlight despite the suffocating net of law enforcement, Dillinger courted fame as he amassed ill-gotten wealth. The American public couldn’t get enough.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were variations on a theme. These two misguided miscreants also cruised the countryside leaving a trail of robberies, murder and mayhem in their wake. Bonnie and Clyde, however, offered some-thing Dillinger could not. The story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow included a component of illicit sex. In the puritanical years of the 1930s, this was reliable newsreel gold.

Sordid Details

Bonnie Parker was married when the famous duo began its two-year crime spree, just not to Clyde. Bonnie had married at 15, only to have her ne’er-do-well husband, Roy Thornton, end up in jail. Bonnie was still wearing his wedding ring on the day she died in a hail of law enforcement gunfire. By all accounts, Bonnie initially just went along for the ride.

Clyde Barrow, by contrast, was a classically hardened criminal. Barrow was really a product of the Texas prison system. Raised in abject poverty, it was a great improvement when his dirt-poor farmer father could finally afford a tent in which to house his family....

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N8 (October 2017)
and was posted online on August 18, 2017

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