Steve Ramey walks next to the now-famous Bonnie an...
Bonnie and Clyde 2
Undated file photo of Clyde Barrow
Bonnie and Clyde 1
Undated file photo of Bonnie Parker

Bonnie and Clyde trail leads to historic garage apartment

By: Wally Kennedy

Todd Manley and Brett Hecksher look the part in their oversized suits, overcoats, fedoras and two-tone shoes.

Manley plays the role of Buck Barrow. Hecksher portrays William Deacon “W.D.” Jones. Before the day is over, the students from Missouri Southern State University will help re-enact the bloody gunplay that left two local lawmen dead and both of their characters wounded.

A crew working for the British Broadcasting Corp. and National Geographic is filming a 60-minute documentary about Bonnie and Clyde that will feature a segment on the shootout 75 years ago at a garage apartment the gangsters rented near 34th Street and Oak Ridge Drive in Joplin.

"It’s a great opportunity,” said Manley. “We sent our bios to them at the beginning of November and learned about two weeks ago that we had been cast for the parts. Not only will this look good on our resumes, we’re getting paid.”

Manley and Hecksher do not have speaking parts.

“A dramatization is what we are doing,” Manley said. “Our scenes will be voiced over.”

Manley and Hecksher, both junior theater majors, filmed scenes involving a speeding 1934 Ford Deluxe Sedan on dusty roads near Shoal Creek and Diamond. The next day the filming shifted to the garage apartment where the shootout took place on April 13, 1933. The apartment, now owned by the Rev. Phillip McClendon, of Joplin, has been restored with typical furnishings from the period.

The shoot featured two cars - a 1929 Model A Ford and a 1934 Chevrolet coupe, owned by Gary Hall, of rural Joplin. A 1934 Ford sedan, similar to the one in which Bonnie and Clyde were killed in an ambush at Arcadia, La., also was featured. The sedan is owned by Jim Knight, of Franklin, Tenn., who wrote a 2003 book on the gangsters, “Bonnie and Clyde: A 21st Century Update.”

“The car they drove was a 1932 Ford Cabriolet, which had a V-8 in it, that was stolen in Texas before they came to Missouri,” Knight said. “In those days, this was one of the best cars you could get.”

The film, which will be part of the BBC’s “Timewatch” history series, re-creates the period when Buck Barrow, who had just been released from prison, reunited in Joplin with his wife, Blanche, and his brother, Clyde, and his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker. The apartment was on the outskirts of town at the time, two blocks from South Main Street.

For 12 days and nights, Bonnie and Clyde, the Barrows and an accomplice by the name of William Deacon “W.D.” Jones lived without incident in the two-bedroom apartment. On April 13, their respite ended when a patrol car pulled up in front of the apartment’s garage doors. Five lawmen, tipped to the possibility that outlaws might be in the apartment, approached.

Without warning, the outlaws opened fire on the lawmen. Harry McGinnis, 53, a Joplin police detective, and John Wesley Harryman, 41, a Newton County constable, were shot. Harryman died instantly. McGinnis would die later. The others, Walter E. Grammar and George B. Kahler, both with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and Thomas DeGraff, a Joplin detective, would survive.

The gang emerged from the garage in the 1932 V-8 Ford, but the patrol car was blocking their exit. One got into the patrol car and tried to get it to roll down the hill in front of the apartment but couldn’t. The gang then rammed the Ford into the patrol car to move it out of the way.

After that, they fled south on Main Street and eventually escaped through Spring City.

Knight said a police inquest after the shooting showed authorities managed to get off pistol 14 rounds. Armed with shotguns and possibly a machine gun, the gangsters fired more than 30. Police testified they would have had a better chance in the gunfight if they, too, had shotguns.

Chris Wilson, with the BBC’s history department, said the story is intriguing in that it reflected the crime wave precipitated by the Great Depression, how law enforcement was ill-prepared to deal with criminals who crossed states lines, and how Herbert Hoover used the crimes to get new laws passed that eventually would bring into being today’s FBI.

When they fled the apartment, gang members left behind most of their belongings including guns, jewelry and a camera with two rolls of film, which had been shot by Blanche Barrow. When the film was developed by The Joplin Globe, all five gang members were pictured.

Bonnie and Clyde continued their killing spree across several states before being killed on May 23, 1934, in a barrage of 167 bullets near Arcadia, La.

Wally Kennedy writes for The Joplin (Mo.) Globe.