Clyde's Revenge on Eastham
knew Eastham prison farm well, and considered it to be a
"hell hole." With some of his partners in crime,
including Bonnie Parker, the ex-convict hatched a plan
to gain a measure of revenge against the hated facility.
By John Neal
Bonnie Parker and
Clyde Barrow sat in their Ford V-8 coupe on a quiet Texas
country road on Saturday evening, January 13, 1934. They
were waiting for Floyd Hamilton and an ex-convict named
Jimmy Mullens to return. The two men had slipped through the
barbed wire perimeter surrounding Eastham prison farm, part
of the Texas Prison System, to hide an old inner tube
beneath a drainage culvert near the prison's camp 1. Inside
the tube were two Colt .45 automatics and several clips of
ammunition, placed there in preparation for a jailbreak
planned for January 16. At one point the camp dogs started
howling and barking in their kennels, but the guards paid no
attention. Hamilton and Mullens rejoined Bonnie and Clyde a
few minutes later. Barrow then drove to Dallas and dropped
off Hamilton, but he kept Mullens in the car so he could
keep an eye on him. He didn't trust Mullens.
returned to Eastham the following day for his regular
biweekly visit with his younger brother,
Raymond, who was
serving 266 years in prison for auto theft, armed robbery,
and murder. During that visit, Floyd filled Raymond in on
the details of the proposed prison break.
On Monday, an
inmate named Aubrey Skelley set out to retrieve the weapons.
Skelley was a building tender, a trusty position that
allowed him to move about the prison with a certain amount
of freedom. He managed to smuggle the inner tube into the
camp 1 dormitory and deliver it to Joe Palmer. Palmer,
serving 25 years for robbery, hid the inner tube and its
contents in his mattress. (Other sources swear the guns were
hidden in one of the brush piles Eastham work squads would
clear the next day.)
Word that the
break would take place the following morning reached the two
other prisoners who would take part--Henry
10 years for robbery and attempted murder, and a killer
named Hilton Bybee.
16 dawned damp and chilly. A thick fog rising from the
nearby Trinity River blanketed the countryside. South of
camp 1, Parker, Barrow, and Mullens waited in a thickly
wooded area on the edge of a country road. By the dim
filtered light of early morning, they could see a clearing
in the trees to the north, just beyond a creek that cut
across the road.
Mullens got out of the car and walked toward the clearing.
Parker stayed in the vehicle. Barrow carried a Browning
automatic rifle capable of firing a 20-round clip of 30.06
armor-piercing shells in less than three seconds. The two
men crouched along the creek bank and waited. Through the
morning haze, they detected movement, followed by voices and
the sounds of tools and horses. Two work crews of prisoners,
combined because of staff shortages, slowly moved toward
Barrow and Mullens, spreading out and getting down to the
business of clearing the brush piles in preparation for
spring planting and cutting wood to stoke the camp stoves.
Among the workers were Hamilton and Palmer, both of them
armed and dangerous, and both of them aware of who was
waiting not far away--Bonnie and Clyde.
In the span of 18
months, starting in the summer of 1932, Bonnie and Clyde had
become inseparable and somewhat legendary--not for their
robberies, which were mainly petty thefts involving grocery
stores and filling stations, but as dangerously tenacious
and wily fugitives. By the time the couple arrived at
Eastham on that January morning in 1934, Barrow had shot his
way out of numerous confrontations and had been linked to
the deaths of five lawmen and several civilians.
Barrow was born near Telico in 1910, according to the Barrow
family Bible. Bonnie Parker was born the same year in
Rowena, Texas. The pair met in early 1930 at the home of a
mutual friend in West Dallas. Bonnie-- blue-eyed, small, and
slim with reddish-blond hair and a good sense of
humor--immediately caught Clyde's eye. Bonnie, in turn, was
attracted to the 5' 6", dark-haired, headstrong young man.
They began seeing each other regularly. Barrow was already
heavily involved in an interstate crime ring, and within a
few weeks police arrested him at Bonnie's home. He was
subsequently sentenced to 14 years in the Texas State
Penitentiary for two counts of burglary and five counts of
auto theft. After a few months in Huntsville prison, Barrow
was transferred to the 13,040-acre Eastham prison on the
Trinity River 20 miles north of Huntsville.
Eastham "that hell hole," and for good reason. He saw
prisoners beaten by guards, stuffed in tin sweat boxes under
the blazing sun, and murdered, sometimes for the $25 reward
for the capture of escaped prisoners, other times for
revenge. It made Barrow so angry that he immediately began
conspiring with another prisoner, 19-year-old
to one day get out of prison, raise a gang, and return to
Eastham. "I'd like to shoot all these damned guards and turn
everybody loose," he told Fults. Along the way, the two men
decided to break out buddies Palmer and Methvin, who were
also housed in Eastham. Bybee, who arrived later at Eastham,
was added to the conspiracy as a favor to Fults.
Hamilton wasn't even in the picture initially. But that
would soon change.
Due to prison
overcrowding, Fults and Barrow received conditional pardons,
in August 1931 and February 1932 respectively. They met up
again in West Dallas and began recruiting a gang for the
prison raid, first approaching a friend of Barrow's,
18-year-old fugitive Raymond Hamilton. At first he agreed to
take part, but after the men staged several successful
robberies to finance the raid, Hamilton took his cut and
backed out. "I don't care about no cons on no prison farm,"
On April 19,
1932, Fults was shot and captured during a gun battle in
Kaufman County, Texas. Bonnie Parker was captured too, but
Barrow escaped. Fults pleaded guilty to auto theft and armed
robbery in exchange for Bonnie's release. Bonnie, still an
unknown, was set free and quickly rejoined Clyde. Fults once
again returned to prison.
Raymond Hamilton briefly rejoined Barrow. He was arrested in
December and began serving a lengthy prison term at Eastham.
Barrow held a grudge against Hamilton for backing out of the
proposed Eastham raid, and the irony of Hamilton's
incarceration there no doubt struck the sometimes laconic
Clyde as funny.
floated in and out of the so-called Barrow gang throughout
1933, most notably Clyde's older brother Buck, Buck's wife,
Blanche, and another character named W.D. Jones. Between
April and July the five outlaws were involved in a number of
widely publicized incidents, including four gun battles that
resulted in the deaths of three police officers. Then Buck
and Blanche were captured in Iowa, and Buck died just a few
days later from wounds received in a previous gunfight.
Jones left the Barrow gang in August, and police arrested
him a few weeks later near Houston.
As Christmas came
and went, Barrow's thoughts turned again to the idea of
raiding Eastham. Someone else was thinking about the raid
too--Eastham inmate Raymond Hamilton.
eight-time loser named Jimmy Mullens, about to finish a
three-year sentence for burglary, bunked next to Hamilton at
Eastham. Raymond promised Mullens $1,000, payable after his
escape, if he would find Barrow and arrange to have a number
of weapons planted in the prison farm compound. Once
released on January 10, 1934, Mullens went immediately to
Floyd Hamilton's West Dallas home to ask for help locating
Barrow. Floyd had a clean record at the time, but he
listened to the plan. Later that same day he took Mullens to
meet with Bonnie and Clyde.
about getting involved. Something bothered him--Jimmy
Mullens. Barrow had known Mullens in prison and remembered
him as an unreliable and unpredictable drug addict and stool
pigeon. Looking at Mullens, Barrow could think of only one
thing--he was being led into a trap. Finally he agreed to
help with the raid--but only if Mullens took part. "I'll
help you out, but I want Mullens to plant the guns himself,"
Barrow declared. Mullens stiffened. "I'm not doing it
alone," he said. Turning to Floyd, he demanded, "You're
coming with me." Floyd reluctantly agreed.
Then late in the
evening of January 13, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde dropped off
Hamilton and a trembling Mullens less than a mile from the
main prison compound of Eastham's camp 1. Three days later
Barrow and Mullens were waiting in the early morning fog for
the prison break to begin.
The routine at
Eastham was that a group of guards collectively called "the
shotgun ring" oversaw each work squad, while a "long arm
man," a guard on horseback armed with a high-powered rifle,
positioned himself at a distance from the detail. According
to the instructions of Colonel Lee Simmons, general manager
of the Texas Prison System, the mounted guard "had no duty
except to stay well clear of the convicts and be in the
background ready with his Winchester in case of excitement."
Should a convict break past the shotgun ring, the long arm
man would pick him off. That's the way it was supposed to
work. Prisoners Raymond Hamilton and
Joe Palmer knew that
one of Eastham's more notorious long arm men,
(Major was his given name, not a title), routinely
disregarded the policy. Crowson had a reputation for leaving
his post to beat prisoners. In fact, Palmer had once
received a severe beating from Crowson.
On the morning of
the break, Raymond Hamilton "jumped squads," meaning he left
his 16-man work crew and joined the crew that included
Palmer, Bybee, and Methvin. Guard Olan Bozeman, assigned to
Palmer's squad, noticed Hamilton's presence even before the
inmates started for the fields from camp 1. Hamilton and
Palmer suspected that would happen but figured Bozeman would
delay taking any action until he was in the field. Once
there, out of earshot of the main camp, he would probably
summon Crowson to help him deal with Hamilton. Sure enough,
Bozeman called Crowson over as soon as the work crews
arrived in the field. As the two guards conversed, Palmer
strolled up to them as if he wanted to ask a question.
Instead, he pulled out a weapon. "Don't you boys try to do
anything," he said.
conflicting reports about what happened next. Some witnesses
said Palmer deliberately shot Crowson for revenge; others
claimed Crowson fired the first shot. Another source quoted
Palmer as saying, "I told the guards to sit still. Don't
move and there won't be no shooting. I really thought the
guards would stick their hands up."
some point Palmer shot Crowson in the stomach. Mortally
wounded, the guard turned his horse around and rode back to
camp 1 to sound the alarm. Palmer then fired at Bozeman but
missed. Bozeman pulled a pistol and returned fire, but his
bullet only creased Palmer's temple. Palmer fired again.
This time the bullet struck Bozeman's holstered shotgun and
sliced deep into his hip. Bozeman and his mangled weapon
fell to the ground. Meanwhile, Raymond Hamilton was fumbling
around in the mud. In the excitement he had accidentally
ejected the clip from his own weapon.
At that point
Clyde Barrow, still concealed in the nearby creek, stood up
and fired a volley from his automatic rifle over the heads
of everyone in the field. Guards and prisoners alike dived
for cover. Back in the car, Bonnie Parker leaned on the horn
to signal the escaping men. Palmer, Hamilton, Methvin, and
Bybee began running south toward the sound.
Two guards ran
away, completely deserting their posts and Bozeman. They
were found hiding 500 yards from their squads. Only one
guard, Bobbie Bullard, stood his ground, perhaps preventing
a mass escape. "The first man to raise his head will have it
blown clear off!" he shouted.
other convict managed to flee. J.B. French, serving time for
robbery, attempted murder, and auto theft, ducked into the
underbrush until things quieted down, then slipped into the
woods. Guards recaptured him shortly after midnight. French
knew nothing of the escape plan and didn't even meet those
responsible for his brief taste of freedom.
recovered the escape car from a ravine 10 miles northeast of
Hugo, Oklahoma, shortly after the robbery of a nearby
filling station. By then, Crowson had died from his wound,
and state officials were publicly questioning the prudence
of placing convicts like Raymond Hamilton and the other
escapees on a prison farm so accessible to the likes of
Bonnie and Clyde.
profoundly embarrassed by the raid, responded by firing the
two Eastham guards who fled under fire. He also told the
dying Major Crowson that he would be "resettling accounts .
. . . Those fellows had their day. We'll have ours. I
promise I won't let them get away with it."
It didn't take
officials long to decide that Bonnie and Clyde were behind
the break. "It is just a natural conclusion that [it was]
his [Raymond Hamilton's] former partner," said Simmons. "And
if Barrow was there, then Bonnie could not have been far
away." And, of course, he was right.
Hilton Bybee was
recaptured on January 30, 1934, two weeks after the break.
In 1937, he escaped again from Eastham. Later that year an
Arkansas posse shot and killed him.
and Joe Palmer were recaptured separately and returned to
prison. Palmer was tried and convicted of the murder of
Major Crowson. Hamilton was tried as a habitual criminal.
Both men were sentenced to death.
the state's key witness against Palmer and Hamilton and
received immunity from prosecution. But in 1938, a judge
sentenced him to 75 years in prison for a $36 holdup.
On July 22, 1934,
Hamilton and Palmer escaped from Huntsville's death house,
creating nationwide headlines and further embarrassing
Simmons and the Texas Prison System. The embarrassment was
short-lived, however, for both fugitives were soon
recaptured and returned to Huntsville. On May 10, 1935, they
died in the electric chair.
received two years in Leavenworth prison for harboring
Bonnie and Clyde. After his release, he embarked on a
bank-robbing spree, and in 1938 police captured him in
Dallas. Floyd was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 55
years in prison. In 1940, he was transferred to Alcatraz,
where he tried to escape. The attempted jailbreak cost him
nine years in solitary confinement. In 1958, after being
incarcerated for 20 years, Hamilton was released from
For Bonnie and
Clyde, the Eastham break meant the beginning of the end. On
February 1, 1934, 17 days after Crowson's death, Simmons met
with Frank Hamer, a tough 49-year-old retired Texas Ranger.
"I want you to put Clyde and Bonnie 'on the spot' and then
shoot everyone in sight," he told Hamer. Simmons then told
the ex-lawman he had been commissioned as a state highway
patrolman. Hamer took to the road within 10 days. Before
long he was on his way to Bienville Parish, Louisiana, where
Henry Methvin's parents lived. There, Hamer met with the
local sheriff, Henderson Jordan. The sheriff told Hamer that
an intermediary named John Joyner had approached him on or
about March 1 to let him know that, in exchange for a pardon
from the state of Texas, Henry Methvin
would deliver Bonnie
and Clyde to the authorities. Sheriff Jordan soon delivered
a pardon agreement to Joyner.
On May 21 Joyner
contacted Hamer with the ambush details.
find some pretext to part company with Bonnie and Clyde,
knowing that the outlaws would plan to rejoin him at his
parents' home. Hamer and five other law enforcement officers
would hide by the side of the graded road leading to the
Methvin's house and wait for Bonnie and Clyde to drive up.
After two days of waiting--on May 23, 1934, at about 9:10
a.m.--Hamer's team heard the steady roar of a rapidly moving
vehicle. They knew that only Clyde Barrow would hurtle along
a country road at such speed. As the tan Ford V-8 sedan
approached, Bob Alcorn, the only officer who could identify
Barrow on sight, called out quietly, "It's him, boys. This
is it--it's Clyde." As added insurance, Henry's father also
signaled his recognition of the fugitives. The officers
opened up with a deadly fusillade. When the shooting
stopped, Bonnie and Clyde were dead. Both had been shot more
than 50 times.
An Oklahoma court
later tried and sentenced Methvin to death for the killing
of police officer Cal Campbell, a murder Methvin committed
after making the pardon agreement. The court commuted his
sentence to life, however, when officials disclosed
Methvin's part in the Bonnie and Clyde ambush. In April
1949, after Methvin's release from prison, an unknown person
knocked him unconscious and placed him on a Louisiana
railroad track. A passing train cut the informer in half.
With the ambush
of Bonnie and Clyde and the execution of Raymond Hamilton
and Joe Palmer, Colonel Lee Simmons had fulfilled his
promise to the dying Major Crowson. He had indeed "resettled
This article was written by John
Neal Phillips and originally published in October 2000 issue of American