FBI re­port shows Bar­row gang stole suits in Fort Smith

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JOHN LOVETT

FORT SMITH — Clyde Bar­row and W.D. Jones most likely were wear­ing suits stolen from a Fort Smith tailor in those pho­to­graphs that be­came known as the “Jo­plin rolls,” cap­tur­ing the na­tion’s at­ten­tion on the front pages of news­pa­pers fol­low­ing a deadly April 1933 shootout with po­lice in Jo­plin, Mo.

Jeff Hill, a Fort Smith­based truck driver, saw two men­tions of the stolen suits in ex­ten­sive Fed­eral Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion dig­i­tal files on Bon­nie Parker and Clyde Bar­row while do­ing vol­un­teer re­search for the Fort Smith Mu­seum of His­tory. Hill re­cently ap­proached the Times Record with in­for­ma­tion on the suits af­ter see­ing an ar­ti­cle last month that re­called the tragic June 1933 death of Alma City Mar­shal Henry Humphrey on U.S. 71 at the hands of “Buck” Bar­row with Jones rid­ing “shot­gun.”

Wil­liam Daniel Jones, Bon­nie and Clyde’s 17-yearold side­kick, had been cap­tured by po­lice in the fall of 1933 af­ter nearly a year on the run with the in­fa­mous duo. While speak­ing to FBI Spe­cial Agents E.J. Dowd and C.B. Win­stead at the Dal­las Di­vi­sion Of­fice from Dec. 6-7, 1933, about the au­to­mo­biles he and the Bar­rows had stolen, Jones made an off-the-cuff re­mark that he and Clyde Bar­row “‘stuck up’ a tailor shop early in the morn­ing at Ft. Smith.”

“Clyde took a blue suit which he used him­self and gave Jones the suit with the wide stripe throw­ing the other six suits away,” the FBI re­port states. “The neg­a­tives of the pho­to­graphs in ques­tion, ac­cord­ing to Jones, were left be­hind to­gether with his striped suit at Jo­plin, Mis­souri, af­ter Clyde Bar­row, Buck Bar­row (de­ceased) and him­self got into a shoot­ing match with the of­fi­cers at Jo­plin.”

Jones iden­ti­fied him­self to the FBI agents in pho­to­graphs with Clyde Bar­row and Bon­nie Parker that were taken with a cam­era Jones said was bought “at the edge of North Carolina” on a trip to Durham, North Carolina.

Whether the photos were taken on the trip to North Carolina, or in Ok­la­homa, or Mis­souri, re­mains in ques­tion. The ter­rain in the back­ground ranges from wooded flat­land to rocky, moun­tain­ous ter­rain.

James R. Knight, an Alma na­tive and au­thor of “Bon­nie and Clyde: A 21st Cen­tury Up­date,” is cau­tious on the Fort Smith con­nec­tion to the suits and pointed out that not all of the in­for­ma­tion in the FBI files, in­clud­ing Jones’ testimony, is com­pletely cred­i­ble.

“Maybe they did steal the suits in Fort Smith,” Knight wrote in an email. “Cer­tainly wouldn’t be out of char­ac­ter. Both Clyde and Bon­nie liked to dress up and have nice clothes.”

Brad Belk, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Jo­plin His­tor­i­cal & Min­eral Mu­seum, said he cer­tainly wouldn’t put it past them.

“That’s how they made their life,” Belk said. “They stole ev­ery­thing and paid for lit­tle. They liked to be well­dressed.”

Belk said a good re­source for him on the Bon­nie and Clyde saga has been Jeff Guinn’s book “Go Down To­gether: The True, Un­told Story of Bon­nie and Clyde.” Guinn writes about the out­laws’ con­nec­tion to Fort Smith in sev­eral pages of the book, Belk noted.

As for the trip to North Carolina to see the Camel plant — again, maybe so or maybe not, Knight says. The car in the fa­mous pho­to­graphs, how­ever, was a V8 sport sedan with leather up­hol­stery and a khaki top with the 1933 Texas plate 587-956. It was in their pos­ses­sion for about 30 days, mid-March to just af­ter the Jo­plin shootout on April 13, 1933. Ac­cord­ing to the car’s owner, Bob Rose­bor­ough of Mar­shall, Texas, Bon­nie and Clyde put about 3,000 miles on it, Knight added.

“Clyde Bar­row and Bon­nie Parker and Jones trav­eled in this sport Sedan to Durham, N.C., where Clyde Bar­row said he was go­ing to see the Camel Cig­a­rette Fac­tory,” the FBI re­port states. “In the mean­time (sic) Clyde Bar­row had bought a Brownie Cam­era for Bon­nie Parker and just at the edge of North Carolina, Clyde Bar­row, Bon­nie Parker and him­self took pic­tures. Jones iden­ti­fied a pho­to­graph of him­self sit­ting at the wheel of this sport Sedan, smok­ing a cig­a­rette.”

Knight said he has al­ways thought the pic­tures were taken some­where in north­east Ok­la­homa or south­west Mis­souri. The Bar­rows and Jones were cer­tainly back in north­east Ok­la­homa by March 29-30, since they had met up with Buck and Blanche Bar­row there. The FBI re­port put that meet­ing Che­co­tah, Okla. They all then went to Jo­plin, and by April 1, 1933, had rented an apart­ment there.

Knight sur­mises the suits were prob­a­bly stolen from the Fort Smith tailor no later than mid-March. There are cred­i­ble re­ports of the Bar­rows in Texas un­til the end of De­cem­ber 1932 and early Jan­uary.

Although there isn’t a 1933 Fort Smith city di­rec­tory at the Fort Smith Pub­lic Li­brary, the 1930 and 1936 di­rec­to­ries show five tai­lors working in Fort Smith — Mrs. Hat­tie Carl, 518½ Gar­ri­son Ave.; S.C. Cohn, 705 Gar­ri­son Ave.; L.M. Dav­ila, Four S. Sixth St.; C.A. Wer­nich, 12 Court St.; and B.A. Wolfe, 26 N. Sixth St.

Hill has long felt it was C.A. Wer­nich on Court Street who was robbed of the suits, par­tially based on a 1947 obit­u­ary of Carl Al­bert Wer­nich that said he sold suits to “busi­ness­men and bank rob­bers,” Hill said. How­ever, Hill was also able to con­tact a rel­a­tive of Wer­nich’s in Los An­ge­les and was told the tailor was known to go into work very early in the morn­ing and was “pride­ful,” so he may not have even re­ported it to the po­lice.

Ac­cord­ing to the Court Street ad­dress, Wer­nich’s tailor shop would have been in an al­ley next to the Ho­tel Main, which abut­ted First Na­tional Bank of Fort Smith. A Co­hen Tailor shop, not Cohn as noted in the di­rec­tory, had also been in the west wing of the Main Ho­tel, as seen in a 1909 South­west Times Record photo of the ho­tel made avail­able by a do­na­tion from Joan Wade to the UAFS Pe­b­ley Cen­ter.

The pho­to­graphs taken of Jones with Bon­nie Parker and Clyde Bar­row, ac­cord­ing to Jones in the FBI memo, were from un­de­vel­oped rolls of film left be­hind in a two-story garage-apart­ment at 3347½ Oak Ridge Drive in Jo­plin. Po­lice thought they were just raid­ing a boot­leg­ger’s house. The Jo­plin shootout and es­cape cost Jones a bul­let in the side, and his wide stripe suit.

One of Belk’s fa­vorite tid­bits of trivia re­lated to the shootout is Blanche Bar­row’s lit­tle white dog, Snow­ball, ran off dur­ing the brief shootout. The Jo­plin mu­seum has sev­eral ar­ti­facts from that day, in­clud­ing neck­laces and a door from the apart­ment with bul­let holes. They also have sev­eral re­pro­duc­tion pho­to­graphs from the “Jo­plin rolls.” Knight pointed out the Jo­plin Globe de­vel­oped the rolls of film for po­lice.

The photos that would help other law agen­cies iden­tify the sus­pects in­cluded the now-iconic im­age of Bon­nie Parker hold­ing a sawed-off shot­gun on Clyde Bar­row while she reaches for a re­volver tucked in his belt. Other photos in that set were of Clyde with his arse­nal of stolen guns and Jones in that wide-striped suit, his belt buckle cocked over to his right hip.

Back on the road, Hill doesn’t have much time to re­search the Bon­nie and Clyde saga any­more. His six-month hia­tus from truck­ing be­cause of a med­i­cal con­di­tion more than two years ago was filled with weeks at the li­brary re­search­ing the duo’s path.

As Hill has no­ticed, a ca­sual scan­ning of the FBI files on Bon­nie and Clyde will un­cover pos­si­ble ev­i­dence of reg­u­lar vis­its for the trio in west cen­tral Arkansas

Although a Rand McNally’s map helped, ap­par­ently they knew the back roads well enough to suc­cess­fully es­cape the ex­ten­sive man­hunt af­ter the late June 1933 shootout at Alma.

As part of the FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Bon­nie and Clyde, a re­quest was sent to the Arkansas State High­way Com­mis­sion in July 1933 for in­for­ma­tion on Arkansas li­cense plate 61-132. It was found in an aban­doned car as­sumed to have been stolen by the Bar­rows. The re­sponse from the Arkansas Depart­ment of Rev­enues said the li­cense plate be­longed to Mau­rice Har­vey of Wal­dron. It went on his 1931 Ply­mouth.

This was just one of many ref­er­ences in the FBI files to the Fort Smith area. An­other doc­u­ment un­cov­ered by Hill is a May 3, 1933, let­ter from Scott County Sher­iff and Ex-Of­fi­cio Col­lec­tor Theo Money to Ed Port­ley, chief of de­tec­tives for the Jo­plin po­lice depart­ment. Money was re­spond­ing to a May 2 “cir­cu­lars and de­scrip­tion of the par­ties that owned the Spring­field (sic) ri­fle.”

In the let­ter, Money tells Port­ley that Alva Hall, who lives about 18 miles south­east of Wal­dron “on the high­way that goes to Hot Springs” re­ported that around March 1 “two men ac­com­pa­nied with one woman came his home and told him they had in­for­ma­tion that they could pur­chase some whiskey from him, and while they were there one of them no­ticed his ri­fle hang­ing on the wall and they be­gan to try to trade for same.”

The let­ter goes on to say: “They traded him a 22 cal­iber high power and gave him $7.50 in money … They were in a coupe and he is not cer­tain just what make it was but said it was equipped with a ra­dio. They also ad­vised him that they lived in DeQueen, Ark.”

Money also points out that Hall went to the game war­den on the first of April and told him “he had traded his gun off and for­got to take his hunt­ing li­cense out of the stock.”

Knight says these ac­counts fall in among hun­dreds from both the pub­lic and law en­force­ment — “in­trigu­ing” but prob­a­bly not prov­able.” Much like the days af­ter the ivory-billed wood­pecker was re­ported in east Arkansas in 2004 af­ter it was thought to be ex­tinct for many years, Bon­nie and Clyde sight­ings were re­ported every day through­out the South­west af­ter the Jo­plin shootout.



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