The Highwaymen True Story: What Really Happened With Bonnie & Clyde

The Highwaymen True Story: What Really Happened With Bonnie & Clyde

Category : SR Originals

Netflix’s new movie The Highwaymen tells the story of Bonnie and Clyde’s final days from the perspective of the men who killed them – but how does it compare to the true story? Directed by John Lee Hancock, The Highwaymen stars Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as former Texas Rangers Frank “Pancho” Hamer and Ben Maney Gault, respectively, who are brought out of retirement and commissioned to hunt down and kill the celebrity sweethearts terrorizing the central United States.The Highwaymen’s cast also includes Kathy Bates as Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the first female Governor of Texas, who was first elected to the position after her husband, James E. Ferguson, was impeached. Following Ma Ferguson’s re-election in 1932, 40 Texas Rangers quit in protest of political corruption and the rest were fired; the Rangers would remain disbanded until 1935, when they were incorporated into the Texas Department of Public Safety, and it was during this period of dormancy that The Highwaymen takes place.Related: The Dirt True Story: What the Mötley Crüe Netflix Movie ChangedHancock’s movie is a blend of truth and fiction, with color and embellishment added to build a narrative of two old-school lawmen butting up against modern times. For example, the movie plays up the incompetence and hostility of Hoover’s FBI and even has them botching Hamer and Gault’s planned ambush of Bonnie and Clyde at their family homes, which didn’t actually happen. Similarly, there was no dramatic car chase through a dusty field that allowed Bonnie and Clyde to escape Hamer and Gault’s clutches. Let’s separate the fact from the fiction in The Highwaymen, and take a look at what we know about the real story of Bonnie and Clyde.This Page: The Prison Break, Hamer and Gault, and The Real Bonnie and ClydePage 2: The Shootout and the AftermathThe Highwaymen opens with a major event from towards the end of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s crime spree: a planned jailbreak of several criminal associates from Eastham prisoner farm, where Clyde himself had once been an inmate. Though many of the details in this sequence are taken from the true story (Barrow’s associates left weapons to  aid in the escape, and one prison guard was killed while another was wounded), there are also some creative liberties taken that set the tone for how The Highwaymen blends fact with embellishment.According to My Life With Bonnie & Clyde – a memoir written by Clyde’s sister, Blanche Barrow – it was actually Clyde, not Bonnie, who fired a machine gun into the treeline while the men made their escape. While he did that, Bonnie stayed in the car and leaned on the horn to signal the men which way they should run. Moreover, Wade Hampton McNabb was not one of the attempted escapees, so the scene where he is dramatically left behind is fictionalized. Wade McNabb was eventually kidnapped and murdered while on furlough, but he was killed by Barrow gang member Joe Palmer as revenge for McNabb’s behavior in prison, not for ratting the gang out to Hamer and Gault. It was Palmer, not Hamer and Gault, who arranged for McNabb’s furlough.The Highwaymen offers some stories about Hamer’s heyday as a Texas Ranger that are in fact lifted from real life, if embellished in places. The story that Hamer tells Clyde’s father – about being shot as a teenager by a rancher who tried to pay him to ambush his business partner – is true, and Hamer really did return to kill the rancher after he healed. The “manos arriba” story that Gault tells is also based on truth, though in reality it was bootleggers smuggling alcohol during the Prohibition that he killed, and there were only six of them, not sixty. Moreover, Gault himself was not actually present during this incident.Related: Everything We Know About Martin Scorsese’s Netflix Movie The IrishmanHamer and Gault were indeed old acquaintances before they were commissioned to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde together. Before joining the Texas Rangers, Gault had worked undercover for Hamer, as he had a talent for insinuating himself into criminal rings – a talent that’s showcased in The Highwaymen, when Hamer sends Gault out to sweet-talk residents of the migrant camp. The two families became close, and Hamer did indeed specifically choose Gault to be his partner after being approached for the Bonnie and Clyde job.Though Hamer and Gault experience several frustrating near-misses of Bonnie and Clyde in The Highwaymen, in real life they didn’t actually catch up to the couple until the ambush on the morning of May 23, 1934. As depicted in the movie, Hamer refused lucrative offers from the media to spill the gory details of the Bonnie and Clyde shootout, and both he and Gault were said to have disliked the attention that the case brought upon them. Hamer said that he was “sickened by the sight” of the shootout’s aftermath.Bonnie and Clyde themselves are not the central focus of The Highwaymen, and actually appear very little – glimpsed mainly from far away, with their faces only clearly shown in the moment before their death.Perhaps the biggest change that The Highwaymen makes to the real story of Bonnie and Clyde is playing up Bonnie Parker’s role as a femme fatale – not only firing a machine gun into the trees to cover the prison break, but also stalking over to downed patrolmen and turning them over so that they could see their deaths coming as she shot them in the face. This is based on the account of William Schieffer, the farmer shown witnessing the Easter Sunday killings of patrolmen Wheeler and Murphy in The Highwaymen. However, other witnesses contradicted this claim and it was ultimately discredited – though not before inflaming public outrage against Bonnie.Aside from Schieffer’s claim, there’s no evidence that Bonnie actually killed anyone, or even that she ever fired a gun, though she was obviously complicit in the Barrow gang’s crimes. At the time of her death, she had never actually been charged with a capital crime. The detail that she dragged her left heel after badly burning her leg in a car accident is based on real life, as is the bunny rabbit (called Sonny Boy) that Bonnie managed to successfully gift to her mother, despite being intensely pursued by the law in the final months of her life.Page 2: The Shootout and the AftermathAs seen in The Highwaymen, Bonnie and Clyde were eventually ambushed by a posse of six lawmen: Hamer and Gault, Texas officers Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton, Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan, and Jordan’s deputy, Prentiss Oakley. Notably, all three of these duos characterized the ambush differently with conflicting testimony, and historians have speculated that each account was embellished by the storyteller’s own agenda. The Highwaymen sticks with the broader details that are consistent across all accounts: that Ivy Methvin, father of Barrow gang member Henry Methvin, agreed to help in the ambush, and that his truck was planted in the road so that Clyde would slow down.Though in The Highwaymen there is a dramatic moment where Hamer decides to step out into the road to be the first to confront Bonnie and Clyde, and Gault steps out after him, the conflicting reports make it difficult to determine if this is actually what happened, or even if Bonnie and Clyde were given fair warning before the shooting began. Here is Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton’s account of the shooting, from a newspaper report at the time:There must have been a signal given, but who it came from is another thing. We just all acted together, stepped out into the road and raised our guns. We all yelled “Halt!” at once. They didn’t halt. The car was going slowly and Clyde let go of the wheel. We could see him grab at a gun in his lap. Bonnie was going for something on the other side.Then all hell broke loose. There were six men shooting at once… You couldn’t hear any one shot. It was just a roar, a continuous roar, and it kept up for several minutes. We emptied our guns, reloaded and kept shooting. As we jumped into sight, I could see Clyde reaching as if to get his gun. But he never had a chance to fire a shot. Neither did Bonnie, tho we learned a few minutes later that they both were carrying rifles across their laps.After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren’t taking any chances.Related: The 25 Best Films on Netflix Right NowOne of the difficulties that Hamer and Gault face in The Highwaymen when trying to track down Bonnie and Clyde is the couple’s celebrity, with many people viewing them favorably as modern-day Robin Hoods. In the film’s most sobering scene, the adoring crowd that formerly thronged around the living couple with proclamations of love and praise returns when they are did, to try and take photos and collect “souvenirs” from the bodies.This is, disturbingly, based on what actually happened – except that the crowd didn’t wait for the car to be towed back before descending. One man tried to cut off Clyde Barrow’s trigger finger, and another tried to cut off his left ear. A woman cut off bloody clumps of Bonnie Parker’s hair, and bits of blood-stained clothing were cut away from both of their bodies. Meanwhile, less daring members of the crowd gathered up fragments of glass and shell casings. After the car was towed back to Arcadia, thousands of people descended on the town, hoping for a look at the car and the bodies.Thousands attended the funerals of Bonnie and Clyde, with as many as 20,000 estimated onlookers at Bonnie’s. The “death car” itself is still on display at Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino in Primm, Nevada.More: Read Screen Rant’s Review of The Highwaymen