Bonnie & Clyde's Revenge on Eastham
Clyde Barrow 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 Phillips
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.
Floyd Hamilton 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 Methvin, serving 10 years for robbery and attempted murder, and a killer named Hilton Bybee.
Tuesday January 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.
Barrow and 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.
Texan Clyde 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.
Barrow called 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 Ralph Fults, 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. Raymond 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," he said.
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