KANSAS CITY, Mo. — People of just about any age can tell you one or two things they know about the infamous Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
But many people in the metro are completely unaware that one of the famous duo’s most dramatic gun battles with police happened right here in Kansas City.
“It is a really interesting part of Platte County history that many people don’t know about,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said.
The explosive confrontation with police happened July 19, 1933; exactly 86 years ago Friday.
The members of the Barrow Gang — Bonnie, Clyde, Buck Barrow and Buck’s wife Blanche — became some of the most well-known criminals in America after a daring string of bank robberies and other crimes all over the Midwest in the early 1930’s.
The outlaw fugitives managed to stay on the run for so long thanks to superior firepower (Clyde preferred Browning Automatic Rifles) and horsepower. Routinely stealing speedy Ford V8’s, Barrow easily left small town police in the dust.
As a result, police officers who crossed paths with Bonnie and Clyde were almost always outgunned or unable to keep up.
Until July 19, 1933. In Platte City, Missouri.
When the Barrow Gang checked into some cabins behind the Red Crown Tavern in Platte City, Missouri (present day Kansas City), the idea was to lay low and avoid the authorities for a few days.
The plan backfired almost immediately, as the people of Platte City immediately took notice of the strangers with flashy clothing and powerful Ford vehicles.
“One thing led to another, and they knew they were at the Red Crown, so they had a coalition of lawmen together,” said Jim Spawn, a local Bonnie and Clyde expert.
For the first time, lawmen knew they were about to confront the infamous Barrow Gang. And they weren’t taking any chances.
A posse made up of Platte and Jackson County sheriff’s deputies and Missouri highway patrolmen loaded up on Thompson machine guns and fortified a police vehicle with bulletproof steel plates.
“The number, I remember, was there were 168 rounds fired within three minutes,” Spawn said. “It was just a mini war.”
The dramatic gunfight is accurately portrayed in the famous 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde,” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the title roles.
All except for one major Hollywood blunder.
In the film, signage outside the Red Crown Tavern identified the location as “Platte City, Iowa.” The incident, of course, happened in Platte City, Missouri (present day Kansas City, near KCI).
“They didn’t do their research very well,” Jim Spawn laughed.
As they so often did, Bonnie and Clyde somehow escaped the long arm of the law in Platte City that night, but the violent confrontation forever changed the complexion of the Barrow Gang.
Clyde’s older brother, Buck, suffered a gunshot wound to his temple and died from the injury a few days later after he was captured in Iowa.
Buck Barrow’s wife, Blanche, also captured with her husband in Iowa, suffered serious injuries to her eyes when bullets shattered glass in her getaway car in Platte City. Blanche permanently lost vision in her left eye.
The Red Crown Tavern is long gone now, but Spawn worked with others to have a Platte County Historic Marker at the spot where it all went down.
It’s at the intersection of N.W. Ambassador Drive and Cookingham Drive, off exit 13 from Interstate 29.
There’s also an impressive (and free) exhibit with life-size pictures of Bonnie and Clyde at the Platte County Resource Center.
Spawn hosted large symposiums on this episode in recent years, and he assumed, after a while, the interest in Bonnie and Clyde would start to wane.
It never has. Spawn openly wonders if it ever will.
“I thought everyone who wanted to know about it had already attended,” he said. “But I guess I’m wrong because I just keep getting more and more requests.”