BELTON, Mo. – The legend of Bonnie and Clyde may have to be rewritten or at least revised with the discovery of a trove of more than 40 previously unknown photographs of the notorious 1930s-era outlaws and various other family members that will be sold in an online-only auction ending Wednesday, July 11th, by Mayo Auction & Realty. There is no live bidding in the gallery.
Mayo Auction & Realty is no stranger to Bonnie and Clyde. Several years ago the firm auctioned a gun found in the infamous “death car” that police riddled with bullets the day the couple was killed, then later sold another gun owned by the pair. “We’ve become the go-to auction company for market fresh Bonnie and Clyde collectibles,” said Robert Mayo of Mayo Auction & Realty.
The catalog, with all lots, is online now for viewing and bidding, at www.AuctionbyMayo.com. A preview, where all the photographs can be seen by the public, will be held on Monday, July 9th, from 4-6 pm Central time, in the Mayo Auction & Realty gallery at 16513 Cornerstone Drive in Belton, Missouri. Belton is located just south of Kansas City, a short distance off Interstate 49.
The photos will come as a revelation to those who have only seen the widely published shots of the couple in full gangster mode, Bonnie with a cigarette dangling from her mouth and Clyde toting a machine gun. These show a softer, more human side to the pair: Bonnie all dressed up and wearing makeup in a studio glam shot, and Clyde looking dapper in a crisp three-piece suit.
The photos – small black and whites from the ‘20s and ‘30s – have a history as colorful and well-documented as Bonnie and Clyde’s meteoric rise to the top of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. The group was purchased at a drive-in theater flea market in Texas, around 30 years ago, along with a Texas newspaper account of the couple’s murder dated the day they were killed.
The buyer was Bob Andrews of Oklahoma, who has held on to the photos all this time and is now ready to part with them. “This guy was selling what he claimed to be authentic photographs of Bonnie and Clyde that he said had been found hidden in the back of an old console radio, in an album and with the newspaper from the day after the couple’s murder by police,” he said.
Andrews said he didn’t believe the man and walked away. “But it kept gnawing at me and finally my wife said, ‘Oh, just go back and buy them.’ So I did.” Andrews said the man didn’t know anything else about the photos, just that they’d been kept hidden in the back of the radio and had changed hands several times. Only recently did Andrews decide to step forward with the photos.
But are they real? Yes, according to Marc Geyer, an auctioneer, appraiser and historian out of Mesa, Arizona, who worked on authenticating the photographs, indicating that he spent weeks researching and comparing the photos to other known images of the families. “In my opinion, I believe these photographs to be authentic,” Geyer said. “I believe the photo subjects to be Bonnie Parker, Clyde and Buck (Clyde’s brother) Barrow and various other family members and acquaintances. Their journey to this auction is the mystery.”
He has a theory, though. “Through my research, I find it is a strong possibility that these photos belonged to Emma Parker – Bonnie’s mother – and that when she died in 1944, the radio may have ended up with Bonnie’s sister, Billie Jean. When Billie Jean died in 1993, I believe that old radio was sold along with the rest of her estate. The photos were then discovered by the buyer.”
Assuming they are real, following is a list of some of the more historically significant ones:
- Photos of Bonnie, Clyde and Billie Jean on the docks in Galveston, Texas. The ship in the photo (identified as the Edgemoor, accompanied by a pilot boat, the Mariner) was one that loaded lumber in Galveston. Men are seen in the background loading lumber.
- A glamour shot of Bonnie, taken at Kelly Studio in Denison, Texas. This is a never-before-seen photo, but it was known that Bonnie and sister Billie Jean enjoyed playing dress-up and sitting for the photographer. Still, it doesn’t square with her gun moll image.
- Clyde dressed up in his Sunday best, too. Evidently, vanity wasn’t limited just to Bonnie. Clyde could have modeled for GQ (if there was a GQ in the ‘30s). The shot of him in a three-piece suit, hand propped on the door of a sedan, makes him look downright dapper.
- A photo of the marker sign at the North Dakota-Montana state line. Again, like with Galveston, it was never previously reported that Bonnie and Clyde ever visited or spent time in either state. It’s assumed the photo was taken on a (possibly necessary) road trip.
- Bonnie holding one of her sister Billie Jean’s children. Bonnie never had children of her own, but she enjoyed doting on her younger sister’s kids, and especially took a shine to Billie Jean’s son, Buddy.
- Clyde in a photo next to anything but a Ford. Clyde Barrow was a Ford man all the way – wouldn’t drive or steal anything but. However, in one photo he’s shown next to what appears to be a 1926 Chrysler Imperial model E-80 with Illinois license plates from 1929.
- Bonnie as a young girl, at around age 10. Photos of the outlaw as a child are extremely rare, and this one shows her with three other family members outside their Texas home: here sister Billie Jean, her mother’s late husband’s sister Ada, and a man written as “Ed”.
- A photo of W.D. Jones, the young protégé and possible love interest. Little is known about Mr. Jones, except that he got caught up in Bonnie, Clyde, Buck and Blanche’s (Buck’s wife) shenanigans as a young man and was rumored to be Billie Jean’s lover.
- Photos of the infamous “billy goat car”. The billy goat car was so-named because it had a goat-like hood ornament. In one classic photo, Bonnie is shown wearing the ornament on her head and smiling. Cars are in many of the photos – essential for quick getaways.
- Any photos showing Clyde and Buck together. As career criminals, when one was being sent to prison, the other was just getting out. They were only out together on and before Nov. 29, 1929, when Buck was shot and arrested in Denton, Tex., and after March 1933.
Bonnie once wrote a letter to Clyde while he was in jail, dated Feb. 23, 1930, in which she pours out her lovesick heart: “I’ve got a Majestic Radiola and they drive me crazy with the music. All I’ve heard today is Lonesome Railroad Blues and I Sing All My Love Songs to You. It nearly drives me mad.” Could that be the very radio that contained these photos? We will never know.
One thing is certain, though. The legend of Bonnie and Clyde will only get larger and stronger with the sale of these 40-plus never-before-seen and historically significant photos. Whoever buys them – whether it’s a serious collector, a museum or corporate interest – they will be the custodians of a slice of American history that’s deep in legend and lore – and ready for revision.
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16513 Cornerstone Drive
About Mayo Auction & Realty
Mayo Auction & Realty Company is a full-service auction firm with offices and a warehouse in Belton, Mo. Some of their sales are internet-only, on the company's website, at www.AuctionbyMayo.com.