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The Real Story Behind Netflix’s ‘The Highwaymen’

Updated April 11, 2019 10.6k views16 items

In 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow terrorized Texas. The pair escaped multiple firefights with police, robbed banks, and ended the lives of over a dozen people. They grew so notorious that Texas Governor "Ma" Ferguson brought in retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer to track down Parker and Barrow. Hamer teamed up with his old friend Maney Gault to get inside the couple's minds. The pair managed to ambush the lawbreakers on an empty highway in Georgia on May 23, 1934. Hamer and Gault personally took down Parker and Barrow. And in spite of the photographs of Bonnie and Clyde's demise that seem to suggest otherwise, Hamer wanted to capture the pair alive.

The Netflix original movie The Highwaymen tells the story of Hamer and Gault tracking down Barrow and Parker - though it omits some key details about the lead lawman. It does, however, reveal the effects of the outlaws' spree. And the true story is just as dramatic as the movie.

  • To Track Bonnie Parker And Clyde Barrow, Frank Hamer Tried To Get Inside Their Heads

    Frank Hamer began pursuing Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in early 1934. By then, the pair had racked up multiple charges and escaped police ambushes more than once. Hamer's first step was to get inside Barrow's mind to understand his behavior. As Hamer explained, "An officer must know the habits of the outlaw, how he thinks and how he will act in different situations. When I began to understand Clyde Barrow's mind, I felt that I was making progress."

    Hamer researched Barrow's travels through the South, contacting FBI agents and local law enforcement to learn more. He tracked each of the members of the Barrow group until the father of Henry Methvin agreed to help stop the spree.

  • Bonnie Parker And Clyde Barrow Were On The Run For Two Years

    Bonnie Parker And Clyde Barrow Were On The Run For Two Years
    Photo: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Frank Hamer and Maney Gault weren't the first to hunt Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. By 1934, when the Texas Rangers started tracking them, the pair had been at large for two years. They crossed the Midwest and South without being captured. 

    In early 1934, Barrow and Parker orchestrated an escape at Eastham Prison, freeing five convicts and taking the life of a guard. Barrow had a personal vendetta against Eastham Prison. He was sentenced to 14 years there in 1930 and quickly became desperate to escape. He asked another prisoner to take an axe to his toes, hoping it might lead to a transfer. Barrow lost two toes and eventually earned early parole. 

  • Frank Hamer Wanted To Work Alone, But He Brought Along Help Anyway

    Frank Hamer Wanted To Work Alone, But He Brought Along Help Anyway
    Photo: Netflix

    By 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow had taken down several lawmen. When Frank Hamer joined the hunt, he preferred working solo. But the case was too big for Hamer alone, and he was desperate for help. As a result, he brought on multiple law enforcement agents to help, including Maney Gault. 

    Gault had once worked in a furniture manufacturing plant. He'd also lived next door to Hamer in the 1920s. The pair investigated underground moonshiners together, and Gault joined the Texas Rangers in 1929. 

  • Frank Hamer And The Texas Rangers Didn't Have Clean Reputations 

    Frank Hamer didn't have a hero's record - and neither did the Texas Rangers. In 1919, the Texas Legislature investigated the Rangers. The lawmen were accused of harming prisoners, orchestrating slayings, and taking the lives of unarmed people. A committee found the Rangers guilty of misconduct.

    Around the same time, Hamer was accused of using unnecessary interrogation tactics and crossing professional boundaries. In 1915, Hamer posed with four deceased men, treating them like trophies. The photograph was circulated as a postcard.