Welch and McCluskey Are Not like Our Folk Heroes, Bonnie and Clyde

“With her sassy photographs, Bonnie supplied the sex-appeal, the oomph, that allowed the two of them to transcend the small-scale thefts and needless killing that actually comprised their criminal careers.” Jeff Guinn-Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde

McCluskey and Welch
John McCluskey (top) and Casslyn Mae Welch (bottom)

Flashes of the bullet-riddled Ford V-8 (1934) ripped through my mind, but sneaking suspicions of incongruity swept over me rapturously as I watched footage of a tattooed, pot-bellied McCluskey taking handcuffs obediently, after barely emerging like a bear from hibernation in his makeshift sleeping bag.

The media has been hyping this comparison of these two middle-aged desperadoes to the youthful, Depression-Era-Bank-Robber-Superstars, but it doesn’t hold water. David Gonzalez, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals, gave this statement in regard to the Bonnie and Clyde analogy.

“I think they’ve taken the persona that this is some type of movie and this is some kind of a joke that they are living, but it is not. This is a very, very serious business.” When I heard Gonzalez’s words, I agreed with him, but why did these two return to a campground in Arizona after escaping all the way to the Canadian border? That’s stupid! By contrast, Bonnie and Clyde were quite clever in the ways they evaded the Law.

Bonnie and Clyde
Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in March of 1933.

“We were convinced that this would go down in a bloody shootout,” Gonzales said further. However, the capture was free of any eye-catching altercation. Cassyln Welch did try to pull out a gun, but SWAT team members were able to subdue her before she could fire off one single round. Re-watch (if you will) Arthur Penn’s 1967 movie for a fairly accurate recreation of some blasting rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns at Platte, Missouri. My cousin says they still talk about that shootout up there in Missouri.

No one’s gonna much remember this McCluskey and Welch episode of a jailbreak. A few months from now this big prison escape will have been forgotten. It’s fading from my mind already, but I long for a copy of Jeff Guinn’s graphic biography of Bonnie and Clyde. I grew up in the Dallas area, and I take an interest in Depression-Era Dallas, and such things as how did W.D. Jones get acquainted with the Barrow family?

I tried to carry this lame comparison further; who represents Deacon Jones from the Arizona Gang? Is it Daniel Renwick or is it rather Tracy Province, who was volunteering at a church in Meeteetse, Wyoming, when arrested? Okay, nothing is here. W.D. distinguished himself as an expert car thief and Deacon was a loyal friend to Bonnie and Clyde. And Jones was a robust gambler, drinker, and heistman of the highest caliber.

The Arizona escapees departed ways early on from McCluskey and Welch. Their loyalty was only to Numero Uno. The limp Renwick was arrested merely one day after escaping, whereas Deacon Jones (C.W. Moss in the movie) was on the lam for 8 and ½ months of constant action with the Barrow Gang! When X-rayed, his body was riddled with machine gun lead from multiple shootouts with the law!

And who would be the tough Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, who tracked the outlaws with unrelenting tenacity and determination? Well, I guess it would have to be the observant forest ranger (name has not been given) from Sitgreaves National Forests, who traced their stolen car and even chatted casually with the misbegotten duo on a hot afternoon.

While I applaud the sharp law enforcement techniques employed by the forest ranger, I hardly think he can live up to a side by side count down with the smooth operator of a Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer. After Clyde Barrow sprung Raymond Hamilton and Henry Methvin out of the Eastham Prison, the Texas Department of Corrections (and the FBI) assigned Hamer to the Barrow Gang case. No tougher lawman ever worked his trade in this great Lone Star State.

Not that the forest ranger isn’t tough, I’m sure he is, but Frank Hamer is credited with 53 kills and the wounding of 17 Bad Men. Different era. Violence is at a lethal level, that lets the air out of the balloon of such a ridiculous comparison. But the media uses this hook to sell more copy, and it works marvelously! Yet you can’t help but think of Dan Quayle’s comparison to Jack Kennedy (by Lloyd Bensen), when John and Cass are up against B and C.

I racked my brain in a vain attempt to compare McCluskey to Clyde Barrow, but there wasn’t nothin’ there! And Welch with her mullet never comes anywhere close to the sexy and gifted poetess, Miss Bonnie Parker. Has Casslyn Welch ever penned any clever verse such as Suicide Sal or The Story of Bonnie and Clyde (The Trail’s End)? Hello! I don’t think so. Can Cass even read or write?

The miserable fact of these two (Mc and Cass) being blatant examples of white supremacists (as they are) is the only crumb I can walk away with. Yet B and C were loved by everyday poor folk, who hated the banks who had stolen their homes right out from under their own two feet, and so felt compelled to idolize the twin bank robbers, to sublimate the killers to role models of the unprivileged.

Game over with! Back to jail. People will forget these two (who?) in just a few days time. But the bullet-riddled corpses of Bonnie and Clyde will live on in infamy throughout all eternity. I’ve spent the entire day already going over their final days, how they met, the blossoming of their romance, the biggest shootouts, how they came to know Deacon Jones, there getaway MOs…on and on. But I am now ready to close the caterwauling storybook discourteously on McCluskey and Welch. A plain Jim and a plain Jane, no flick will ever hit the silverscreen.

They fell asleep on the job and got nabbed in a jiffy. Yet no legend will ever emerge. The only problem I can see with Bonnie and Clyde is that the myth doesn’t match up to the reality of their violent lives. This is the key to their immortality, the disconnect puts them on the map of history, I just noticed.

People passionately desire to retrace their saga blow by blow, in an attempt to dissect once and for all the mystery of how they became the world’s most renown outlaws and lovers, the true nature of this social discord, and why they died so violently on a piney Louisiana farm road.

(Linked for you W.D. Jones’ Playboy Interview from November of 1968.)