Thanks to the new Netflix movie “The Highwaymen,” the two most famous outlaws from Texas are captivating a generation that has never heard of them. I’m referring to those two crazy kids from West Dallas; Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Their hijinx and daily run-ins with the law kept many a small town newspaper in print and propelled the two young delinquents into living legends of their own time.
The car chases, robberies of banks, merchants, grocery stores, five and dimes, gas stations, gumball machines, lemonade stands, produce stands and just ordinary citizens made spectacular fodder for the papers. They were the new folk heroes of the southwest, and as bad as these two were, their antics were pure journalistic gold. And, they didn’t mind killing a few lawmen and citizens if deemed necessary.
In 1933, my Fathers Aunt, Katy Eberling owned and operated a beauty salon on the corner of Rosedale and Hemphill Street in Fort Worth Texas. For seven years it was prosperous and allowed her to employ four beauticians and a manicurist. She was thriving and often turned away new clients or referred them to other shops. She wasn’t wealthy but made a darn good living for the times. Then, along comes that pesky old depression and she loses three beauticians and the manicurist because her clients now do their hair at home, or go to Leonard Brothers Department Store for two dollars less per set. Katy is weeks away from closing the doors when a visit from a new client changes her luck.
A cold December Friday afternoon finds Katy sweeping up the shop and preparing to close when a man and women enter through the back alley door.
The women, a frail, bony little thing is dressed in the best clothes that money can buy. A pale yellow cashmere sweater with a beige camel hair skirt. A string of pearls drapes her little neck. The man that accompanies her wears a three-piece pin-striped suit and a black fedora. These two are right out of Macy’s of New York.
The woman is small, almost child size, no more than eighty pounds. She strides up to Katy, extends her tiny hand and says, “ My name is Bonnie and could you please give me a wash, cut and set. I know its late, but I will pay you nicely if it is not too much trouble.”
Katy, having made little money that day, agrees and escorts her to the shampoo sink. As Katy is shampooing Bonnie’s hair for the third time, she notices the man sitting by the back door holding a shotgun in his lap. It is then, reality sets in, and Katy realizes who this new client might be. She removes her hands from the woman’s wet hair and retreats a few steps.
Bonnie, sensing her fright, assures her in a kind voice, “ Mam, I am here for a beauty appointment, we mean you no harm and will pay for the service.” Katy assured that she will not be gunned down, completes the shampoo and leads Bonnie to the beautician’s chair.
Once Bonnie Parker is seated, it’s as if she’s a lost Catholic girl returning to confession.
She recounts her childhood, being married young, wanting to be a poet and attend a good university and make her Mama proud. She then makes mention of that mongrel over there by the door and how he has ruined her life beyond repair.
Once she begins the tales of their lives on the run, she cackles like a mad witch and has Katy laughing along with her. First-hand knowledge makes it all the crazier. Katy knows that Bonnie is leaving out the killing parts to spare her.
Two hours later, the appointment is finished. Bonnie Parker hands Katy six twenty-dollar bills and says she will be back next month around the same time of day if that is alright. Katy says that will be fine, and Bonnie departs with Clyde in tow.
Knowing she has to keep this to herself, she tells her husband Harvey, and no one else. Katy is full of remorse, knowing that the money she accepted is probably blood money or someone’s life savings, yet she took it because it will allow her to keep her shop open for another few months. If she is truthful with herself, she enjoyed the excitement it produced.
The next month, on a Friday, the two most wanted crooks in the land arrive at 4:30 PM. Bonnie receives a wash, trim and set and the confessions continue. Katy earns another six twenty-dollar bills. This time, she is less remorseful and less frightened.
Bonnie visits twice more. The last visit was un-nerving for Katy. Bonnie Parker is unwashed, and her clothes need to be cleaned. She is gaunt and hollow-eyed. There are no confessions or funny stories. Clyde remained in their car and Bonnie, upon being seated in Katy’s chair removes a 38 pistol from her purse and cradles it in her lap as if she was expecting trouble.
When the appointment is finished, Bonnie Parker checks her makeup in the mirror, straightens her skirt and says to Katy, “ My mama always says, a girl’s gotta look good when she goes. How do I look, Miss Katy?” Katy replies, “ You look lovely as ever.”
Bonnie hands Katy eight twenty-dollar bills and says she will see her next month.
A few weeks later, Katy reads in the newspaper that Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a shootout with the law in Louisiana. Katy hopes she looked good when it happened.
This story was told to myself and my cousins many times. When we were young, Aunt Katy left out much of the detail. As we grew older, into teenagers, the story became more graphic and colorful. I had no idea Aunt Katy was so famous.