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September 26, 2012
Nearly 80 years after the deaths of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, a few, shall we say, "tools of their trade" are going up for auction. Among them are his Colt .45 and her .38 Special, which could each go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer eventually caught up with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in 1934, a newsreel announcer declared "the inevitable end: retribution. Here is Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, who died as they lived: by the gun."
After the ambush, Hamer and his posse were told they could keep whatever they found in the so-called death car. What they found was an arsenal: shotguns, automatic rifles, ammunition and pistols.
In the 1970s, the Hamer family sold off many of the items to collectors. And on Sunday, the public will get a chance to bid on some of those weapons at an auction in Nashua, N.H.
The centerpieces of the auction are the Colt .45 that Hamer found tucked into Clyde's waistband, and the .38 Detective Special that was taped to Bonnie's thigh. Each could go for six figures.
The two guns are a link to another time, says author Jeff Guinn. He wrote Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde.
"Bonnie and Clyde seem so romantic to people that don't know the real story," he says. "They seem like heroes; doomed lovers. Getting Clyde's gun, or Bonnie's, in this auction ... might seem the equivalent of getting a real-life Romeo's sword, or the little vial of poison that Juliet took to kill herself. It's a link to mythology."
But Bobby Livingston of the RR Auction House says that the legend is nowhere near reality.
"They had to live in their car, and live in fear," he says, "and drive all night and hide all day. It was a horrible existence."
But this was the height of the Depression, and people were looking for heroes. In Bonnie and Clyde, Guinn says, the poor saw rebels taking on the balance of power.
"Even the police were looked on, sort of, as the enemy," he says. "Bankers were hated. I mean, Occupy Wall Street? Boy, that same sentiment was so strong when Bonnie and Clyde were out there.
Decades later, today's fans of Bonnie and Clyde drive a strong market for memorabilia.
Along with the guns, Livingston says other items in this weekend's auction should draw interest from collectors. Items include a silver dollar pulled from Clyde's jacket, and a pillbox.
"And you can see here, most remarkably for me, is the stocking," he says.
Livingston holds up Bonnie's silk stocking, found on the floor of the car. It's wearing thin, with a small dark stain near the calf.
"It's fascinating, the passions people have for acquiring things that belonged to famous people," he says. "Each of these things, like that stocking, and that little aspirin — that tells you ... a story of the life on the road of Bonnie and Clyde that you can't get any other way. And it's just neat to have."
Livingston says the pair loved reading about their exploits in tabloids and magazines. Bonnie and Clyde would love knowing they can still grab headlines in 2012.