Eighty years after their Depression-era robbery and murder spree captivated the country, Bonnie and Clyde continue to fascinate crime and history buffs.
At least that's the hope of a Missouri family selling a pair of rare weapons believed to have been seized from the outlaw couple's Joplin hideout in 1933. The weapons are owned by the great-grandchildren of a Tulsa, Okla., police detective who was given them by a police officer involved in the April 13, 1933 raid. The .45-caliber , fully automatic Thompson submachine gun — better known as a Tommy gun — and 1897 Winchester 12-gauge shotgun had spent the past 40 years in relative historical obscurity, stored in a Springfield police museum that didn't acknowledge the cache's pop culture significance.
"People can't get enough of Bonnie and Clyde," said Robert Mayo, a Kansas City auctioneer handling the Jan. 21 sale for the descendants of former Tulsa detective Mark Lairmore. "We're fascinated by people who do bad things."
One of the owners, a great-grandson also named Mark Lairmore, said the family wants to turn the weapons over to "someone with an appreciation of antique guns and the history behind these guns." The original Mark Lairmore's son and grandson have both died, severing any sentimental connection to the items, he said.
Two law enforcement officers died during a shootout at the Joplin apartment where the couple and members of their gang were holed up, but all the members of the Clyde Barrow gang escaped.
The police raid also yielded a camera that produced widely distributed photos of the criminal lovebirds, cementing the image of Bonnie Elizabeth Parker as Barrow's cigar-chomping, gun-toting moll. Those photos, first published in the Joplin Globe newspaper, were the first public depictions of the couple. Both were killed little more than a year later by pursuing police in rural Louisiana.
Mayo said the sellers have not set a minimum bid. He declined to estimate how much money the guns might bring at auction in Kansas City.
David Eslick, interim executive director of the History Museum for Springfield-Greene County, is one observer who won't place a bid. He said the weapons were never advertised as belonging to Bonnie and Clyde because proof of ownership had not been verified.
"Without authentication, we can't say for sure," he said.
Lairmore and his family, though, have no doubt about the origins. He noted that the serial number on one of the guns matches one listed as stolen in Ohio and described by a police officer who survived a Barrow gang kidnapping.
The guns were "a gift from one policeman to another," Lairmore said. "There was no reason to invent a fairy tale to go along with it. What's unfortunate is we don't know who that policeman was. If we did, we might have an airtight case. But we don't."