"Ive Seen a Crime"

Blanche Barrow's Memoir
an update by John Neal Phillips

By now, most of you have heard that a hitherto unknown manuscript, written in longhand by 
Blanche Barrow, was discovered not long ago at the bottom of a cardboard box, one of many
such containers filled with yellowing bank statements, canceled checks, and other mundane
records from the estate (such as it was) of the former fugitive who died in 1988.  
Lorraine Weiser, long-time friend of Blanche Barrow and executrix of her estate, made
the discovery quite by accident while sorting through all those boxes, which had been
stored in her garage for more than a decade.

Through a process that involved Lisa Hembry and the Dallas Historical Society, I was
asked by Ms. Weiser if I thought the manuscript was authentic and if so, would 
I be interested in editing and annotating it for publication? Through my years of
research and with the help of Ken Holmes, Jr., who possesses examples of Blanche Barrow's
handwriting, I was able to confirm Ms. Weiser's first question. Regarding the second
question, I needed no help in answering - yes! That was two years ago and I'm happy to say
that the very pleasurable job of editing and annotating this important historical document
was recently completed and that University of Oklahoma Press, who published my first book,
Running with Bonnie and Clyde, has agreed to publish the memoir (probably in fall 2004).

The manuscript, titled "I've Seen a Crime" by Blanche herself, was fun to edit, but not easy.  
Written while she was serving time in the Missouri state penitentiary, it has the cathartic
style of someone trying to exorcize demons. The text is a stream-of-consciousness document
with virtually no punctuation, few real sentences, and almost no paragraphs. Add to all 
of that, a sense of spelling that is largely phonetic coming from an author, whose eyesight
was at best, blurred and riven with pain, and you begin to get the picture. The initial task,
then, was to correct all of the above technical flaws without altering the author's original
tone and intent, a process called 'regularizing'.  And that, I am happy to say, was
accomplished in both respects. Regarding editing and annotating this work, it helped 
that I was fortunate enough to have interviewed Blanche Barrow. I spoke with her on more
than one occasion four years before her death, at a time when I was immersed in research for
"Running with Bonnie and Clyde".

Incidents portrayed in the memoir, were made so much easier to work with, after having talked 
with her about them. It also helped that the Barrow brothers' youngest sister, Marie, allowed
me unfettered access to her substantial collection of letters, photographs, and other documents,
including her mother's unpublished manuscript, long before much of it was scattered to the four
winds, by way of sales and auctions. Another very new and equally helpful resource, also included
amongst the varied items of Blanche's minuscule estate, was the text of a very brief, almost
cryptic little memoir by Bonnie Parker's exceedingly private and closed-mouthed sister, Billie
Jean, who died in 1993. These things, and hundreds of other resources (including  some provided
by Kent Biffle) were all employed in the job of editing and annotating Blanche Barrow's memoir.

Portions of Blanche's narrative are tedious, almost maudlin in their attempt to convince 
someone, perhaps the author's father, more likely herself, that Buck was such an innocent
victim of circumstances, that he had only paid a visit to his brother Clyde in an effort to
get him to surrender to the police. Such was contradicted by fellow fugitive W. D. Jones who 
commented years later that Clyde would have never entertained the idea of surrendering, that
Buck knew this from the outset, and that he simply told Blanche what she wanted to hear in order
to get her to go with him to Missouri. Nevertheless, despite the author's prejudicial viewpoint
toward her husband, these passages paint a very intriguing overall picture of the seductiveness
of crime and the psychology of the fugitive mentality, this overwhelming sense of 'us against them'.

Indeed, there are numerous points in the memoir where the 'us' becomes solely Buck and Blanche
and 'them' is everyone else, including Bonnie and Clyde and W. D. Jones.  And at times, 'them'
refers only to the latter. Regardless of its lack of technique, Blanche Barrow's story is very
coherent, descriptive, and often insightful. And as you might expect, the manuscript is full of 
detail and inside information about the personalities of these most secretive and enigmatic
depression-era outlaws.  Among other things, the manuscript documents numerous fights between
Clyde and Buck, some coming to blows. The former was a very controlling personality. According
to W. D. Jones and Blanche, Clyde dominated the decision-making. This often did not sit well
with older brother Buck. Add to the mix, such variables as injuries, fatigue, and cramped living
conditions (the two couples and Jones were often squeezed together in some tiny coupe, on one
occasion a two-seater) and you have all the ingredients of dynamite. 

At least once, the two brothers drew weapons on each other. The group lived in nothing less
than combat conditions. Suicide pacts existed not only between Bonnie and Clyde but Blanche
and Buck as well. The latter couple were speaking openly of suicide just prior to the gun 
fight of July 19, 1933, the Platte City, Missouri battle that left Buck mortally wounded and
Blanche blinded in one eye. The year before Clyde promised his mother he would never commit
suicide but other family members doubted he would have kept that promise had there been no other
way to avoid capture. And Bonnie told her sister that at one point, when she was briefly separated
from Clyde during a gun battle in Iowa and thought he had been killed, she had W. D. Jones put his
pistol to her head. She said his finger was on the trigger, ready to put a round in her brain
when Clyde, wounded, suddenly showed up. A tremendous amount of friction existed between Bonnie 
and Blanche. In fact Blanche admitted that after Bonnie was nearly burned to death in an automobile
accident near Wellington, Texas on June 10, 1933, Clyde had to drive to Dallas to pick up Billie
Jean Parker to attend to Bonnie because Blanche refused to help.

It was during this same period that Bonnie became addicted to the morphine-based pain killers
stolen by Clyde to ease her suffering. She eventually kicked the drugs, however, but her injuries
left her unable to stand on her own or walk without assistance. Blanche's memoir also contains a
number of intriguing revelations, including: the fact that Clyde tried to recruit both Buck and
Blanche to help him raid Eastham ten months before the actual raid of January 16, 1934; that during
Bonnie's convalescence from the above-mentioned burns, her sister stayed with the group a good deal
longer than was previously thought because she and W. D. Jones had become 'sweethearts', as Blanche
put it; and that after the Platte City shoot-out of July 19, 1933, the battle where Buck and Blanche
were both wounded, the group did not drive immediately to Iowa as some have thought, but lingered
within a few miles of the battle, repairing blown tires and tending to their rather substantial
injuries. By the following morning they were only fourteen miles from where they had started.

Evidently this was made possible, because by all accounts, only one lawman in the area wanted to
pursue them after the gun fight, but he was out-voted by his twelve colleagues who were all too
happy to watch the fugitives drive away in their bullet-riddled car on only two inflated tires.

In addition to University of Oklahoma Press and the usual retail bookstores, Ken M. Holmes, Jr.'s
"Southwest Historical Publications" also plans to include "I've Seen a Crime" in its inventory and catalogue.