THE ABDUCTION OF TOM PERSELL






In April 1932 Harry D. Durst began his term as mayor of the city of Springfield, Missouri.
One of the first things he did was to appoint some new men to the Springfield Police Force.
One of the first new recruits was a 24 year old adding machine salesman named Tom Persell.
Within 90 days of his appointment he had chased down and captured two car thieves. By January
1933 Persell was assigned to motorcycle duty. Just before 6 pm on January 26, 1933, Motorcycle
Officer Persell noticed three people in a Ford V-8 sedan involved in what he suspected was
"car spotting". By this, he meant they acted like car thieves looking for a victim. Convinced
they were up to no good he followed them for a short time. They were headed north and just as
they started over the Benton Street Viaduct Persell motioned for them to pull over. He might
have chosen this spot to make it difficult for his suspects to try and escape, but Clyde Barrow
was not about to let himself be trapped in the middle of an elevated bridge over a railroad
track. Clyde just kept on going.

He didn't speed up to make a getaway, but he insisted on clearing the bridge before stopping.
At the north end of the bridge Clyde turned right onto Pine Street past a church on the corner,
and stopped in the middle of the block. Persell had dealt with car thieves before but Clyde
Barrow had been involved in four murders and was wanted for three of them, plus numerous other
crimes. He couldn't allow any law officer to get the "drop" on him. Persell parked his motorcycle
and approached the car only to find himself looking down the barrel of a pistol and a sawed off
shotgun. Clyde simply said "get in or I'll blow you up." W.D. Jones got out of the car, disarmed
Persell and forced him into the front seat between him and Clyde. Bonnie sat in the back.
The abduction was witnessed by several people, but the car pulled away before anyone could
intervene - which was fortunate since Clyde would not have hesitated to shoot if he was
threatened. Picking up a local policeman for a nice ride was obviously not in Clyde's plans, so
he just had to improvise. They headed north out of the city after filling up with gasoline and
simply drove around over the countryside for about six hours. Percell later gave a pretty good
account of their route even though he was under a blanket on the floor part of the time. With all
that time on their hands the bandits and the policeman had several long conversations.
For instance, the reason Persell had been alert for car thieves was because a tan Ford V-8 had
been reported stolen that afternoon by a Mr. Kerr. Yes, they had done that, Clyde told him, but
they decided the color was too conspicuous so they left it out in the country. They even told
him where to find it and it was recovered the day Percell returned. About five hours into the
evening ride a crisis developed.

It seemed that the generator on their Ford had failed, and now the battery had finally run down
as well. By this time, they had made a large half circle to the north and had started back south.
They were on the outskirts of the town of Oronogo, a few miles west of Carthage. According to
Officer Persell a short discussion was held on how to solve their car troubles. Oronogo was
familiar territory for Clyde. Back in November he and Bonnie and two partners had spent a month
in the area hiding out around Carthage and working the whole area. They had in fact, spent
considerable time exploring the area around Oronogo prior to robbing the bank less than 60 days
before. The discussion now centered on something Clyde had noticed during his time spent looking
over the town. Clyde remembered that a Chrysler automobile was always parked on the street in
front of this certain house. It was decided that W.D. Jones would take Persell with him and
steal the battery out of the Chrysler and bring it back. They walked into town and found the
right house, but the car wasn't there. "I guess putting that Chrysler up probably saved my life!"
Roy Ferguson told me. He was sitting in the swing on his front porch as he told me about that
night almost 68 years ago. In his early 90's, Roy thinks he is the oldest person on Oronogo
Missouri now (October, 2000). His mind is still sharp and he remembers hearing the policeman
tell about Clyde and Jones discussing his car.

"That car always stayed parked close to my bedroom window, and I was a light sleeper", he said.
"Those old batteries were in the floorboard of the car in those days, so I know I would have
heard them trying to get it out. I would have probably gone out there to see what was going on
and got killed."

For some reason Roy had made arrangements to have the car put up in a garage the day before.
W.D. and Officer Persell had to settle for the battery out of Wayne Watson's car which was parked
across the street. When the two men got back to Bonnie and Clyde and got their car running again.
Jones complimented Persell on his assistance in the felony. Maybe the idea of the officer being
so much help in a robbery appealed to their sense of humor. Whatever the reason, after a cruise
around Joplin they stopped the car at a place called Poundstone Corner about 12 miles north
of the city, let him out and drove off. They kept his service revolver. It had distinctive stag
grips and would show up in some of the Barrow's most famous pictures. It was after 1 am by the
time Persell got to a phone and called Assistant Chief Ruel Wommack in Springfield for a ride
home.


SITE OF THE ABDUCTION

photo courtesy of James R. Knight


The photo shows the north end of the Benton Street Viaduct in Springfield.
Clyde came from the right of the photo off the viaduct as the silver car is doing,
and immediately turned to his right onto Pine Street. The red building on the left
hand side at the corner is a church. It's corner stone reads "Pitts M E Church, 1911",
so it's a pretty sure bet that it was there at the time. Clyde probably stopped on
the right side of the street about opposite the white car.  






ROUGH TALK



THE PERSELL GUN STORY

After being released, Officer Persell had asked Clyde to give him his pistol back, telling the outlaw
"You've got all the guns you need," whereby Clyde then replied "we can use it." Three months later the
photographs recovered at the Joplin hideout revealed numerous snapshots of the outlaws, posing with their
cars and weapons. When Persell got to view the photographs that the gang had taken of themselves, he then
spotted in a few of them, his service pistol which was taken from him earlier. It was a Smith & Wesson .44
Special with jigged bone grips. It was cooly displayed on the radiator ornament. This was his own firearm
which he paid for himself for $50.00, which was a hefty price for an officer who's salary amounted to only
$105. After W.D. Jones was arrested, Tom went to Dallas and asked him what happened to his pistol. Jones
told him that it was left behind at Dexfield Park following the ambush. It ended up in the possession of a
police officer in Des Moines, but because he couldn't supply the pistol's serial number, he never got it back.






Persell's gun in Bonnie's necktie belt (left side in photo)





The Unusual Hood Ornament
Barrow displayed Officer Persell's weapon on the neck of the hood ornament of Robert Rosborough's
stolen 1932 Ford B-400 vehicle. The hood ornament seems to be that of one you would find on a 1932
Cadillac, such as the Cadillac "Heron" hood ornament. I believe that it's likely that Mr. Rosborough
added it as an after thought, as that's not an ornament for that type car. That ornament is unusual,
as it doesn't seem to be the style of "Heron" ornament found on the Cadillac, yet very similar to it.
Perhaps it was an after market item bought by Mr. Rosborough. See image below for better detail.




1932 Cadillac Heron hood ornament




Meanwhile on the 1934 Death Car
The Greyhound Hood Ornament






REEDS SPRING PAGE ONE