Bonnie of 'Bonnie and Clyde' goes on trial — well, sort of

Thursday, April 5, 2012 | 7:59 p.m. CDT; updated 7:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Bonnie Parker stands behind a car in this file photo from the Federal Bureau of Investigation files on the Bonnie and Clyde case.

COLUMBIA — After 78 years, Bonnie Parker is about to get her day in court.

A few Missouri attorneys and aspiring lawyers have decided that Parker, part of the infamous “Bonnie and Clyde” duo, should go to trial for her role in the Grapevine murders.


"The Trial of Bonnie Parker" is being hosted 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7 p.m.

To see FBI archival documents about Bonnie and Clyde, go to this link for the 249-page document:

According to the FBI website, Bonnie and Clyde came across two highway patrolmen near Grapevine, Texas. The officers were shot.

This crime occurred in 1934 — the same year that Parker and Clyde Barrow died in a police ambush.

On Monday, the MU Law School’s Historical and Theatrical Trial Society will try Parker for the shooting of the officers.

The mock trial will be unscripted and will apply modern law to an actual historical event. Participants will wear period clothing; witnesses will answer questions based on real evidence; and a live jury will deliberate on innocence or guilt.

Parker was chosen as a defendant because her story is relevant to Missouri: She and Barrow had a base in Joplin, Dane Rennier, trial director of the Historical and Theatrical Trial Society, said.

“We pick individuals who have ties to the state to make things more interesting,” Rennier said.

In addition to being suspected of numerous robberies and burglaries, Bonnie and Clyde were also suspected of 13 murders, including homicides in Joplin and Columbia, according to the FBI website.

Parker was also a good candidate for a defendant because there was a set of facts to use in the trial, Rennier said.

It is one of the few instances where Parker might have been directly involved in one of Barrow’s crimes, Rennier said. Parker’s involvement in the other robberies and murders are unclear, he said.

“The state might actually have evidence against her,” Rennier said.

But why not try Bonnie and Clyde together for the crime? After all, one name is seldom mentioned without the other.

Rennier said it would be difficult for a jury to be objective if Barrow was on trial. The infamy of his crimes might result in a guilty verdict regardless of evidence presented at a trial. But because Parker’s involvement in the crimes was less known, a jury will not be as likely to deliver a guilty verdict based on what they already know, he said. 

While the trial is supposed to be fun, it also depicts a fairly accurate representation of what court is like. The event is unscripted, which allows the attorneys to come up with their own questions for witnesses based on the case. No one knows exactly what the other attorneys or witnesses will say or do.

Ben Trachtenberg, an associate professor of law who will play one of the defense attorneys, said that attorneys receive packets of information with evidence, as in a real trial.

The attorneys meet with co-counsel and talk strategy, Trachtenberg said.

“We’re all trying to win,” he said.

Having actual attorneys participate adds to the authenticity of the trial. Scott Fox, assistant prosecuting attorney for Cooper County, is helping represent the plaintiff. Missouri Deputy Attorney General Joseph Dandurand, will be the presiding judge.

Most of the other participants, including attorneys, witnesses and jury members, are affiliated with MU Law School.

“It’s a nice opportunity for students to get trial practice experience,” Trachtenberg said.

The Historical and Theatrical Trial Society is a program specific to MU and has been putting on annual performances for about seven years. Previously, Lewis and Clark, Al Capone and Dr. Frankenstein were also put on trial.

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