Editor’s note: This is a theatrical enactment of a trial that is based in historical and legal fact. Bonnie Parker was put on trial as part of an annual production by MU Law's Historical and Theatrical Trial Society (HATTS) and the MU School of Law.
Bonnie Parker was killed with her companion, Clyde Barrow, on May 23, 1934, in an ambush in Louisiana. Previous trials by HATTS and the MU School of Law have included Lewis and Clark, Al Capone and Dr. Frankenstein.
COLUMBIA — Bonnie Parker squeezed her hands to her heart. Her face tilted up toward the screen above the courtroom. Clyde Barrow’s video deposition from prison was playing.
"I love you with every fiber of my being," Barrow said to her.
The murder trial of Parker, one half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo, was concluded with a not-guilty verdict on charges of first- and second-degree murder Monday night. She was cleared for the death of police officer H.D. Murphy in Grapevine,* who was shot and killed April 1, 1934.
On that day Parker, Barrow and Henry Methvin, another member of the infamous Barrow Gang, were parked by the side of the highway in a black Ford V8, when they were approached by two Missouri state motorcycle patrol officers, E.B. Wheeler and H.D. Murphy. Within moments, shots were fired and the two officers were on the ground. None of the six witnesses on the stand disputed those facts.
Monday night, it was Bonnie Parker’s role that was judged.
Parker said she was asleep in the car when the officers approached the car. When Methvin fired two shots, she woke up, jumped out and tried to save one officer still moving on the ground.
"I thought maybe I could help and see if he was still alive I could help him," she said and dabbed her eye. "Then I saw Henry shoot that poor officer two more times."
The defense team, led by MU law professor Ben Trachtenberg, argued that Parker had made the wrong decision by getting involved with Barrow and his gang.
"While Bonnie may be guilty of bad judgment, she is not guilty of murder," MU third-year law student J. Paige Oster said in Parker’s defense.
On the other side, the prosecution relied on the eye witness account of William Schieffer, 42, a local farmer. From more than 100 yards away, he saw a woman get out of the car, go up to officer moving on the ground, "screaming like a maniac," he said.
"I’ll never forget what she said,” Schieffer said. "'His head bounced like a rubber ball.'"
Cooper County Prosecutor Scott Fox, who led the state’s team, said the jury should look to the physical evidence left in the ground where the shootings took place: lemon slices that Parker chewed after drinking liquor and a mostly empty bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey.
Parker was no stranger to a life of crime, the prosecution said, and had ample opportunity to leave the gang.
Parker and Barrow had already been on the run for years at the time of the shooting. Their crime spree included robbing banks, stealing cars and killing 13 people. Charges were originally filed against Parker and Barrow for transporting a stolen Ford car from Dallas to Pawhuska, Okla., in September 1932.
In January 1934, they helped five prisoners escape from Eastham State Prison Farm in Waldo, Texas. Two prison guards were killed in the process.
Other witnesses included a woman who drove by the scene on the way to visit a friend and Henry Methvin. Video depositions were given by another member of the motorcycle patrol and Clyde Barrow.
When the verdict was announced, Parker smiled warmly, showing deep dimples in her cheeks.
"I feel jubilated," she said. "I am ecstatic at the result."
She said she planned to see if she could find Barrow in prison and to spend time with her family.
*The actual incident took place in Grapevine, Texas, but the location was changed to Missouri for the purposes of the exercise. Bonnie Parker was played by second-year law student Ashton Botts. Clyde Barrow was played by Andrew Stashefsky, and William Schieffer was played by MU law professor Dennis Crouch.