The fourth member of the infamous Barrow gang.
“Just a minute,” Blanche Barrow told the sheriff at the door. This code alerted her husband, Buck, who shortly began firing on law enforcement. It was 1 a.m. on July 20, 1933, and Platte County police had descended upon the infamous Barrow gang after receiving a tip about the license plate on Clyde Barrow’s stolen car.
After clearing an escape route, the group ran from the cover of the cabin, escaping under a barrage of fire. Buck received a head wound and Blanche sustained severe injuries, blinded by glass fragments from shattered car windows. The gang hid for another week, soon to be discovered by law enforcement. Buck was shot again and died in a hospital, and Blanche was taken into custody. Bonnie and Clyde escaped, but ultimately died in the final ambush in May of 1934, ending the notorious run of the Barrow gang.
Born Bennie Iva Caldwell in a small Oklahoma town, Blanche was mainly raised by her father. Her estranged mother strategically arranged a marriage to John Calloway, a much older man, when Blanche was 17 years old. Calloway was violent, and his abuse left Blanche unable to bear children. Blanche was hiding from Calloway when she met Buck and quickly fell in love. The couple married immediately after Blanche’s divorce finalized. However, Blanche soon found out that Buck was an escaped convict. Due to an arrest shortly after their first meeting in 1929, Buck owed a four-year sentence for burglary. He escaped the Texas State Penitentiary after serving two months.
Wanting a quiet life away from crime, Blanche convinced Buck to turn himself in to serve the rest of his sentence. Buck was released two years later and despite previous proclamations that he wasn’t a criminal at heart, he quickly rejoined his brother Clyde and Clyde’s girlfriend, Bonnie, in their debauchery. Blanche hesitantly followed.
Mugshot taken shortly after Blanche Caldwell Barrow was received into Missouri State Penitentiary on September 4, 1933.
The Barrow gang captured public attention between 1932 and 1934 as outlaws and robbers. Known for robbing banks, small stores, and rural funeral homes, the group joined the ranks of Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger, and Machine Gun Kelly in what was coined the public enemy era.
At the time of the Platte County shootout, Blanche had spent only four months with the Barrow gang. As Bonnie and Clyde filled their nights plotting their next move, playing cards, and drinking, the cooking and cleaning was left to Blanche. While displeased with the criminal lifestyle, Blanche eventually bonded with Bonnie, sympathizing with her unwavering loyalty to Clyde.
“We laughed about a lot of things that we should have taken more seriously,” Blanche later wrote in her autobiography, “My Life with Bonnie and Clyde.”
“But no matter how serious or dangerous the situation was, we always found something to laugh about later on,” Blanche also wrote. “It always seemed better to laugh than to cry. We had to laugh to keep from crying.”
It was ultimately Blanche’s loyalty to Buck that led to her years in prison. With Bonnie and Clyde still on the run, Blanche was the focus of an intense interrogation and was eventually questioned by Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover. She refused to provide information, maintaining that her affiliation with the gang was simply to be close to her late husband. Frustrated with her lack of cooperation, Hoover allegedly threatened to gouge out her uninjured eye.
Blanche pled guilty despite never firing a shot, refusing to testify against her husband and fearful that she would receive more time if she went to trial. With a conviction of assault with intent to kill, Blanche was transported to the Missouri State Penitentiary in September 1933 by Platte County Sheriff Coffey. When she was not undergoing treatment for her eye, Blanche worked on her photography, scrapbook, and memoir. She was released from MSP in 1939, under a conditional commutation containing strict orders to leave Cole County and never return.
Blanche quickly remarried, spending the following decades in Texas with carpenter Eddie Frasure. She rarely referenced those four months in 1933, keeping only a box of keepsakes stowed away in a closet full of photos and papers from her past life.
“I hope young women and girls alike will learn from my story and avoid the pitfalls that can lead to a life of crime,” Blanche concludes in her memoir. “It’s a game you can’t win.”