Relatives Fight to Reunite Bonnie and Clyde

by Brad Dison

At about 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday morning, May 23, 1934, six law enforcement officers, which included Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan (pronounced Jerdan) and Deputy Prentiss Oakley, ended the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde just west of Mt. Lebanon in a hail of gunfire.  Two graffiti-covered gunshot-pocked historical markers commemorate the spot.   Because of the publicity the couple received during their crime spree, and due the violent manner in which they were killed southwest of Gibsland, Bonnie and Clyde will forever be connected with Bienville Parish.  Eighty-seven years after their deaths, Bonnie and Clyde still garner worldwide attention.  

Bonnie Parker liked to write poetry.  Bonnie’s most noted poem, commonly referred to as “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” predicted their deaths and noted their wish to be buried together.   In the last stanza of her sixteen-stanza poem, Bonnie wrote:

Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief
To the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

At sunset on Friday, May 25, 1934, the Barrow family and several thousand curiosity-seekers gathered at Western Heights Cemetery in Dallas, Texas, for the funeral of Clyde Barrow.  Clyde was buried just to the left of his older brother, Marvin Ivan “Buck” Barrow, who was fatally wounded on July 19,1933 by a posse in Iowa.  Bonnie and Clyde managed to escape from the posse.  Clyde and Buck share a headstone.    

Two day later, Sunday, May 27, 1934, the Parker family gathered for the private funeral of Bonnie Parker.  Although the Barrow family saved the burial plot next to Clyde for Bonnie, Emma Parker, Bonnie’s mother, decided to bury Bonnie in a different cemetery altogether.  “He [Clyde] had her in life,” she proclaimed, “he can’t have her in death.”  Rather than burial at Western Heights Cemetery next to Clyde, Bonnie’s mother had her interred at Fishtrap Cemetery, less than a mile away from Clyde’s grave.  In 1945, Bonnie’s body was moved from Fish Trap cemetery to Crown Hill Memorial Park presumably so she would be buried next to her mother, Emma, who died and was buried in the memorial park in September of 1945.  For 87 years, the Barrow family has saved the burial plot next to Clyde for Bonnie.

For the past few years, Buddy Barrow and Rhea Leen (pronounced Ray Leen) Linder have been fighting to have Bonnie reburied in the burial plot next to Clyde.  

Buddy Barrow is the nephew of Clyde Barrow.  His father was L.C. Barrow, younger brother of Clyde.  

Rhea Leen Linder is the niece of Bonnie Parker.  The name on Rhea Leen’s birth certificate is Bonnie Ray Parker.  She was born in October of 1934, just five months after Bonnie and Clyde were killed.  Her father was Hubert “Buster” Parker, older brother of the infamous Bonnie.  Under the guidance of her aunt, Billie “Jean” Parker (sister of Bonnie Parker), Bonnie Ray Parker began using the alias Rhea Leen Frazier to distance herself from her notorious aunt.  Rhea Leen’s name was officially changed from Bonnie Ray Parker a few days before she was to be married.

On August 8, 2021, I spoke with Buddy Barrow and Rhea Leen Linder via telephone about reinterring Bonnie.  Rhea Leen explained that she, her attorney, and a third party had a three-way call with DeWayne Hughes of Crown Hill Memorial Park about having someone removed from the cemetery and reburied in another cemetery.  Rhea Leen said Mr. Hughes was “just as nice as he could be.”  Mr. Hughes explained the required paperwork, which appeared to be a straightforward process.  Then, Mr. Hughes asked who she wanted to remove from the cemetery.  “Bonnie Parker,” the attorney said.  After a moment’s silence, Mr. Hughes’s demeanor changed.  “He immediately starting fighting it, Rhea Leen said, “and the first words out of his mouth was that her (Bonnie’s) mother said that they couldn’t be buried side by side.”  The straightforward process suddenly became much more complicated.   

Mr. Hughes would not accept Rhea Leen as Bonnie’s closest relative.  Mr. Hughes named previous husbands of Bonnie’s sister, Jean, as possible heirs.  One of those was a man named Troy who was married to Jean from 1946 until about 1948 or 1949.  Another was A.B. Moon, a man who had children from a previous marriage.  Moon was married to Jean from about 1963 until Jean’s death in 1993.  Mr. Hughes even brought up Moon’s children from his previous marriage as possible heirs.  Rhea Leen explained that she is the only surviving grandchild of Emma Parker.  

Rhea Leen agreed that “they were outlaws,” she said, “There’s no way that they could be condoned or glorified.  You never want to glorify them, but they were people.  It’s sad for the victims.  We certainly don’t want to take anything away from them.”  To be buried together “was their wish.  They went down together.  They knew what the ending was going to be.”  Bonnie’s family tried to convince her to stay home while she could, but Bonnie refused by saying “life without Clyde wouldn’t be worth living.  That’s a pretty strong decision to make for someone so young.  They were in love,” she contended. 

Buddy contends that “a body is not owned by an in-law, PERIOD, and cannot dictate what somebody wants to do with a loved one.  I think the Parker family has the right to move their loved one.”  He pointed out that the proposed burial spot next to Clyde is in a historical cemetery.  “If they’re going to be history, put them where the history is and where the history started,… West Dallas.”

Recently, Rhea Leen and Buddy met with two law school students at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas about their case.  The law school is considering taking on the case pro bono. 

“Rhea Leen explained, “If Buddy and I don’t get this done, it will never happen.”

Sources:

  1. Buddy Barrow, phone conversation with Brad Dison, August 8, 2021.
  2. Rhea Leen Linder, phone conversation with Brad Dison, August 8, 2021.
  3. Galveston Daily News, May 27, 1934, p.18.
  4. “Bonnie Elizabeth Parker,” Find A Grave, accessed August 10, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/791/bonnie-elizabeth-parker.
  5. “Clyde Barrow,” Find A Grave, accessed August 10, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/58/clyde-barrow.

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