One of the more persistent urban legends of Old Houston is that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow robbed a bank and/or lived or hid out in the Bayou City during their nationally infamous crime spree.
Most versions have it that they took down the Heights State Bank on the corner of Washington Avenue and Heights Boulevard — the building that has for many decades been home to nightclub-turned-event hall Rockefeller’s.
And not far from there, at the corner of Oxford and 14th Street, there is a still standing house some believe the notorious duo lived in during their reign of terror, while some other stories have them filling up their car or getting repairs at gas stations on Airline Drive and in Montrose.
Still other tales have it that Barrow was a member of a street gang in the Near Northside, and even more legends tell us that Bonnie and Clyde robbed a bank in the old town of Harrisburg — that would be a brick building still stands at the corner of Broadway and Cypress (in what is now the City of Houston) that now houses El Mesquite taqueria.
Trouble is, none of that actually happened. Researchers have taken great care to piece together Bonnie and Clyde timelines, and Houston does not figure in any of them. As a tandem it is not believed that they came much further south than Temple.
But that is not to say that the Parker-Barrow Gang did not have any ties to the Houston area. They did, and those ties were all in and around East Aldine, and those were in the form of area resident William Daniel “Deacon” Jones, one of the more notable names interred in East Aldine’s Brookside Cemetery and a fully-fledged child member of the Bonnie and Clyde gang.
Like Parker and Barrow, Jones’s childhood was one of extreme hardship. Born in 1916 into a large sharecropping family who lived in the cotton fields of rural Henderson County, a collapse in the price of that staple sent the Joneses and many thousands of families like them into shantytowns on the edges of big cities — in Jones’ case, West Dallas, where he was raised in a tarpaper shack with no electricity or running water. (We might call them colonias today.) Within a year of his family’s arrival, his father and a sister and a brother had all died in epidemics — some now believe Spanish flu.
It was there that Jones — who never learned to read or write — met and began to idolize the slightly older Barrow and it was also there that he started getting into trouble for petty crime. As the Depression deepened and Jones entered his teenage years, he came to be known as a “police character”: a gifted thief of both car tires and later cars themselves. On Christmas Eve 1932, Clyde, then 23 years old, came calling with his new girlfriend Bonnie Parker in tow. Clyde had two problems: one, the cops were hot on their trail; and two, there was a vacancy in his gang. Would Jones like to sign on for a life of adventure with his old hero? You bet he would.
The romance of a life of crime with his childhood hero lasted only a few hours. Christmas Day found them in Temple, Texas, and in need of a Ford Roadster. When that Roadster’s owner — 27-year-old Doyle Johnson — disputed their claim by jumping on the running board of his car, and then attempting to choke Barrow, several shots rang out from inside the Ford, and Johnson tumbled dead in the road.
In later years, Jones recounted the tale differently every time, and in one version he had it that while he hadn’t actually killed Johnson, Barrow brainwashed him into believing he had. Bonnie and Clyde experts believe it more likely that he had in actual fact taken Johnson’s life.
In any event, Jones said, Barrow had leverage over the 16-year-old Jones from that point on.
“Boy, you can’t go home,” Jones remembered Barrow telling him. “You got murder on you, just like me.”
And they were off on their ramble that has now entered American myth. A few weeks later, after the gang found themselves ensnared in a dragnet set up for a different gang of roving desperados in Tarrant County, Barrow (or maybe Jones) killed a deputy sheriff near Fort Worth. With the heat on, Parker, Barrow and Jones beelined east into Arkansas and Missouri, stopping off to kidnap (and release unharmed) a Springfield, Missouri cop, but not until they had relieved him of a fancy Russian pistol.
The longer they eluded police, the more confident they became. By Spring of 1932, they were taking time to pause for roadside selfie sessions — those infamous pics of the gun-brandishing bandits sneering at the world. In April, they headed up Route 66 to Joplin, Missouri, where another gun battle left two cops dead and Jones catching a bullet through his torso. (The gang made a point of stealing medical supplies whenever possible so Barrow was able to sterilize Jones’s wound.)
Photographic bravado aside, by this time, Jones had started to question his youthful mancrush on Barrow and wanted out of the gang. In the north Louisiana town of Ruston, he waited for Parker and Barrow to fall asleep and hightailed it back to Dallas, only, he later said, to be found there by the roving bandits weeks later. He said they more or less forced him back into the gang on pain of an early grave.
More robberies, more carjackings, more mayhem and gunbattles, more blood, and more death. An Arkansas farmer shot off two of Jones’s fingertips in one shootout. Clyde’s brother Buck fell dead in another gunbattle. Jones caught some birdshot in the face and some buckshot in his chest. Bonnie Parker’s leg was disfigured after it was scalded with battery acid after a car wreck — she would hobble badly right up until the day she was riddled with Texas Ranger Tommy gun slugs.
The 16-year-old Jones wanted out again, for good this time, and in the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale, he made his escape. Jones stole a car and kept on driving all the way to the outskirts of Houston where his mother Tookie was then picking cotton and vegetables. After a few months working as a produce seller, an acquaintance ratted Jones out to Dallas authorities, and the teen was hauled up to Fort Worth to face charges for the murder of that Tarrant County deputy that either he or Barrow had killed.
Perhaps because of his age, he was only sentenced to 16 years. Jones served six, and it was a good thing he did: he was safely out of the line of fire when Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and his posse riddled Bonnie and Clyde with Tommy gun bullets in western Louisiana.
Told of their fate, Jones said he was relieved. Upon his parole sometime around 1941, Jones returned to north Houston / Aldine. He tried to volunteer for the Army at the onset of World War II, but they would not accept him because of all his wounds. (He also said he was missing a piece of his lung.)
He settled into a more or less quiet if troubled life at 1519 Hendrix, a little house next door to Tookie’s place, just east of Hardy between Berry and Tidwell.
Perhaps due to the after effects of his bullet wounds, Jones became addicted to a concoction of paregoric (a painkiller) he liked to mix with rotgut whiskey. Upon the release of the blockbuster 1967 Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway film, Jones was thrust into the spotlight. (Michael J. Pollard’s “C.W. Moss” character was partially based on Jones.) In an interview with Playboy, Jones steadfastly refused to glamorize his notorious past.
As he said: “That Bonnie and Clyde movie made it all look sort of glamorous, but like I told them teenaged boys sitting near me at the drive-in showing: ‘Take it from an old man who was there. It was hell. Besides, there’s more lawmen nowadays with better ways of catching you. You couldn’t get away, anyway. The only way I come through it was because the Good Lord musta been watching over me. But you can’t depend on that, neither, because he’s got more folks to watch over now than he did then.”
Without success, Jones sued the film’s producers, claiming the film had maligned his character by portraying him as a gung-ho, willing participant in the crime spree.
By 1970 his second turn in the limelight had passed. Alcoholic and drug-addicted, and only periodically employed as a cement truck driver, Jones spent most of his free time in the beer joints and ice houses up and down Old Hardy Road.
Here is how blogger Frank Ballinger pieced together the wee hours of August 20, 1974, when a honky-tonky angel led him straight to perdition on the last night of his troubled life.
“W.D. Jones was at a bar late one night and was to some degree, drunk – as he normally was. He was in no mood to listen to a crying drunk woman who wanted someone and it didn’t matter who, to take her over to her boyfriend’s house. Her boyfriend was George Jones [A sheet metal worker and no relation to Deacon or the honky-tonker]. W.D. Jones finally agreed to take her over to the house after being told that George had some drugs over there…so off they went.”
George Jones lived at 10616 Woody Lane, two blocks south of Little York and a block or so north of Mary Withers Park.
[See link at end of story]
Ballenger picks up the story:
When they arrived at the house, the woman told George on the front porch, that she was afraid of W.D. Jones and told him that W.D. Jones was a known killer and an all around bad guy. She told him that he was also packin’ a gun, so George Jones stepped back into the house and got his shotgun. George came down off of the steps and onto the right front part of the yard and approached WD.
And then shot him three times with a shotgun, for some reason or other.
Well, that’s one version. Another has it that Deacon was angry that George wouldn’t take this woman off his hands — in any event, the result was the same: George Jones blasted Deacon Jones three times with a 12 gauge shotgun and Deacon bled out in the driveway there on Woody Street, $3.85 cents in his pocket and no children or other close relatives left alive to mourn him when he was laid at last to rest in Brookside Memorial Park.
Editor: We’ve included the link below to direct our readers to so that they can get a sense of time and place. It’s replete with many photographs, and we make no claim to copyright nor content on the site, but find it interesting enough that we felt we needed to include it.