HOMER, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are forever etched into American outlaw folklore but in Claiborne Parish where their crime spree came to a violent end, locals hold on to relics and family tales of the time that outlaw lovers rolled through.
John Malone saw plenty at his small motel on U.S. 79 in Homer, La., but how he got his hands on one of Bonnie Parker’s shoes shows the extreme popularity of these hardened criminals in rural, northern Louisiana at the time of their death in 1934.
Malone often spent the night at Claiborne Motor Courts after working the late shift. Highway 79, cuts a diagonal slash across mid-America from Russellville, Kentucky to Round Rock, Texas. During those times the highway brought all kinds into his motel and restaurant.
Travelers used the route en masse before the interstate highways existed. Driving between Midwest states— such as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio—to the heart of Texas and on to the Southwest often meant driving through the town of Homer.
Malone saw it all.
John Wayne slept at Claiborne Motor Courts one night. The Commodores ate lunch there on the way to a concert. The clean rooms and hearty lunches attracted business travelers, truck drivers, vacationers, and locals.
How Bonnie Parker’s shoes arrived in Homer
The town of Homer is only a few miles from Arcadia, known for its connection to two of America’s most famous criminals: Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
The duo met their death at the hands of law enforcement officers on May 23, 1934, near Gibsland, Louisiana, and their bodies were taken to a morgue in the back of a furniture store in Arcadia.
When the 1934 Ford Model 40 Type 730 Deluxe Sedan, which contained the bodies of Barrow and Parker, was towed into Arcadia a frenzied crowd converged on the vehicle.
The mob sought souvenirs from the car and even took things off the bodies of the famous outlaws. A mad scramble ensued as coins fell out of Clyde’s pocket when he was loaded onto a stretcher. Supposedly lockets of Bonnie’s hair and strips of her dress were taken, too.
Worse still, attempts to cut off Clyde’s fingers and ear failed.
The car was ransacked. One man, who eventually auctioned the family collection of souvenirs, said, “My grandfather grabbed a handful of stuff off of the floor of the car which the outlaws had been living in. He said the car was full of trash. When he got home, he saw that he had… a small screwdriver, a Bayer aspirin tin, the side temple of a pair of wire glasses, an unspent bullet… and a blood-stained silk stocking.”
Clyde’s pants were cut into tiny swatches, framed, and offered for sale. Those swatches can still be found occasionally on online auction sites. Clyde’s shirt, tattered by bullets, is on display at a Nevada casino.
In the late 1950s John Nick Brown, former sheriff of Claiborne Parish, is reported to have walked into John Malone’s Claiborne Courts. According to legend he sat a single shoe down on a restaurant table and told Malone, “This is a shoe Bonnie Parker had on when she was killed.“
John displayed the shoe in the restaurant of Claiborne Courts and soon people were lining up to see it.
George Camp photographed the shoe at the restaurant and believes he still has the images in a box somewhere. “People knew it was authentic if the former sheriff and former head of the Louisiana State Police possessed it,” Camp says.
“[The shoe] was partially broken in the arch and could be flopped around,” Camp said. “It was made of a woven light-colored hemp-like material.”
Brown was not part of the ambush and had yet to enter law enforcement in 1934, so it is unclear how he came to possess the shoes. He became a Claiborne Parish deputy in 1936 and was elected sheriff in 1944. Sheriff Henderson Jordan of Bienville Parish set up the ambush and continued as sheriff until 1944. The two men undoubtedly knew one another as the chief law enforcement officers of adjoining parishes. And Brown eventually became head of the Louisiana State Police and developed many connections in the law enforcement community.
John and Rae Malone acquired Claiborne Courts around 1953 and operated it for 24 years, so the shoe came into their possession long after Bonnie Parker was killed.
John Malone, Jr. worked for his dad at the motel occasionally as a teen. He recalls the shoe and that it was eventually stuck away in a closet.
“When my father died and we sold the motel, no one thought about the shoe,” Malone said.
Shoes come in pairs obviously, and Malone knows what happened to the other one.
“Sheriff Brown gave the other one to Allison Wyatt who worked at the Homer Coca-Cola Bottling Company,” Malone said. “I asked Mr. Wyatt about it one time.”
Malone said Wyatt was a bit coy in his answer. “I have something in my tackle box,” Wyatt said to Malone without specifying the shoe.
But Barry Drude of Virginia Beach, Virginia, grandson of Allison Wyatt, knows all about the shoe.
A former naval aviator, Drude said the story about his grandfather receiving one of the shoes is accurate. The family was well aware of Bonnie & Clyde because Barry’s mother Mary Sue, Wyatt’s daughter, was born May 24, 1934, one day after the murderous couple were killed.
“It’s true,” Drude said about the shoe.
Wyatt worked at the Coca-Cola plant for 47 years and later moved to Virginia Beach with the Drudes.
But the fate of the second shoe is much like the one the Malones possessed. Between the aging of Mr. Wyatt, packing and moving, and fading memories, the shoe was lost.
“It was discarded decades ago,” Drude said.
The fascination with the outlaw couple and anything they possessed endures 89 years after their death.
On May 26-27, the town of Gibsland will acknowledge the nearby ambush with its annual Bonnie & Clyde Festival. Attendees will hear history presentations and watch gunfight reenactments.
They can also visit the ambush site where thieves recently stole a huge souvenir—the large brass plaque commemorating the event in 1934.
Wesley Harris works as the parish historian for the Claiborne Parish Library in Homer, La. He researches, writes, and speaks on North Louisiana history. His specialties are Reconstruction Era crime and WWII in North Louisiana. An author of several books and hundreds of historical articles over the past 40 years, his work has appeared in national publications such as America’s Civil War, Wild West, and others. He has spoken at numerous history conferences on a variety of topics.
Harris was the 2022 recipient of the Max Bradbury Award for the best article published annually in North Louisiana History, the journal of the North Louisiana Historical Association.
After retiring from a 43-year career in law enforcement, Harris joined the Claiborne Parish Library staff in 2020. Since then, he has written or edited six books on North Louisiana history.