Ken Holmes makes a living shining a light on the seedier side of Dallas history. The 1971 Kimball High School graduate was in middle school when John F. Kennedy was shot Downtown, and he was a teenager when “Bonnie and Clyde,” the movie about our neighborhood’s most notorious couple, made it to the big screen. But it was a personal connection that piqued his interest in criminal history.
“My dad knew Ted Hinton, who was one of the Dallas County Sheriff’s deputies who shot Bonnie and Clyde,” to death May 23, 1934, Holmes says. “I never did ask him anything about it, but I wish I had now.”
Over the years, Holmes has made friends with dozens of people associated with the Barrow gang and the lawmen who hunted them.
Holmes has appeared in about 20 documentaries for outlets such as the BBC, CBS News and the History Channel. He once was hired to work on an episode of “The Amazing Race,” in which contestants had to find the old Barrow family gas station at Singleton and Borger. Once they found it, Clyde Barrow’s nephew, Buddy, gave them instructions for the next step in the race.
Near the 75th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde’s death this past May, Holmes fielded dozens of calls from reporters around the world.
At Clyde Barrow’s grave one hot morning, Holmes talked about his business, Southwest Historical Inc., which offers tours related to Bonnie and Clyde, the JFK assassination and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. In about an hour, he let fly a virtual dissertation about a lonely little woman and the West Dallas criminal who swept her off her feet.
Part of Bonnie and Clyde’s enduring appeal, Holmes says, is the dozens of pictures they took of themselves, which lawmen recovered during four or five unsuccessful raids. Newspapers of the 1930s were their Facebook. There’s Bonnie, stylish and aloof, with a tam o’shanter, stogie and revolver.
“There are only two or three known photographs of Dillinger. And I think Dillinger was jealous of them,” Holmes says. “They were so popular. I mean, not popular, but well-known. Most people were scared to death of them.”
A good story is all in the details, and Holmes is full of them. He knows the exact site of the house on what is now Singleton Boulevard, where Bonnie and Clyde fell instantly in love. He knows Clyde obtained his arsenal by breaking into the National Guard Armory in Ranger, which was just an old theater with a padlock to secure the guns. He knows that the entire Barrow gang suffered from gonorrhea. And that Clyde didn’t chop off his first two toes to avoid hard labor in prison; he got another convict to do it for him.
Holmes became friends with Blanche Barrow, Clyde’s sister-in-law and gang member, who died in 1988. She told him that when lawmen had them surrounded in Joplin, Mo., her little dog, Snowball, was frightened by gunfire and jumped from her arms and out of the house. She never found the pup, and her husband, Buck, was mortally wounded in the fight.
Holmes, who still lives in Oak Cliff, has been chasing down details like those for decades. But after he sold his family business, the Dallas Burglar Alarm Co., 10 years ago, he immersed himself in the stories. The 57-year-old owns the car that was used in the 1967 movie, and he used to have a traveling show featuring the car and friends such as Bonnie Ray Parker, Bonnie’s niece.
Five years ago, he opened the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, La. At first, he wanted to put the museum in downtown Dallas, but he couldn’t afford the rent.
“Then one day, I was in Gibsland, and I noticed the old Ma Canfield’s Café, where Bonnie had stopped in to buy some sandwiches the morning they were killed,” Holmes says. “The building was all caved in, and it was a mess.”
But the real estate developer who owns the building agreed to fix it up and rent it to the museum.
About a year ago, he leased the movie car to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C. But the Gibsland museum contains many other reminders of the couple, such as a revolver from the Bonnie and Clyde death car, a brooch that Bonnie was wearing when she died, and Bonnie’s timeless tam.
“One of the most interesting pieces I’ve got in the museum is Boots,” Holmes says.
L.J. “Boots” Hinton is the son of Ted Hinton, the deputy who was friends with Holmes’ dad, and he runs the museum.
“It’s neat because he gets to tell his dad’s story.”