Southeastern New Mexico has a connection to the legendary outlaws Bonnie and Clyde when they were in their heyday of robbing and killing. Bonnie had an aunt who lived in Carlsbad on a farm a few miles outside of town.
Trying to avoid the growing number of lawmen in Oklahoma and Texas when the heat was on, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow decided this would be the perfect place to hide out for a while, so they came to New Mexico.
One version of the story tells that Bonnie’s aunt alerted lawmen that they were there. Another version was that when Clyde and Raymond Hamilton, a member of the notorious Barrow Gang, drove into town from the aunt’s farm to get ice. The V8 car they were driving, matched the description of a car that had been stolen from a local motor court. Sheriff Joseph Johns of Eddy County picked up on it and cautiously followed them back to the home of Bonnie’s aunt.
Joseph Johns of Carlsbad held six public offices in Eddy County. From 1921-24, Johns was tax assessor. He was sheriff from 1927-30 and a deputy sheriff from 1930-32. In 1932 he was elected county treasurer and held the office four years. He was a member of the state tax commission for one and one-half years and in 1938 was named police chief of Carlsbad.
Johns knocked on the door of the farmhouse one morning and Bonnie appeared.
“Who’s Ford is that?” Johns inquired. Bonnie answered sweetly, saying it belonged to one of the boys: “They’re dressing right now I’ll send them out in a few minutes.”
This was a pre-determined response designed to alert those in the house. Clyde and Hamilton begin searching frantically for some type of weapon. Their pistols and sawed off shotguns were locked up in the car trunk out of sight. Clyde finally located a shotgun tucked away in one of the closets. By then, Johns had started looking at the car and was tugging at the locked trunk latch. Seconds later Clyde and Hamilton burst from the rear door whirling to face the lawman, Clyde held the gun on the sheriff. When the sheriff went for his side arm, Clyde fired a blast of bird shot over Johns’ head, with a pellet or two knocking his hat to the ground. Johns let his service revolver fall to the ground, and Hamilton rushed over to retrieve it.
He told Johns to get in the car. Bonnie ran from the house and hopped in the front seat. Johns climbed in the back. Hamilton, with his pistol in hand, squeezed in beside him.
Clyde, as always, took the wheel. Bonnie’s aunt was in the garden when the gunfire and shouting began. Before she got to the house, the car with her niece was already speeding away.
City police and members of the Eddy County sheriff’s department soon converged on the farm, followed shortly by a crowd of curious onlookers. Someone was overheard talking about the sheriff’s hat have being shot from his head.
Clyde drove the car at high speeds, going back into Texas. At one point they had stopped to get gas. At the gas station, a Mexican man in a Model T was standing in front of the only pump and couldn’t move his car.
“I can move him!” Jack swore, and started to pull out his gun. “Don’t do that, the sheriff begged, “he can’t help it!” Jack got out, and looking back at the sheriff, put his gun inside his shirt. The Mexican man finally got his car started soon after that, and they got the gas and started driving again.
“How about taking those guns out of my ribs?” the sheriff asked Jack. “I promise I won’t try to get away.” Jack thought about it as they drove along, “Well we’ll take a chance on you, if we’re stopped by the law, Sugar (Bonnie) will go out of the car on her side and you’ll follow her and get away from the car, then you two can see a good fight, but don’t try anything funny copper, or we’ll get you first!”
At one point a little later they had pulled into a gas station after having a flat. Johns recognized someone he knew there, parked in a car nearby. The man was a Mr. Robinson, an officer he knew, who was transporting another prisoner. Later, when Johns returned home, he received a letter from Robinson saying he had recognized his face, but couldn’t think of how he knew him.
Twelve hours later they were in San Antonio. It was there the outlaws decided they needed to find a new car to steal.
Finally, after driving around all night, they put Johns out of the car five miles outside of the city. He made his way to a phone and called San Antonio officers, then called his family who were frantic with the fear that he had been killed.
Following is an article from the Clovis News Journal, May 24, 1934, following the death of Bonnie and Clyde. Sheriff Johns tells of his abduction experience:
Barrow’s Death Recalls The Kidnaping [sic] of Carlsbad Man
CARLSBAD, N.M., Ma 24 (AP) – That Clyde Barrow and Raymond Hamilton wanted to return in August 1932 to Carlsbad and kill Mr. E.M. Stamps, aunt of Bonnie Parker, Barrow’s gun-toting woman companion, was revealed for the first time today by Joe Johns who was kidnaped [sic] by the three outlaws two years ago and taken on a wild ride to San Antonio, Texas.
“They wanted to go back and kill her because she reported them to officers,” Johns said, “but I argued them out of it.”
Mrs. Stamps yesterday, revealed for the first time the fear she felt for her life when she reported. Barrow and Hamilton to officers after her niece, Bonnie Parker, had brought Barrow and Hamilton to her home for a four day stay.
“All the way along they threatened to kill me, but, Bonnie said I was a nice guy so they finally let me out and asked if I had money to get home on,” Johns said.
“If you haven’t, we can get it for you damn quick,” Johns said his abductors told him.
Mrs. Stamps had telephoned Eddy County officers that the to men, known as James White and Jack Smith, and the girl, known as Mrs. Bonnie White, were at her place.
Why the outlaws did not kill him when he was their kidnap victim for 20 hours will always be a mystery to Johns, now county treasurer but then a deputy sheriff.
He said he has since felt no fear of reprisals by the outlaws, but recalled vividly the fear he felt while on the trip from here to San Antonio (Texas). He was seated between Barrow and Hamilton with Bonnie sitting on Hamilton’s lap and poking a gun in his ribs.
“The car was filled with rifles and pistols but they had no machine gun,” he said.
Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at email@example.com.