Clyde Barrow Committed A Brutal Murder While In Prison

For a time in the 1930s, America was in the midst of what would become known as the "Public Enemy Era." As the Ayo & Iken Law Firm notes, the country was reeling from the simultaneous effects of the Great Depression and Prohibition, and outlaws such as Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone occupied a space in the popular consciousness where "murderous villain" and "underdog antihero" intersect.

Two of the biggest names to go down in the history books from this period were Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow — Bonnie and Clyde. The press and the public couldn't get enough of them and their exploits, and the pair, for their part, ate up the attention. Of course, they were also murderers — at least 13 people are believed to have died at the hands of one or the other or both, according to the FBI.

Barrow's first murder was actually something of an act of self-defense, if the term "self-defense" is interpreted broadly. Specifically, according to Texas Monthly, he murdered a prison enemy who had repeatedly sexually assaulted him.

Prison ruined Clyde Barrow

Clyde Barrow was likely not going to grow up to be a law-abiding man, but whether or not he was destined to become the violent murderer he eventually became is far from clear. Keen to escape poverty and be respected, he saw crime as a way to achieve that goal, according to the FBI. As a teen, his crimes were relatively minor, according to the FBI; failing to return a rental car on time, for example, or stealing turkeys. But when he was sent to Texas' notorious Eastham Prison Farm, he came out a changed man — a violent man bent on revenge.

The list of abuses at Eastham is lengthy. As Texas Monthly reports, prisoners were often forced to sit on a barrel for hours at a time, their handcuffed hands affixed to a pipe above their heads. Guards routinely beat the prisoners, and one guard had a habit of shooting prisoners and then claiming they were trying to escape. Those who lived would face grueling hours of hard labor.

Prison definitely changed Clyde Barrow. His friend Ralph Fults would later say that Barrow went "from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake" during his incarceration.

The murder Of Big Ed Crowder

In the midst of all of the brutality Clyde Barrow endured at Eastham Prison Farm, perhaps the worst treatment he endured was at the hands of another inmate. As Texas Monthly reports, Barrow arrived at the prison a small, handsome, fresh-faced young man, the type of inmate older, predatory inmates are likely to abuse — "fresh meat," as the magazine describes it. In Barrow's case, a prisoner named "Big Ed" Crowder was his tormentor. Crowder repeatedly beat and sexually assaulted Barrow.

How long this went on remains unclear, but in 1931, according to the book, "Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde," Barrow committed his first premeditated murder, crushing his assailant's skull with a lead pipe. Another inmate, already doing life, copped to the murder, and Barrow was released without having been compelled to answer for this crime. That Barrow was responsible for Crowder's death didn't even come out until years later, when Barrow's friend Ralph Fults revealed it in a series of interviews. Of course, by this time Clyde had become a cold-blooded murderer, having killed not just prison assailants, but innocent people as well.