Dallas is best known for the Cowboys, JR Ewing and as the place where JFK was assassinated but very few people know it’s also the last resting place of Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I came across that information a while ago. I made a note of the address of the cemetery where Bonnie Parker is buried as well as loose directions to her grave and put it away.
Crown Hill Memorial Park is in an area of North Dallas, Webb Chapel, which I never have any reason to visit. Since I was meeting a friend for lunch in trendy Uptown and the cemetery was more or less in between Uptown and my home in the northern suburbs, I thought it was a good time as any to try and find Bonnie.
Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie Parker was a famous outlaw from the Great Depression era who had a partner called Clyde. Their story caught the imagination of the public, who created a romanticized image of the criminal couple. In my mind, they looked like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the actors who portrayed the outlaws in the 1967 film.
Bonnie met ex-con Clyde Barrow in Dallas in January 1930, where she lived with her mother and siblings. She was 19 and he was 20. They fell madly in love but their relationship was put on hold when he was sentenced to two years in prison for auto theft. After that, the couple went on a 21-month criminal spree, mainly armed robberies and murder, in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri and Louisiana, in part to escape poverty and in part because of their utter contempt for authority.
Bonnie and Clyde successfully evaded many police ambushes. They were always one step ahead of the authorities until they were caught in a roadblock in Louisiana and a hail of machine gun fire put an end to their lives. This marked the beginning of an American legend.
In search of Bonnie
After lunch at Mercat Bistro (2501 N Harwood St.), I entered the cemetery’s address (9700 Webb Chapel Rd) in my phone GPS and set off. I took Harry Hines all the way down to Webb Chapel Extension. The stylish Uptown buildings soon gave way to Southwestern Medical District and, farther on, the industrial looking area behind Lovefield Airport.
The landscape changed dramatically in less than 7 miles. The neighbourhoods got progressively more rundown and rougher. The buildings looked old and low-rent, many in need of a lick of paint. The physiognomy of the people and the language on the store signs changed as well: carnicería (butcher’s) La Michoacana, taquería La Paloma, tienda (grocery store) La Tampiqueña.
Webb Chapel is a working-class neighbourhood whose residents are mainly of Mexican ancestry. I started to worry I’d be mugged or have my car stolen. The newspapers are full of stories about Latin gangs and their criminal activities and, whether we like it or not, they permeate our unconscious mind and shape our view of the world. There are areas in Dallas with high crime rate, like everywhere else, but this one wasn’t necessarily one of them. However, I was out of my element; I wanted to be back in the swanky French bistro in Uptown or my safe suburban townhome.
Then I mentally slapped myself. Look at these people, I told myself: a mother pushing a pram, a granny carrying grocery bags, kids walking home from school. They are hard-working people trying to carve out a better life for their families, not criminals. Shake off your silly prejudices, you spoilt brat. Duly chastised, I carried on my search.
Although I have no sense of direction and need a GPS to go almost anywhere, I don’t always interpret its directions well. For example when it said “slight left on Webb Chapel Road” I turned left into Lombardy Road and had to do a U turn.
After a couple of unintentional detours, I finally managed to find the cemetery. I drove in and tried to find parking. The place is a big park crisscrossed with concrete paths. I wasn’t sure where to go or if it was legal to drive there, let alone park. I wasn’t comfortable with leaving the car anywhere (I didn’t want a ticket) so I drove around.
I drove past the central mausoleum, which had an Art Nouveau air to it, and some dark granite smaller contemporary ones. Cemeteries say a lot about the changes in society. I noticed that the older tombstones all had English names engraved on the dark granite and were sober and somber.
The newer headstones bore names and phrases in Spanish, like “Abuelita, te extrañaremos por siempre” (We will always miss you, Granny) and were decorated with gaudy flowers and ribbons, probably left over from the Día de los Muertos festivity that took place a few days earlier.
According to my notes, Bonnie Parker’s burial was located “to the left of the hedge.” OK. Which hedge? The one that ran around the whole place? Reading each headstone would take all day but still drove on, taking a few turns, driving very slowly, trying to read the engraved names.
Crown Hill Memorial Park is Bonnie Parker’s family burial site, this is the reason she’s buried here. But the cemetery requires non-family member to request permission in writing in order to photographs any graves. I’m not a family member and did not have a written permission.
Just like Bonnie eluded the authorities during her and Clyde’s criminal career, she also eluded me. I was not able to find her grave.