Bonnie and Clyde

Bank robbers Bonnie, Clyde
kidnapped policeman in 1933

Springfield (Mo.) Leader-Press
Sunday, October 10, 1999
By Robert Edwards
This story originally appeared in the News-Leader on Jan. 25, 1997

Reprinted with permission.

   Brushes with the famous or infamous are the stuff of legend in many an Ozark family.
   Great-granddad or auntie, the tales go, chatted at a campaign 
whistle stop with World War I buddy Harry Truman or had laying on of the hands by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson or notched the tree to show where Jesse James tied his horse before robbing the train.
   Some lore may even be true.
   It occurred shortly before 6 p.m. on Jan. 26, 1933, at the north end of the Benton avenue viaduct at Tampa Street in Springfield.
   That's where police officer Tom A. Persell was kidnapped by fugitive outlaws Bonnie and Clyde.
   And he lived to tell about it.
   Persell had pulled over a car with Oklahoma plates. His suspicion was aroused when he spotted the vehicle slowly circling
the nearby Shrine Mosque. The occupants appeared to be eyeing a parked car.
   As he stepped off his motorcycle, he found himself looking into the muzzle of a sawed-off shotgun.
   Though he didn't know it then, the slim, dark-faced man wielding
the shotgun was Clyde Barrow, who at one point during the ordeal displayed a roll of bills "big enough to choke a cow."
   The slender, re-haired woman with a Thompson submachine across her lap was Bonnie Parker.
   The couple, on the lam, ordered Persell to guide them out of town and help them dodge other officers.
   Six hours later, the cop-killing bank-robbing desperadoes who roamed the Midwest during Depression days released him near Joplin.

Photograph courtesy of the History Museum of Springfield-Greene County

   Persell's widow, Hazel Persell, 87, who lives in northern
Greene County, can't help but remember the incident each
   "It was a scary time," she said.
   She was 23 years old and pregnant with the couple's
second child--Tom W., now 63 and retired from Sweet-
heart Cup in Springfield.
   Until the day he died of natural causes in 1989, Tom a.
Persell could not pinpoint a reason why Bonnie and Clyde,
at gunpoint,dropped him off on an isolated Jasper County
road to walk away unharmed.
   "He said he expected to hear that hammer fall." son
Tom W. Persell said this week, recalling his father's
words. "The motor started and they drove off."
   Maybe it was because he dept cool, even as he was
forced to lie on the back-seat floorboard with Parker's
heals digging into his back.
   That evening, the fugitives meandered their way west
from Springfield, taking rough, rutted back roads. They
were looking for a battery to heist for their ailing Ford
V-8 or another automobile to steal.
   "They all were profane, hardly said anything without
cussing." Persell said afterward of Bonnie, Clyde and
sidekick W. D. Jones.
   He admitted being scared of his captors, who spoke
casually of shootouts and robberies, his son said. "But
he didn't want them it."
   As Persell stepped out of the gangsters' car, he brazenly
asked them to return his gun, a Russian-made .45-caliber
pistol he'd bought for $50 on his $105-a-month salary.
   "You've got all the guns you need," he told Clyde Barrow.
   But Barrow refused, saying. "We can use it."
   He also implied the officer was lucky  to be alive . 
The accounts of the ordeal were published in news
stories and Persell's first-person account in the Jan. 27,
1933, editions of the old Springfield Leader. Through
the years, New-Leader reporters Joe Clayton and Frank
Farmer were among those who revisited the story and
talked with Persell.
    Persell didn't figure out who had abducted him
until April 1933. He identified Bonnie and Clyde from
photos found in their hideout at Freeman Grove near
Joplin after they killed two law officers.
   By way of contrast, Polk County Sheriff Jack
Killingsworth knew the identity of the man who
kidnapped him at gunpoint June 16, 1933, in Bolivar.
It was Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, who was on the
run from authorities. Killingsworth said Floyd treated
him well on a 14-hour escape to Kansas City,
where the sheriff was released unharmed.
   In Springfield, a man leaving a grocery store
witnessed Persell's kidnapping, and police were alerted.
But Parker, Barrow and Jones got out of town before
they could be spotted again.
    Hazel Persell was doing laundry at her parents' home
home when her father, C.W. Greenwade, was called
and told Tom was missing.  At first, her father wasn't
going to tell her, but she sensed something was wrong
and forced the information out of him.
   Her father, his dander up, recruited a neighbor and
both men took off in a car to try to find Tom.
   "I imagine he was well-armed," Tom W. said of
his grandfather. "He was quite an avid hunter."
   Hazel and Tom W. Persell said they are grateful her
father did not cross paths with the well-armed outlaws
holding her husband. Gun play surely would have resulted.
   Persell, who later became a postal worker, was
reticent about the incident, although he did sit for inter-
views now and then and allowed his granddaughters to
take him for show and tell at the former Ritter elementary.
   "He was very quiet, unassuming and sincere, "Farmer
   Even Persell's immediate reaction was low key and
after he hoofed to safety 64 years ago and was greeted
by his wife. Hazel Persell had insisted on riding to Joplin
with authorities.
   "I think I embarrassed him because I grabbed him and
hugged him and kissed him." she said.

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