Stephen F. Austin State University

Bonnie and Clyde nearly nabbed in Gregg County (April 2019)

Bonnie and Clyde nearly nabbed in Gregg County

By Van Craddock

Only a few people saw the two ambulances as they sped through Longview shortly after 5 o'clock on the morning of May 24, 1934. The vehicles were on their way to Dallas, carrying the bodies of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

The outlaw twosome had been gunned down the day before near Gibsland, La.

But except for a Gladewater shooting incident and the arrest of an outlaw pal a couple of days earlier in Longview, Bonnie and Clyde likely would have met their fate in Gregg County.

This may take some explaining.

It seems that Bonnie Parker's sister, Billie Mace, had gone to work at a roadside cafe in Gladewater in early 1934.

Frustrated lawmen knew that could mean a visit from Bonnie and Clyde. After all, Clyde already had several relatives in the East Texas area, although most of their trips to the area were social calls and not "business."

A couple of highway patrol undercover officers dropped by the Gladewater joint, located on the road toward Gilmer. There they struck up a conversation with the 21-year-old Billie, who also went by the name of White.

Everything went fine until Billie discovered the two men were the "laws." That didn't sit well with some of the rougher customers in the cafe, and a couple of shots were fired. No one was injured, but the lawmen were certain word of the incident would get back to Bonnie and Clyde in no time. The outlaws wouldn't be setting foot in Gregg County for a while, the lawmen reasoned.

It turns out Bonnie and Clyde were in Wood County, where J. A. Nichols, certified car thief, was supposed to rendezvous with them on Tuesday, May 22. Only problem was, Nichols had been arrested and was sitting in a Gregg County jail cell in Longview.

Nichols was a "contact" man for Clyde, he told Gregg County officers. In fact, only a few days earlier he'd stolen a car in Dallas and had driven to Wood County, near Quitman, where he delivered guns and ammunition to the deadly pair.

Clyde had promised to pay Nichols $100 for the delivery, but didn't. Barrow told Nichols to come back to Quitman Tuesday and he'd pay him then.

But before he could return to Quitman, Gregg County deputies Charles Gant and Marvin Utzman arrested Nichols at a Gladewater tourist camp.

Angry at not being paid by Barrow as promised, Nichols decided he'd snitch on the bandits and told officers about the Tuesday meeting. He even offered to accompany the lawmen to Wood County.

The officers declined, leaving Nichols in the Gregg County Jail. Then the Gregg County officers met up with state and Dallas lawmen in Winnsboro in hopes of trapping Bonnie and Clyde.

The lawmen waited at the appointed rendezvous point, but apparently Bonnie and Clyde had received word of Nichols' arrest in Gregg County. The elusive couple was nowhere to be found in Wood County. Instead, they had hightailed it for Louisiana.

The following morning, a little after 9 a.m., former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and several other Texas and Louisiana lawmen ambushed Bonnie and Clyde on a road outside Gibsland. Later they counted 167 bullets in the outlaws' car.

The Dallas Morning News said:

"Officers were of the opinion that the report of Nichols' arrest was flashed to Barrow and Bonnie Parker, causing them to flee the wooded Quitman sector and drive into a death trap in Louisiana which officers had been watching for several weeks. The Longview incident is considered by officers to have direct and strong bearing on the outcome of the long Barrow hunt."

Back in Gregg County, when told of the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde, J. A. Nichols "merely dropped his head and stood, thinking," the Longview Morning Journal reported. "He said nothing. He turned stoic and stern and reticent."

On May 24, 1934, Nichols was transferred to Dallas County, where he faced eleven charges ranging from auto theft to forgery. He was convicted and sentenced to state prison.