KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A pair of vintage guns believed to have been owned and used by the notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde – a .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine gun and a 12-gauge Winchester model 1897 shotgun – will be the centerpiece lots in a firearms consignment auction planned for Saturday, Jan. 21, by Mayo Auction & Realty.
Several signs strongly suggest the highlight guns were, in fact, toted and used by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, said Robert Mayo of Mayo Auction & Realty. “The consignor’s great-grandfather, who was in law enforcement at the time, was given the two guns by another peace officer who had seized the weapons after a raid on the pair in Joplin, Mo., in April of 1933.”
The raid occurred at the height of the duo’s crime rampage that cut a wide swath across middle American during the Great Depression. The raid did not produce any arrests (the two had a knack for staying one step ahead of law enforcement), but it did yield a cache of weapons and a camera. When the film was developed, there were pictures of the couple with some of their guns.
One of the photos shows Bonnie “disarming” Clyde in a staged mock arrest, pointing a Winchester model 1897 rifle at his chest. It is identical looking to the gun being offered Jan. 21.
“The fact is, these guns are highly collectible and would draw attention in any sale by their own history and merit,” Mr. Mayo said. “The Winchester model 1897 is a coveted rifle, and the Thompson sub-machine gun is only legal to own by special permit.” He said the winning bidder for the “Tommy gun” (the gangster nickname for the Thompson weapon) will have to go through a permit approval process with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
The guns have been in the family of Mark Lairmore and his sisters, the consignors, from Springfield, Mo., ever since the unknown Depression-era police officer gave them to their great-grandfather, also named Mark Lairmore. He has since passed away. From 1973-2011, the weapons were displayed in the Springfield (Mo.) Police Museum, also known as The Calaboose.
“They were the major draw of the museum and I don’t think they were all that anxious to give them up,” Mr. Lairmore said. “But my father and grandfather have also passed away, so the sentimental reasons to hold onto them are no longer there. I feel it’s time for someone with an appreciation of antique guns and the history behind these guns to own them and care for them.”
Mr. Lairmore said there was “no doubt it my mind whatsoever” that the guns belonged to Bonnie and Clyde. “When they were in Springfield, they kidnapped a police officer and had him in their car,” he said. “They bragged to the officer about having stolen their Tommy gun in Ohio, and the serial number on my gun is the same as one that was once listed as stolen in Ohio. That to me is huge.” The account was documented in the local paper, the Springfield News-Leader.
Plus, he said, the police officer who gave the guns to his great-grandfather had nothing to gain by saying they came from Bonnie and Clyde. “It was a gift from one policeman to another,” he said. “There was no reason to invent a fairy tale to go along with it. What’s unfortunate is, we don’t know who that policeman was. If we did, we might have an airtight case. But we don’t.”
Interestingly, Mr. Lairmore’s great-grandfather had his own encounter with another one of the Depression era’s most notable and notorious criminals: Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd (1904-1934). According to family lore, Mr. Lairmore went to Floyd’s home, to issue a warrant or make an arrest, and a gunfight broke out. In the ensuing melee, Mr. Lairmore was shot in the leg.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were notorious outlaws, robbers and criminals who, with their gang, traveled the central United States during the Great Depression, from 1931-1935. Though they were widely known for their bank robberies, Barrow actually preferred to rob small stores and gas stations. They killed as many as nine police officers, plus other innocent civilians.
The raid and shootout in Joplin left two police officers dead. The scene of the raid (and where Bonnie and Clyde had an apartment) is now a museum. Visitors can rent the second-floor room and spend the night. Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree led them through Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana, where the two were killed in a hail of gunfire.
Many antique weapons and other pieces of militaria will cross the block during the sale, representing several conflicts. But Bonnie and Clyde promise to be the headliners.
To learn more about the January sale, visit Mayo Auction & Realty.
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