A pair of handguns belonging to the notorious 1930s-era gangsters Bonnie and Clyde sold at auction recently for more than $500,000, but only after some unusual legal action was taken by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
Bonnie Parker’s .38 cal. Colt Detective Special found taped to her thigh when she was killed in a 1934 ambush by law enforcement agents in Louisiana brought $264,000 at auction in Amherst, New Hampshire.
Clyde Barrow's .45 cal. Colt 1911 sold for $240,000 to the same bidder, whose name was not revealed by the auction company.
The guns were auctioned as part of RR Auction’s “American Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen” live auction. Also featured was a signed deposition by Al Capone dated Jan. 24, 1925, and a vintage press ID card autographed by legendary lawman Eliot Ness in the 1930s.
Clyde Barrow’s pocket watch fetched $36,000, said RR Auctions Vice President Bobby Livingston. A 1921 Morgan silver dollar found in the gangster’s pocket where he was killed went for $32,000.
In order for the auction to take place as planned, the ATF first was required to issue a replacement serial number for Parker’s revolver, because the original numbers were missing.
RR Auction contacted ATF for assistance after it received the gun from a private collector and noticed the serial numbers were obliterated. ATF agents contacted the Firearms Technology Branch, the agency’s technical authority for firearms and their determination under federal laws. The Firearms Technology Branch determined the Parker revolver was originally manufactured with serial numbers, thereby making the revolver non-complaint under federal law.
As a result, federal agents subsequently obtained a ATF-issued serial number—ATF7620091—for the auction house, which was later stamped onto the revolver’s receiver and making it federally compliant for an auction.
The deaths of Parker and Barrow in a hail of gunfire in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, the morning of May 23, 1934, ended a depression-era crime spree that spread across the Central United States and included armed robberies of more than a dozen banks and scores of small businesses. The Barrow gang was believed responsible for the deaths of at least nine police officers and several civilians.
The revolver was recovered from Parker’s body by Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer.
“The ATF understands the importance of this historically significant firearm,” Guy Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Boston field division, said in a news release. “We are pleased we were able to work in partnership with RR Auction to make the gun legally compliant.”
The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires firearm manufacturers to place serial numbers on firearms and made firearms with removed, obliterated or altered serial numbers illegal to possess.