The Shoot-out at Red Crown Tavern

The Red Crown Tourist Court and the Red Crown Tavern stood just off of Highway 71 (now I-29), ready to provide shelter and nourishment for weary travelers. On July 18, 1933, just such a group checked into the adjoining cabins. Clyde Barrows and his girlfriend Bonnie Parker, along with members of their gang needed some time to heal up from a spate of robberies and shoot-outs.

Red Crown Cabins 1933
Red Crown Cabins 1933

Bonnie had been badly burned in a one-car accident nearly a month before, but a bungled robbery by W.D. Jones and Clyde’s brother, Buck, had forced them to keep moving. Now, Clyde, against his brother’s advice, decided the Red Crown Tourist Court would be the place to hole up for a few days.

One bad decision led to another…and another. Clyde thought to disguise their numbers by renting the cabins for three people instead of five, so when Blanche, Buck’s wife, kept ordering food for five (in skintight jodhpurs and which had the locals talking 40 years hence), the cabins’ owner began to get suspicious. Clyde had also backed the car into the garage—“gangster style”—and subsequently covered the cabins’ windows with newspaper. Not to mention the fact that their cabin was spitting-distance from the Red Crown Tavern—a popular gathering place for the local and state law enforcement.

Red Crown Tavern 1947
Red Crown Tavern 1947

Well, Platte City might not be a sophisticated metropolis, but its citizens knew odd behavior when they saw it.

Unfortunately, local sheriff Holt Coffey had trouble convincing the sheriff of Kansas City’s Jackson County to assist. The man simply didn’t believe him. Sheriff Coffey was finally able to wheedle a couple officers with weapons and an armored car.

Blanche, acting as the go-fer for the gang, began to notice some rather unusual attention from the locals. Clyde told her it was her imagination.

Consequently, on the morning of July 19, 1933, when Sheriff Coffey armed to the teeth and carrying a shield made of boilerplate pounded on Clyde’s cabin door, the gang was completely unprepared.

After a brief burst of gunfire, Clyde and Jones bundled Bonnie into the car and waited for the other two to join them, but the officers had pulled the armored car across their path. When Buck and Blanche made their dash for the car, the law opened fire, hitting Buck in the temple.

Meanwhile, the officers in the armored car, having sustained considerable damage, pulled the car away from the cabins.

Blanche succeeded in getting her injured husband into the car and the gang took advantage of their opportunity.

The lawmen offered no pursuit. Four days later, the gang found themselves in another gun battle with the law—this time just outside Dexter, Iowa.

The already critically injured Buck and Blanche were captured, but the other three escaped. Buck died a few days later. Blanche was tried and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Sheriff Coffey, who sustained two scratches from buckshot, got a lot of mileage out of being shot by Bonnie and Clyde. The other officers decided not to ruin his story. He’d actually been hit by friendly fire.

When Highway 71 became Interstate I-29, all traces of the Red Crown Tavern and Tourist Court were obliterated. Nothing is left by this marker near my house. But it still makes for a great local story!

The marker not far from my house.
The marker not far from my house.

Any good stories in your neck of the woods?


2 comments on “The Shoot-out at Red Crown Tavern

  1. Johnnie Alexander

    July 20, 2016 at 3:48 pm Reply

    Oh, wow! That’s an amazing story. So glad you shared it. I love historical markers.

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