EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth part of The Landmark’s Bonnie and Clyde series. To read the first three parts of the story which outline the background of Bonnie and Clyde, Platte County Sheriff Holt Coffey and the epic gunfight the two parties had outside of Platte City, please visit our website at www.plattecountylandmark.com or visit our office at 252 Main Street, Platte City.)
Former Platte County Sheriff Holt Coffey has largely been overlooked in history as the man who scuttled the original Barrow gang after a gun fight in Platte County during the summer of 1933. According to his daughter, Nancy Cockrill, that would probably be OK with him.
“My father was a kind and very gentle man,” Cockrill told The Landmark. “It never occurred to him to prove his manhood because he just always was a strong man. There was never any question.”
Coffey made his reputation at the Red Crown Tavern, which grew in popularity for Platte City residents after the shootout. Locals from miles around would visit the spot, which is now the entrance ramp for KCI airport on I-29, and partake in the festive atmosphere. According to Cockrill, after serving as Sheriff from 1933 – 1937 and a second term from 1941 to 1945, Coffey actually owned and operated the establishment until 1950.
“It was a honky tonk place,” recalls George Ann Coffey, a cousin of Cockrill’s. “The women would get all dressed up and wear pretty dresses and white gloves. The men would drink beer; the women would not!”
The Red Crown eventually burned down in 1967 and what was left standing at the site was stripped by souvenir hounds. Merchants in Weston actually sold bricks from the building for $1 a piece on the street during the late 60’s. Although numerous inquiries have been made to erect a memorial or provide some sort of museum at the site, no attempt or formal request to the Platte County Commission has ever been made.
Coffey went on to become a presiding judge of Platte County in 1956, a position that is referred to as county commissioner today. Coffey passed away during his first elected term in 1964. He was 72-years-old.
“I don’t think Dad enjoyed anything more than being a sheriff,” Cockrill told The Landmark. “He was really, at his heart, a lawman.”
Cockrill said she’s always been surprised at how interested people were in Bonnie and Clyde.
“The mere mention of the word seems to excite people,” Cockrill said. “What people don’t remember is how scared everyone was of them at the time. They were executed because people were so afraid of them. It became a very serious matter to try and trap them.”
Cockrill said her father expressed concern about the bandit’s legacy.
“One of these days they’re going to make a movie on Bonnie and Clyde,” Coffey told his skeptical daughter. “The only thing that bothers me is that they’re going to be portrayed as cute…and maybe they were before they stepped over the line and became killers.”
Cockrill said that her father likened the two to “mad dogs.”
“Life is a matter of choice, and they continued making wrong ones,” Coffey asserted at the time.
Cockrill recalls a particularly touching conversation the two had on the matter.
“Just once, I’d like for them to publish the names of all of the people Bonnie and Clyde murdered,” Coffey said to his daughter. “That would put things in more perspective.”
“You know, Dad,” his daughter replied, “…they never do that.”
“You’re so right,” Coffey agreed.
Coffey, who correctly guessed the desperadoes holed up at The Red Crown were the notorious Bonnie and Clyde and correctly prophesied the making of a movie detailing their exploits (which was produced in 1967), was wrong on that count.
The Victims of Bonnie and Clyde John N.Bucher of Hillsboro, Texas: Died April 30,1932 Eugene Moore of Atoka, Oklahoma: Died August 5,1932 Howard Hall of Sherman, Texas: Died October 11,1932 Doyle Johnson of Temple, Texas: Died December 26,1932 Malcolm Davis of Dallas, Texas: Died January 6,1933 Harry McGinnis of Joplin, Missouri: Died April 13,1933 Wes Harryman of Joplin, Missouri: Died April 13,1933 Henry D. Humphrey of Alma, Arkansas: Died June 26,1933 Major Crowson of Huntsville, Texas: Died January 16,1934 E.B. Wheeler of Grapevine, Texas: Died April 1, 1934 H.D. Murphy of Grapevine, Texas: Died April 1, 1934 Cal Campbell of Commerce, Oklahoma: Died April 6, 1934
(Mark Vasto, [Landmark reporter], would like to graciously thank the Platte County residents, particularly LaVerne Taulbee, John Jackson and Diane Pepper of the Platte City Historical Society, The Coffey family, Delbert and Dixie Crabtree and the numerous readers who visited and called The Landmark in support during the run of the series. To discuss Bonnie and Clyde or to ask Vasto any questions regarding this story, readers are invited to participate in the Landmark’s online Talkback forum, located at www.plattecountylandmark.com.)