Bud Kennedy

April 19, 2014

Easter of tears: 80 years ago, 2 law officers met death at hands of Bonnie and Clyde

The Depression-era outlaws killed two Fort Worth-based state patrol officers who had surprised them.

That bloody Easter is 80 years past now, and almost nobody talks anymore about the two law officers killed on Dove Road.

Maybe Doris Brown Edwards was right. We’ve forgotten her husband, state patrol officer Ed Wheeler of Fort Worth, and rookie partner H.D. Murphy, shot dead 12 days short of his wedding.

We only remember Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and Henry Methvin.

On Easter 1934, Wheeler missed church with his wife at Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth.

By midafternoon, he and Murphy lay dead by their motorcycles on what was then a country road off Texas 114.

When Edwards called here in 1996, she was fed up with a new round of movies and TV specials.

“What is everybody thinking?” she asked, breaking a self-imposed press silence of more than 60 years.

“My husband was killed by Bonnie and Clyde.”

The story of Wheeler and Murphy is not some fading news clipping from far away.

Wheeler, 26, had met Doris Brown of Arlington on a traffic stop along West Division Street, and they had married and moved into an apartment in the Fairmount neighborhood.

Murphy, 22, had picked out a Fort Worth apartment with his fiancee, 21-year-old school classmate Maree Tullis from the East Texas town of Alto.

Instead, Tullis wore her wedding dress to his funeral in Alto.

“It was the most tragic story ever, and Maree was never really the same,” said Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis, organizer of a new exhibit on Murphy at the courthouse in nearby Rusk.

When the movie Bonnie and Clyde came out in 1967, Davis said, “We were kids, and we thought they were heroes. Then we found out our whole hometown grew up with a guy who got killed.”

Barrow, then 25, and sidekick Parker, 23, of Dallas, were near the end of their two-year Depression-era robbery and murder spree across Texas and the Midwest.

Henry Methvin, 21, shot first. When the officers surprised the three, parked and waiting for an Easter meeting with family members, Methvin panicked and shot Wheeler.

Then Barrow shot Murphy, whose bullets were still in his pocket.

The date was April 1, 1934. It was Murphy’s first day on patrol after a training assignment at the Arlington Downs horse racing track.

“When he grew up in Alto, you couldn’t have found a poorer place in Texas,” Davis said.

“Some kids didn’t even have shoes. A lot of people made whiskey for a living. They were good, Christian people, but it was either do that or starve.”

A job as a patrol officer, then part of the highway department, paid $150 a month.

In a 1996 interview, Edwards remembered listening to the radio in their apartment that 1934 morning and how Wheeler loved hearing the new Broadway song Easter Parade.

When he left for patrol, she drove to join her family in Arlington. When she came back that afternoon, a funeral director was parked outside with the news.

I’ll never forget her 1996 phone call after one of the Barrow sisters made the circuit of talk shows.

“It’s like we don’t even count,” she said, then 85 and speaking for the widows left by Bonnie and Clyde and all survivors of fallen officers.

“I’m just one of hundreds of officers’ widows,” she said.

“Glorifying these killers insults all of us.”

Three months later, thanks to an Austin-area charity and a gift by a Rockdale monument company, Edwards stood by proudly as we dedicated a Dove Road marker to the memory of Wheeler and Murphy.

We lost Edwards in 2007. She was 96.

Today, Southlake has grown up around the marker.

But visitors often leave fresh flowers.

Not everyone has forgotten.

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