23 May 1934: Bonnie & Clyde killed in ambush

The 1920s and 1930s saw a sharp rise in the number of bank robberies in the US. The growing number of bank branches presented an opportunity, while the widespread availability of cars offered a quick getaway, helped by the fact that state police forces still struggled to co-operate on cross-border crimes with each other.

The Great Depression had left many people feeling more sympathy for robbers than bankers, and many became celebrities.

But thanks to photos of them posing with stolen weapons – discovered by police – Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow became the most infamous of all.

Their gang embarked on a crime spree between 1932 and 1934. After targeting stores and gas stations, they graduated to banks. It’s generally agreed that they robbed at least a dozen. But their notoriety proved their undoing.

The rapidly-growing Federal Bureau of Investigation got involved in the police hunt after the couple stole a car, increasing the resources dedicated to tracking them down. And the alleged cold-blooded execution of two police officers on Easter Sunday (they killed 13 people in total) turned national opinion against them.

The authorities offered a reward of $2,000 ($35,310 at 2014 prices) for their death or capture, and shortly after, they were killed in an ambush.

The number of bank robberies grew after World War II, peaking at around 9,000 a year in the mid-1990s.

However, new anti-theft technology, tougher sentences and the rise of online banking cut this to 5,000 by 2011. In Britain, bank raids slid from 847 in 1992 to just 66 in 2011. Cybercrime is now the big worry – hackers steal an estimated $1bn a year.

Merryn

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