The University of Central Oklahoma’s W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute, in collaboration with the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, is using its nationally ranked expertise to solve a mystery involving one of the nation’s most notorious outlaws.
Through a donation, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum received a purse believed to belong to Bonnie Parker of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo, who committed dozens of robberies and burglaries while running from law enforcement between 1932 and 1934.
While the purse, which is stamped with Parker’s name and features what is presumed to be a single bullet hole, is believed to belong to Parker, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum staff wants to make sure. “The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum wanted to verify that it was her purse, so they approached us and asked if there were any forensic science techniques to authenticate this purse. We will try a number of techniques to assist with this process,” said Caitlin Porterfield, instructor of forensic science at UCO.
Faculty members from UCO’s FSI conducted DNA tests and fingerprint scans on the purse in hopes of finding indisputable evidence. Rhonda Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of forensic science at UCO, formerly worked for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) and is leading the DNA screening on this project. Williams said since no DNA sample from Parker exists, they will compare DNA from her last known living relative.
“I think it’s very possible to pull DNA off this purse,” Williams said. “The question will be, who’s is it? If we find DNA and we can somehow link it, that’s amazing and the museum can use it for their exhibits.”
Melissa Owens, interim chief curatorial officer, and registrar for the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum said the purse was donated to the museum but it didn’t have direct provenance to prove its authenticity. “We decided to turn to science and contacted UCO, who graciously accepted to help us on this quest,” Owens said.
“There are not many items directly associated with either Bonnie or Clyde. If it is Bonnie’s then as a historical piece it’s priceless.” Regardless of the DNA results, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum plans on displaying the purse in an exhibit about outlaws and lawmen set to open in 2022. For more information about the FSI at UCO, visit www.uco.edu/fsi.