Extra! L.A’s “Bonnie & Clyde”

“Lucille & Alexander” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Bonnie & Clyde”, but in late 1930 these two star-crossed lovers were on a rampage of robbery in Los Angeles, committing close to 40 hold-ups at drug stores and hotels in a six-week spree that thrilled the public.

Lucille Walker, Bandit Queen, and Her King Alexander McKay

19-year-old Lucille Walker, who was christened the “Red-Haired Bandit Queen” by the LA Times, said she planned and took part in nearly all the robberies, though the truth was something rather different.

When she was first captured in January 1931, the “Queen of Crooks” spoke freely to reporters.

She called her arrest, for trying to buy a pistol alongside her fellow bandit Alexander McKay, a “tough break,” and that her first robbery was “exciting.” However, she denied using a gun during the crimes: instead, she said she pointed her finger in her pocket, making it look like a weapon.

Despite her media nickname, Lucille was actually a blonde. She had dyed her eyebrows and lashes black and wore a red wig for a while, changing it to a brunette one when the police got on her tail.

She further explained that she used to work the soda fountain at a drug store, and it was here that she studied the cash till, and how the store distributed and handled money. But then, in debt and out of work, she met a young man – presumably the 28-year-old McKay – at a dance hall. He asked her if she “had any nerve,” and they were off and running.

This was all happening several years before the deadly escapades of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and then as now, everyone was fascinated by the story of a young woman drawn into a life of crime.

The arrests had come a few days after a robbery at the Gotham Hotel in downtown LA.

Several guests and employees had been slightly injured by gunfire when they fought back, but inexplicably, it seemed that Lucille and McKay were then released – or allowed out on bail – as it wasn’t until a couple of months later that the real mastermind was revealed.

In March, Otis Saunders, 21, had three guns in his car when he was stopped by police in San Jose, and though it emerged that he, Lucille and McKay had robbed the Gaylord Hotel on Wilshire Blvd, among others, it was in fact Saunders and two other men who had attacked the Gotham Hotel.

McKay and Lucille had been re-arrested in a round-up of the “usual suspects” at a nearby boarding house, and now she began to change her tune – as did McKay – in what seemed to be a jailhouse romantic gesture.

Reported to be 23, not a youthful 19, Lucille insisted that McKay had in fact threatened her and her mother, and that she would be “taken for a ride” if she didn’t play bandit. McKay nobly confirmed these allegations.

Lucille further swore that she hadn’t got rich from her nefarious deeds; she only got “room and board, a dress, hat, silk stocking and a $12 pair of shoes.” However, she also admitted to sending $2,000 to her mother.  

The jury took barely 20 minutes to find her guilty of involvement in three robberies, and the judge chastised Saunders and McKay for exonerating Lucille – he clearly thought she was no innocent. Even so, she was then allowed to apply for probation, an extremely rare occurrence for someone convicted of such crimes, and then, as far as the archives go at least, it seems she disappeared into history….