CRIME STORY: Lester Gillis AKA ‘Baby Face’ Nelson Killed By G-Men 85 Years Ago This Week
By Space Coast Daily // November 28, 2019
FBI SPECIAL AGENTS Samuel P. Cowley, Herman Edward Hollis KILLED IN SHOOTOUT
ABOVE VIDEO: On November 27, 1934, Special Agent/Inspector Samuel P. Cowley and Special Agent Herman E. Hollis were mortally wounded while trying to capture Lester Gillis, aka “Baby Face” Nelson, but not before severely wounding Nelson, who died later that evening. (FBI video)
(FBI,gov) – “Baby Face” Nelson was born Lester M. Gillis on December 6, 1908, in Chicago, Illinois. He roamed the Chicago streets with a gang of juvenile hoodlums during his early teens.
By the age of 14, he was an accomplished car thief and had been dubbed “Baby Face” by members of his gang due to his juvenile appearance.
Nelson’s early criminal career included stealing tires, running stills, bootlegging and armed robbery.
In 1922, Nelson was convicted of auto theft and was committed to a boys’ home. Two years later, he was released on parole, but within five months he was returned on a similar charge.
In 1928, Nelson met a salesgirl, Helen Wawzynak, whom he married. His wife retained the name Helen Gillis throughout their marriage.
Nelson was sentenced to a prison term of one year to life for his January 1931, bank robbery in Chicago, Illinois.
After a year’s confinement, Nelson was removed from the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, Illinois, to stand trial on another bank robbery charge in Wheaton, Illinois.
On February 17, 1932, Nelson escaped prison guards while being returned to Joliet. After a brief stay in Reno, Nevada, he fled to Sausalito, California. There he met John Paul Chase, with whom he would be closely associated for the rest of his life.
In April 1934, Nelson, Helen Gillis and Chase went to Chicago, Illinois, where they joined the Dillinger gang. While Chase remained in Chicago, Nelson and his wife vacationed with the Dillinger gang at the Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation learned of the gang’s location on April 22, 1934, and special agents proceeded to the Little Bohemia Lodge. Barking dogs alerted the gangsters to the impending FBI raid. The gangsters escaped in the dark, leaving a few women associates, including Helen Gillis, behind.
Nelson fled to a nearby home and forced his way in with two hostages. Shortly thereafter, Special Agents J. C. Newman and W. Carter Baum arrived at the scene with a local constable.
When their car stopped, the diminutive Nelson, who stood only five feet four inches high and weighed 133 pounds, rushed to the car and ordered the occupants to get out. Before they could comply, Nelson shot all three men, instantly killing Special Agent Baum with a series of shots from his automatic pistol.
Dillinger was shot and killed on July 22, 1934. Following Dillinger’s death, Nelson, Helen Gillis and Chase left Chicago for California with two associates.
That summer, Nelson and Chase made numerous trips between Chicago and California. On one occasion, they were arrested for speeding in a small town. They paid the $5 fine at the police station and were released. Their car, containing machine guns, rifles and ammunition, was not searched.
In late August, the group returned to Chicago. Within a month, Nelson went to Nevada and Chase traveled to New York City. Nelson and Chase again joined forces near Minden, Nevada, on October 10, 1934. They proceeded to Chicago, where they stole a car on November 26, 1934, and drove to Wisconsin.
Inspector Samuel P. Cowley of the FBI’s Chicago Office had been assigned to search for Nelson. On November 27, 1934, Cowley received word that Nelson had been seen driving a stolen car. Two Special Agents spotted the vehicle near Barrington, Illinois.
Nelson brought his car around behind the Agents, and Chase fired five rounds from an automatic rifle into the Agents’ car. One of the Agents returned fire and one shot pierced the radiator of Nelson’s car, partially disabling it.
Inspector Cowley and Special Agent Herman Edward Hollis approached in another automobile and began pursuing Nelson and Chase. Suddenly, Nelson veered off Northwest Highway at the entrance to the North Side Park in Barrington, Illinois, and stopped. Before Cowley and Hollis could get out of their car, Nelson and Chase began firing automatic weapons at them.
Special Agent Hollis was killed during the gun battle which lasted only four or five minutes. Inspector Cowley, mortally wounded, died early the next morning.
Nelson, also critically injured, was helped into Cowley’s automobile by Chase. Many guns and other articles were transferred from Nelson’s car to the agents’ car. Helen Gillis had been lying in a field during the battle. She jumped into the government vehicle as Chase was driving it away.
“Baby Face” Nelson died about 8 p.m. that evening. In response to an anonymous telephone call, FBI Agents found his body the next day near a Niles Center, Illinois, cemetery.
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