Faces Of Death Photos Biography
Lester Joseph Gillis (December 6, 1908– November 27, 1934), known under the pseudonym George Nelson, was a bank robber and murderer in the 1930s. Gillis was better known as Baby Face Nelson, a name given to him due to his youthful appearance and small stature. Usually referred to by criminal associates as "Jimmy" Nelson entered into a partnership with John Dillinger, helping him escape from prison in the famed Crown Point, Indiana Jail escape, and was later labeled along with the remaining gang members as public enemy number one.
Nelson was responsible for the murder of several people, and has the dubious distinction of having killed more FBI agents in the line of duty than any other person. Nelson was shot by FBI agents and died after a shootout often termed "The Battle of Barrington".
A short but furious gun battle between FBI agents and Nelson took place on November 27, 1934 outside Chicago, in the town of Barrington resulting in the deaths of Nelson and FBI Special Agents Herman "Ed" Hollis[ and Samuel P. Cowley.
The Barrington gun battle erupted as Nelson, with Helen Gillis and John Paul Chase as passengers, drove a stolen V8 Ford south towards Chicago on State Highway 14. Nelson, always keen to spot G-Men, caught sight of a sedan driven in the opposite direction by FBI agents Thomas McDade and William Ryan. Nelson hated police and federal agents and used a list of license plates he had compiled to hunt them at every opportunity. The agents and the outlaw simultaneously recognized each other and after several U-turns by both vehicles, Nelson wound up in pursuit of the agents's car. Nelson and Chase fired at the agents and shattered their car's windshield. After swerving to avoid an oncoming milk truck, Ryan and McDade skidded into a field and anxiously awaited Nelson and Chase who had stopped pursuing. The agents did not know that a shot fired by Ryan had punctured the radiator of Nelson's Ford or that the Ford was being pursued by a Hudson automobile driven by two more agents: Herman Hollis (who was alleged to have delivered the fatal shot to a wounded Pretty Boy Floyd a month earlie and Cowley. As a result, Ryan and McDade were oblivious to the events that happened next.
With his vehicle losing power and his pursuers attempting to pull alongside, Nelson swerved into the entrance of Barrington's North Side Park and stopped opposite three gas stations. Hollis and Cowley overshot them by over 100 feet (30 m), stopped at an angle, exited their vehicle's passenger door, under heavy gun fire from Nelson and Chase and took cover behind the car. The ensuing shootout was witnessed by more than 30 people.
Nelson's wife, fleeing into an open field under instructions from Nelson, turned briefly in time to see Nelson mortally wounded. He grasped his side and sat down on the running board as Chase continued to fire from behind their car. Nelson, advancing toward the agents, fired so rapidly with a .351 rifle that bystanders mistook it for a machine gun. Six bullets from Cowley's submachine gun eventually struck Nelson in the chest and stomach before Nelson mortally wounded Cowley with bullets to the chest and stomach, while pellets from Hollis's shotgun struck Nelson in the legs and knocked him down. As Nelson regained his feet, Hollis, possibly already wounded, moved to better cover behind a utility pole while drawing his pistol but was killed by a bullet to the head before he could return fire. Nelson stood over Hollis's body for a moment, then limped toward the agents's car. Nelson was too badly wounded to drive, so Chase got behind the wheel and the two men and Nelson's wife fled the scene. Nelson had been shot seventeen times; seven of Cowley's bullets had struck his torso and ten of Hollis's shotgun pellets had hit his legs. After telling his wife "I'm done for", Nelson gave directions as Chase drove them to a safe house on Walnut Street in Wilmette. Nelson died in bed with his wife at his side, at 7:35 p.m
Hollis was severely wounded in the head and was declared dead soon after arriving at the hospital. At a different hospital, Cowley lived for long enough to confer briefly with Melvin Purvis and have surgery, before succumbing to a stomach wound similar to Nelson's. Following an anonymous telephone tip, Nelson's body was discovered wrapped in a blanket, in front of St. Peter Catholic Cemetery, in Skokie which still exists. Helen Gillis later stated that she had placed the blanket around Nelson's body because, "He always hated being cold..."
Newspapers then reported, based on the questionable wording of an order from J. Edgar Hoover ("...find the woman and give her no quarter"), that the FBI had issued a "death order" for Nelson's widow, who wandered the streets of Chicago as a fugitive for several days, described in print as America's first female "public enemy"After surrendering on Thanksgiving Day, Helen Gillis, who had been paroled after capture at Little Bohemia, served a year in prison for harboring her husband. Chase was apprehended later and served