Baby Face Nelson; the chase for a callous killer

Photo: FBI

“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, and by the time he turned 14, he was an accomplished car thief.  Nelson was dubbed “Baby Face” by his fellow gang members because of his youthful appearance.

Nelson would continue his criminal activity as he grew up, and in adulthood, he would add running stills, bootlegging, and armed robbery to his resume: his notoriety culminated in the fact that he killing three FBI agents, more than anyone in history. Nelson was a callous killer with a violent temper who would eventually join up with legendary John Dillinger’s gang in 1934.

Dillinger had worked his way up to the FBI’s “Public Enemy Number 1” status by this time, and he and his gang were relentlessly pursued. When the FBI learned of the gang’s location on April 22, 1934, special agents proceeded to the location to confront the gang. In a lucky break for the gang, barking dogs alerted them to the officer’s presence, and the group escaped. Nelson himself fled to a nearby home and forced his way inside. Shortly thereafter, FBI Agents J. C. Newman and W. Carter Baum arrived at the scene with a local constable. When their car stopped, Nelson rushed to it and ordered the three to get out, but he shot all men before they could react. Agent Baum was shot several times by Nelson, and he died at the scene.

That same year, the gang robbed the Merchants National Bank in South Bend, Indiana on June 30, 1934, during which a police officer was killed.

Following the robbery, the gangsters fled to Chicago, and short time later, police located them. When they approached, Nelson opened fire, shooting two officers.

On July 22, 1934, Dillinger was shot and killed while he ran from police and agents, and his death bumped up Nelson to the new FBI’s “Public Enemy No. 1” spot.

After being placed at #1 on the most wanted list, Nelson saw the writing on the wall, and he headed to California to hide out. He was able to successfully hide out for several months, but the intense search for him finally resulted in the FBI catching up to him in November 27, 1934 after his return to Illinois.

Nelson was driving a stolen car with his wife and another gang member near Barrington, Illinois, when they were spotted by two FBI agents. For a time, Nelson fled the pursuing agents, but he would eventually stop the car, and a brief gun battle ensued. During the shootout, FBI agent Herman E. Hollis was killed at the scene, and agent, Samuel P. Cowley was shot and died several hours later.

Nelson was also shot in the gun battle, receiving 17 bullet wounds, although he and his passengers would all escape. The escape was in vain, and he would die the next day from the wounds he received. Nelson’s body would be abandoned near the St. Peter Catholic Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.

His body was found when an anonymous caller reported an abandoned body.

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