Baby Face Nelson
American bank robber
Baby Face Nelson
Lester Joseph Gillis, known under the pseudonym George Nelson, was a bank robber and murderer in the 1930s. Gillis was known as Baby Face Nelson, a name given to him due to his youthful appearance and small stature.
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Baby Face Nelson's personal information overview.
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    TWENTIES
  • 1934
    Age 25
    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 Federal Agents Herman "Ed" Hollis and Samuel P. Cowley.
    More Details Hide Details On the morning of November 27, Nelson, along with his wife and John Paul Chase, headed south in a stolen V8 Ford towards Chicago on what was then U.S. Highway 12 (now US-14). Nelson, always keen to spot federal agents, caught sight of a sedan driven in the opposite direction by agents Thomas McDade and William Ryan. 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' car. When Nelson's powerful Ford caught up to the agents' weaker sedan, Nelson and Chase fired at the agents. Ryan and McDade returned fire, sped up, then pulled into a field and awaited Nelson and Chase, who had stopped pursuing. McDade and Ryan were unaware that one of their shots had punctured the water pump of Nelson's Ford. With Nelson's Ford rapidly losing power, a Hudson automobile driven by two more agents, Herman Hollis (who had been one of the agents who fired the fatal shots that killed Dillinger the previous July) and Cowley, began pursuing the Ford.
    On July 22, 1934, Dillinger was ambushed and killed by FBI agents outside the Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park, Chicago. The next day the FBI announced that "Pretty Boy" Floyd was now Public Enemy No. 1. On October 22, 1934, Floyd was killed in a shootout with agents including Melvin Purvis.
    More Details Hide Details Subsequently, John Edgar Hoover announced that "Baby Face" Nelson was now Public Enemy No. 1. On August 23, Van Meter was ambushed and killed by police in St. Paul, Minnesota, leaving Nelson as the sole survivor of the so-called "Second Dillinger Gang". In the ensuing months, Nelson and his wife, usually accompanied by Chase, drifted west to cities including Sacramento and San Francisco, California and Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada. They often stayed in auto camps, including Walley's Hot Springs, outside of Genoa, Nevada, where they hid out from October 1 before returning to Chicago around November 1. Nelson's movements during the final month of his life are largely unknown. By the end of the month, FBI interest had settled on a former hideout of Nelson's, the Lake Como Inn in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where it was believed that Nelson might return for the winter. When the Nelsons and Chase did return to the inn on November 27, they briefly came face to face with surprised and unprepared FBI agents who had staked it out. The fugitives sped away before any shots were fired. Armed with a description of the car (a black Ford V8) and its license plate number (639-578), agents swarmed into the area.
    Years later, the FBI determined that on March 22, 1934, Nelson and Chase abducted and killed the chief witness against the pair, Roy Fritsch.
    More Details Hide Details
    On March 3, 1934, John Dillinger made his famous "wooden pistol" escape from the jail in Crown Point, Indiana.
    More Details Hide Details Although the details remain in some dispute, the escape is suspected to have been arranged and financed by members of Nelson's newly formed gang, including Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, Eddie Green, and John "Red" Hamilton, with the understanding that Dillinger would repay some part of the bribe money out of his share of the first robbery. The night Dillinger arrived in the Twin Cities, Nelson and his friend John Paul Chase were driving when they were cut off by a car driven by a local paint salesman named Theodore Kidder. Nelson lost his temper and gave chase, crowding Kidder to the curb. The salesman exited his vehicle to protest, where Nelson shot him dead. Two days after this, the new gang (with Hamilton's participation as the sixth man uncertain) struck the Security National Bank at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In the robbery, which netted around $49,000 (figures differ slightly), Nelson severely wounded motorcycle policeman Hale Keith with a burst of sub-machine-gun fire as the officer was arriving at the scene. The six men were soon identified as "the Second Dillinger gang", due to Dillinger's extreme notoriety, but the gang had no official leader.
  • 1933
    Age 24
    According to Bryan Burrough's book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34, this most likely happened when Wanatka was playing cards with Dillinger, Nelson, and Hamilton.
    More Details Hide Details When Dillinger won a round and raked in the pot, Wanatka caught a glimpse of Dillinger's pistol concealed in his coat, and noticed that Nelson and the others also had shoulder holsters. The following day, while she was away from the lodge with her young son at a children's birthday party, Wanatka's wife informed a friend, Henry Voss, that the Dillinger gang was at the lodge, and the F.B.I. was subsequently given the tip early on April 22. Melvin Purvis and a number of agents arrived by plane from Chicago, and with the gang's departure imminent, attacked the lodge quickly and with little preparation, and without notifying or obtaining help from local authorities. Wanatka offered a one-dollar dinner special on Sunday nights, and the last of a crowd estimated at 75 people were leaving as the agents arrived in the front driveway. A 1933 Chevrolet coupé was leaving at that moment with three departing lodge customers, John Hoffman, Eugene Boisneau and John Morris, who apparently did not hear an order to halt because the car radio drowned out the agents yelling at them to stop. The agents quickly opened fire on them, instantly killing Boisneau and wounding the others, and alerting the gang members inside.
    He committed a major bank robbery in Grand Haven, Michigan, August 18, 1933, his first in the area.
    More Details Hide Details The robbery was not lucrative though most of those involved made a full escape (a clean getaway). The Grand Haven bank job convinced Nelson he was ready to lead his own gang. Through connections in St. Paul's Green Lantern Tavern, Nelson recruited Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, and Eddie Green. Witnesses reported that Nelson wildly sprayed sub-machine gun bullets at bystanders as he made his getaway. After collecting his wife Helen and four-year-old son Ronald, Nelson left with his crew for San Antonio, Texas. While there, Nelson and his gang bought several weapons from underworld gunsmith Hyman Lehman. One of those weapons was a .38 Colt automatic pistol that had been modified to fully automatic. Nelson used this gun to murder Special Agent W. Carter Baum at Little Bohemia Lodge several months later. By December 9, a local woman tipped San Antonio police to the nearby presence of "high-powered Northern gangsters". Two days later, Tommy Carroll was cornered by two detectives and opened fire, killing Detective H.C. Perrin and wounding Detective Al Hartman. All the Nelson gang, except for Nelson himself, fled San Antonio. Nelson and his wife traveled west to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he recruited John Paul Chase and Fatso Negri for a new wave of bank robberies the following spring.
  • 1932
    Age 23
    During February 1932, Nelson escaped during a prison transfer.
    More Details Hide Details Through his contacts within the Touhy Gang, Nelson fled west to Reno, where he was harbored by William Graham, a known crime boss and gambler. Using the alias of "Jimmy Johnson", Nelson went to Sausalito, California, where he worked for bootlegger Joe Parente. During his San Francisco Bay area criminal ventures, Nelson most probably first met John Paul Chase and Fatso Negri, who would later become close associates. In Reno the next winter, Nelson first met the vacationing Alvin Karpis, who in turn introduced him to Midwestern bank robber Eddie Bentz. Teaming with Bentz, Nelson returned to the Midwest the next summer.
  • 1931
    Age 22
    Throughout the winter of 1931, most of the Tape Bandits were rounded up, including Nelson.
    More Details Hide Details The Chicago Tribune referred to their leader as "George 'Baby Face' Nelson" who received a sentence of one year to life in the state penitentiary at Joliet.
  • 1930
    Age 21
    Nelson and his crew were later linked to a botched roadhouse robbery in Summit, Illinois on November 23, 1930.
    More Details Hide Details In the resulting gunfight, three people were killed and three wounded. Three nights later, Nelson's gang robbed a tavern on Waukegan Road, and Nelson committed his first murder of note when he fatally shot a stockbroker named Edwin R. Thompson.
    On April 21, 1930, Nelson robbed his first bank, making off with approximately $4,000.
    More Details Hide Details A month later, Nelson and his gang netted $25,000 worth of jewelry from home invasions. On October 3, Nelson robbed the Itasca State Bank of $4,600; a teller later identified him as one of the robbers. Three nights later, he stole the jewelry of the wife of Chicago mayor Big Bill Thompson, valued at $18,000. She described her attacker, saying "He had a baby face. He was good looking, hardly more than a boy, had dark hair and was wearing a gray topcoat and a brown felt hat, turned down brim."
  • TEENAGE
  • 1928
    Age 19
    Nelson became gang-affiliated during his mid-teens and immediately became the leader of the gang. In 1928, Nelson met and married Helen Wawzynak.
    More Details Hide Details The couple had two children. By the time he met Helen, Nelson was working at a Standard Oil station in his neighborhood which doubled as the headquarters for a group of young tire thieves, known colloquially as "strippers". Nelson fell into association with the strippers, and also acquainted himself with a number of local criminals, including one who employed him to drive bootleg alcohol throughout the Chicago suburbs. Nelson thus became associated with members of the suburban-based Touhy Gang (rather than the Capone mob, as usually reported). Within two years, Nelson and this gang were participating in organized crime, especially armed robbery. On January 6, 1930, the associates forced entry into the home of a magazine executive named Charles M. Richter. Two months later, they carried out a similar robbery at the bungalow of Lottie Brenner Von Buelow (on Sheridan Road). This job netted approximately $50,000 worth of jewelry. After the crime, a number of Chicago newspapers nicknamed the group "The Tape Bandits."
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1916
    Age 7
    On July 4, 1916, at the age of twelve, Nelson was arrested after accidentally shooting a playmate in the jaw with a pistol he had found.
    More Details Hide Details He served over a year in the state reformatory. Arrested again for theft and joyriding at age 13, he was sent to a penal school for an additional 18 months.
  • 1908
    Born
    Born on December 6, 1908.
    More Details Hide Details
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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