Baby Face Nelson the Notorious FBI Killer Known for his Youthful Looks
Associate of Dillinger and gangster
Baby Face Nelson killed more FBI agents than any other criminal as a violent bank robber. He had a reputation for shooting himself out of trouble. After killing many FBI agents, he finally succumbed to his injuries of seventeen bullet holes after a fierce gun battle of five minutes.
Early Nelson Crimes
Baby Face Nelson was born Lester Gillis on 6th December 1908 in Chicago, Illinois. He embraced a life of crime from early life, roaming the streets with gangs of other juvenile delinquents. By the age of thirteen, Nelson was established in the world of crime. His criminal activities included car theft, bootlegging and armed robbery.
He was caught in 1922 and sentenced to be detained in St. Charles School for Boys. Over the next few years, he was in and out of various juvenile facilities. Here, he earned his nickname from his fellow street thugs as ‘Baby Face’ for his youthful appearance. He was just five feet four inches tall and weighed approximately 133 pounds.
In 1928, Nelson married Helen Wawzynak. She called herself Helen Gillis, even after her husband had taken on the last name of Nelson. Helen was only 16 years old at the time.
In 1931 Nelson was incarcerated for a bank robbery; after a year in prison, he travelled in prison transport to stand trial on another offence. On 17th February 1932, he was transported back to Joliet when he escaped and went on the run.
John Paul Chase
Shortly after this, Nelson met John Paul Chase, a friend and associate he would keep until his death. Chase was an alcohol smuggler; Nelson became the armed guard in the trucks. This venture carried on until 1933, when Nelson departed for Long Beach. It was during this time that he made acquaintances with Dillinger.
Little is known about this initial meeting. What is known is that by the end of 1933, Nelson was back with Chase. The pair were suspected of killing two men, one a witness in a US Mail fraud case. However, it wasn’t until April 1934 that the couple joined the Dillinger gang.
The FBI Killing Starts
On 22nd April 1934, the FBI stormed the gang’s location, the dogs outside barking alerted the men within the house. Nelson fled to a nearby house, where he took two hostages. When the FBI turned up, Nelson rushed to the car and ordered the three officers out; he shot all three when they didn’t comply. A reward was immediately issued for his capture, or information that led to this.
Two months later, Nelson, Dillinger and Horner Van Meter were carrying out a robbery when they killed another police officer. The three criminals fled. Another two officers were killed when they approached the gang’s meeting place. On 22nd July 1934, Dillinger was shot and killed. This death saw both Nelson and Chase work together again, carrying out numerous crimes.
The Gun Battle
On 27th July 1934, Inspector Cowley, hunting Nelson, received word that Nelson was driving a stolen car. Two agents spotted the vehicle; as they pursued him, Nelson moved the car behind the agents; Chase fired five shots into the agent’s car. One agent returned fire and pierced Nelson’s radiator, partially disabling it.
Cowley and his colleague Hollis began the pursuit of Nelson. Nelson then veered across the road and stopped. Before the agents could get out, Nelson and Chase opened fire. What ensued was a five-minute gun battle. Hollis was killed, Crowley was mortally wounded and died later from his injuries.
The End of Nelson’s Reign
Nelson was also fatally wounded during the gun battle, absorbing seventeen bullets. With Chase, he managed to get into Crowley’s car; they drove off, picking up Helen Gillis on-route. Nelson passed away from his injuries at 8 pm that evening. An anonymous tip told the FBI where to find the body.
Helen Gillis was arrested on 29th November 1934 and sent to prison for a year. Chase was apprehended in December 1934, where he was given a lengthy sentence. He was paroled from Leavenworth in 1966 and died from cancer in 1973. The legend of Baby Face Nelson lived much longer than the man himself.