“I’m gonna kill you sons of bitches!”
Despite his cutesy nickname there was nothing baby-like about Lester Gillis, who had a fearsome temper and propensity for violence, resulting in him killing more than a dozen policemen. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on 6 December 1908, he began his criminal career at an early age as a car thief and was arrested aged 13 and sent to a borstal. Two years later he was released on parole, but within five months he was returned on a similar charge. Like many criminals, Nelson was on the short side at 1.63 m (5ft 4in).
He was arrested for bank robbery in Chicago on 15 January 1931 and jailed for a year, but escaped on 17 February 1932, after overpowering a guard. The following year, with safe-cracker Eddie Bentz, Nelson went to Grand Haven, Michigan on 18 August 1933 and robbed his first bank. The robbery was a disaster but most of those involved escaped. In 1934 Nelson joined John Dillinger’s gang (search the related article). Following Dillinger’s death, Nelson became Public Enemy Number One.
Grand Haven, Michigan, USA
Friday 18 August 1933
Just four months after John Dillinger was shot to death, Nelson met his own end. On 27 November 1934, Nelson, his wife Helen Gillis, and John Paul Chase were driving in Barrington outside Chicago when they saw a police car coming towards them.
Nelson had a pathological hatred of the police and federal agencies, even going so far as to compile a list of their unmarked car registration numbers. He recognized the car and gave chase, resulting in his car ending up in a ditch.
Nelson came out of the ditch firing a Thompson sub-machine gun and shouting, “I’m gonna kill you sons of bitches!”, fatally wounding Special Agent Herman Hollis, 31, and Inspector Samuel P. Cowley, 35.
Nelson was hit 17 times but with the help of his wife and Chase, made a getaway in the FBI car. The next day the FBI found the bodies of their two agents and in a ditch, in front of St Peter Catholic Cemetery in Skokie, the corpse of Baby Face Nelson. His wife later said that he had died at precisely 8pm and she had wrapped a blanket around him because “Lester always hated to be cold.” He was 25 years old. Babyface Nelson killed more than a dozen policemen.