|Helen Wawrzyniak Gillis (1908-1987)|
Lester Gillis, whom newspapers of the era dubbed "Dillinger's aid," had managed to elude the federal dragnet. By late November 1934, the new Public Enemy Number One was hidding out in the isolated piney woods of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Bolstered by his new found status, the diminutive Lester bragged he would rob, "...a bank a day for a month."
|Lester M. Gillis - "Baby Face Nelson" (1908-1934)|
|John Paul Chase (1901-1973)|
As Lester's powerful V-8 Ford, driven by Helen Gillis, caught up to the slower federal sedan, Lester and Chase opened fire on the agents. Neither McDade nor Ryan were injured. The agents returned fire, sped ahead but ran off the highway. Taking defensive positions, McDade and Ryan awaited Nelson and Chase. The agents, however, were unaware a round fired by Ryan had punctured the water pump and/or the radiator of Lester's Ford. With his vehicle losing power, Lester was next pursued by a Hudson automobile driven by two more agents, Herman Hollis and Samuel P. Cowley.
|A photo-diagram shows a re-creation of the scene of the gunbattle between two federal agents and gangster Lester Gillis "Baby Face Nelson" and his associates on November 27, 1934, near the entrance to Barrington's North Side Park. The labels show the positions occupied by federal Agents Samuel Cowley and Herman Hollis and Lester and his associates during the battle.|
|The pursuit, gunbattle and flight of the killers, shown in an early graphic illustration.|
Lester had been shot a total of nine times; a single (and ultimately fatal) machine gun slug had struck his abdomen and eight of Hollis's shotgun pellets had hit his legs. After telling his wife "I'm done for," Lester gave directions as Chase drove them to a safe house on Walnut Street in Wilmette. Lester died in a bed there, with his wife at his side, at 7:35 that evening. Hollis, with massive head wounds, was declared dead soon after arriving at the hospital. At a different hospital, Cowley hung on long enough to confer briefly with Melvin Purvis, telling him, "Nothing would bring [Lester] down." He underwent unsuccessful surgery before succumbing to a stomach wound similar to Lester's.
Following an anonymous telephone tip, Lester's naked corpse was discovered wrapped in an Indian patterned blanket in front of St. Paul's Lutheran Cemetery in Skokie. Helen Gillis later stated that she had placed the blanket around Lester's body because, "He always hated being cold."
After surrendering on Thanksgiving Day, Helen, who had been paroled after capture at Little Bohemia Lodge, served a year and a day at the Woman's Federal Reformatory in Milan, Michigan, for harboring her late husband. Chase was apprehended later and served a term at Alcatraz.
Lester M. Gillis died in 1934; John Paul Chase died from cancer in 1973; and Helen Gillis died in 1987, and all three are buried at Saint Joseph Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.