Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Story of the Battle of Barrington [Illinois].

Lester M. Gillis, the man who came to be known as "Baby Face Nelson," married Helen Wawrzyniak when she was 16 years old. By 20, she had two babies—and a spot on the "shoot to kill" list of Public Enemies, thanks to Lester.
Helen Wawrzyniak Gillis (1908-1987)
On July 22, 1934, America’s “Public Enemy No. 1″ John Dillinger was gunned down by the FBI outside the Biograph Theater at Lincoln and Halsted Streets in Chicago at 10:40 p.m.. With the death of John Dillinger the Federal Bureau of Investigation, known at the time as the Division of Investigation, focused on eliminating what remained of the notorious Dillinger Gang. 

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)
On the morning of November 27th, Lester, sporting a thin mustache on his youthful face, Helen Gillis, and John Paul Chase, Lester's right-hand man, departed Lake Geneva and traveled south, toward Chicago, on U.S. Route 12 (Rt.14 today). They were making plans to start a new gang. Lester planned to meet two underworld figures in Chicago and had reasoned daylight the safer time to travel as agents would expect an evening departure.
John Paul Chase (1901-1973)
Near the village of Fox River Grove, Illinois, Lester observed a vehicle driven in the opposite direction. Inside the car were federal agents Thomas McDade and William Ryan. McDade and Ryan were traveling to Lake Geneva to support a fellow agent who had relayed an encounter with Lester. The agents and the gangster recognized each other simultaneously and after several U-turns by both cars, Lester wound up in pursuit of the federal agents.

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.
With his new pursuers attempting to pull alongside, Lester instructed Gillis to steer into the entrance of Barrington's Northside Park, just across the line from Fox River Grove, and stop. Hollis and Cowley overshot Nelson's Ford by over 100 feet. With their car stopped at an angle, Hollis and Cowley exited, took defensive positions behind the vehicle and, as Helen fled toward a drainage ditch, opened fire on Lester and Chase.
The pursuit, gunbattle and flight of the killers, shown in an early graphic illustration.
Within seconds, a round from Cowley's Thompson submachine-gun struck Nelson above his belt line. The .45 caliber bullet tore through Lester's liver and pancreas and exited from his lower back. Lester grasped his side and leaned on the Ford's running board. Chase, in the meantime, continued to fire from behind the car. When Lester regained himself, he suddenly stepped into the line of fire and advanced toward Cowley and Hollis. Cowley was hit by a burst from Lester's machine gun after retreating to a nearby ditch. Pellets from Hollis' shotgun struck Lester in his legs and momentarily downed him. Hollis, possibly already wounded, retreated behind a utility pole. With his shotgun empty, Hollis drew his service revolver only to be struck by a bullet to the head from Lester's gun. Hollis slid against the pole and fell face down. Lester stood over Hollis for a moment then limped toward the agents' bullet-riddled car. Lester backed the agents' car over to the Ford, and, with Chase's help, loaded the agents' vehicle with guns and ammo from the disabled Ford. After the weapon's transfer, Lester, too badly wounded to drive, collapsed into the Hudson. Chase got behind the wheel and, along with Helen and the mortally wounded Nelson, fled the scene.

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."
Newspapers reported, based on the questionable wording of an order from J. Edgar Hoover ("...find the woman and give her no quarter."), that the Bureau of Investigation had issued a "death order" for Lester's widow. She wandered the streets of Chicago as a fugitive for several days, described in print as America's first female "public enemy."

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.

The plaque commemorating Battle of Barrington at Barrington Park District in Barrington, Illinois.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

2 comments:

  1. What an exciting read! Another well-researched Historically Accurate and fascinating, as are all your research, Neil; And, that’s why I call you The Doctor of History! Kudos to you, again and again! Thanks for being as excellent a writer, as you are a researcher!

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  2. Interesting that they are all buried in the same cemetery in River Grove, Ill. Very close to where I grew up. I didn't know Baby Face Nelson was so close!

    ReplyDelete

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