Lester Gillis, alias George “Baby Face” Nelson, was a bank-robbing partner of John Dillinger in the early 1930s. Nelson had a bad temper and shot people without hesitation. (He ended up killing three FBI agents, more than anyone else in history.)
On November 27, 1934, FBI agents received word that Nelson was heading south toward Chicago from his hide-out in Lake Geneva with his wife, Helen and his partner, John Paul Chase. FBI Inspector Samuel P. Cowley headed out to look for him with Agent Herman “Ed” Hollis and sent Agents Bill Ryan and Tom McDade out in a second car.
Around 3:15 in the afternoon, Ryan and McDade spotted Nelson’s car on Route 14 headed east between Fox River Grove and Barrington. They gave chase. Nelson spotted the agents and made two quick U-turns to get behind the their car. Men in both cars started shooting, and Ryan managed to put a hole in Nelson’s radiator. Crowley and Hollis drove by headed west and made a U-turn of their own.
As they entered Barrington, Nelson was forced to pull over near the entrance to a park. Helen hopped out and hid in a ditch. Crowley and Hollis drove past Nelson’s car and pulled over. As they got out, Nelson and Chase opened fire. Hollis was killed immediately. Crowley suffered wounds that resulted in his death early the next morning. Meanwhile, Ryan and McDade continued their gun battle with the criminals, eventually hitting Nelson 17 times.
Helen ran to Crowley’s car and came back for Chase and the badly-wounded Nelson. They escaped. The get-away car was discovered in Winnetka the next day. An anonymous tip led to the discovery of Nelson’s naked body in a ditch in Niles Center (Skokie). Chase and Helen were caught and spent time in prison.
I drove the route from Fox River Grove to Barrington, making “bang, bang” noises and pointing my camera at the car in front of me. I pulled into the park and took these photos of the monument and the area where the gun battle took place.
The monument memorializes all three of the FBI agents that Nelson killed, Cowley, Hollis and W. Carter Baum who was killed in Koerner’s Corner, Wisconsin.