Tuesday, November 27, 2012


11/27/1934 - Baby Face Nelson's reign of a month as America's Public Enemy #1 comes to a violent end in Illinois.  


The subject of a nationwide manhunt since the October death of Pretty Boy Floyd, Nelson is spotted in Wisconsin at a hideout he has patronized in the past, the Lake Como Inn.  Under surveillance by the FBI, Nelson avoids a gun battle when agents at the inn fail to identify the killer (sunlight on the black Ford's front window and dust from over a week on the road obscure views into the vehicle, also occupied by Nelson's wife, Helen, and the outlaw's partner, John Paul Chase) until after the wary bandit reverses course and heads back towards Chicago ... avoids a gun battle for the moment.  Realizing who they have just encountered, FBI field office in Chicago is quickly telephoned and agents hit the roads north of the city looking for the outlaw ... and around 3:00 in the afternoon, roughly thirty minutes later they find him headed south!  Matching the Illinois license plate they've been given as they head up Highway 12 (a parallel two-lane strip of blacktop separated by a grass median), 639578, Special Agents Bill Ryan and Agent Tom McDade make a U-turn in their Ford coupe and begin following Nelson's vehicle ... a maneuver that insanely causes the outlaw to make two U-turns of his own that quickly put the killer in pursuit of his hunters.

                                        Lake Como

"Pull over!" Nelson yells as he comes abreast of the agent's car ... an order that is ignored.  Instead, as driver McDade crouches to stay out of the line of fire, Ryan empties his pistol at the Ford of the outlaws ... action which is answered by Nelson firing his pistol at the agents as he drives with one hand, while Chase targets the FBI car with bullets from a .351 automatic rifle.  

                                                      John Paul Chase

Miraculously no one is hit in the lead exchange except the cars of both parties ... windows are shattered and the radiator of the Ford Nelson is driving is holed.  Narrowly missing a collision with a milk truck, the FBI agents put finally are able to put distance between themselves and their pursuers, sand pull over to make a stand against the outlaws further down the road ... but the public enemy and his companions never make an appearance for they have become engaged in another shootout, this time with thirty-five-year-old FBI Inspector Samuel Cowley and thirty-one-year-old Special Agent Herman Hollis.

                            Cowley                              Hollis

Coming upon the moving gun battle, the northbound car driven by Hollis makes its own U-turn and is soon upon the outlaws as their car falters from the radiator hit.  Approaching a roadside park, Nelson suddenly pulls off the highway and skids to a halt on a dirt road.  Hollis responds by slamming on his brakes and cars at rest, in front of a score of witnesses at the Standard Oil and Shell gas stations on the other side of the road, the lawmen and outlaws engage in a firefight that seems scripted by Hollywood.  From a distance of roughly 150 feet, Nelson and Chase blaze away with a Thompson machine gun and .351 automatic rifle, while Cowley and Hollis answer with a machine gun of their own (Cowley) and shotgun pellets and pistol fire.  In the exchange, Nelson is the first to be hit, and whether angered by his wound or realizing the hurt is fatal, he then does the unthinkable ... leaving the protection of the car he steps into the open and stalks forward to better target his adversaries.  Firing the automatic rifle so fast that witnesses believe he is using a machine gun, Nelson somehow manages to stay erect despite being holed seventeen times ... six .45 slugs from Cowley hit the outlaw in the stomach and chest and eleven shotgun pellets perforate both his legs.  Erect long enough to place mortal bullets in Cowley's chest and stomach (Cowley and Nelson have almost identical fatal wounds to their shredded intestines), then as Hollis runs for the slim protection of a nearby telephone pole, put a killing round in the agent's head (along with W. Carter Baum at Little Bohemia, Nelson still holds the dubious honor of killing the most FBI agents in the line of duty ... three).  Hollis is survived by a wife and young son, Cowley leaves behind a wife and two sons.


Firing at an end (almost, as the outlaws leave, off duty Patrolman William Gallagher, hearing the noise of the battle at the Shell station where he is selling tickets for an American Legion benefit, grabs a rifle and as Nelson and company exit the scene, fires on the fleeing vehicle), Nelson then gets into the FBI men's car and backs it up to his own vehicle where Chase transfers their weapons to the new ride and takes over the driving responsibilities from his bleeding partner as they head out again for Chicago (hiding in a ditch during the battle, Helen Gillis is picked up just before the group vacates Barrington).  True to form, Nelson goes out like lived later that evening, the cliche of an outlaw adios, only real through and through ... after telling his wife to say goodbye to his mother, the killer recites the names of his brothers and sisters, begins to cry when he tells his wife to give a farewell to their children and then passes away after whispering, "It's getting dark Helen.  I can't see you anymore."  

                                                          Headline stuff
                                                       At the morgue
                                                   After the autopsy
                                                   Lawmen and their prize

The murdering outlaw is twenty-five-years-old when his violent life comes to its not unexpected conclusion.   

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