Tuesday, November 27, 2012


November, 1930 - Whether it was due to his stature and a resulting Napoleonic complex (he will grow to only five-feet-four-inches in height), the hard area of Chicago where he came of age (a west side location known as The Patch), bad parenting, the suicide death of his father, or just being a bad seed malfunction of nature, no public enemy of the Depression Era took more glee out of causing murder and mayhem (he starts at twelve by "accidentally" shooting a child in the jaw he is teasing with a gun he found in an alley) than Lester Gillis, better known now to crime historians as "Baby Face" Nelson.

                                                          Lester Gillis

Already a well seasoned thief with multiple trips to the state reformatory, at twenty-one Nelson is in the midst of a personal crime wave (several homes are broken into and their occupants robbed at gunpoint ... and he even mugs the wife of Chicago's mayor, Mary Walker Thompson, of jewelry estimated to be worth $18,000) when he and a group of associates decide to loot a roadhouse in the suburban town of Summit, Illinois.  Dancers still partying from Saturday night to the vocal stylings of twenty-two-year-old singer Mary Brining, in the early morning of Sunday, 11/23, armed with pistols and shotguns, Nelson and seven of his followers line up the patrons of the club, and in a smoky dark back room, begin robbing them of their possessions.  It is at this point that things go terribly wrong.  Seeking more illumination so that his victims will not be able to hide any of their valuables from theft, Nelson calls on one of his cronies to turn up the lights ... instead, a dolt in his gang flips a switch that turns the lights out, plunging the room into near total darkness, just as the roadhouse owner's Great Dane attacks, biting Nelson in the leg.  Nelson of course responds by opening fire on the dog, a reaction which in turn causes his gang to panic and begin indiscriminately firing at flashes, noises, and shadows ... gunplay that then results in railroad detective James Mikus opening up on the robbers with his gun as he exits the bathroom.  The chaos of flying bullets lasts only seconds, but when the bandits hastily relocate to calmer climes, they leave behind three dead (the young Mary Brining is one of them) and three wounded patrons ... and one very unhappy, but still alive pooch.

                                                        Desperado dude

Three nights later Nelson and his cohorts burst into another local tavern with robbery again in mind, but find only three men in the establishment ... the bar's owner, Frank Engel, a waiter, and a friend of Engel's, a twenty-seven-year-old stockbroker named Edwin R. Thompson who has stopped in for a late dinner after visiting his sick wife in a nearby hospital.  Shotgun at the ready, Nelson orders the men to raise their hands, but when a fearful Thompson adds a nervous smile to his limbs going skyward, the outlaw takes the expression as a slight.  "Don't smile, you!"  Psycho ... when the command is not responded too quickly enough to suit Nelson, the bandit fires a single blast from his shotgun into Thompson's chest, killing the young man instantly as he yells at the corpse that falls at his feet.  "Guess we ain't tough, eh?"  Murder complete, Nelson then has Engel open his safe, takes its contents and heist over, leaves the bar with the grand total of $125.

                         Wanted poster as part of the Dillinger Gang

Sowing what he will eventually reap, almost to the day four years later, in 1934, Baby Face Nelson will make his bloody exit from the world as America's Public Enemy #1 beside a road in Barrington, Illinois ... but not before taking two FBI agents with him.

                                   Baby Face Nelson

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