Lester Joseph Gillis, also known as George Nelson, was an American bank robber and murderer born in Chicago in 1908 . Because of his youthful appearance and small stature he gained the nickname “Baby-Face” Nelson. He teamed up with John Dillinger and topped the FBI’s list as public enemy number one.
Baby Face Nelson is also widely known for having killed more FBI agents in the line of duty than any other single American citizen, and has also murdered several other civilians. When he was only 12, he was arrested after accidentally shooting a friend in the jaw with a gun the had found, and was sentenced to more than a year in the state reformatory. When he was 13 he was arrested again for joyriding and theft, and was forced to attend a penal school for more than a year and a half.
In 1928, while working at an oil station, he teamed up with a group of local thieves called “stripers” who introduced him to several local criminals, including the renowned Touhy Gang. In January 1930 they invaded the house of a magazine executive, where they bound the man with adhesive tape and cut the phone lines. Baby Face Nelson and his gang ransacked his house and made off with a large amount of jewelry. Soon afterwards, they committed a similar crime that netted the crew even more money.
In April that same year Baby Nelson robbed his first bank, and for the rest of the year he and his team carried out various crimes, from bank robberies to looting jewelry stores. By the end of 1930 he had committed his first murder, when he killed a stockbroker named Edwin Thompson.
In 1932 he received a sentence of one year to life in the state penitentiary at Joliet. He escaped during a prison transfer and fled west with Reno William Graham, an organized crime leader. Later, he spent time in Sausalito, California working for the bootlegger Joe Parente. It is probably that at these time he first met John Paul Chase and Fatso Negri, who would later join him for the rest of his criminal career.
In 1934, Nelson and his accomplices stole a V8 Ford and drove to Chicago. While on the way, they were spotted by several FBI agents. Baby Face Nelson and John Paul Chase, after briefly exchanging gunshots with the agents, disabled their vehicle, but were followed by another car. Nelson veered into the entrance of a park to confront the lawmen. He and Chase killed both of the federal agents and fled the scene, but not before Nelson was shot 17 times. Just a few hours later, Nelson died in a safe house at his wife’s side. Chase was captured and eventually sent to the infamous Alcatraz prison, while Nelson’s wife served time for harboring her husband.