Battle of Barrington


On November 27, 1934, outside of Barrington, Illinois a furious gunfight, which became known as the Battle of Barrington occurred. The gunfight pitted 4 FBI agents against notorious bank robber Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis, John Chase, and Nelson’s wife, Helen Gillis. Baby Face Nelson had recently rose to the position of “Public Enemy #1” with the death of “Pretty Boy” Floyd in October.

FBI Agents Thomas McDade and Bill Ryan were driving on Route 14 looking for Nelson, who had been spotted in the area. The agents passed Nelson’s car heading the opposite direction and the occupants of both cars spotted each other. After several U-turns, Nelson actually wound up in pursuit of the federal agents. As Nelson’s powerful V-8 Ford caught up to the slower FBI sedan, Chase opened fire on the agents. The agents returned fire, sped ahead and ran off the highway to await the perps, not realizing that they had damaged Nelson’s car.

FBI Agents Herman Hollis and Samuel Cowley were also in the area and came upon Nelson as his car was limping into a parking lot. The agents pulled into the lot and opened fire on Nelson and Chase. A serious gunfight with some significant firepower ensued. A round from Cowley’s Thompson submachine-gun struck Nelson above his waist. Chase opened fire from behind the car. Nelson grabbed a Browning Automatic Rifle, and 30.06 bullets ripped into the Agent’s vehicle. Cowley was hit by a burst from Nelson’s gun after retreating to a nearby ditch. Nelson then took a blast from Hollis’ shotgun in the legs. Hollis, possibly already wounded, retreated behind a utility pole. With his shotgun empty, Hollis drew his service pistol only to be killed by a bullet to the head from Nelson’s gun. Nelson limped toward the agents’ bullet-riddled car. Nelson 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 weapons transfer, Nelson, too badly wounded to drive, collapsed into the stolen ride. Chase got behind the wheel and, along with Gillis and the mortally wounded Nelson, fled the scene.

Nelson gave directions as Chase drove them to a safe house on Walnut Street in nearby Willette. Nelson died in bed there, with his wife at his side. The FBI found Nelson’s body wrapped in a Native American blanket in a ditch outside of Skokie, Illinois. Chase and Gillis were later found and arrested. Chase died in Alcatraz Prison in 1973

Agent Hollis, with massive head wounds, was declared dead shortly after the gunfight. Agent Cowley was taken to a hospital but succumbed to his injuries during surgery. Earlier that year, Nelson had killed FBI Agent W Carter Baum in Wisconsin. Baby Face Nelson killed more FBI agents that any other criminal.

Christopher Flanagan


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