Inspector Samuel Cowley, early 1930s - Courtesy FBI

Inspector Samuel Cowley, early 1930s - Courtesy FBI

November 27, 1934 started off near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with a stakeout at the home of Hobart Hermanson that had been ongoing for quite some time.  The stakeout was being conducted by FBI Special Agents (SAs) Charles Winstead, James Metcalfe and C. E. McRae on the belief that "Baby Face" Nelson would return to the Hermanson house.   

From there, to a running gun battle with SAs Tom McDade and William "Bill" Ryan, the day ended with the lives lost of Inspector Samuel Cowley and SA Herman Hollis. Also killed during the gun battle was "Baby Face" Nelson himself. His accomplice riding with him, John Paul Chase and his wife Helen Gillis, escaped the area after the shooting stopped and were later apprehended.  

A long forgotten story regarding that day is the encounter Nelson, his wife, and John Paul Chase had with SA Metcalf on the porch at the Hermanson home (with Winstead watching) prior to setting out on their fateful journey down the road. Had Nelson's car not had the muddy windows it did, FBI history may have been changed during that encounter. 

SA Herman Hollis, early 1930s - Courtesy FBI

SA Herman Hollis, early 1930s - Courtesy FBI

Much of what happened that cold November day has been obscured over the years however the retrieval now of Supervisor Virgil Peterson's report on the incident does provide the written record as dictated at the time. The facts were fresh and so were the witness accounts.  Peterson was Supervisor of the Dillinger Squad under Purvis and Cowley.  


Peterson's report of December, 1934 provides not only a summary of the events, but more importantly a summary of what each witness saw and what they would testify to.  Chase long held that he only fired a handgun that day at the murder site, but as can be seen, this directly conflicts with witness accounts.  As far as can be seen from the investigative file, the rifles used by Chase and Nelson that day were never found.  Nelson's Thompson was however, and forensics revealed there was no doubt three rifles also used in the firefight. 

SA Herman Hollis utilized a shotgun during that battle; Cowley a Thompson sub machine gun.  Hollis died of a rifle round to the back of his head; Cowley from an unknown round that entered his side and destroyed vital tissue. Although Nelson was hit some seventeen times, mostly by shotgun to the legs and other areas, the coroner's report revealed that the round that ultimately killed him was from .45 caliber, no doubt from Cowley's Thompson.  Although they were available at the Chicago FBI office, neither Cowley nor Hollis brought their bullet proof vests with them upon receiving the call to assist other agents in the search for Nelson. 

Readers can obtain the Peterson report here

On Mad Dogs & Chaplains - Hoover's Comments

Decades later, Father Joseph Clark, the Catholic chaplain at Alcatraz visited Director Hoover in an attempt to get Hoover's feelings about the possibility of parole for John Paul Chase who had been convicted of the murder of Inspector Cowley. Chase was indicted for the Hollis murder but was never tried on that matter due to legal maneuvers that claimed he was denied a "speedy trial." That indictment was dropped by prosecutors. 

The memo prepared by Hoover about the meet with Father Clark is another example of Hoover's vivid notations on the many documents now in the file and needless to say, he doesn't mince any words. (From the evidence at hand, it's unknown how Clark came up with the idea the it was Nelson alone who killed Cowley and Hollis.)  Click on the above subject link to see it.

Chase ultimately won his parole in 1966, returning to San Francisco and working there as a custodian until his death from cancer in 1973.

An FBI summary report on Nelson's early days of crime, his killing of SA Carter Baum, and more is here

More on the names involved can be found by doing a "site search" in the upper navigation column.