The molls of the Dillinger gang travelled throughout the Midwest and Southwest during the Depression. The Barker gang women went as far South as Ocala, Florida, where Ma Barker died. Evelyn Frechette, Pat Cherrington, Opal Long and Mary Kinder stayed in Daytona, Florida in December 1933. Helen Gillis went out to California with Baby Face Nelson.
Their lives were tragic and their choices doomed them to bereavement, prison, and social stigma. They paid a high price for their whirlwind tour of the United States. They sat alongside their men in Ford V-8s, Studebakers, Buicks and Terraplanes, as they drove through big cities and small towns. Occasionally, one would take a small airplane, or "aeroplane" as they were called in those days.
Travel was the only way molls could stay one step ahead of police and FBI surveillance. Here is a tour of some of the places that hosted the molls of the Dillinger Gang, from Chicago to San Francisco. Their expensive luggage was impressive, but the tags listed assumed names and phony home addresses.
The members of the John Dillinger Gang didn't travel together. They arrived at Little Bohemia in separate vehicles. Likewise, they didn't all stay together
in the central area of the Lodge. Lester Gillis, otherwise known as Baby Face Nelson, was known to the staff at Little Bohemia as "Jimmie." The bartender there, said he liked "Jimmie" because he left a nice tip, $5.00, "a fortune in those days," he said. Jimmie and his wife, Helen Gillis, stayed in the cottage which was a few yards away from the central Lodge. The other members of the gang, Tommy Carroll with his moll, Jean Delaney Crompton, shared one room upstairs.
Homer Van Meter, with his moll Marie "Mickey" Comforti, John Hamilton and Dillinger could look out the back windows of the Lodge. Their rooms were very small. When they slipped out the windows when the firing started, they were confronted with an embankment that slid down into the Little Star Lake.
The lay of the land confused the FBI agents, as they were unfamiliar with the landscape, and it was pitch black darkness when they advanced upon Little Bohemia Lodge.
After the firing started, Baby Face Nelson took an escape route, on foot, along the Little Star Lake. His destination was Lang's Lodge.
It was not much of a vacation for the Dillinger molls. Pat Cherrington, who was there only briefly before she left with gang accomplice Pat Reilly, was feeling sick. Marie Comforti, dressed in a riding outfit, was bored in the country. Jean Delaney Crompton had brought a book to read. She may have become accustomed to the boredom of life on the lam, and found reading to provide an escape. Helen Gillis was, by that time, in a state of deep anxiety. It would get worse after the arrests at Little Bohemia that would occur in the pre-dawn.
As we stated earlier, the members of the Dillinger Gang didn't travel together. Another example of the different factions, going about in separate cars, is the sensational story of the arrest in Tucson, Arizona. The members of the Dillinger gang, who were commonly called the "Terror Gang," arrived in Tucson, Arizona, according to each one's schedule during January, 1934. The dates that each arrived are approximated by the records shown on old hotel registry records.
From the registry at the Arizona Motel, it is known that John and Evelyn Frechette occupied one room, while Harry "Pete" Pierpont and Mary Kinder occupied another. Mary Kinder dreaded the thought of going to Tucson, by the way. She claimed that a voice inside her head had
warned her, "Don't go to Tucson."
Later on, days after the gang escaped from their third floor rooms in the Congress Hotel, Opal Long and Russell Clark had rented a small house at 927 East Second Street.
That is the location where Clark, Opal Long, and later, John Dillinger and Evelyn Frechette, all met members of the Tucson Police Department, who greated them with handcuffs.
Mary Kinder and Harry Pierpont were driving through Tucson. They were stopped by a traffic light on 19th Street and 6th Avenue by Frank Eyman, Jay Smith, and Mickey Nolan, all members of the Tucson Police Department.
After their arrest, the members of the Dillinger Gang were arraigned in the Pima County Courthouse. They were taken from the stationhouse to the court, and were imprisoned there while their fate was decided. The decisions made while the gang remained imprisoned in Tucson, would directly affect their fate. Clark, Makley and Pierpont were extradicted to Ohio to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Jess Sarber, killed in Lima, Ohio. Dillinger was slated to go to Indiana, to stand trial for the murder of Patrolman William O'Malley. While the male members of the Dillinger gang were ascribed to the states promising the death penalty for the murders of its police officers, the women remained behind bars in the same location.
The Gun Molls of the 1930s lost their vacation time to prison, on more than one occasion.
They left their Hearts in San Francisco
Baby Face Nelson was never called "Baby Face" to his face, or by those who knew him. His favorite alias was "Jimmy." In California, Helen Gillis accompanied her husband, Lester "Baby Face Nelson" Gillis, to San Francisco, California. There they lived in harmony during the years 1932-1933, as "Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Burnell."
Drawn to San Francisco during the last years of Prohibition for the bootlegging, Lester Gillis went to the Andrometer, a saloon at 155 Columbus Avenue, to meet other members of the gang comprised of William Graham and James McKay, Hans Leon Strittmatter, Joe Parente, John Paul Chase, Anthony "Soap" Marino, "Doc Bones" Tambini, Fatso Negri, and others. They were to comprise the primary gang for Lester. Helen, his wife, thought of it as a safe refuge. In the Vallejo General Hospital, Helen was twice admitted for abdominal illness. While Baby Face Nelson is commonly thought to have been a Chicago-based outlaw, he actually had deep underworld roots on the West Coast in San Francisco and Reno.
The saloon at 155 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, stands today. The Andrometer boasts of a balcony. When Baby Face Nelson hung out here with Fatso Negri, both sat on the edge of the balcony and observed the front door. To the rear of the balcony was a doorway and a staircase.
The staircase extended down to a subterranean level below the street. Legend says that there were catacombs beneath this notorious hideout, that stretched to the Barbary Coast.
Coincidentally, the Andrometer was situated down the block from the corner lot that was to become the legendary City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.
From the gangs of Baby Face Nelson's time, to the beat poets of later generations that found a home in City Lights Bookstore, the block of 155 Columbus has been a mecca for those outside the margins of society.