Public Enemies: The Story of John Dillinger and George Babyface Nelson

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Public Enemies
Jacob M. Harper
ENG 101
July 4th, 2010
Alicia Giffin

There are many speculations to the actual cause of the Great Crash of 1929. Some link it to the false sense of opulence in the country, some think it might have had something to do with the numerous loans given to Europe who in turn subsequently defaulted on. Whatever the cause was is irrelevant. The fact is that on Tuesday October 29th 1929 the Dow Jones Stock Market plummeted over 40 points after a week of panic selling. Following the crash of 1929, the nation’s unemployment percentage rose to an all time high of 25% (Croft, 2010). With little to no work to be found, a failed banking system, and one of the worst recorded droughts in history. John Dillinger and George “Babyface” Nelson was just a couple of the people who were forced to turn to a life of crime just to survive. According to ( John Dillinger was born on June 22nd 1903 to John and Mollie Dillinger of Indianapolis. He had one sister named Audrey. His mother passed away when he was only three years old. His sister, who was fourteen years older, helped raise him until she married. Six years after his mother’s death, his father remarried. John’s father would switch between spoiling him and abusing him. On some days his father would lock him inside the house and on others let him walk around town until it was dark. Some days he would beat him, and others he would make sure he had enough money to buy some candy at the store (PBS, n.d.). Just like any other nine-year-old boy, John got into trouble. However, what many of his neighbors did not realize was how much he did that never was caught. John was the leader of a local gang called “The Dirty Dozen, and was also an avid coal thief. John continued to stay in trouble throughout school, and finally ended up dropping out at the age of sixteen so that he could work in the local machine shop. When he was twenty he joined the Navy but went AWOL after five months. Not long after deserting the Navy, he married a sixteen-year-old girl named Beryl Hovious. He was twenty she was sixteen. Not even five months after he was married, with no luck in finding a job and no food for his family he decided to rob a grocery store (PBS, n.d.). Thus began his life as a fugitive. Dillinger’s story is one of a humble country background. His family instilled in him basic and moral values of everyday life. Unfortunately, not all parents did that. Unlike Dillinger, Nelson was not raised in a traditional American household. George “Babyface” Nelson was actually born “Lester M. Gillis to Josef and Mary Gillis of Nova Scotia. His parents had a hard time comprehending and adapting to American life. He grew up in the slums of Chicago’s canal district. Gillis’s father worked 12 hours a day, six days a week as a packer in an icehouse. He worked for long hours with little pay. Gillis’s mother was a devout Christian but had little understanding of growing boys. She did everything she could just to keep food on the table, including tutoring French to schoolchildren. When Gillis’s father would work late, which was more often than not, his mother would allow him to roam the streets of Chicago. As he started to reach puberty and all the other boys at his school started to grow he did not. His hairless face and bright blue eyes made him the target for constant bullying. Neighborhood gangs thought nothing of it to take a baseball bat to his face, or a brick to the back of his head. Eventually though Gillis had enough. Standing less than 5 ½ feet tall, and weighing in on average about 25 pounds lighter than any boy his age, Gillis slowly started to turn into the Napoleon of Chicago (Geringer, n.d.). When Gillis’s parents realized the kind of boy he had become they went to the local parish, spoke to the local nuns and priest. They told them to drastically implement discipline into his life. His parents tried yelling and verbal threats, all of which were unsuccessful. When...
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