FAMILY RECOUNTS CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH GANGSTER
Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 -- 12:54 pm
Posted by Riley Hebert-News Director
It’s a big day for Wisconsin on the Silver Screen. The major motion picture Public Enemies is set to open in theaters Wednesday.
It documents the life of bank robber John Dillinger, who terrorized law enforcement—and much of the Midwest—over a couple-year-period in the early 1930s.
An area family unwittingly played a role in helping a notorious gangster escape law enforcement back in 1934.
The movie was partially shot in Wisconsin, where the gangster made some of his narrowest escapes, most notably at Little Bohemia in the Northwoods.
That famous shootout with the FBI happened on April 22, 1934. ‘Baby Face’ Nelson shot a G-Man at point-blank range as Dillinger and his gang escaped.
A couple days later, the Joe and Mary Gregorich family had an unexpected visitor at their farm three miles north of Greenwood on STH 73.
The couple’s son, Robert, wasn’t born yet, but he’s familiar with the story.
"My grandma was the one who came in to tell my folks there was a man in the house," Robert recalls, "here it was Baby Face Nelson."
But, news didn’t travel as fast in those days, and the Gregorich’s had no idea who the diminutive stranger was.
"My dad asked him who he was, he said he was a CCC Camp boy. Baby Face Nelson followed him in the barn and went up in the barn and threw hay down and helped him," he says.
The family didn’t feel threatened by Nelson and they shared pleasant conversation.
"He held my little brother and told them that he had a couple of kids and how much he liked kids."
Ironically, at one point, Joe Gregorich joked the stranger could be one of "Dillinger's Gang."
"Baby Face laughed and said, 'I'll have to tell that to my mom when I get home," Robert says.
Nelson asked to be taken to Neillsville, but they never made it.
Nelson became worried there were too many cops on STH 73; they instead traveled to Marshfield. During the trip, Joe Gregorich became suspicious of his guest.
"My dad was getting kind of nervous. He was trying to open up a pack of cigarettes, but he couldn't, so Baby Face Nelson said, 'Here, you better let me.'"
Joe Gregorich later reported the incident to local police who traced the vehicle the stranger left on the farm to Nelson.
In retrospect, it all made sense. "He wanted to sit in a chair that he could look out the window. He had something wrapped up, most likely his gun, wrapped up in his coat. He was pretty careful of what he was doing," Robert says.
Nelson was gunned down by the FBI later that year outside of Chicago.
Another Version of the family's story
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