Gangster Women

I am very excited to announce my latest book, Gangster Women, published by Arcturus Publishing Limited, is now available as both an eBook and a paperback:


When I first became interested in the women who chose to ride alongside the gangsters of the early 1930s, I was hoping to find one underlying psychological reason for their choices. It turned out to be more complicated than that. I also saw a distinct difference between gangster and the later mobster molls.

I wrote about only one mobster moll because, frankly, I found the gangster’s women more interesting. The one exception was Virginia Hill who straddled the line between mistress and criminal herself and ended up dead in mysterious circumstances. That I found intriguing. But these molls were a different breed of women entirely than their gangster counterpart. They were mostly in it for the money and the fame of being with a mobster. Love rarely mattered.

Not so for the gangster molls who often greatly loved, had children with and sometimes married their men. The times were desperate following the onset of the Depression and most people were eager for something glamourous and exciting to focus on and the press gave it to them in the form of these women they called gun molls. The exploits of the gangsters were chronicled and when many of the women were later arrested for harbouring these men, the press described them in detail, from the clothes they were wearing to the style of their hair. The public couldn’t get enough.


I hope you enjoy the book and to give you a taste of it, here is an excerpt from Gangster Women and the story of Lester “Baby Face” Nelson and Helen Gillis:

A trap was laid, with government agents staking out the house for three weeks. Sure enough, on November 27, Nelson, Helen and Chase showed up. But Nelson knew in an instant when he pulled in and saw an unfamiliar man on the porch that something was up. The man in question was an agent. He’d heard the car and, thinking it was either the innkeeper’s wife or another agent, had left his gun inside as he went out to greet her. Nelson sped off while the agent rushed to phone Sam Cowley, his superior in Chicago. Cowley ordered agents William Ryan and Thomas McDade to drive over to Lake Geneva immediately and be on the lookout for Nelson’s car. Then Cowley himself, with another agent, Herman Hollis, headed in the same direction.

The Final Chase and Gunfight

Ryan and McDade spotted the gangster’s car first and managed to hit it with gunfire before speeding ahead to set a trap. What they hadn’t counted on was Nelson’s car being disabled and rapidly losing power just on the outskirts of Barrington. And what Nelson, Helen and Chase hadn’t counted on was the sudden appearance of another government vehicle, containing agent Cowley, hot on their tail. They leapt out of the car, Nelson yelling at Helen to get into the ditch. He and Chase barricaded themselves behind the vehicle and took aim at the agent’s car. Nelson had spun his car to a stop so quickly that he caught Cowley and Hollis off guard and they went almost 120 feet past the gangsters before they were able to screech to a stop. They both began firing as they leapt from their car.

At least six bullets from Cowley’s Thompson machine gun ripped into Nelson within the first few seconds, but still the latter managed to return fire. Cowley was hit twice and went down. Chase didn’t even realize his friend was shot because Nelson kept reloading guns and shooting. Nelson then grabbed a .351 rifle from the back seat of the car and started to move out into the open towards the agents’ car, shooting from the hip. Hollis fired and hit both of Nelson’s legs, knocking him down. Still he managed to pull himself up and keep walking, adrenalin coursing through his body.

“It was just like Jimmy Cagney,” a witness later said. “I never seen nothing like it. That fellow just came right a’ coming at them two lawmen and they must of hit him plenty, but nothing was gonna stop that fellow.”

Hollis tried to retreat, but there was nowhere to go. A bullet from Nelson’s rifle ripped his head open. Nelson eased his body into the agents’ vehicle and backed it up, calling twice for Helen and shouting at Chase to gather up all the weapons. As Chase began to climb into the passenger seat, Nelson said to him, “You’ll have to drive. I’m shot.”

Seventeen times to be exact. At least that was the number given out by the media at the time although later accounts put the actual number at nine. It was more than enough.

Finally, Helen ran from her hiding place and jumped into the back seat. They drove off. The Battle of Barrington was over.

She’d been through a lot with Nelson before, but this time Helen knew it was serious. “Les tried to drive but couldn’t make it,” Helen recounted to her family that night. “I knew it was no use trying to get a doctor. I knew as we rode that he wouldn’t be my pal much longer.”

Here are a couple of links to where you can purchase the book:
Also available from many other sources such as iTunes and Amazon in other countries


  1. Seema
    Oct 15, 2015

    Congratulations, Susan! This sounds like a really fascinating book. The excerpt has definitely left me wanting to read more…I can’t wait to read it! (And what a great cover!)

    • Susan McNicoll
      Oct 15, 2015

      Thanks Seema. I appreciate your comments and so happy to hear you enjoyed the excerpt.

  2. Denise
    Oct 21, 2015

    Congratulations Susan!! This is a time in history that I know very little about and I’m looking forward to reading more!

    • Susan McNicoll
      Oct 21, 2015

      Thanks Denise. I hope you enjoy it. It truly was an interesting time capsule that was short in duration but utterly fascinating on many levels.

  3. Shara
    Dec 23, 2015

    Hello Susan

    We at our Museum love the topic of your Gangster Women book.

    We would love to know if you might be in the NYC area anytime soon? And would you do a book signing or talk at our Museum?

    • Susan McNicoll
      Dec 27, 2015

      Thank you. I sent an email to the gmail address it came from. Or you can contact me through the contact page on my website and then I can email you directly back. Fascinating subject.

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