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Public Enemy #1 | Article

Evelyn "Billie" Frechette (1907-1969)

William J. Helmer

Evelyn "Billie" Frechette was born in 1907 to a French father and a Native American mother. She lived on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin until the age of 13. For four years, she attended a boarding school for Native Americans in Flandreau, South Dakota. When she was 18, Frechette moved to Chicago, where she worked as a nursemaid and waitress. Frechette married Welton Sparks, who was sentenced to prison in 1933 for committing a mail robbery.

Frechette later told True Confessions magazine that as result of her husband's incarceration, she had a "blurred attitude toward life." In November 1933, she met John Dillinger at a dance hall. She said, "There was something in those eyes that I will never forget. They were piercing and electric, yet there was an amused carefree twinkle in them too. They met my eyes and held me hypnotized for an instant."

Frechette, who was then 26, described the 30-year-old Dillinger as a gentleman: "John was good to me. He looked after me and bought me all kinds of jewelry and cars and pets, and we went places and saw things, and he gave me everything a girl wants. He treated me like a lady."

Unlike Bonnie Parker, who was Clyde Barrow's active accomplice, Frechette gave Dillinger minimal assistance. She made purchases for him, such as clothing and cars, but for the most part, she performed the role of a housewife. Besides being Dillinger's lover and companion, Frechette did his cooking and cleaning. Only once did she drive a getaway car, when the St. Paul police had discovered their apartment -- and that was only because Dillinger had been wounded in the leg.

The two lovers were reunited in Chicago after Dillinger's escape from Crown Point, Indiana — an escape which she may have facilitated by smuggling money and maps into the jail during a jailhouse visit with Louis Piquett. They remained together until Frechette was arrested by Department of Investigation Special Agents on April 9, 1934. Dillinger drove around the block several times before Pat Cherrington, the girlfriend of Dillinger gang member John Hamilton, convinced him that he would be killed if he tried to rescue Frechette. Cherrington later said that he started "crying like a baby."

Dillinger paid Louis Piquett, his own lawyer, to take on Frechette's case, and try to free her through legal means. During her trial in St. Paul, Frechette testified that during her D.O.I. interrogation, she had been slapped and deprived of food and sleep for two days. Dillinger became so angry that he vowed to kill Harold H. Reinecke, the agent in charge of Frechette's interrogation. Dillinger reluctantly gave up his intention only after Piquett threatened to leave him if he killed anyone.

Before his death, Dillinger frequently met Piquett or his legal investigator, Arthur O'Leary. Each time he asked about Frechette's appeal, even though he was already dating Polly Hamilton. In one letter Frechette sent Dillinger through O'Leary, she begged him not to try to rescue her, for fear he would be killed. In spite of her protests, on July 11, 1934, Dillinger told O'Leary on about a recent trip to Milan, Michigan. He had driven there to see the federal prison where Frechette was being held. After looking over the surrounding area, he reluctantly decided that any escape attempt would be impossible.

Frechette served two years in federal prison for harboring a criminal. After Dillinger's death, she sold her story to True Confessions,  True Romance, and the Chicago Herald and Examiner. Upon her release in 1936, Frechette toured in a theatrical show called Crime Doesn't Pay with members of Dillinger's family. She talked about her life with Dillinger, and answered the audience's questions about him. 

Frechette eventually had two subsequent marriages. She died of cancer on January 13, 1969, in Shawano, Wisconsin.

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