The Horrifying History of Two Wealthy Men and Their Perfect Crime
Wealth isn't everything but for these two young men, it definitely brought them into a life of entitlement where they thought they were untouchable. Their eerie story is one we can still talk about today and have chills sent down our spines.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were considered intelligent young men with promising futures. They grew up in wealthy homes and attended the University of Chicago and were clearly on a direct path to lucrative business careers. Money, jobs, and comfortable existence were all within their grasp until 1924 when they decided to turn down a different path, a much darker path. A path of crime.
Nathan's upbringing was not what you would expect considering the life of crime he decided to pursue. In fact, you could say his childhood was extraordinary. He was born on November 19, 1904 in Chicago, Illinois to wealthy immigrant parents. Growing up he was considered a child prodigy with "an aptitude for academia and high scores on the most reliable IQ test of the time." In fact, by 1924 he was doing so well that he had already completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and was well on his way to attend the prestigious Harvard Law School.
Richard Loeb's tale is not that different from Nathan's. Loeb also came from a wealthy family. In fact, his father Albert Henry Loeb, was a lawyer and the retired vice president of Sears, Roebuck & Company . Also similar to Nathan, Loeb was known for his intelligence. In fact, at the young age of only 17, he was the youngest person to graduate from the University of Michigan after transferring from the University of Chicago. At the time, most people who knew Loeb described him as "lazy and apathetic," but stirring underneath that angst he apparently took a deep interest in both true crime stories and detective novels.
Leopold and Loeb found inspiration in the most unusual of places: Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a 19th century German philosopher who coined the "concept" of supermen (in Europe more commonly known as "Übermenschen.") Nietzsche asserted that certain individuals with superior intelligence and extraordinary abilities are "transcendent" and, therefore, "above the law." Leopold and Loeb were both certainly intelligent enough to fit the mold and byb the time they reunited after college they began to live by Nietzsche's idealistic philosophy.
They began by testing the theory acting out, turning to trifling and insignificant crimes like petty theft, arson, and vandalism. However, they grew frustrated with the lack of media attention they sought after and decided to devise a plan to get away with what they deemed the "perfect crime."
"Devising the Perfect Crime."via:Wikimedia Commons
For a long seven whole months, the two young men Leopold and Loeb hammered out and plotted every single detail of their premeditated crime. They agred to a laundry list of deplorable acts including kidnapping and murder. The victim they selected together was 14 year-old Bobby Franks and the plan was to include extorting a ransom from Bobby's father. Bobbys father, Jacob Franks, was a wealthy and well-respected watch manufacturer in Chicago. The two typed up the ransom note and planned to collect the money at "an unspecified drop-off spot." It would be a location communicated to Bobby's father over the phone and would include a complicated set of delivery instructions. Another part of their devious plan? They intended to use a chisel as the murder weapon.
Bobby Franksvia:Clarence Darrow Digital Collection
The chilling tale of Bobby Frank's murder goes as such: On the afternoon of May 21, 1924, Leopold and Loeb rented a car and offered Bobby a ride home from school. The young men knew Bobby because he was a family friend of the Loebs. He had no reason to fear the young men or believe any harm would come to him from accepting their seemingly generous offer. Bobby sat in the front seat of the car while Leopold drove and Loeb sat in the backseat.
Not too long into the ride, Loeb pulled out the murder weapon, the chisel, and began to continuously bludgeon Bobby over the head. The two men then proceeded to haul his body into the backseat and gagged him. Franks torture ended shortly after when he died.
Afterwards, they moved on to their ransom attempts.
Hiding the body of Bobby Franks and the Ransom Notevia:The LineUp
As the two murderers had planned everything in advance, they drove the dead boy's body to their predetermined dumping spot 25 miles outside of Chicago. Leopold and Loeb removed his clothes, doused him in hydrochloric acid, and hid his body in a drain that ran alongside the Pennsylvania Railorad tracks.
Afterwards, they returned home to Chicago and were excited to learn that Bobby's disappearance was already the buzz and everyone was worried. It was the perfect opportunity to begin the process of coordinating a drop off location for the ransom money. The began by sending the ransom note to Bobby's parents and then called them to deliver follow-up instructions over the phone. However, their plan for ransom money fell apart quickly when tragic news that the boy's body had been found reached them.
Leopold and Loeb resumed their normal lives while a police investigation went into full force. The turning point came when a pair of eyeglasses turned up near the crime scene and Leopold was brought in for questioning. Fascinating enough, the frames themselves were a popular model at the time but only three people in all of Chicago had purchased glasses with the "unique hinge mechanism" that held this pair together. It was not long after that Loeb was also brought in for questioning. Their alibi was ridiculous, considered bogus even, and was quickly exposed. Immediately the pair turned on each other, which should come as no surprise when it came to these incredibly egotistical young men.
Clarence Darrowvia:Chicago History Today
Leopold and Loeb had confessed to both kidnap and murder so in order to evade the death penalty they were looking at they hired renowned defense lawyer Clarence Darrow to defend them. At the time, the public opinion assumed the two would seek out a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity but Darrow insisted they enter a guilty plea in order to prove to the judge that they were "willing to take full responsibility for their actions." This alone would increase their chances of getting life in prison instead of the death penalty. Darrow was well known for his strong opposition to capital punishment and in his closing remarks on the case he gave a very memorable and eloquent speech. He painted a passionate picture that the methods of the American Justice System were inhumane and merciless.
Darrow is also memorable as a defense lawyer for defending John T. Scopes in the "notorious Scopes Monkey Trial."
The Trial of the Century rocked everyone, next.
The murderers.via:Chicago Tribune
Indeed, the press ran with the idea that this was the "Trial of the Century," and a complete frenzy surrounded the happenings inside of the Chicago Courthouse. The public was utterly captivated and could not stop buzzing about the case. Most found themselves trying to wrap their heads around how two intelligent young men from such well known and esteemed, wealthy families with clearly such bright futures ahead of them could resort to committing such a viciously horrifying and deliberate crime.
After a whopping 32 days of witness testimony and expert testimony, the judge ruled that the two murderers would not see the death penalty. He sentenced Leopold and Loeb to life in prison PLUS 99 years for the kidnapping.
I guess you could say their defense lawyer did his job but their story doesn't end there.
Life in Prisonvia:Chicago Now
After a brief holding in Joliet Prison they were transferred to Stateville Penitentiary where they managed to maintain their friendship and even taught classes together in the prison school. Not surprisingly, there was a great deal of time where their families would send them weekly allowances which they would use to purchase goods from the prison commissary. However, their fellow inmates were not very big fans of the rich new guys and regularly assaulted them as a consequence. I wish we could feel bad for them... but I don't think many of us do. Despite being in prison, Leopold and Loeb didn't have it too bad considering their heinous crime.
The Death of Richard Loebvia:Find a Grave
It should come as no surprise that Richard Loeb was murdered. Loeb had been having a particularly tough time with his former cellmate, James E. Day and on the the afternoon of January 28, 1936, he attacked Loeb in the shower room with a straight razor. Day remained steadfast that the attack was in self-defense but he walked away without so much as a scratch. Loeb on the other hand withstood more than 50 wounds, including having his throat slashed from behind, a normal defensive tactic I assume. Loeb was taken to the prison hospital but not shockingly he died from the severity of his wounds. James Day was eventually tried in a court of law for the murder of Richard Loeb but he ended up being acquitted.
Leopold's Life in Prisonvia:Wikimedia Commons
Leopold and Loeb were indeed friends and after Loeb's death, Leopold fell into a deep depression. Reportedly, he would sit in his cell and scream for hours on end. Eventually, he was moved to the prison's psychology ward and he was properly treated for his depression. After treatment, Leopold started anew and made himself over as a model prisoner. He continued to teach prisoners but he also wrote books and modernized the prison library. He even volunteered to work in the prison hospital. After only 33 years in prison, he was released in 1958.
Leopold's Life After "Life in Prison."via:Bigoraphy
Leopold didn't keep quiet after being released from prison. He wrote and published his own autobiography and titled it "Life Plus 99." The book didn't go over very well. In fact, it received intense criticism and was believed to only have been written to try and mend Leopold's public image. The lack of detail given to the murder of Bobby Franks was an insult and the public just was not having any of it.
Eventually, Leopold left Chicago and moved to Puerto Rico. In 1961 he married a widow and retired social worker named Trudi de Quevedo. He went back to school and earned his master's degree from the University of Puerto Rico and became very active in his community. He went on to even teach mathematics at the University there. On August 29, 1971 Leopold died at the age of 66 from a diabetes-related heart attack.
Coming from "The Trial of the Century," it is not surprising that the story of Leopold and Loeb and the murder of Bobby Frank went on to inspire many works in fiction, theater, and even film. A list of media inspired by the crime includes:
1929 Patrick Hamilton's Play "Rope." This was later developed into an Alfred Hitchcock film staring Jimmy Stewart.
1956 Chicago journalist Meyer Levin wrote a novel called "Compulsion" that detailed a fictionalized version of the kidnapping and the murder.
1959 A film adaption of Levin's novel was released
1988 A Play by John Logan called "Never the Sinner." The play "highlighted" the rumored homosexual relationship between Leopold and Loeb and called attention to the newspaper's sensationalized accounts of the case