Leopold and Loeb

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Leopold (left) with Loeb (right)

Summary: Nathan Leopold, Jr. (1904-1971) and Richard Loeb (1905-1936) were two students attending the University of Chicago who murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks in 1924. Their motives were neither pecuniary nor personal, but solely to commit "a perfect crime." Fortunately, the two wealthy students were caught and were sentenced to life in prison for their murder. The Leopold and Loeb trial received much spotlight from the media, and eventually

Loeb: Eighteen year old Loeb received intellectual recognition as being the youngest graduate of University of Michigan, and was about to enter the University of Chicago Law School. He was obsessed with crime, and always desired to pull off "a perfect crime." Leopold and Loeb were also gay partners, whose relationship was unstable. At times, Leopold considered murdering Loeb!

Leopold: Leopold was nineteen when he assisted in the murder of Franks. Leopold was an intellectual prodigy, who first spoke at the age of four months. He was studying law at the University of Chicago, and was planning to study at Harvard. Leopold was an expert ornithologist, and a devout believer in Nietzschean philosophy. Due to his strange obsession with Loeb, Leopold agreed to commit "the perfect crime" that Loeb fantasized about.

"A superman ... is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do."

- Nathan Leopold, Jr.The Murder: The murder took place on May 21, 1924. The two teenagers kidnapped 14 year old Bobby Franks by luring him into their car. No one knows who committed the first blow but soon after, Franks died. The two murderers drove to an isolated part of Wolf Lake in Hammond Indiana. They proceeded to poor hydrochloric acid on the body, as to make identification impossible. They then proceeded to their home, where they burned their clothes and plans.

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Map of the Crime Scene according to The Crime of the Century: The Leopold and Loeb Case, by Hal Higdon (1975)

The Trial: Despite Leopold and Loeb's counter measures, Franks' body was found and along with it, Leopold's unique hinged glasses. Detective Hugh patrick Byrne arrested Leopold and Loeb, who eventually cracked under interrogation. Clarence Darrow eloquently defended the two teenagers during their trial. Darrow's historic 12 hour speech criticizing capital punishment proved to be successful at the end of the 12 hour hearing. The teenagers were sentenced to life in prison as opposed to capital punishment. Darrow's combination of prose, poetry, emotion and passion transcends time as one of the most mordent attacks on capital punihsment to this day. The trial was so publicized and famous, that the media labeled it "The Trial of the Century!"

Picture of Darrow with Leopold and Loeb
Picture of Darrow with Leopold and Loeb

Leopold, Darrow, and Loeb during the Trial

Sensationalism: Although the murder was tragic, the case stood out in American history as a spectacle. The high levels of sensationalism in the 1920's made the Leopold and Loeb trial famous beyond belief. Americans watched the trial as if it were a show, giving fame and celebrity to Leopold and Loeb. Soon after, the trial became the "most famous trial in American History."

Parallels Today: We can see the same phenomena happen to this day. There are always trials on the News that catch the eye of the public and media. Those involved, despite being criminals, garner more fame than celebrities. Also, the issue of Capital Punishment is still hotly debated throughout America and the World.

Post Trial: Loeb was murdered in jail in 1936, and Leopold was released in 1958 on parole. The famous trial inspired filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock into making the film "Rope" in 1948. Other filmmakers/ writers who used this case as a template for their works include:

  1. Patrick Hamilton
  2. Meyer Levin
  3. John Logan
  4. Tom Kalin
  5. Michael Haneke
  6. Steven Dolginoff

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"Swoon" - by Tom Kalin

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"Rope" - by Alfred Hitchcock

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Judge Crowe and Clarence Darrow Leopold and Loeb enter prison Leopold and Loeb being arrested