Leopold and Loeb

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Nathan Leopold
BornNathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr.
(1904-11-19)November 19, 1904
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedAugust 29, 1971(1971-08-29) (aged 66)
Puerto Rico
Cause of death
Heart attack
Criminal charge
Murder, Kidnapping
Criminal penalty
Life + 99 years imprisonment
Criminal status
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Nathan Leopold
BornNathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr.
(1904-11-19)November 19, 1904
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedAugust 29, 1971(1971-08-29) (aged 66)
Puerto Rico
Cause of death
Heart attack
Criminal charge
Murder, Kidnapping
Criminal penalty
Life + 99 years imprisonment
Criminal status
Richard Loeb
BornRichard Albert Loeb
(1905-06-11)June 11, 1905
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedJanuary 28, 1936(1936-01-28) (aged 30)
Joliet, Illinois, United States
Cause of death
Knife attack
Criminal charge
Murder, Kidnapping
Criminal penalty
Life +99 years imprisonment
Criminal status

Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr., (November 19, 1904 – August 29, 1971)[1] and Richard Albert Loeb (June 11, 1905 – January 28, 1936), more commonly known as "Leopold and Loeb", were two wealthy University of Chicago law students who kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks in 1924 in Chicago.[2]

The duo was motivated to murder Franks by their desire to commit a perfect crime.

Once apprehended, Leopold and Loeb retained Clarence Darrow as counsel for the defense. Darrow’s summation in their trial is noted for its influential criticism of capital punishment as retributive, rather than a rehabilitative penal system. Leopold and Loeb were sentenced to life imprisonment. Loeb was killed by a fellow prisoner in 1936; Leopold was released on parole in 1958.

Leopold and Loeb have been the inspiration for several works in film, theatre, and fiction, such as the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, Alfred Hitchcock's take on the play in 1948 film of the same name. Later movies such as Compulsion and Swoon were more accurate makes of the Leopold and Loeb case.

Early lives[edit]

Nathan Leopold[edit]

Nathan Leopold was born on November 19, 1904 in Chicago, Illinois, to a wealthy immigrant Jewish family from Germany.[3] Nathan Leopold was a child prodigy who spoke his first words at the age of four months;[3] shocking and amazing nannies and carers who looked after him as a child. He reportedly had an intelligence quotient of 210,[4] though this is not directly comparable to scores on modern IQ tests.[5] At the time of the murder, Leopold had already completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and was attending law school at the University of Chicago.[6] He claimed to have been able to speak 27 languages fluently,[7] and was an expert ornithologist.[8] Leopold, along with several other ornithologists were the first to discover the Kirtland's warbler in their area in over half a century. Film from the early 1920s show Nathan Leopold participating in the discovery. Leopold planned to transfer to Harvard Law School in September after taking a trip to Europe. He was thought of as having a brilliant mind, and few doubted that Leopold would succeed in his later life.

Richard Loeb[edit]

Richard Loeb was born on June 11, 1905, in Chicago, Illinois to a family of Albert H. Loeb, a wealthy Jewish lawyer, a vice president of Sears.[9] Like Leopold, Loeb was also incredibly intelligent, and skipped several grades in school. However, Loeb was more focused on non academic activities. Although he fell behind his true potential in later years, Loeb was the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Michigan and still remains to this day. Richard Loeb planned to enter the University of Chicago Law School after taking some postgraduate courses.[6]

Lead up[edit]

Both Leopold and Loeb lived in the affluent Kenwood neighborhood on Chicago's Southside, some six miles south of downtown. Loeb's father, Albert, began his career as a lawyer and became the vice president of Sears and Roebuck. Besides owning an impressive mansion in Kenwood, two blocks from the Leopold home, the Loeb family had a summer estate, Castle Farms, in Charlevoix, Michigan.

Although Leopold and Loeb knew each other casually while growing up, their relationship flourished when they met at the University of Chicago as teenagers. They quickly formed a strong friendship. Leopold and Loeb found that they had a mutual interest in crime, Leopold being particularly interested in Friedrich Nietzsche's theory of the superman. It was now that they began to look deeper into their criminal interests that the two boys began to commit crimes for themselves. Leopold agreed to act as Loeb's accomplice.[10] They began with petty theft and vandalism. They broke into a fraternity house at the university. They stole penknives, a camera and a typewriter (later used to type the ransom letter). Leopold and Loeb soon committed a series of more and more serious crimes such as arson.

The pair were disappointed when none of their crimes made their way into the papers. Leopold and Loeb then decided to commit a crime that would surely get the public talking. They began to plan out their perfect crime together.


Not only were they good friends, but Leopold and Loeb had formed a strong intimate relationship with each other. It was thought that on the train to the Loeb's Summer Cottage was where the two boys had their first sexual encounter. This relationship was thought to be Loeb's way of repaying Leopold for his participation in the crimes, or even used to convince him to follow through on his plans. Loeb was the dominant figure in this relationship and had more power over Leopold, for Leopold would do as he was told. As their relationship became more and more intense, so did their crimes.

The Superman[edit]

Because of Leopold's strong interest in Friedrich Nietzsche, Leopold and Loeb believed themselves to be Nietzschean supermen (Übermensch) who could commit a "perfect crime" (in this case, a kidnapping and murder).[6] This theory suggested that superior minds could overcome the laws and regulations that bound the average man. The average man was inferior and was unimportant to those of superior qualities. Because of his high intelligence, Leopold thought that he needed to show just how superior he really was. This theory fed Leopold with the will to prove himself to be a truly brilliant mind. Before the murder, Leopold had written to Loeb: "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."[11]

Murder of Robert Franks[edit]

"Bobby" Franks with his father sometime after 1920.

Their small crimes weren't enough to thrill the two boys. They needed something bigger and much more thrilling. They began discussing their perfect crime. They planned to kidnap and murder a young boy at random. They would send the boy's family a ransom letter, although the crime wasn't for money. The two boys' families supplied them with more than enough money already. The ransom note was a mere prop for their crime. Leopold and Loeb spent seven months planning the murder. They covered everything from the disposal of the body to the murder weapon and how the ransom note was to be written. They also discussed the method of receiving ransom money with little or no risk of being caught.[12] They made sure that their plan would leave as little evidence as possible. Leopold was to hire a rental car for the murder. This is the vehicle into which the young boy would be lured and then killed. He used the fake name 'Morten D. Ballad' to hire the car. A chisel was purchased-- this would be the murder weapon. When Leopold and Loeb were certain that they had perfected their plans, they put their plot into motion on Wednesday, May 21, 1924. At this time, Leopold was 19 and Loeb was 18.

The pair drove around the Harvard School For Boys (closed 1962) in the Kenwood Area, Chicago,[13] where Loeb himself had been educated. They were looking for a young boy that they would be able to kill. They spent much time both driving around and walking the grounds. They kept themselves hidden in fear of being seen. Leopold even admitted to have watched the boys from a distance using his bird viewing binoculars. After a search, the pair finally decided upon Robert "Bobby" Franks, the son of Chicago millionaire Jacob Franks. Loeb knew Bobby Franks well, for Bobby had played tennis at the Loeb residence several times. Their choice of victim was at random. Future Hollywood producer Armand Deutsch, the then 11-year-old grandson of Julius Rosenwald, later claimed that he might have been the intended victim of Loeb or Leopold. However, on the day of the murder, he was picked up by his family's chauffeur after school because he had a prior dental appointment.[14][15]

The car pulled up alongside little Franks, and he was offered a ride. At first he refused. However, Loeb pressed on and eventually convinced Bobby to ride with them because he wanted to discuss a tennis racket Bobby Franks had been using. The 14-year-old Bobby Franks, who was both the neighbour and second cousin of Richard Loeb, was lured into the passenger seat of their rented car. With Franks in the vehicle, Loeb drove and Leopold sat in the back armed with the taped chisel. This was a weapon commonly chosen by Loeb.

It is still unknown exactly who stuck Franks, but it is commonly believed that it was Loeb. While Leopold drove down the road, Loeb struck Franks several times in the head with the chisel before dragging him into the back-seat of the car. At this point, Loeb gagged Franks with a rag, and Franks lost consciousness soon thereafter. After driving into the county near the Indiana line, they pulled the car over and Loeb moved from the back to the passenger seat as the body of the boy lay covered in the back of the car.[16]

Leopold and Loeb had decided that they would hide the body near Wolf Lake in Hammond, Indiana. With the body hidden and covered on the floor of the car, the killers drove to their dumping spot. This was an area Leopold was very familiar with, for he had gone bird-watching there many times. The killers thought it was wise to choose a familiar area. Leopold and Loeb had their dinner at a small sandwich place. After finishing their meal, the two waited until night fall. When it was dark enough for them to proceed with the dumping of the body. Leopold and Loeb removed Franks's clothes and left them at the side of the road. They poured hydrochloric acid[17] on the face, genitals and a distinctive abdomen scar to make identification more difficult. The boy's circumcision would reveal him as Jewish. They concealed the body in a culvert at the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks near 118th street, north of Wolf Lake. They then left the scene and began to travel home.

By the time Leopold and Loeb returned to Chicago, word had already spread about Franks's disappearance. Leopold called Franks's mother and informed her that her son had been kidnapped. He used the name George Johnson when he called. The same name was used for the ransom note. They later mailed this ransom letter to the Franks family typed by a stolen typewriter. Leopold and Loeb burned their clothing spotted with blood. They also attempted to clean bloodstains from the upholstery of their rented automobile. The two then spent the rest of the evening playing cards.

It was the following morning that the Franks family received the ransom note. The same day, Leopold and Loeb called the Frankses a second time, instructing them to travel to a local drugstore where further instructions would be given to them. In the stress of the situation, the address of the store was forgotten by the receiver of the call. Before the Franks family could pay the ransom, Tony Minke, a Polish immigrant, came across the body which was later confirmed to be Bobby Franks.[12][16] When Leopold and Loeb learned that the body had been found, they destroyed the typewriter used to write the ransom note and burned the robe used to move the body.[12][16] Convinced that they had done everything they could to hide their tracks, Leopold and Loeb went about their lives as normal.

Police investigations were now widely spread around Chicago. Rewards were guaranteed to any members of the public who were able to provide the police with clues. Though Leopold went about his day to day routine quietly, Loeb involved himself in the police investigations as much as possible. He offered theories to reporters and whoever else would listen. He even went as far as to say 'If I were to murder anybody, it would be such a cocky little son of a bitch as Bobby Franks'.

For a while, the hunt for clues seemed hopeless. However, Detective Hugh Patrick Byrne, while searching for evidence, discovered a pair of eyeglasses near the body. Though common in prescription and frame, these glasses were equipped with an unusual hinge mechanism (patent 1,342,973[18]). In Chicago, only three people had purchased glasses with such a mechanism, one of whom was Nathan Leopold.[19] (Leopold's glasses are now in the Chicago History Museum).[20]) The destroyed typewriter used for the ransom note was also found soon after. Upon being questioned, Leopold told police he had possibly lost the glasses while bird-watching the previous week.[21] It seemed possible. The detective asked Leopold to demonstrate how his glasses would have fallen from his pocket. Leopold suggested that he may have tripped on a tree root. He placed the glasses in his jacket pocket and threw himself onto the ground. Despite multiple tries, Leopold's glasses remained in place. Suspicions about the two boys began to circulate amongst the public. Loeb was also taken in for questioning. Loeb told the police that Leopold was with him the night of the murder. Leopold and Loeb claimed they had picked up two women (Edna and May) in Leopold's car and had dropped them off near a golf course, never learning their last names. They both insisted that they drove in Leopold's car. It seemed that they had actually begun to fool the police investigators. However, while the boys were being questioned, Leopold's chauffeur came by the police station to drop off pajamas and toiletry supplies if the police were to keep him there all night. As he was leaving, the chauffeur insisted that the boys could not have possibly been involved with the murder. He claimed that he was repairing Leopold's car at the time of the murder. To the chauffeur's logic, the boys could not have possibly driven anywhere, let alone as far as Wolf Lake. The chauffeur's wife later confirmed that the car had been in the Leopold garage that night. With their alibis broken, it was now certain that Leopold and Loeb had killed Franks.

The confession[edit]

Loeb confessed first. He covered every part of the crime in intense detail. He made sure that the police knew just how brilliantly the murder was planned. Loeb insisted that Leopold had planned everything. He claimed that Leopold was the one who sat in the back of the car and killed Bobby Franks. Loeb said that he drove the car. He made that aspect very clear to the police. Leopold was next door to Loeb in another room at the time of the confession. While he was being questioned, Leopold still stuck by what he had told the police beforehand. However, when Leopold was informed that his partner had confessed, his confession swiftly followed.[22] Just like Loeb, Leopold made sure that he told the police everything he could about the murder. Leopold also insisted that he was driving the car while Loeb sat in the back. He said that it was Loeb who killed Bobby, not he. Although their confessions corroborated most of the facts in the case, each blamed the other for the actual killing.[12][16] Most commentators believe that Loeb struck the blow that killed Franks.[10] However, which of the two actually wielded the weapon that killed Franks would never be known. Psychiatrists at the trial, impressed by Leopold's intelligence, agreed that Loeb had struck the fatal blow. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence in the case, including eyewitness testimony by Carl Ulvigh (who saw Loeb driving with Leopold in the back seat minutes before the kidnapping), indicated that Leopold may have been the killer.[23]

The motive[edit]

The ransom was not their primary motive; the young men's families provided them all the money that they needed. Both had admitted that they were driven by the thrill of the kill and the desire to commit the "perfect crime".[6] The Superman theory may have only deepened the boys obsession with crime and caused them to think that they were above the law, and therefore could not be caught. The exact motive is still quite a mystery. The fact that two wealthy teenagers kidnapped and murdered a young boy at random confused, baffled and most of all angered the public. No one would ever know for sure just why Leopold and Loeb chose to murder Franks, whether it was for the thrill, science, or out of pure boredom. The fact that the motive in the crime is just about nonexistent makes the Leopold and Loeb case one of the most interesting, and at the same time most frightful, murder cases in history.


Ransom note
Defense attorney Clarence Darrow

Leopold and Loeb became the first criminals of the 20th century to achieve national notoriety. The trial became a media spectacle. Held at Courthouse Place, it was one of the first cases in the U.S. to be dubbed the "Trial of the Century".[24] Scared that their child would face the death sentence, Loeb's family hired 67-year-old Clarence Darrow—a well-known opponent of capital punishment—to defend the teenagers against the capital charges of murder and kidnapping.[25] Clarence Darrow was one of the best criminal lawyers in the country and rumors suggested that his fee was a million dollars. Some were amazed that he had accepted the case considering the physical evidence, confessions, and the nature of the crime that had been committed. There did not appear to be much hope left for Leopold and Loeb.

While the media expected Leopold and Loeb to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, Darrow changed the plea of his clients to plead guilty, in order to avoid the jury, which Darrow believed would most certainly have resulted in a conviction and perhaps even the death penalty.[25] The case was heard by Cook County Circuit Court Judge John R. Caverly. Darrow believed Caverly to be a soft and concerned judge and he hoped that he would be able to convince him to let the boys off with a life sentence rather than death.

The Alienists[edit]

Both Darrow and the prosecution brought forth some of the county's best psychologists, or as they were known, alienists. Even Sigmund Freud himself was offered the job of analyzing Leopold and Loeb, but declined the offer due to health concerns. Although Crowe's alienists argued that the two boys were unusual but sane, Darrow's alienists claimed the opposite. Darrow's alienists stated that the boys were driven by unusual and sickly desires (their obsessions with crime and their sexual relationship). Angered by the dismissal of the jury, Robert Crowe brought more than one hundred witnesses to the stand, in hopes of proving to the judge that Leopold and Loeb were perverted homosexuals. Whenever anyone was to speak of the pair's sexual relationship, it was spoken in whispers with women removed from the court and reporters shooed away. It was because of their relationship that rumors began to spread that suggested that Franks had been sexually assaulted. However, no evidence of sexual contact was found in Bobby Franks' autopsy.

Darrow's speech[edit]

During the 12-hour hearing on the final day, Darrow gave a speech that has been called the finest of his career.[26] It was aimed at the inhuman punishments and ways of the American justice system. The speech included the following: "This terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor... Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche's philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it?... It is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university."[27] Darrow's argument lasted for almost twelve hours. He touched on everything from the young age of his clients to the plea for mercy. "Now, your Honor, I have spoken about the war. I believed in it. I don’t know whether I was crazy or not. Sometimes I think perhaps I was. I approved of it; I joined in the general cry of madness and despair. I urged men to fight. I was safe because I was too old to go. I was like the rest. What did they do? Right or wrong, justifiable or unjustifiable -- which I need not discuss today -- it changed the world. For four long years the civilized world was engaged in killing men. Christian against Christian, barbarian uniting with Christians to kill Christians; anything to kill. It was taught in every school, aye in the Sunday schools. The little children played at war. The toddling children on the street. Do you suppose this world has ever been the same since? How long, your Honor, will it take for the world to get back the humane emotions that were slowly growing before the war? How long will it take the calloused hearts of men before the scars of hatred and cruelty shall be removed?

We read of killing one hundred thousand men in a day. We read about it and we rejoiced in it -- if it was the other fellows who were killed. We were fed on flesh and drank blood. Even down to the prattling babe. I need not tell you how many upright, honorable young boys have come into this court charged with murder, some saved and some sent to their death, boys who fought in this war and learned to place a cheap value on human life. You know it and I know it. These boys were brought up in it. The tales of death were in their homes, their playgrounds, their schools; they were in the newspapers that they read; it was a part of the common frenzy -- what was a life? It was nothing. It was the least sacred thing in existence and these boys were trained to this cruelty.

It will take fifty years to wipe it out of the human heart, if ever. I know this, that after the Civil War in 1865, crimes of this sort increased, marvelously. No one needs to tell me that crime has no cause. It has as definite a cause as any other disease, and I know that out of the hatred and bitterness of the Civil War crime increased as America had never seen before. I know that Europe is going through the same experience today; I know it has followed every war; and I know it has influenced these boys so that life was not the same to them as it would have been if the world had not made red with blood. I protest against the crimes and mistakes of society being visited upon them. All of us have a share in it. I have mine. I cannot tell and I shall never know how many words of mine might have given birth to cruelty in place of love and kindness and charity.

Your Honor knows that in this very court crimes of violence have increased growing out of the war. Not necessarily by those who fought but by those that learned that blood was cheap, and human life was cheap, and if the State could take it lightly why not the boy? There are causes for this terrible crime. There are causes as I have said for everything that happens in the world. War is a part of it; education is a part of it; birth is a part of it; money is a part of it -- all these conspired to compass the destruction of these two poor boys.

Has the court any right to consider anything but these two boys? The State says that your Honor has a right to consider the welfare of the community, as you have. If the welfare of the community would be benefited by taking these lives, well and good. I think it would work evil that no one could measure. Has your Honor a right to consider the families of these defendants? I have been sorry, and I am sorry for the bereavement of Mr. and Mrs. Franks, for those broken ties that cannot be healed. All I can hope and wish is that some good may come from it all. But as compared with the families of Leopold and Loeb, the Franks are to be envied -- and everyone knows it.

I do not know how much salvage there is in these two boys. I hate to say it in their presence, but what is there to look forward to? I do not know but what your Honor would be merciful to them, but not merciful to civilization, and not merciful if you tied a rope around their necks and let them die; merciful to them, but not merciful to civilization, and not merciful to those who would be left behind. To spend the balance of their days in prison is mighty little to look forward to, if anything. Is it anything? They may have the hope that as the years roll around they might be released. I do not know. I do not know. I will be honest with this court as I have tried to be from the beginning. I know that these boys are not fit to be at large. I believe they will not be until they pass through the next stage of life, at forty-five or fifty. Whether they will then, I cannot tell. I am sure of this; that I will not be here to help them. So far as I am concerned, it is over.

I would not tell this court that I do not hope that some time, when life and age have changed their bodies, as they do, and have changed their emotions, as they do -- that they may once more return to life. I would be the last person on earth to close the door of hope to any human being that lives, and least of all to my clients. But what have they to look forward to? Nothing. And I think here of the stanza of Housman:

Now hollow fires burn out to black, And lights are fluttering low: Square your shoulders, lift your pack And leave your friends and go. O never fear, lads, naught’s to dread, Look not left nor right: In all the endless road you tread There’s nothing but the night.

I care not, your Honor, whether the march begins at the gallows or when the gates of Joilet close upon them, there is nothing but the night, and that is little for any human being to expect.

But there are others to consider. Here are these two families, who have led honest lives, who will bear the name that they bear, and future generations must carry it on.

Here is Leopold’s father -- and this boy was the pride of his life. He watched him, he cared for him, he worked for him; the boy was brilliant and accomplished, he educated him, and he thought that fame and position awaited him, as it should have awaited. It is a hard thing for a father to see his life’s hopes crumble into dust.

Should he be considered? Should his brothers be considered? Will it do society any good or make your life safer, or any human being’s life safer, if it should be handled down from generation to generation, that this boy, their kin, died upon the scaffold?

And Loeb’s the same. Here are the faithful uncle and brother, who have watched here day by day, while Dickie’s father and his mother are too ill to stand this terrific strain, and shall be waiting for a message which means more to them than it can mean to you or me. Shall these be taken into account in this general bereavement?

Have they any rights? Is there any reason, your Honor, why their proud names and all the future generations that bear them shall have this bar sinister written across them? How many boys and girls, how many unborn children will feel it? It is bad enough as it is, God knows. It is bad enough, however it is. But it’s not yet death on the scaffold. It’s not that. And I ask your Honor, in addition to all that I have said to save two honorable families from a disgrace that never ends, and which could be of no avail to help any human being that lives.

Now, I must say a word more and then I will leave this with you where I should have left it long ago. None of us are unmindful of the public; courts are not, and juries are not. We placed our fate in the hands of a trained court, thinking that he would be more mindful and considerate than a jury. I cannot say how people feel. I have stood here for three months as one might stand at the ocean trying to sweep back the tide. I hope the seas are subsiding and the wind is falling, and I believe they are, but I wish to make no false pretense to this court. The easy thing and the popular thing to do is to hang my clients. I know it. Men and women who do not think will applaud. The cruel and thoughtless will approve. It will be easy today; but in Chicago, and reaching out over the length and breadth of the land, more and more fathers and mothers, the humane, the kind and the hopeful, who are gaining an understanding and asking questions not only about these poor boys, but about their own -- these will join in no acclaim at the death of my clients.

These would ask that the shedding of blood be stopped, and that the normal feelings of man resume their sway. And as the days and the months and the years go on, they will ask it more and more. But, your Honor, what they shall ask may not count. I know the easy way. I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all. I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love. I know the future is on my side. Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys; you may hang them by the neck until they are dead. But in doing it you will turn your face toward the past. In doing it you are making it harder for every other boy who in ignorance and darkness must grope his way through the mazes which only childhood knows. In doing it you will make it harder for unborn children. You may save them and make it easier for every child that sometime may stand where these boys stand. You will make it easier for every human being with an aspiration and a vision and a hope and a fate. I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.

I feel that I should apologize for the length of time I have taken. This case may not be as important as I think it is, and I am sure I do not need to tell this court, or to tell my friends that I would fight just as hard for the poor as for the rich. If I should succeed, my greatest reward and my greatest hope will be that for the countless unfortunates who must tread the same road in blind childhood that these poor boys have trod -- that I have done something to help human understanding, to temper justice with mercy, to overcome hate with love.

I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar Khayyam. It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all:

So I be written in the Book of Love, I do not care about that Book above. Erase my name or write it as you will, So I be written in the Book of Love."

This was part of Clarence Darrow's court argument.

After Darrow's speech was finally over, the courtroom was left quiet and in awe. It was still uncertain whether the judge would waive the death penalty for the two boys.

In the end, Darrow succeeded. The judge sentenced Leopold and Loeb each to life imprisonment for the murder and 99 years each for the kidnapping.[25] This was mainly on the grounds that, being under 21, Leopold and Loeb were legal minors.


Leopold and Loeb

Leopold and Loeb were initially held at Joliet Prison. Although they were kept apart as much as possible, the two managed to retain their relationship. Leopold was later transferred to Stateville Penitentiary. Loeb was soon transferred there as well. Once reunited, the two taught classes in the prison school.[28]

Loeb's death[edit]

For a while, both Leopold and Loeb were receiving money from their families. However, this money was later cut to only five dollars per week. This was so they could purchase goods such as cigarettes from the prison. Other prisoners were not aware that Leopold and Loeb hadn't been receiving their large amounts of money for a long while. Because of their publicity, they were both seen as rich snobs. This made them ideal targets for other prisoners. One day in the prison yard, Leopold was threatened at knife point for money. After trying to explain that he didn't have any, he was saved by Loeb and some of his other friends when they backed him up. If Leopold had not learnt to make friends in prison, he may have not survived that day.

The allowance cut had also caused problems for Loeb. A former cell-mate of his James E. Day had always been a threat. Some of his money went to James Day as a bribe to not hurt him. Although after several accounts of abuse and threatening, James Day was moved away from Loeb.

On January 28, 1936, Leopold and Loeb were working on assignment for their students at the prison school. While they were working, James Day passed them and apparently said 'I'll see you later.' (referring to Loeb). While this comment wasn't initially taken in, Loeb was later attacked by fellow prisoner James E. Day with a straight razor (Shaving blade) in a shower room. He was taken directly to hospital where doctors fought to save him. Leopold went directly to the prison hospital to find his friend barely conscious and slashed all over. Leopold immediately offered to have his blood tested for a transfusion but the doctors knew there was no hope. Loeb's last words to Leopold were 'I think I'm going to make it'. Leopold then washed his friend's body of blood as a last act of his affection.

Day claimed afterward that Loeb had attempted to sexually assault him. This however may have been the other way around. Rumours suggested that Day had desired sexual favours from Loeb who refused them to him. Many doubted that Day's story was true. It wasn't likely that he acted in self-defence. Day emerged without a scratch while Loeb sustained more than 50 wounds from the attack, including numerous self-defense wounds on his arms and hands. Loeb's throat had also been slashed from behind indicating that it was more likely that Loeb was attacked by surprise. Nevertheless, an inquiry accepted Day's testimony. The prison authorities, embarrassed by publicity sensationalizing alleged decadent behavior in the prison, ruled that Day's attack on Loeb was indeed in self-defense.[6][28] According to one widely reported account, newsman Ed Lahey wrote this lead for the Chicago Daily News: "Richard Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition."[29][30] Some papers even went as far as to say that Loeb deserved what he got, and almost seemed to praise James Day for his murder.

Another apparent motive for Loeb's murder was money. Because his money had been cut Loeb could no longer afford to bribe Day with gifts in return for safety.[31]

Nathan Leopold in Stateville Penitentiary, 1931.

There is no evidence that Richard Loeb was a sexual predator while in prison; however, Loeb's murderer was later caught on at least one occasion engaging a fellow inmate sexually[32] as well as committing numerous other infractions. In an autobiography entitled Life Plus 99 Years, Leopold referred to Day's claims that Loeb had attempted to sexually assault him as ridiculous and laughable. This is echoed in an interview with the Catholic chaplain at the prison, Father Eligius Weir, who had been a personal confidant of Richard Loeb. Weir stated that James Day had been the sexual predator and had gone after Loeb because Loeb refused to have sexual relations with him.[33]

In the end, Loeb didn't only die a famous child killer, he was also named as a sexual predator. Leopold dedicated much time to hopefully reclaim Loeb's name. Leopold composed books for the prison school. On the cover of these books spelt in Latin 'Ratione autem liberamur' which translates to 'by reason, however, we are set free.' In the Latin spelling, Loeb's full name 'Richard Albert Loeb' can be spelt out. According to Leopold, this was no coincidence. Also on the covers of these school books was a picture of a man at a desk with a pen in his hand and a book laid out in front of him. This was meant to be Loeb.

Although Leopold continued with his work in prison after Loeb's death, he drifted off into a state of deep depression. Leopold apparently screamed for hours in his cell before being moved to the prison psychologists. This was meant to help him, but according to Leopold it was a punishment because Loeb's killer, James Day was also among the patients. Despite this set back, Leopold continued to grow in prison.

Leopold's later life[edit]

After organising the prison library, setting up a better schooling system, teaching students, writing an autobiography and working in the prison hospital, in 1944, Leopold participated in the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study. In which he volunteered to be infected with malaria so different medicines and cures may be tested on him. [34]

After trying with many different publishers, Nathan's autobiography 'Life + 99 Years' (which he finished in 1954) was published. As well as writing out his life story, Leopold had also attended many parole hearings, all of which were unsuccessful. One day a man named Meyer Levins visited Leopold. Levins had attended school with Leopold and Loeb at the University of Chicago and believed that the true story had been misunderstood. Levins wanted to write a book to explain to the public what really happened. Leopold however didn't wish for his story to be told in third person form. He turned down the book idea but offered Meyer Levins a chance to contribute in his autobiography. Levins was unhappy with this suggestions and went ahead with his book alone. Although the court scenes were accurate, Leopold after reading the book said that the characters could not be further off. He said that reading the book made him sick. Levins' attempt of straightening the story, in Leopold's opinion did nothing but obscure it further.

Early in 1958, after 33 years in prison, Leopold was released on parole.[6][7] In April of that year, he set up the Leopold foundation "to aid emotionally disturbed, retarded, or delinquent youths"[35] which would be funded by the royalties from his book, Life Plus 99 Years.[6][7][36] But in July, the State of Illinois voided his charter for the organization, saying it violated the terms of his parole.[37]

Leopold moved to Puerto Rico to avoid media attention and married a widowed florist.[6][7] On many occasions he expressed his appreciation for the willingness of the Brethren Service Commission, a Church of the Brethren affiliated program, to accept him upon his parole as a medical technician at its hospital in Puerto Rico. He wrote in an article, "To me the Brethren Service Commission offered the job, the home, and the sponsorship without which a man cannot be paroled. But it gave me so much more than that, the companionship, the acceptance, the love which would have rendered a violation of parole almost impossible." [38] He was known as "Nate" to neighbors and co-workers at Castañer General Hospital in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, where he worked as a laboratory and x-ray assistant.[39] During this period he was active in the Natural History Society of Puerto Rico, traveling throughout the island to observe its birdlife. In 1963 he published the Checklist of Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

At one time after his release from prison, Leopold talked about his intention to write a book entitled Snatch for a Halo about his life following prison. He never did so. Later, Leopold tried to block the movie Compulsion on the grounds of invasion of privacy, defamation, and making money from his life story.[39]

He died of a diabetes-related heart attack on August 29, 1971, at the age of 66.[6][7] His corneas were donated.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

Leopold and Loeb have been the inspiration for several works in film, theatre, and fiction, such as the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, which was performed on BBC television in 1939[40] and served as the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same name in 1948.[41] Fictionalized versions of the events were also included in Meyer Levin's 1956 novel Compulsion and its 1959 film adaptation.[41] Never the Sinner, John Logan's 1988 play [42] (subsequently revised for its 1995 Chicago production) was based on contemporary newspaper accounts and made explicit a homosexual relationship between the two killers.[43]

The case served as inspiration for numerous works, including Richard Wright's 1940 novel Native Son, Tom Kalin's 1992 film Swoon, Michael Haneke's 1997 film Funny Games (and an American shot-for-shot remake in 2008); Barbet Schroeder's Murder by Numbers (2002); Stephen Dolginoff's 2005 Off-Broadway musical Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story; and various TV episodes (including on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit).


  1. ^ NATHAN LEOPOLD (1904-1971), Social Security Death Index
  2. ^ Homicide in Chicago 1924 Leopold & Loeb Retrieved March 26, 2008.
  3. ^ a b "Nathan Leopold biography". The Biography Channel. 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-16. 
  4. ^ The Biography Channel "Notorious Crime Profiles: Leopold and Loeb, Partners in Crime", Retrieved January 5, 2009.
  5. ^ Perleth, Christoph; Schatz, Tanja; Mönks, Franz J. (2000). "Early Identification of High Ability". In Heller, Kurt A.; Mönks, Franz J.; Sternberg, Robert J. et al. International Handbook of Giftedness and Talent (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Pergamon. p. 301. ISBN 978-0-08-043796-5. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Leopold and Loeb Trial:A Brief Account by Douglas O. Linder. 1997. Retrieved April 11, 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d e Crime Library - "Freedom" by Marilyn Bardsley. Crime Library — Courtroom Television Network, LLC. Retrieved April 11, 2007.
  8. ^ Rapai, William. (2012). The Kirtland's warbler : the story of a bird's fight against extinction and the people who saved it. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-472-11803-8. 
  9. ^ "Richard Loeb biography". The Biography Channel. 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-16. 
  10. ^ a b Denise Noe (February 29, 2004). "Leopold and Loeb's Perfect Crime". Crime Magazine. 
  11. ^ Simon Baatz, For the Thrill of It. New York: Harper, 2008.
  12. ^ a b c d Statement of Nathan F. Leopold Northwestern University Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  13. ^ "Leopold & Loeb kill Bobby Franks - Chicago, IL". Waymarking.com. 
  14. ^ "New York Social Diary". Retrieved July 8, 2008. 
  15. ^ Purdum, Todd S. (August 18, 2005). "Armand S. Deutsch, Hollywood fixture, dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2010. 
  16. ^ a b c d Statement of Richard Loeb Northwestern University Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  17. ^ Crime Library – Enter Clarence Darrow. Retrieved March 26, 2008.
  18. ^ Shreiner, E.E.; Hinge for eyeglass or spectacle frames; June 8, 1920; retrieved February 17, 2013; http://www.google.com/patents/US1342973
  19. ^ The Glasses: The Key Link to Leopold and Loeb UMKC Law. Retrieved April 11, 2007.
  20. ^ Yen, Johnny; "The Greatest Sin"; October 30, 2007; retrieved February 17, 2013; http://johnnyyen.blogspot.com/2007/10/greatest-sin.html
  21. ^ Chicago Daily News, June 2, 1924
  22. ^ Chicago Daily News, September 10, 1924, pg.3
  23. ^ Leopold, Loeb & The Crime of the Century, by Hal Higdon, pg 319
  24. ^ JURIST - The Trial of Leopold and Loeb, Prof. Douglas Linder. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  25. ^ a b c Gilbert Geis and Leigh B. Bienen, Crimes of the Century (Boston, 1998).
  26. ^ -The Clarence Darrow Home Page, The Leopold and Loeb Trial Home Page, Prof. Douglas Linder. Retrieved March 7, 2012.
  27. ^ John Thomas Scopes, World's greatest court trial. Cincinnati : National Book Co., 1925, pp. 178-179, 182.
  28. ^ a b Leopold worked in the prison hospital and showed that he was the perfect model prisoner. He has also organised the prison library. Leopold later said that all his good work later in life was a way of making up for his earlier crime. Life & Death In Prison by Marilyn Bardsley. Crime Library — Courtroom Television Network, LLC. Retrieved April 11, 2007.
  29. ^ Dr. Ink (August 23, 2002). "Ask Dr. Ink". Poynter Online. 
  30. ^ Murray, Jesse George (1965). The madhouse on Madison Street,. Follett Pub. Co. p. 344. 
  31. ^ Leopold, Loeb & The Crime of the Century by Hal Higdon, pg 292
  32. ^ Leopold, Loeb & The Crime of the Century, pg 302
  33. ^ Leopold, Loeb & The Crime of the Century, pg 293
  34. ^ Leopold, Nathan F., Jr. Life Plus 99 Years. Lowe and Brydone (Printers) Limited, 1958.
  35. ^ Daily Defender; May 29, 1958; p9
  36. ^ Life Plus 99 Years. Intro. By Erle Stanley Gardner, by Leopold, Nathan Freudenthal. Publisher: Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1958.
  37. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune, July 16, 1958 p.23
  38. ^ "The Companionship, the Acceptance." The Brethren Encyclopedia.Vol. 2 1983. Print.
  39. ^ a b "E-mailed comment". Law.umkc.edu. Retrieved 2012-10-29. 
  40. ^ "Rope (1939)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2012-10-29. 
  41. ^ a b Jake Hinkson (October 19, 2012). "Leopold and Loeb Still Fascinate 90 Years Later". criminalelement.com. Retrieved October 23, 2012. 
  42. ^ Logan, Josh. "Never the Sinner". Samuel French. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  43. ^ Christiansen, Richard. "Revised `Never The Sinner' An Even More Riveting Work". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 


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