2. Leopold & Loeb 1924
Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr., and Richard Albert Loeb grew upon in the prestigious Kenwood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Born in 1904 and 1905 respectively, the men developed an intimate friendship while they attended the University of Chicago. Sharing an interest in crime and influenced by the concept of Friedrich Nietzsche’s superman, the men believed that they had superior intellects and were above the law. To prove it they devised a plan to commit the perfect crime.
After months of planning, Leopold and Loeb began their plot. On May 21, 1924, they rented a car, drove to the Harvard School for boys, and asked a family friend and neighbor, 14-year-old Robert “Bobby” Franks, if he wanted a ride home. When Franks refused as he was almost home, Loeb convinced the boy to get into the car so that they could discuss tennis. Leopold drove the car and Franks sat in the front seat. Loeb hit Franks several times with a chisel and then dragged the boy into the back seat and gagged him. Franks died shortly thereafter. The duo drove to Hammond, Indiana, stripped Franks, poured hydrochloric acid on his face and genitals, and then concealed him in a culvert near the railroad tracks.
When Leopold and Loeb returned to Chicago later in the evening, family members had already noticed that Bobby Franks was missing. Leopold called Bobby’s mother, identifying himself as George Johnson, and stated that Franks had been kidnapped and that she would receive instructions concerning a ransom. Leopold and Loeb then burned their clothes, cleaned the bloodstained car, typed and mailed a ransom note, and then settled in for a night of cards. The next morning, Leopold called with instructions for the ransom. Before a nervous family member could proceed with the instructions for payment, Franks’ body was found.
Leopold and Loeb believed that they had successfully covered their tracks. While Loeb kept to himself, Leopold freely spoke to the press and police. He stated that “If I were to murder anybody, it would be just such a cocky little son of a bitch as Bobby Franks.” Unbeknownst to the duo, a rare pair of eyeglasses that belonged to Leopold was found near the body. Soon the disposed of typewriter was found. Eight days after the murder of Bobby Franks, the police summoned Leopold and Loeb for official questioning. Loeb was the first one to confess and stated that Leopold had killed Franks, which was a lie. When Leopold quickly confessed, he stated that Loeb had murdered the boy. In their confessions, both stated that they were driven by the thrill of the crime and that the “killing was an experiment.”
The Loeb family hired Clarence Darrow. Darrow entered a plea of guilty to ensure that the men did not receive the death penalty. Coverage of the murder was extensive as was the sentencing hearing. The hearing lasted 32 days, concluding with a 12-hour speech from Darrow who expounded upon the inhuman methods of the American judicial system in the aftermath of the Great War. He stated that Leopold and Loeb, like many boys, grew up in a world where “honorable young boys…learned to place a cheap value on human life” and that the “tales of death” from the war were everywhere including in “their homes, their playgrounds, their schools” and in the newspapers. Furthering his idea, Darrow stated that the murder committed by Leopold and Loeb was the making of society and that they “were trained to this cruelty.”
Both men were sentenced to life in prison with an additional 99 years for kidnapping. Eventually, both men were transferred to Statesville Penitentiary where they expanded their education in the prison to include high school and junior college curriculum. A former cellmate murdered Loeb in a razor attack. Leopold was released in March 1958 on parole and died in 1971. Leopold and Loeb’s quest to commit the perfect crime influenced numerous publications, movies, and songs.