Leopold and Loeb

This is one of the cases that "won't go away."  In hindsight there is really very little that is "sensational" about the story by modern standards but in 1924, at the time of the crime it became one of the first dubbed "crime of the century."

Nathan Leopold Jr., 19, and his partner in crime, Richard Loeb, 18 were two University of Chicago law students who came from wealthy families.  On May 21, 1924 Leopold and Loeb kidnapped 14 year old, Robert "Bobby" Franks while he walked home from school.  Once inside the car they had rented, Bobby was murdered and his body was dumped in a culvert near Hammond Indiana.  

Most believe that Loeb was the driving force behind the crime.  It was said that he read a lot of detective novels and was fascinated by crime.  He also appeared to be the more social and dominating of the two.  Others believe that this crime would have never happened had the two not met and become friends.  Leopold was considered to be a bit anti-social and easily influenced.  However, few disagree that not only did the boys come from wealthy immigrant families they were both extremely intelligent.  They met at the University of Chicago and lived near each other on the south side of Chicago.  

According to their later story, Leopold and Loeb had planned this crime over several months.  The only detail they did not have was the identity of their victim.  They did know that their victim would be the relative of a wealthy person because they planned to ask for a ransom.  They also planned to make sure their victim was murdered so they could not be identified.  What made this crime a bit unusual for the time, and even today, is that this crime did not have any of the traditional motives involved.  They did not commit this crime for greed as both boys were wealthy.  Well, their fathers were but by all account both boys still had everything they wanted and needed and their fathers still catered to their desires for money.  They did not commit this crime out of revenge, rage or any other sort of profit.  They did not even commit this crime to be notorious.  The entire plan surrounded on it being the 'perfect' crime and they never intended to be caught.  Some could argue that like serial killers that do so for the excitement was evident here.

To the boys' benefit in a way, while they were descendants of Jewish immigrants, so was their victim (although apparently his family had converted and were now outcasts).  During this time period, much as I discussed in the Leo Frank case, there was significant racism towards those of the Jewish faith.  One has to wonder if their victim had not also been of Jewish descent if the outcome of their trial would have been different.

Despite all their planning, some say by a fluke, authorities were quickly sent into their direction and once there their alibi's crumbled and they soon confessed.

Leopold and Loeb had rented a car under a false name to commit the crime.  They had decided that neither of their cars could be used so they could not be identified.  They drove around after the local high school children had been released looking for their victim.  Since they had decided it must be a relative of a wealthy family they obviously had to know at least something about the victim or know them personally.  They eventually settled on Robert Franks.  He was a neighbor of the Loeb family and knew them fairly well (some reports state he was actually also related to Loeb).  This also worked for the boys.  By their victim knowing them there would not be a struggle to get him into the car so there would not be a scene.  Once inside the car Franks was apparently hit over the head (at least once) with a chisel and a sock was stuck in his mouth to which he suffocated.  It was never made completely clear whether it was Leopold or Loeb that inflicted these injuries.  Later each of them claimed the other injured Franks while he drove the vehicle.  They drove to Hammond Indiana then apparently after buying some food and eating to the culvert by railroad tracks.  After removing his body from the car and placing him in the culvert they then proceeded to pour acid on his body thinking it would hide the identity, giving them time to fulfill their plan for the ransom if the body was discovered.

They then headed back towards Chicago but stopped along the way to make a phone call to the Franks home.  Jacob Franks, his father, was not home, but Flora his mother was and she received the call.  Giving a false name, they informed her that Bobby had been kidnapped and asking for a ransom.  They also mailed a ransom letter they had previously written.  They proceeded to burn the clothes they were wearing and clean the rental car.  I also found reports that they attempted to burn the typewriter that the ransom note was written on and have seen supposed pictures of the said typewriter but I cannot confirm this for sure.

Later they made another call to the home directing Mr. Franks to go to a local drugstore for more instructions on the ransom drop.  The plan was that he would receive a call at the drugstore and be directed to board a nearby train where he would find a note that would direct him where to throw the money off the train.  Leopold and Loeb considered this to be a fool proof plan.  What they did not expect was that before everything could be played out Bobby's body had been found in the culvert.  He was yet to be identified but there was notification that the body of a young child had been found.  Because of this Jacob Franks was so nervous that he forgot the address of the drugstore he was to go to.  In the meantime the body was identified.  Leopold and Loeb did not know this when they called the drugstore asking for Jacob Franks, twice.

Near the body a pair of glasses had been found.  At first it was believed it would be a long shot in determining who those glasses belonged to.  However, the glasses had unique hinges and it was quickly discovered that only three pair with these hinges had been sold in Chicago, one of them being Leopold.  He was quickly questioned but initially was not considered a suspect. The site where the body was found was one known well by Leopold and he was able to prove he had been there the week prior and could have lost the glasses there.  Add to the fact that he came from a wealthy and prominent family also added to the contention that he was not involved.  In the meantime Loeb was doing something that in modern times we know is common.  He was insinuating himself into the investigation.  He and a friend had made it their mission to determine which drugstore was the one in which Jacob Franks was to go.  

During the investigation and questioning one thing about the ransom note struck the investigators that made them re-think the type of person that would be involved.  The wording indicated that the writer of the note was intelligent.  This was odd for the times.  Several years later, in 1932, it was also a ransom note that supposedly told investigators that a German immigrant was involved in the Lindbergh kidnapping.  While Leopold and Loeb were sons of immigrants, their own education had taken place in upscale universities in America.  Doing as good investigators should, while they had believed most of Leopold's story about how his glasses may have appeared at the scene they still looked into his possible involvement.  They talked to some of the servants of the Leopold household.  Leopold had said that he and Loeb had been driving around in his car the day of the kidnapping and murder and made specific references.  Investigators learned that this could not have happened as his car was being repaired that day and the man working on it was rather specific as to when Leopold had been home and when he had not that day and what he was driving.  

In the mean time Leob himself was raising a few eyebrows.  Like many criminals he insinuated himself into the investigation.  He was very vocal in the fact that he was going to find out which drugstore Jacob Franks was to go to.  In a sense the trail had ended there, or so they thought.  So, not only was he planning to not get caught he was also looking at becoming a martyr and do all that he could to solve the case.

With the information about Leopold's alibi at hand investigators re-interviewed Leopold, but were also interviewing Leob at the same time without their knowledge to compare their stories.  Soon they both confessed to the crime.  The only difference is that they both blamed the other for the actual killing of Bobby Franks.  

The consensus at the time was that there was not as much outrage about the killing because the victim was of Jewish decent, although his family had converted (which in essence made them "enemies" on both sides), but also because the suspects in the case were also of Jewish decent.  Had Bobby Franks' family not been Jewish, it is likely that this case would have caused riots to the likes of the Leo Frank/Mary Phagan case.  Then again it gained it's own notoriety because of the social status of the subjects and later because of their lawyer, Clarence Darrow.  

It was widely known that Darrow was against capital punishment and often advocated for rehabilitation in the penal system instead.  The families of Leopold and Loeb had the financial means to secure his services and it was a case that Darrow knew would put him in the spotlight.  The one thing that Darrow did that surprised people was rather than have his clients plead not guilty, they plead guilty.  Not only had they both confessed their crimes to the police but they had also talked extensively to the media.  Darrow thought it unlikely that a jury would vote against the death penalty and felt they had a better chance with just a judge deciding their fate.  In the end with the guilty plea, the confessions and all the evidence they were both sentenced to life for murder and 99 years for kidnapping.  This was considered a victory for Darrow.  

After some time in separate prisons, by 1932 Leopold and Loeb were in the same prison together and had opened a school within and began school to criminals. In 1936, Loeb was murdered by a fellow inmate in the prison.  The inmate claimed that Loeb made homosexual advances toward him.  Many disputed this claim but no charges were ever filed. At their trial in 1924 it had been determined that it was Leopold who had homosexual tendencies and Loeb had used that to his advantage to get Leopold to follow him and his ideas.  Many had believed that it was Loeb who was the "leader" of the two and that he had shown criminal tendencies as a young child.  It is said that Leopold was with Loeb when he took his last breath.

In 1958 Leopold was paroled.  He later wrote a book called "Life Plus 99 Years." He attempted to use the funds from the book to create The Leopold Foundation. In theory it was to help delinquent and emotionally disturb youth but the parole board rejected this as a violation of his probation.  I am unsure, but it seems then that Leopold profited from the book, something that is generally illegal today.  In my opinion it is rather sad.  I believe if managed and supervised correctly The Leopold Foundation would have attempted to help children, but at the very least would have prevented Leopold from profiting from his crime.  Leopold later married a widow and spent the rest of his life in exile.  He died in 1971, living to be a very old man.


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