Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May 21: Leopold and Loeb

On this date in History .... May 21, 1924:  

A plan to commit “the perfect crime” was put into action. 

Bobbie Franks
Nathan Leopold & Richard Loeb, wealthy college students and gay lovers, kidnapped & killed 14 yr old Bobby Franks. They dumped his naked body near Hammond, Indiana then returned to their Chicago home.  

The trial was one of the first to be dubbed “Trial of the Century”. Their uncle hired Clarence Darrow, not to help find them “not guilty” but to keep them out of the electric chair.  Darrow, who opposed the death penalty, took the case and advised them to plead guilty so they could avoid the death penalty. The strategy worked and both were committed to life plus 99 years.  

Leopold and Loeb
(photo courtesy of smithsonianmag.com
Both were very wealthy.  Loeb's father was Vice-President of Sears & Roebuck and had a fortune valued at $10 million (approximately $133 million in 2013 dollars).  Leopold's family came from shipping and his father had made a second fortune in box and aluminum can manufacturing.  

Both were extremely intelligent: Leopold had an IQ of 210, claimed to be able to speak 27 languages and at the age of 19 was already in law school.  Loeb, after graduating high school at the age of 14, was the youngest graduate in the history of the Univ of Michigan and at the age of 18 was planning on entering law school.  They believed themselves to be intellectual “supermen”. Leopold wrote "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.”

It was not the idea of murder that fascinated them.  It was the idea of getting away with it.  For all of their brilliance, though, what got them caught were two things: One, when they stashed Bobby’s body in a culvert, thinking it would be hidden until it turned to a skeleton, they left Bobby’s feet sticking out and the body was discovered the next day.  Two, Leopold dropped his glasses while hiding the body.  He told police he lost them while bird watching, a known hobby of his, but it is speculated that except for this mistake, they may have never been caught.

While in prison, they opened a school and became teachers to other prisoners.  In January, 1936, Loeb was slashed over 50 times with a straight razor while in the shower and died.  Leopold was paroled in 1958 and moved to Puerto Rico.  He died in 1971 of a heart attack.

References to this famous criminal team have been made on shows such as “Law-n-Order: Criminal Intent” and “Mad Men”, and was the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock 1948 film “Rope”. (click HERE to see the trailer for "The Rope").

A documentary about the couple was also made and can be seen in full on this you tube link:  click here for documentary

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