“If I were not positive my glasses were at home, I would say those are mine”
Thrill killers Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr, 19, and Richard A. Loeb, 18, killed because they could and because they thought that they were too intelligent to be caught. Both were German-Jewish and both believed in the Nietzschean philosophy of “superman”. After carrying out some successful robberies they decided to commit the perfect murder.
In May 1924, while they were studying at the University of Chicago, they kidnapped 14-year-old Bobby Franks, hiring a car to transport away the youngster. He was gagged and his skull was bashed in with a heavy chisel four times. Young Bobby had his head held under the water in a swamp culvert at Wolf Lake in Hammond, Indiana and then the two teens poured hydrochloric acid to disfigure Bobby’s face and forced his body into a drainpipe partially hidden by weeds on the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks near 118th Street. After the killing they retired to a restaurant for a hot-dog meal before going to Leopold’s home and drinking whisky.
They cleaned the car of bloodstains before telephoning Bobby’s mother and telling her that he had been kidnapped and to expect a ransom demand and not to call the police. The note, signed George Johnson, duly arrived, demanding $10,000 and stating “Allow us to assure you that he is at present safe and well”. Jacob Franks, a millionaire businessman, called the police the next day and was told that the body of a boy had been found. Unbeknown to the killers, Leopold had dropped his glasses by the culvert and it took the police just eight days to trace the spectacles to him. He said, “If I were not positive my glasses were at home, I would say those are mine.”
However, Leopold was unable to find his glasses at home and was arrested. Soon after Loeb was taken into custody, and police questioned the two until Loeb broke down and confessed. Leopold’s confession was not long in following, although both claimed that the other had wielded the chisel.
South Side, Kenwood, Chicago, USA
Wednesday 21 May 1924
Leopold and Loeb went on trial at the Criminal Court of Cook County on 21 July 1924 before Judge John R. Calverly, and Clarence Darrow defended them. Mr Darrow was unable to say that the Leopold and Loeb were homosexual lovers because of the social mores of the time and for fear of alienating the jury further. Leopold was also a paranoiac while Loeb was schizophrenic. The defence speech lasted for two days and saved his clients from the electric chair.
They were both sentenced to life with 99 years for the kidnapping. On 28 January 1936 Loeb’s throat was slashed from behind in the Joliet Prison shower. His murderer Jamesn E. Day claimed that Loeb had sexually assaulted him. Leopold was released from prison in 1958. He died of a diabetes-related heart attack on 29 August 1971.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Ed Lahey of the Chicago Daily News wrote of Loeb’s murder, “Richard Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition.”