Illinois

Leopold and Loeb attempt a “perfect murder”

May 21, 1924
Chicago, Illinois
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnap and murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks (pictured with his father) to prove they were “Übermenschen” (“supermen,” people whose intelligence far surpasses that of the masses and are thus above the law)

Leopold (19) and Loeb (18), sons of millionaires and classmates at the University of Chicago, planned to kidnap and murder a prominent figure, send a ransom note, and bask in the glory of their “perfect crime” while laughing at the ignorant public who was no match for their superior intelligence.

They carefully selected a boy of another wealthy man, 14-year-old Bobby Franks, who was Loeb’s second-cousin. They lured Franks into a car by claiming to wish to discuss a recent tennis racket purchase. Once Franks was seated in the front seat, Loeb, who was in the backseat, struck Franks repeatedly in the back of the head with a chisel. Franks was then gagged and pulled into the backseat where he died.

Leopold and Loeb dumped Franks’ body in a culvert (a metal tunnel running under roads or railroads) and poured hydrochloric acid to disguise Franks distinguishing features: on his face, an abdominal scar, and his genitals to hide the fact he was circumcised. They typed a ransom note on a stolen typewriter, burned their blood-stained clothing, washed the car of any blood, and tried to go about their lives as if nothing had happened.

They made a series of mistakes, despite their cocky attitudes that made them believe they were in the clear. Leopold had dropped a pair of eyeglasses near the scene which were somewhat common, but the hinges on them were very unusual, only sold to 3 people in Chicago. Leopold also was very vocal about the crime, stating how he would murder someone or whom he would have chosen.

When questioned, Leopold confessed rather quickly though he maintained he had only driven the car and that Loeb was the killer. At trial, Loeb’s defense lawyer ended with a 12-hour speech speaking of the inhumanity of the death sentence. The judge agreed and both men were given life sentences plus 99 years.

While incarcerated, the men’s families supplied the two with money at first, but reduced the income. Loeb’s former cellmate, James Day, unbeknownst to Loeb’s family, was being bribed to keep the cellmate from hurting Loeb. When the money from his family was reduced, Day threatened Loeb. The threats were made good and Day slashing Loeb with a straight razor in the showers. Leopold offered his blood in a transfusion, but doctors refused knowing it was too late. Loeb succumbed to his wounds soon after.

Leopold wrote a book about his experience while in jail, and was paroled after 33 years in prison. He attempted to set up a fund for “emotionally disturbed, retarded, or delinquent youths” with his proceeds from the sales of his book, but was denied as it violated the conditions of his parole. He earned a Master’s degree, researched social housing, and researched leprosy before he died at the age of 66 from a diabetes-related heart attack.

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