Tuesday, June 22, 2010
1924 held America enthralled when two wealthy teenage boys remorselessly bludgeoned an innocent young child to death in the backseat of a car. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were led into a Chicago courtroom to learn their fate, all the while laughing and smiling as the media, astonished, snapped photographs. Reminiscent of a movie premier, Leopold and Loeb strolled about like dapper stars, wearing expensive tailored suits and enjoying the hysterical outpour of emotion brought by the public. Leopold and Loeb had the means and the makings to become exceptional and educated citizens, but chose an amoral existence based upon violence and sex. It was the trial of the century, leaving an angry mob screaming for the death penalty.
A symptom of psychosis such as a paranoid notion imparted from one person to another is a unique psychiatric condition known as a Folie à deux, a madness shared by two. This can be broken down into subsets, one of which is known as a Folie imposée. One dominant person’s delusion may activate the paranoia of a subordinate second party, influencing them to follow a particular irrational belief they would not have otherwise perceived on their own. A classic example of this disorder was shared by Colorado teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in which Harris, the aggressor, passed on the same delusion on to his friend, Klebold, leading to a twenty minute shooting spree that claimed the lives of thirteen fellow high school students.
Richard Loeb, considered to be the mastermind and attacker in the 1924 murder, shared his delusions and dementia with his lover, Nathan Leopold. The two believed themselves to be significantly superior to others and lived without consequence in a world of money and power.
Nathan F. Leopold Jr., born in 1904, was brought up in a wealthy and privileged Jewish neighborhood in Kenwood, Illinois. Exceptionally intelligent, with an IQ of 200, he spoke his first words at four months old and was able to breeze through advanced courses in school. As a child, Leopold was lonely and withdrawn, already labeled as an outsider because of his amazing intelligence and mature mental acuity, which set him apart from his peers. This was only made worse by his own superiority towards others, an alienating quality inherent in him from the very beginning. Finding himself unable to relate well to others, Leopold threw himself into his schoolwork, studying botany and learning over ten languages. As a young man, he became quite accomplished as an expert ornithologist and often lectured at Harvard University.
Leopold was a clearly small individual, documented as 5’5”even as an adult. This could be attributed to the assumption that Leopold suffered from glandular abnormalities, that affected his stature, sex drive, self-esteem, thick eyelids, pouting lips, his bulging eyes and blunt facial features. He was under no circumstances unattractive, but rather odd looking with an asymmetrical face and grey evasive eyes. Not considered classically handsome, this certainly affected his shyness around others. Leopold was very much unhappy with his outward appearance and this was clear throughout his adolescence. Leopold made up for his low physical opinion of himself by being condescending towards others and pointing out their intellectual short comings.
A favorite subject of Leopold’s was Frederick Nietzsche, whom he personally idolized and revered. He was especially keen to follow the idea of Nietzsche’s Superman, a man so superincumbent in the world that he is above all moral codes. Leopold considered himself exempt from ordinary laws and untouchable to the rest of society.
What would be Leopold’s largest downfall was his meeting of Richard A. Loeb in 1920.
Born in 1905, Richard Loeb was the son of a wealthy Sears & Roebucks vice president. Brought up by a controlling and domineering governess who pushed him in his studies and never let him falter, Loeb immersed himself in school and excelled quickly. By the time he was 17, he had already graduated from high school and was the youngest person in history to have completed college at the University of Michigan. Loeb was seen as an outstanding pupil and perfect son, but there was another side to his personality, a much darker side.
Leopold and Loeb met at the University of Chicago in 1920, studying law and history. Affectionately using the names "Dickie" (Loeb) and "Babe" (Leopold), the pair used every opportunity to spend time together during the four years they spent at college. The pair were inseparable companions from the beginning, each finding something in each other they wanted. It was a master-slave relationship, with Leopold playing the role of the slave to the contemptuous and arrogant Loeb.
Nathan Leopold had finally found a friend in which to confide in and was so truly magnetized by this new relationship, he began to fall in love with and worship Richard Loeb. In all his lonely years in school and the constant taunting of his peers, Nathan was now friends with a popular and impossibly attractive boy who was near equal in his superiority and maturity. Richard Loeb was delighted to have such flattery imposed upon him and reveled in the sycophancy that Nathan smothered him with. Loeb had much regard and interest from girls and fraternity brothers, but his ego was so large, he allowed Leopold to grovel at his feet, a task Leopold happily obliged.
Loeb preferred dancing and nightlife to Leopold’s bird watching and constant studying, but the intellectual bond between the two remained unchanged. Although their interests diverged in many ways, each thought they were Nietszchian Supermen and refused to acknowledge the opinions and thoughts of others.
Leopold and Loeb began a sexual relationship sometime in 1920, although both still dated women to project an image of normalcy. Richard Loeb was reportedly impotent and indifferent to sex, claiming that it was something he could live without. He appeared to be sexually ambiguous, lying about many affairs with women, but sleeping with Leopold as often as possible. Nathan Leopold was sexually stimulated at his partner’s passivity and played the aggressor in the liaison. This did not deter Loeb from calling the shots in the relationship, leaving Leopold as the willing participant. From the moment they met, Leopold bowed down to Loeb’s intelligence and sexual appeal. Leopold claimed to be obsessed with what he termed Loeb’s “enigmatic charm and sparkling personality”.
However, not everyone shared this observation. Loeb’s sophistication and wit was often seen by peers and friends as unusual, reckless, immature and condescending. In addition to Richard Loeb’s mental instability, he may have been clinically defined as a psychopath and manic depressive. Loeb was manipulative to nearly everyone including Leopold. Sharing common traits of such brutal murderers as Kenneth Bianchi, Ted Bundy, and cult leader Jim Jones, Loeb was also violent, thieving, remorseless, and above all tactless. Loeb, a heavy drinker by age 15, suffered from wild mood swings and reportedly was seriously considering suicide before having met Leopold.
Richard Loeb was labeled “a tricky fellow” by Nathan Leopold, who for the rest of life, could never fully understand Richard’s actions or emotions. Nathan claimed that Richard was often malevolent and rough with him, but was also tender and delicate at other times. He never seemed to be on an even keel, and never let anyone else get as close as Nathan. Even then, Nathan still felt shut out. The more Nathan wanted, the less Richard would give. This was a disastrous relationship, but both boys claimed it was the most important in their lives.
Engrossed with reading detective novels and true crime books, Loeb decided to begin his career of crime in 1921, adopting Leopold as a partner. Nathan Leopold, however, was less interested in crime than he was in being with Richard Loeb, whom he wanted to spend every waking moment with. The crimes involved breaking windows and setting small fires, among other things. The game was to get as close to the crimes as possible without getting caught. Loeb loved this game and relished the attention given by Leopold, who played the part of the willing accomplice without question. Loeb found another way to play his game by using his good looks and charisma to his advantage. Loeb wanted to keep Leopold interested in his crimes by setting a bizarre pact, one in which both young men would benefit.
Instigated by Loeb, once a crime was committed by the pair, a date and time would be sealed for sexual relations. This was to solve the problem of discretion by planning the events in advance. It was also to bond both Leopold and Loeb to the crimes.
The plan was flawed, however, due to Loeb’s constant unwillingness to complete a crime. He dreamed of perfect heists, but lacked the ability to finish what he had started. This angered Leopold, who would lie in wait for his end of the pact to come to fruition, which proved to be impossible and frustrating. Leopold and Loeb often quarreled. Neither would back down from the pact they had made and both were beginning to resent each other. Leopold even once considered murdering Loeb over a breached New Year’s Eve plan. Tensions were running high in the relationship with neither fulfilling their end of the bargain.
In late 1921, the first real complication began. Hamlin Buchman, an employee on the Loeb estate, caught the pair in a compromising situation. Loeb was caught sleeping in Leopold’s bed one night after the two went drinking. This apparently happened quite often because of Loeb’s increasing drinking problem at the age of 16. Gossip of their sexualities and unnatural closeness started to engulf Leopold and Loeb’s college dorm at the University of Michigan. When Loeb’s pledged fraternity Zeta Beta Tau heard the rumors, he was warned to stay away from Leopold. The two never discussed ending their friendship or stopping their sexual pact over this recent homosexual discovery by others. Perhaps it was the risk that kept them together. Perhaps neither could imagine losing the other over something they were unwilling to deny. To keep their sexual arrangement intact, the two agreed to prevent the humiliating gossip by inviting a watchful chaperone to all subsequent public functions.
Enraged and shamed, Loeb then proposed a new crime to which Leopold, the usual accomplice and follower, would readily agree to. The murder of gossiper Hamlin Buchman was to take place on a boat in Lake Michigan. Leopold and Loeb planned to capsize the boat, leaving Buchman to drown in the water. To their disappointment, Buchman was able to swim to shore unharmed. This uncommitted crime would fuel a rage between Leopold and Loeb. Buchman’s survival infuriated Loeb in that he had not taken a human life. Leopold shared this disappointment with his side of the bargain still unfulfilled.
By November 1923, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were getting restless. A real thrill was needed to sate Loeb, who was now dealing in petty theft and vandalism. Leopold, drawn all the more closer to Loeb, would help design a new crime that would finally unite the two in blood. A real murder to commit in which they would never be apprehended would be arranged. Ransom money would be involved, but the real reason was set forth by Loeb. He wanted to commit the perfect crime, something fulfilling and exhilarating. Something that would keep Leopold bound to him forever.
The true motive is speculative. However, it has been proposed that Loeb’s real intension was to pay off a mountain of gambling debts. He also wanted a credible way to blackmail Leopold of their crimes if needed. Leopold’s insistence from the beginning was that he wanted to please Loeb and would do anything he asked, even commit murder. Both Leopold and Loeb seemed to believe that this act would bind them together for the rest of their lives. Killing had become a romanticized topic and it had completely consumed them.
Six months of meticulous planning for the murder was in order. This was to be the perfect crime, one in which it would be impossible for anyone to catch them; a crime for the Nietszchian Superman. The initial plan had been that Leopold and Loeb would each hold the end of a rope around the neck of the victim and pull, so that each would have to share in the guilt and the blame. Loeb knew he could commit the murder. Leopold knew he could commit the murder for Loeb.
Leopold and Loeb were able to steal a typewriter from Leopold’s own fraternity for the ransom note and a chisel was bought for the purpose of bludgeoning the victim. By May 1924, the plan was set in motion. Leopold and Loeb had no particular victim in mind for the murder. The only requirement was that it had to be a young boy willing to come close to Leopold’s automobile.
The green Willys-Knight automobile was rented under the false name Morton D. Ballard by Leopold while Loeb set up fake hotel addresses under the same name. The hotel was set up for Leopold and Loeb to receive mail should a nosy investigator come looking for the fictionalized Morton D. Ballard. All that was needed in the very end was a victim. This would turn out to be 14 year old Bobby Franks, who knew Richard Loeb through mutual acquaintances. He was walking home alone from school around five o’clock May 21, 1924, when a friendly voice called him over to a car. That voice would belong to Richard Loeb. Once in the car, the trio drove south on Ellis Avenue while a hand was cupped over Bobby Franks mouth to stifle any outcry. Bobby was then beaten over the head with the blunt end of a chisel. When the boy continued to struggle, panic ensued and a cloth was stuffed into the boy’s mouth. Bobby Franks died of suffocation soon after.
It has been disputed who was actually driving the car and who committed the murder in the backseat. Both Leopold and Loeb accused each other of the heinous crime. Most evidence points to Loeb as the killer of Bobby Franks. His confession was thought to be motivated by his wish to avoid hurting his mother and embarrassing his family. It has also been noted in Loeb’s own words that he had to calm down a shaking and frantic Leopold who could only repeat over and over, “This is terrible. This is terrible. This is terrible.”
Waiting until the cover of night, Leopold and Loeb drove the rented car from Chicago, Illinois to the Indiana state line where they disposed of the body. They stripped the boy nude and poured hydrochloric acid over the face and body to hinder identification. After stuffing Bobby Franks lifeless body into a drainage culvert face first, Leopold gathered the discarded clothing from the ground, unknowingly dropping his glasses into the marsh near the body.
Arriving back in Chicago, Leopold phoned Mrs. Franks to let her know that Bobby had been kidnapped, but was unharmed. He informed her further instructions would follow and hung up. Leopold and Loeb disposed of the bloody chisel and cleaned the rented car. The typewriter used for the ransom note was thrown into a river and Bobby Franks clothes were later incinerated in Loeb’s basement. They sent the ransom note special delivery and then retired for the night. The note was simply addressed to Dear sir, and signed by another alias, George Johnson.
The ransom letter had been carefully written, but Mr. Franks failed to follow the instructions and the plan was deserted as soon as the newspaper reported a body found the very next day. Also printed in the paper was an article featuring information on Leopold’s forgotten glasses. Unremarkable in most ways, the glasses were a common prescription and frame except for a rare tiny hinge mechanism of which only three people had purchased in Illinois in the past year. Leopold was one of the three.
After being contacted by investigators, Leopold and Loeb both claimed to be entertaining two unidentified women the night of Bobby Franks disappearance. Leopold and Loeb had carefully put together what they thought was an airtight alibi. Each question was answered the same during both separate interrogations. Leopold’s glasses were the one thing they could not answer for. Leopold claimed to be bird watching in the area several days before the murder, which happened to be true. But when the investigators tried to get Leopold to physically show them how he could have dropped them, Leopold was left speechless. When the unearthed typewriter was found to belong to Leopold who wrote his school papers with it, Loeb then confessed followed by Leopold. Both corroborated each other’s stories, except for the detail of who killed Bobby Franks. Each implicated the other.
Leopold pleaded with Loeb to admit to the killing, but Loeb would only concede to having been driving the car at the time of the murder. The story was unraveling, and Leopold now felt the same loneliness he’d felt before having met Loeb. His partner in crime and in life was deserting him.
Regardless of whom the actual perpetrator was, Leopold and Loeb were callously cold when it came to admitting to involvement in the murder. Both calmly confessed to planning the crime, yet neither would take the blame for young Bobby Franks death. Each admitted that the murder was done purely for the thrill. Leopold justified the killing as a simple experiment, while Loeb stated, “This thing will be the making of me. I'll spend a few years in jail and I'll be released. I'll come out to a new life”.
The court hearing lasted just over one month with the famous Clarence Darrow defending Leopold and Loeb. The pair felt that a lengthy court trial would only further embarrass their families so they chose to plead not guilty, hoping to be hanged. Both boys made another pact with each other that they would die together after the trial for their crime. Clarence Darrow was not only openly against the death penalty but also knew that a guilty plea would help Leopold and Loeb avoid a jury trial. Media sensationalism had enraged the public and a jury trial would surely have been devastating to their case. Leopold and Loeb relented and decided to plead guilty under the advice of their attorney.
With over a hundred witnesses testifying, including psychiatrists, friends, and family, Leopold and Loeb were branded as egotistical and nihilistic adolescents. The two sat side by side, inappropriately laughing and exchanging hushed comments throughout the hearing. Leopold was reported to have been completely fascinated with the trial, leaning forward, nodding, and having much to say to his attorney during rests. Loeb, on the other hand, was uninterested and appeared bored for most of the trial, even yawning and smiling at the prosecution.
A passionate and tearful twelve hour long speech was given by Darrow in which he pleaded for his clients lives by saying, “I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.”
Darrow argued that physical environment attributed directly towards the murderers actions. He concluded that it was rational for Leopold and Loeb to follow a Nietzschian philosophy taught by their university. Darrow further went on to say about the death penalty that an eye for an eye execution was inhuman and barbaric. With psychiatric testimony introduced in the hearing, the defense argued that mental disease should be considered in the sentencing even without an insanity plea. It was suggested that Leopold and Loeb suffered from impaired judgment, claiming both young men could not distinguish right from wrong.
In September 1924, Leopold and Loeb were sentenced to life in prison with ninety-nine years for kidnapping. The age of the boys was taken into account (Leopold, 19, and Loeb, 18) citing that they were too immature to understand the true magnitude of their actions. The judge, John R. Caverly, believed that life in prison was a worse punishment than the death penalty. Both Leopold and Loeb agreed with him.
Cold blooded killers was the name given to them in society, but in prison, Leopold and Loeb were model prisoners who taught classes to their fellow inmates and participated in many other prison activities. A library was expanded and school curriculum changed in the time Leopold and Loeb spent at Joliet Prison. Some years after his imprisonment, Leopold was to be transferred to another prison in Illinois. So determined were they to remain in prison together, that Leopold planned an elaborate ruse for Loeb to mercilessly break his leg with a wooden stool in the cafeteria. The reason for this was so that Leopold could plead with the warden in the infirmary to reconsider transferring him. The transfer never was carried out.
Richard Loeb was known to receive a generous monthly allowance from his family, which he gave to the other inmates, including another prisoner, James Day, as a bribe not to harm him. When the warden cut Loeb's allowance, Day was angered by this and threatened Loeb. After being followed in the shower, James Day gave Richard Loeb fifty-eight straight razor slashes to his body claiming that Loeb had tried to force sexual relations with him. Loeb was severely wounded with self defense marks on his arms and hands, and his throat was cut from behind, suggesting Day was the initial attacker. Day had no cuts or scratches on his body. He was also known to sexually attack other prisoners that crossed him in any way. Leopold was rushed to Loeb’s side while he was being treated for his razor wounds. Tenderly leaning over, Loeb's last words to Leopold were, "I think I'm going to make it..." Leopold's lover, best friend, and accomplice, Loeb, finally succumbed to his blood loss, shortly thereafter.
Leopold was allowed to stay after the time of death was called. He alone washed Loeb’s blood caked body and mourned the loss of his friend in the infirmary for over an hour. Without the companionship Richard Loeb had offered, Nathan Leopold was once again alone in the world and nothing could console him. Being alone was Nathan’s biggest fear, and losing Richard was the most painful feeling he had ever experienced.
Day was found not guilty of the murder of Loeb. It is suggested that Day was acquitted because of Loeb's former crime to Bobby Franks. A sadistic reporter was famous for his quote in the Chicago Times by saying that Loeb deserved what he got.
Destroyed by Richard Loeb’s death, Nathan was deeply depressed and bitter at being left all alone again in his life. Leopold was so distraught without Loeb that he was reported to have screamed for hours in his cell until he was taken to a psychiatric hospital for six months. He spent several years being specially escorted by guards and was not given a cell mate under the circumstance that he, too, may be victim to a shower slashing. Nathan then experienced remorse for his crimes, and began to dream of life outside of prison.
Paroled from prison in 1956, Leopold married and spent the rest of his life in Puerto Rico as an x-ray technician and avid bird watcher. He died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-six. Before his death, Leopold told a friend that he regretted deeply what had occurred but never admitted to killing Bobby Franks. Though remorseless as a teenager, Leopold felt enormous guilt in the past quarter century, citing that “remorse has been my constant companion. It is never out of my mind.” Leopold wrote several books before his death, one of which was an autobiography. Abandoning atheism, he rejoined the Jewish church and believed that helping others was a way to help himself cope with his overwhelming guilt. Despite his feelings of regret, Nathan Leopold was quoted to still be madly in love with Richard Loeb and kept a framed photograph of him on his bedroom mantle until his death in 1971.
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