Tuesday, June 22, 2010
In the mind of an accused child killer
“The only thing that influenced him to choose our imprisonment instead of death was our youth; we need only have introduced our birth certificates in evidence!” – Nathan Leopold, ‘Life Plus 99 Years’
Nathan F. Leopold Jr., nicknamed Babe by family and friends, may have led a privileged life, but it was by no means easy. He grew up wealthy and adored by his family, but he was alienated by his peers and spent his first fifteen years lonely and disassociated from the world surrounding him. Constantly taunted by others for his short stature, his shy nature, evasive eyes, and odd appearance, Nathan was shut out by his schoolmates and neighbors. He was above average intelligence and this often left him the youngest in his courses in school. By the time he was 15, he was already attending his first year of college at the University of Chicago. When the popular and alluring Richard Loeb (nicknamed Dickie) entered Nathan’s life, something had changed. Nathan immediately found what felt like true happiness in the presence of Richard. This feeling was something Nathan would fight to the death for, so Nathan decided he would do anything…. anything at all his new friend asked of him. The unfortunate thing to thrill Richard Loeb was committing crimes, cheating at cards, and involving himself in any kind of illegal activity. To please Richard, Nathan became a willing accomplice in each crime. The more damage they could do the more affection Nathan could acquire from Richard.
When in 1923, Richard outlined a kidnapping and murder, Nathan didn’t hesitate to help devise the plan. For six months, the two 18 and 19 year old boys plotted an elaborate kidnapping of a young boy living in a rich neighborhood. They would abduct the child, murder him, and send out a ransom letter to the parents. The money would be retrieved easily, and the two killers would never be caught. The reason for kidnapping a young boy could be the fact that Richard Loeb knew he could overpower a child. Both Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were advantaged boys who for all intense and purposes did not know how to fight. Abducting a girl was out of the question, because girls were watched more closely than boys were. Sexual assault was never discussed. Richard Loeb was not willing to take the chance that he would be found kidnapping and sexually assaulting a girl on the off chance they were caught. In fact, Loeb was admittedly impotent and could not rape a victim if given the opportunity, so sex was the last thing on Loeb’s mind.
Perhaps the reason the crime was so sinister in nature had to do with the fact that no victim was in mind until the moment Leopold and Loeb saw 14-year-old Bobby Franks leaving school on May 21, 1924. Bobby was Richard’s second cousin and was easily lured by Richard into Nathan’s rented car. Moments later, on a deserted street, Bobby Franks was bludgeoned with a chisel and suffocated to death in the backseat. His body was stuffed into a drainage culvert near the Indiana State Line and was found by a passerby the very next day. The killers had already composed a ransom note, dictated by Richard Loeb, and typed by Nathan Leopold. Nathan had never learned how to type, so his finger typing left the note uneven and odd looking. When inspectors went over the ransom letter, they found that the abysmal typing was done by either a complete amateur or total psychopath. Some of the letters were typed so tentatively, they could barely be seen. Other letters were near typed through the page.
Bobby Franks’ body was quickly identified and Nathan and Richard lost all hope in receiving the ransom money. They had one week to delight in the fact that they had committed what they thought was the perfect crime.
Nathan’s glasses were found near the body and he was immediately brought in for police questioning. The glasses had a special hinge mechanism and only three had been purchased in the recent year. Nathan was the only person in Chicago who could not attest to having his glasses in his possession. The typewriter used in the ransom note was found mangled in a river not far from the site of the Bobby Franks’ body. The typewriter had belonged to Richard Loeb’s fraternity, at which point Richard was sent in for questioning. The two killers planned a detailed alibi in case they were apprehended by police, and both stuck to it for as long as they could. When Richard became caught in a lie, he confessed to being involved in the crime, but blamed Nathan for the actual murder of the child. Upon being told his friend had confessed everything, Nathan admitted that he was involved in the crime, but blamed Richard for the actual murder. His initial confession was said to be cold and calm in telling the authorities of the crime. He gave unemotional and precise details while casually chain smoking cigarettes and sat comfortably without a wavering word. Richard Loeb was the one who showed true emotions; he was apprehensive, worried, afraid, and tearful. The stenographer noted in both confessions that they were almost exact except for who was driving and who committed the killing in the backseat of the car.
The mistake that would damn Richard Loeb for the proceeding hearing and for the rest of his life was his statement made to the police during his confession, “I was in the backseat, I mean Babe was, I was driving. I was driving the car… see, you’ve just got me excited is all.” This incrimination led the public to forever believe Richard was the attacker, while Nathan was called the mastermind of the crime.
When the news broke that two teenage boys had kidnapped and murdered a young child, it became a story that led from one city to another, snowballing as each detail of the crime was revealed. What seemed to shock the public the most was that the two killers were attractive, well-spoken, and highly educated Jewish teens that came from millionaire families in “the nice side of town.” What could possibly have motivated them to commit murder? When they callously admitted that killing Bobby Franks was purely for the thrill, the media was stunned. The forbidden act of purposefully killing a child was unheard of in 1924, and the unfeeling and cruel demeanor of Leopold and Loeb was simply astonishing. The fact that the two adored the attention from the public only further disgusted the readers of the daily newspapers.
By the time both boys were in jail in Chicago awaiting a hearing, they were friends again. While alone in a cell one afternoon after being analyzed by a psychiatrist, Nathan asked Richard why he had blamed the murder on him, and Richard merely said, “As you say, it makes no legal difference anyhow. And I figure it will be much easier on each of our families if they believe the other fellow is the actual murderer.” In Nathan’s autobiography, he states that Richard told a psychiatrist, one of the many that visited the two in the time they spent in jail that Richard had admitted he was the one that struck the final blow that killed Bobby Franks. Nathan does not detail whether this was admissible into court. Journalists and photographers were allowed into the jail because their attorney believed any kind of publicity was good publicity. It showed the boys had nothing to hide. The two seemed to take pleasure in the press they received, posing for each photographer.
Leopold reveled in the tests that were given by the psychiatrists, enjoying the many hours of questioning and probing that went on daily. He scored high in his tests, finishing them often before the time was up. Leopold was very egotistical with an IQ of 210 and appeared to have been pleased in showing the psychiatrists his ability to test well in any setting, even in jail. Loeb, on the other hand, showed his testing scores as normal for a sophomore in high school, despite the fact he was enrolled at the University of Michigan as a sophomore in college.
The Leopold and Loeb case was the very first case in which to use forensic psychiatry in the courtroom. The psychiatrists for the defense endlessly tested the two boys day after day. Richard Loeb was found to suffer from a glandular dysfunction, as was Nathan Leopold, with his pineal gland prematurely calcified suggesting his enormous need for sexual gratification. Physically, the boys were normal individuals for their height and weight. But, upon prying into their psyches, it was found that neither boy could decipher their fantasies sufficiently from reality. Nathan imagined himself a powerful slave to the masterful and handsome Richard. The fantasies were fantastic embellishments on both boys’ accounts, for they seemed to feed off of each other’s image of who they thought they were. The defense clung to the fact that they could prove the two were insane, and could possibly have them sent to a state hospital. Nathan, however, was adamant in declaring to the press that he was not insane, a misunderstood genius, of course, but definitely not insane. Clarence Darrow, their attorney, tried to hush him from making such absolute announcements, but Nathan would not hear of it. He would rather go to prison or the gallows with the public knowing he was sane rather than being labeled an extremely unbalanced person for the rest of his life.
The two boys had planned on pleading not guilty, knowing that a jury trial would surely send them to the gallows. Leopold and Loeb respected their family and friends so much, that they were unwilling to embarrass them any further by spending life sentences in prison, which both assumed they would not receive anyway. Death seemed the only way to end their legacy and Leopold and Loeb were certain of this. Clarence Darrow was very much against the death penalty, and waited until the day before the initial hearing to tell the boys they would be pleading guilty for their crime, affording them one judge to decide their fate. At 18 and 19, Nathan and Richard were impressionable, especially by the learned and sophisticated Clarence Darrow. The death penalty was still an option for the boys, but life in prison was now on the table. The boys agreed to plead guilty for the crime of kidnapping and murder.
In the months Leopold and Loeb spent in court, they were reported to sit side by side, smirking, posing for photographs, exchanging hushed comments, and outright laughing at portions of the testimonies. Leopold tells his own story of the courtroom in an entirely different manner despite the eyewitnesses and photographs. He states in his autobiography that he was enthralled with the hearing, paying the utmost attention, hanging on every detail of testimony, and often discussing important facts with Darrow during rests.
What would turn the Leopold and Loeb case into a “sex crime” was when a psychiatrist, in a hushed comment to the judge, spoke of the homosexual relationship that existed between the two young men. Apparently, the two had devised a “compact” that would assure each would get what they wanted out of the friendship. For every crime Nathan was willing to commit with Richard, a sexual liaison was to take place. Richard needed an audience to commit his crimes, and Nathan was that audience. To satisfy Nathan’s desires, Richard would allow the sexual relationship to continue as long as Nathan was at his side for every crime. The fantasies Nathan and Richard had assumed spilled into their sex life. The roles of slave and master were still in place, but Nathan played the aggressor as far as sex went. Richard would feign drunkenness, and Nathan would undress him and perform sex acts. This went on from 1920 to 1924. The court transcripts were available to the press and they happily snatched the story and made public the sexual perversions of Leopold and Loeb. The fact that both Nathan and Richard each admitted the homosexual affair was true somehow led the public to believe Bobby Franks had been a victim of assault despite the coroner’s report that the body had not been sexually violated in any way.
It had been Richard Loeb’s idea to kidnap and murder the young child, according to Nathan Leopold. Nathan’s plan was to go to Europe for the summer, and on his return, he was to attend Harvard University to study law, eventually marry, and have children. But, Richard Loeb had wanted one last thing to tie himself to Nathan, which would be a crime that they would both commit and neither would forget. But was the crime entirely sentimental? Both boys claimed that it was wholly for the excitement and joy of getting away with the killing scot-free. The motive of the murder was certainly not money. The boys received enormous allowances from their fathers. Loeb had an insatiable dream to commit the perfect crime, something that would cement the fact that he was the direct superior to everyone he came in contact with. Leopold, head held high with conviction, could only admit he was influenced by the brilliant charisma of Loeb, ”I just liked the guy so much so darn much, admired him so darn much, that my mind closed automatically to anything unpleasant about him. ” Clearly, Leopold was still under the magnetism that he felt emitted from Loeb. That or he was still very much in love with Richard Loeb, who until the very end pointed the murderous finger at Nathan.
The State’s Attorney, Robert Crowe, worked earnestly on his case, having 100 witnesses called in the three month span of the trial. The point was not whether Leopold and Loeb committed the crime; that was admitted on the first day of the interrogation. The point was whether or not Leopold and Loeb should hang. In the state of Illinois in 1924, kidnapping and murdering were the two crimes one could get the death penalty for, and Leopold and Loeb had committed both crimes, to a child nonetheless.
In Clarence Darrow’s final summation, he spoke of Leopold and Loeb for 12 hours, which at the end had not only Leopold crying, but Judge John R. Caverly in tears. Darrow spoke clearly and openly of the physical toll a hanging would entail which visibly shook Loeb and left Leopold hysterical in the courtroom. Darrow knew well that he could plead with the judge by merely using the word “boys” instead of “young men” to describe the assailants in the case. It made them seem less like cold blooded murderers, and more like the children they still were at the time of the crime. By the end of the hearing, Judge Caverly was very aware of the immaturity of the two killers and took that into consideration when reading his final decision. Sending two adolescents to the gallows was something the judge did not want on his head. Leopold and Loeb each received life sentences for the crime of murder and ninety-nine years for kidnapping. The boys were not happy with the sentences, but had decided that being hanged was not any better.