Leopold and Loeb’s Criminal Minds

In defense of murderers Leopold and Loeb, attorney Clarence Darrow thwarted a nation’s call for vengeance

The Defendants
Nathan Leopold (left) and his lover Richard Loeb confessed that they had kidnapped and murdered Bobby Franks solely for the thrill of the experience. (Underwood & Underwood/ Corbis)
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Bobby stepped onto the running board. The front passenger door was open, inviting the boy inside...and then suddenly Bobby slid himself into the front seat, next to Leopold.

Loeb gestured toward his companion, "You know Leopold, don't you?"

Bobby glanced sideways and shook his head—he did not recognize him.


"You don't mind [us] taking you around the block?"

"Certainly not." Bobby turned around in the seat to face Loeb; he smiled at his cousin with an open, innocent grin, ready to banter about his success in yesterday's tennis game.

The car slowly accelerated down Ellis Avenue. As it passed 49th Street, Loeb felt on the car seat beside him for the chisel. Where had it gone? There it was! They had taped up the blade so that the blunt end—the handle—could be used as a club. Loeb felt it in his hand. He grasped it more firmly.

At 50th Street, Leopold turned the car left. As it made the turn, Bobby looked away from Loeb and glanced toward the front of the car.

Loeb reached over the seat. He grabbed the boy from behind with his left hand, covering Bobby's mouth to stop him from crying out. He brought the chisel down hard—it smashed into the back of the boy's skull. Once again he pounded the chisel into the skull with as much force as possible—but the boy was still conscious. Bobby had now twisted halfway around in the seat, facing back to Loeb, desperately raising his arms as though to protect himself from the blows. Loeb smashed the chisel down two more times into Bobby's forehead, but still he struggled for his life.

The fourth blow had gashed a large hole in the boy's forehead. Blood from the wound was everywhere, spreading across the seat, splashed onto Leopold's trousers, spilling onto the floor.

It was inexplicable, Loeb thought, that Bobby was still conscious. Surely those four blows would have knocked him out?

Loeb reached down and pulled Bobby suddenly upwards, over the front seat into the back of the car. He jammed a rag down the boy's throat, stuffing it down as hard as possible. He tore off a large strip of adhesive tape and taped the mouth shut. Finally! The boy's moaning and crying had stopped. Loeb relaxed his grip. Bobby slid off his lap and lay crumpled at his feet.

Leopold and Loeb had expected to carry out the perfect crime. But as they disposed of the body—in a culvert at a remote spot several miles south of Chicago—a pair of eyeglasses fell from Leopold's jacket onto the muddy ground. Upon returning to the city, Leopold dropped the ransom letter into a post box; it would arrive at the Franks house at 8 o'clock the next morning. The following day, a passerby spotted the body and notified the police. The Franks family confirmed the identity of the victim as that of 14-year-old Bobby. The perfect crime had unraveled and now there was no longer any thought, on the part of Leopold and Loeb, of attempting to collect the ransom.

By tracing Leopold's ownership of the eyeglasses, the state's attorney, Robert Crowe, was able to determine that Leopold and Loeb were the leading suspects.

Ten days after the murder, on May 31, both boys confessed and demonstrated to the state's attorney how they had killed Bobby Franks.


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