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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Crowe was furious at the judge's decision. In his statement to the press, Crowe made sure everyone knew whom to blame: "The state's attorney's duty was fully performed. He is in no measure responsible for the decision of the court. The responsibility for that decision rests with the judge alone." Later that evening, however, Crowe's rage would emerge in full public view, when he issued another, more inflammatory statement: "[Leopold and Loeb] had the reputation of being immoral...degenerates of the worst type....The evidence shows that both defendants are atheists and followers of the Nietzschean doctrines...that they are above the law, both the law of God and the law of man....It is unfortunate for the welfare of the community that they were not sentenced to death."

As for Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, their fates would take divergent paths. In 1936, inside Stateville Prison, James Day, a prisoner serving a sentence for grand larceny, stabbed Loeb in the shower room and despite the best efforts of the prison doctors, Loeb, then 30 years old, died of his wounds shortly afterward.

Leopold served 33 years in prison until he won parole in 1958. At the parole hearing, he was asked whether he realized that every media outlet in the country would want an interview with him. Already there was a rumor that Ed Murrow, the CBS correspondent, wanted him to appear on his television show "See It Now." "I don't want any part of lecturing, television or radio, or trading on the notoriety," Leopold replied. The confessed murderer who had once deemed himself a superman stated, "All I want, if I am so lucky as to ever see freedom again, is to try to become a humble little person."

Upon his release, Leopold moved to Puerto Rico, where he lived in relative obscurity, studying for a degree in social work at the University of Puerto Rico, writing a monograph on the birds of the island, and, in 1961, marrying Trudi Garcia de Quevedo, the expatriate widow of a Baltimore physician. During the 1960s, Leopold was finally able to travel to Chicago. He returned to the city often, to see old friends, to tour the South Side neighborhood near the university and to place flowers on the graves of his mother and father and two brothers.

It had been so long ago—that summer of 1924, in the stuffy courtroom on the sixth floor of the Cook County Criminal Court—and now he was the sole survivor. The crime had passed into legend; its thread had been woven into the tapestry of Chicago's past; and when Nathan Leopold, at age 66, died in Puerto Rico of a heart attack on August 29, 1971, the newspapers wrote of the murder as the crime of the century, an event so inexplicable and so shocking that it would never be forgotten.

© 2008 by Simon Baatz, adapted from For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder that Shocked Chicago, published by HarperCollins.


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