‘The Crime of the Century,’ a Century Later

In the summer of 1924, the Leopold and Loeb murder case triggered a media frenzy and a debate over whether anyone can truly know what’s inside the mind of a cold-blooded killer

Richard Loeb (left) and Nathan Leopold sought to plan "the perfect crime." Illustration by Emily Lankiewicz

The past hundred years have seen more than one high-profile prosecution branded as the “crime of the century.” The shocking 1924 crime that was among the first to carry the title turned out to be a harbinger of how public mania around criminal cases could influence the legal system, and how psychiatry would be used and abused by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike as the 20th century wore on and gave way to the 21st.

Smithsonian editor Meilan Solly introduces us to teens Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb and their botched, but still deadly, effort to perpetrate “the perfect crime.” What happened next was also surprising: After confessing to the abduction and murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks, they were spared capital punishment thanks to their famed attorney Clarence Darrow. True-crime historian Kate Winkler Dawson then tells us how public interest in Leopold and Loeb’s fate helped solidify true crime as a durable subject of fascination. She also tells us about the tools used by the prosecution that were in their infancy during the famed case.

A transcript is below. To subscribe to “There’s More to That,” and to listen to past episodes on the complex legacy of Sojourner Truth, why we’re still counting calories even though that’s been largely discredited as a healthy eating tool, how a new generation of high-end West African restaurants is revealing the roots of “Southern” cuisine and more, find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kate Winkler Dawson: I laugh every time I hear an author say “crime of the century.” I’ve read that I can’t even tell you how many times.

Chris Klimek: Kate Winkler Dawson is a journalism professor at UT Austin and the host of several true-crime podcasts.

Winkler Dawson: “True crime” has been a very dirty phrase for a long time, because I think when we say “true crime,” a lot of times it feels like a cable network show that has cheesy re-enactments and there’s nothing going in depth into the part of society that we need to really pay attention to, and this crime illuminates. So my job is to elevate that to say true crime really can address issues that we haven’t talked about or ignored, and now we can draw people to that issue by telling a story that can end in a tragedy or, hopefully, in a triumph.

Klimek: What do you recall about the Leopold and Loeb case?

Winkler Dawson: I actually think Leopold and Loeb was a “crime of the century” case, 1924.

Klimek: We called Kate nearly 100 years to the day the Leopold and Loeb story began to unfold. This famous murder case involved two friends who were intellectually curious about committing a so-called perfect crime. The media followed the story closely, and today many still refer to its impact.

Winkler Dawson: We’re in the middle of Prohibition, we’re approaching the Roaring Twenties, and you have an increase in crime thanks to Prohibition, of course, which is not the intention of Prohibition, but was an outcome. And we’re in Chicago, which is a hotbed for crime and a hotbed for, I think, a lot of stuff. Racial tension. I mean, it’s a city that there’s a lot of corruption in the government, and you have these two young men in 1924 who are, I feel like, just represent so many different facets of society and that just scared everybody.

It was petrifying coming out of Victorian America. When you look at that story of these two relatively good-looking men, clean-cut, lots of resources for them to be capable of that. Could my husband do that? Could my child do that? If these two guys could do it, what about my family members? What about my neighbor? Am I safe? And it just scared people to death.

Klimek: From Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions, this is “There’s More to That,” the show that can bring you true crime and important historical context. In this episode. Leopold and Loeb, a case of the century, a hundred years later. I’m Chris Klimek.

We hope that our episodes are giving you a sense of what the world of Smithsonian magazine is all about, and we’d love to hear from you what you think of this season. If you have the time to help us design our future episodes, please take this survey. You can find it at Smithsonianmag.com/podcastsurvey.

Klimek: Why did you take an interest in the Leopold and Loeb case?

Meilan Solly: There’s been this big rise in kind of true-crime podcasts, et cetera, within the past few years.

Klimek: Meilan Solly is a Smithsonian magazine editor who recently reported on Leopold and Loeb.

Solly: We were interested in looking at Leopold and Loeb, which was considered a crime of the century, and kind of how that set a precedent for the current true-crime obsession and seeing sort of the parallels between coverage today and in 1924.

Klimek: So who were Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb?

Solly: At the time of the murder, they were both teenagers. Leopold was 19 and Loeb was 18, and they were both members of German Jewish immigrant families that were very wealthy and lived in Chicago, and they both were very intelligent and had excelled in school from a young age. Leopold had a really strong interest in ornithology, and he was actually published in an official magazine when he was something like 13 years old, and he claimed to speak as many as 15 languages, although that was probably an exaggeration.

Klimek: Leopold and Loeb had been in similar social circles growing up but didn’t become friends until the summer of 1920.

Solly: Leopold was enrolled at the University of Chicago, and Loeb was preparing for his first year there as more kind of like graduate studies. And, apparently, they didn’t actually really like each other at first, but once they realized that they got along well, things definitely escalated from there. By the following February, their relationship had kind of taken on a different dimension where it was more than just a friendship. It became this very intense kind of romantic, sexual partnership.

Klimek: What was their relationship like?

Solly: There’s a lot of discussion about that, because there’s conflicting views, but generally the idea is that Loeb was more of this gregarious social person who had a lot of charisma and Leopold was a lot quieter and more of the submissive person in their relationship. Loeb was very much interested in committing crimes as something for the thrill of it. Loeb was definitely the one who’s more of the instigator of these crimes, and he viewed them as almost a way of rejecting his upper-class, wealthy family’s expectations.

For Leopold, it was more a matter of he viewed himself as a Nietzschean Superman. He had taken some classes in philosophy and learned about this concept of individuals who were so intelligent that they were above all the rest of the population and they also were above the law, so they could commit crimes without any repercussions. And the only time he really thought that these Supermen should be held responsible for their actions is if they made a mistake or did something that proved that their superior intellect wasn’t as superior as they had thought.

So it was very much kind of an intellectual exercise for Leopold, and he was definitely more interested in maintaining that sexual relationship with Loeb. It was a way of bringing them together. He and Leopold would commit these petty crimes, burglaries, arson and things like that, and then it kind of escalated and then they agreed to commit something that they viewed as the perfect crime, which in this case turned out to be murdering a 14-year-old boy named Bobby Franks.

Klimek: What was the plan for their “perfect crime?”

Solly: First, in choosing their victim, they wanted to choose someone who was going to be really wealthy, because part of their plot was they wanted to kidnap someone and then hold that person for ransom, even though they didn’t actually need any money that they would get from a ransom. So that was just their plot of, that will throw the police off our case, because they won’t suspect people who are very wealthy and don’t actually need this money.

They also wanted to have someone who was younger. They considered abducting a young girl but eventually decided to go with a young boy because he would be more likely to be walking home from school alone without a chaperone, so he’d be an easier target. Ultimately, on the day of the murder, they just drove around the neighborhood, and it was a perfect storm of circumstances that led to them choosing Bobby Franks as their actual victim.

Klimek: So who was Bobby Franks?

Solly: Bobby Franks was 14 years old at the time of the murder and, like Leopold and Loeb, he was from a wealthy Jewish background of immigrant families, had several siblings, was really close to his family and just seemed like he had a really promising future before it was all just taken away from him. We don’t have a ton of information on Bobby Franks’ life just because so much of the coverage about him is only related to his murder.

But one of the things that is really interesting is that two weeks before he was murdered, he actually participated in this debate competition at school where the topic was capital punishment. And so Bobby was very anti-capital punishment, and he made this really impassioned appeal saying the death penalty is unethical and the only person who has the right to take a life is God. That is something that the newspapers really picked up on after the murder, because so many people were pushing for Leopold and Loeb to get the death penalty.

Klimek: Can you walk us through the sequence of events on the day Bobby Franks was killed?

Solly: Leopold and Loeb were driving around their neighborhood and considering different young boys as potential targets, and then they see Bobby Franks. By some accounts, Franks was a distant cousin of Loeb’s. Either way, the two definitely knew each other, and actually the Loeb family had this tennis court [near Franks’ home], so Bobby would often come over and play tennis with the Loebs. He had actually just done that a few days before the murder. Leopold and Loeb are driving in this rented car, and they pull up next to Bobby, and Loeb was just sort of like, “Oh, hi, Bobby, will you come in the car? We can give you a ride home.” And Bobby, he was walking home from school and he was actually only a few blocks from his house, so he tried to decline the offer, but Loeb pushed and was like, “Oh, I want to discuss a tennis racket that you use that I want to buy from my brother.”

So they eventually convinced Bobby to get into the car. Bobby had never met Leopold, so he’s introduced to Leopold, and then Leopold and Loeb sort of say, “Oh, is it OK if we drive around the block before taking you home?” And Bobby agrees, and pretty soon after he gets in the car is when the actual murder takes place. Both Leopold and Loeb said that the other person is the one who actually committed the murder, but the historians generally agree that Leopold was driving the car and Loeb is the one who was in the backseat with Bobby and the one who actually killed him.

So Leopold and Loeb, they have Bobby’s body in the car with them. One of the really haunting details from the case is that Leopold and Loeb just went out and bought sandwiches and root beer while Bobby’s body was just in the car and didn’t seem particularly affected by the fact that they had just murdered this young boy. Night eventually falls, and the two of them decide to take Bobby’s body to this culvert, which is sort of like a tunnel that water goes through by a roadside or something. And this was a spot where Leopold, who was really interested in ornithology, often went birding, which is how he knew about it. So they put his body in this culvert and then leave that area and start driving back to Chicago, where they enact the next phase of their plan.

Klimek: The next phase was the ransom part. Leopold and Loeb told Bobby Franks’ family they would return their son for the price of $10,000. The family may have paid it, but then Bobby’s body was discovered.

Solly: The very next morning there was actually a worker who saw Bobby’s leg sticking out of the culvert, which really threw a wrench in Leopold and Loeb’s plans.

Klimek: So how did the investigation ultimately lead authorities to Leopold and Loeb?

Solly: There was one major clue that pointed to Leopold and Loeb, and that was a pair of eyeglasses that had been left at the crime scene. It had a really unique hinge that was only manufactured by one company in Chicago, and that company in turn had only sold three pairs of glasses with that specific hinge. One of the people who had the glasses was a woman, and so they were able to rule her out pretty quickly. Another one was a man who had been in Europe at the time of the murder, and then the third person was Leopold.

Klimek: It wasn’t long before Leopold and Loeb’s arrest.

Solly: And within something like a week after the murder, the authorities announced that these two young men have confessed to the murder and wrap up the investigation.

Klimek: Meanwhile, the media had been reporting on this case since Bobby’s body was found. The public took an intense interest in the story.

Solly: It didn’t help Leopold and Loeb’s case that they didn’t really show remorse. There’s a quote from Leopold where he says, “A thirst for knowledge is highly commendable. No matter what extreme pain or injury it may afflict upon others. A 6-year-old boy is justified in pulling the wings from a fly if by so doing he learns that without wings, the fly is helpless.” So he’s basically saying, oh, murdering Bobby was just this scientific experiment that was completely justified because we learned how to commit a perfect murder, even though, of course, the plan quickly went sideways.

Klimek: Obviously when they’re saying things like that, they’re not courting public sympathy or helping their case. But can we tell from the press, was there any prejudicial element to the coverage from the fact that they were gay or that they were Jewish or some other reason?

Solly: Yeah, there was definitely prejudicial coverage and it sort of reflected the broader view of Leopold and Loeb within Chicago society. Everyone kind of has a different opinion on why they committed this murder. Actually, the KKK chimes in and says, “Oh, because they’re Jewish immigrants, of course they would do this.” And then in response, their Jewish rabbis were saying, “Well, don’t say that they’re Jewish because they’re atheist. And also they weren’t raised properly and they didn’t believe in Judaism.” And so everyone is trying to deflect responsibility for it onto someone else.

There’s also a lot of discussion of the fact that Leopold and Loeb were really well educated and had gone to college, and people were saying, “Oh no, the youth are too smart that they’re going to school too much and they’re not doing physical hard labor and learning what it really is like to be a functioning person in society.” And so everyone has their own spin on it.

Klimek: Leopold and Loeb confessed to the murder, so there was no need for a traditional court trial. However, their sentencing was still up in the air and placed in the hands of a judge, so they hired a lawyer—one you’ve probably heard of.

Solly: Leopold and Loeb’s families appealed to Clarence Darrow, who at the time was a well-known lawyer but wasn’t as famous as he would eventually be. The following year in 1925, he was involved in the Scopes “monkey trial,” but at the time he was just a prominent local lawyer who had worked in labor law. There’s a great anecdote about some of Leopold and Loeb’s relatives showing up at Darrow’s doorstep early in the morning and begging him to take the case and save their sons, basically. Darrow, when he first hears about this, he’s saying, “Oh, well no, they’ve been falsely accused. They couldn’t have possibly done this.” Again, reflecting those views about people in society who are at this level who couldn’t possibly do something that is so depraved, but then the families say, “No, Leopold and Loeb have actually already confessed to the crime. We know they did it.”

And so Darrow is left saying, “OK, well, what would you like me to do about it?” And they essentially say, Save our sons’ lives. Save them from the noose, because that is a very likely outcome that would’ve happened for them if they had had a different lawyer. Lots of observers and people in the press are really pushing for it. So Darrow agrees to take the case, and a big part of that is because he is anti-capital punishment. He wants to use this case that is going to get a lot of publicity and be a very big thing just to raise attention for his view about capital punishment.

Klimek: So who is representing the prosecution?

Solly: The prosecutor is a man named Robert Crowe and he is very, very pro-capital punishment in this case in particular. And he was using this case as almost sort of a way to bolster his own reputation. The language that he used throughout and was very hyperbolic. He would say things about how Leopold and Loeb were such monsters, and he also made some comments about their sexuality and just using a lot of vitriolic language, but the opinions that he shared were things that were generally shared by the public at the time. The public overall really supported the death penalty for Leopold and Loeb just because they were such unsympathetic characters. They were old enough to know what they were doing, and they have no remorse for what they did.

Klimek: So how are these two figures, Clarence Darrow for the defense, Robert Crowe for the prosecution, each painting the two confessed murderers for the judge? What account do they each give?

Solly: Darrow is very sure to not refer to Leopold and Loeb by their last names. He calls Loeb “Dickie,” which is a nickname from Richard Loeb, and Leopold, he calls “Babe,” which is a nickname that he got as the youngest member of the family. That was a big part of his strategy. because he really wanted to reinforce the fact that they were still young men, teenagers, I guess depending how you look at it, and wanted to create this sense of intimacy. Darrow also emphasized the Nietzschean Supermen theory that Leopold had really embraced, the one about how they were above the law and above others, and he was one part blaming Nietzsche, saying they really drew on this philosophy, and they may have completely misunderstood it, but this is what drove them to do this and it shouldn’t be something that they are held personally responsible for.

Crowe, on the other hand, is being very bombastic and saying that they are both monsters. There’s anecdotes about Crow calling Leopold and Loeb snakes or mad dogs or even cowardly perverts, and he really emphasizes the sexual nature of their relationship and suggests that they were both motivated by these kind of unnatural sexual urges. And at one point he even says Leopold was willing to go along with Loeb because he could use his body for vile and unnatural practices, and he also really just built on the fact that neither of them showed much remorse for the killing and then used that to build public animosity towards the pair.

Klimek: One of the reasons why the Leopold and Loeb case stands out in history is because it was also a test of the budding fields of psychology and psychiatry. These academic fields hadn’t been used as legal testimony in this way before.

Solly: Darrow had asked a bunch of psychiatrists to perform these analyses of the two teenagers over several weeks. His whole argument throughout the case is that people’s actions are predetermined by their childhood experiences. Bad things happened to Leopold and Loeb when they were children. They both had governesses when they were younger, and Leopold’s governess actually, it sounds like she may have sexually abused him in some fashion, whereas Loeb, he had a governess who was very demanding and really pushed him to excel academically and also kind of isolated him from other people his age. And so that may have been a factor in why he didn’t ever really fully learn how to be a social person who interacted with others in kind of a healthy way.

Klimek: But the prosecution brought its own analysts to the table.

Solly: The psychiatrists that they have on their side are looking more at the physical attributes of Leopold and Loeb, saying things like, “Oh, there’s no neurological reason that these two men would’ve committed these crimes.” “Oh, there’s no blood work or anything that indicates that there’s a confirmed ailment that could be affecting them.” They don’t have brain tumors or things like that which could influence their decision making. There’s phrenology where they’re looking at the shapes of people’s heads.

Klimek: Here was a fissure between two branches of science. It was almost like the two ways of thinking were on trial, but many observers didn’t realize it at the time.

Solly: It was interesting, because the psychiatric testimony played such a big role in the case, but people didn’t really understand the difference between neurology and psychoanalysis. They just basically saw, OK, psychiatrists on either side are saying the complete opposite of each other, and so therefore psychiatry is just kind of silly and we shouldn’t believe anyone. Psychiatrists were called alienists, which I guess sort of speaks to how alien that this branch of science felt at the time. Psychiatry was something that was just so misunderstood. The public and the press were really just baffled how these experts who were supposedly in the same field could come to entirely different conclusions.

Klimek: Right, and that fine distinction was lost, it sounds like, in the way this was covered. Do we know if the judge understood that their credentials were not exactly the same?

Solly: So the judge definitely had a greater awareness of the distinctions between the two than just the general public. And it’s interesting because when Darrow was originally making his case for the life imprisonment as opposed to the death sentence, he had specifically asked that Judge Caverly to take into account the two’s mental state. But ultimately, when Caverly actually hands down his judgment, he says, “OK, well the volume of information that has been shared about psychiatry is something that could prove useful for criminal law, but for the purposes of this case, I am completely ignoring it.”

So the decision really ultimately came down to the pair’s relative youth. And so he essentially says they are still young and it’s within my purview to spare them of the execution and just impose this life imprisonment sentence. But he does point out when he is handing down this sentence that in many ways a life imprisonment sentence for people who were so young could in fact be a worse sentence in the long run, even if at the moment it felt like a victory.

Klimek: How did the press cover this? Was there a political slant to the way that different newspapers covered this, for example?

Solly: It was interesting to look at it—the musical Chicago, which is based on actual salacious murder cases that happened at the time with a specific reporter, Maurine Watkins, and she actually covered the Leopold and Loeb case as well. And so it just sort of fed into the public’s desire for really sensationalist coverage of the crimes that were happening in Chicago at the time in the vein of almost the true-crime coverage that we see today. There were also a lot of different editorials that were being published in both national publications and local ones. And those reflected, again, the fact that the case became almost a lens through which different groups could project their own fears about society at the time. And it was less about the specifics of Leopold and Loeb’s case and more just kind of reflecting the arguments that those groups wanted to make.

Klimek: What happens to Leopold and Loeb after they’re sentenced?

Solly: They receive a sentence of life imprisonment for murder and then an additional 99 years each for kidnapping. They are sent to prison pretty soon after the trial, and they’re definitely at risk when they’re in prison. Everyone knew who they were in America at the time. They’re also young, so they would be considered lower in the hierarchy in prison, and so they would’ve been targets for sexual assaults and violence and just coming in a very vulnerable position. So it was definitely a difficult adjustment for them. They were coming from these lives of extreme privilege, and now they were so restricted. At first they’re kept apart, but after a few years, they’re able to be in the same prison, Stateville Penitentiary. And so while they’re there, they really rebuild their friendship. There was a small sticking point between them, which was the fact that neither of them wanted to actually confess to being the person who killed Bobby Franks personally, but they eventually become really close friends again.

They actually start a correspondence high school together at the prison, and they spend a lot of their free time together just playing games or sporting activities, and they both continue their studies in the prison environment. And then in 1936, there’s this pretty horrific incident where an inmate who’s younger, James Day, he slashes Loeb in the prison shower, so he dies at age 30. Leopold finds out about the attack. He comes rushing to the infirmary. He even offers to donate blood if that would help Loeb. And he later writes in his memoir that it was just horrible for him because he had lost someone who had been his best friend for so long, someone who really knew him more than anyone else in the world did.

Klimek: What does Leopold do with the remainder of his life?

Solly: Leopold is extremely depressed after Loeb’s death, and he loses his sense of purpose. He doesn’t do very much of anything for a few years, but then during World War II, he starts volunteering for these malaria trials. Scientists were trying to study the effects of malaria on the human body so that they could better protect soldiers who were stationed in areas where malaria was a big problem. And so he becomes involved in those trials, as both kind of like a volunteer and then also later a researcher, and that’s something that revitalizes him and gives him a purpose again in life. He is finally eligible for parole in the late 1940s and is eventually released from prison at age 53 in 1958. He had served 33 years of his sentence. After his release from prison, he moves to Puerto Rico because there’s an organization there that essentially said, “If you let him out of prison, then we’ll give him a job.”

And so he works as an X-ray technician in Puerto Rico. And he’s essentially there because the case, it was so polarizing and so controversial in the mainland U.S. that wherever he went there, this would always follow him. And in Puerto Rico, it was not something that was as well known, so he was able to escape the limelight more by living there. While he’s in Puerto Rico, he also gets a master’s degree in social work. He gets married to a woman that he meets there, and he also starts pursuing his interest in ornithology again. He actually writes a book about the birds in Puerto Rico, and when he dies in 1971 at the age of 66, the governor of Puerto Rico says something about how the story of Nathan Leopold is one that must confirm the faith and intrinsic goodness of the human being, which is a pretty wild thing to say all things considered.

Klimek: For more perspective on the Leopold and Loeb case, let’s go back to Kate Winkler Dawson. In addition to her teaching and podcasts, Kate is the author of a book called American Sherlock about the history of forensic science. We asked her about the origins of this field and how it dovetails with the fraught nature of the true-crime genre.

Klimek (to Winkler Dawson): How were crimes investigated and prosecuted before these forensic techniques became available?

Winkler Dawson: There were fingerprints. We see cases of detectives in rowboats with giant magnets trying to find the murder weapons that were tossed in water. A lot of it was dumb luck. Investigators would beat suspects, and I think there was a lot of circumstantial evidence, which, circumstantial evidence isn’t the worst thing in the world if it’s correct and if you have enough of it.

Klimek: Kate says that forensics were really taking off by the 1920s when Leopold and Loeb were facing sentencing. But that didn’t mean all forensic testimony could be trusted.

Winkler Dawson: You have an expert who maybe doesn’t have the right conclusion but knows how to talk to a jury really well. And so we’re really seeing the emergence in the ’20s of new forensic techniques and new experts who are willing to get on the stand and say anything that either side wants for a paycheck. I’m not sure that the people who came in into the 1920s made any more sense than the alienists of the 1800s. I think that what’s new about Leopold and Loeb was really dissecting parts of their lives, like their nannies and the way they were treated by their nannies. They’re looking for a cause, and we still do that. We’re still looking for a cause.

Klimek: Would another type of criminal, someone who didn’t have their resources and their wealth, have an alienist or a neurologist testifying on their behalf in this time?

Winkler Dawson: I don’t know. I think that if the victim were high-profile or the criminal were high-profile, or if it was particularly egregious, it’s just like, oh my gosh, we’ve got to figure this out. Then you would see the alienists come in. Most of the time, though, there would be plea bargains. I mean, I just read a stat now that says, and it’s something crazy, like 90 percent of criminal cases now are settled with plea bargains, which makes sense. But back then that certainly happened, too. People just gave up if they didn’t have attorneys. So I don’t think that there even a reason for prosecutors to pay an alienist to come in.

Klimek: How does public interest in a specific case then influence how it is investigated and eventually prosecuted?

Winkler Dawson: Any layperson can look at this and say a case like O.J. Simpson, you look at that case, the amount of pressure on the prosecutors and then, of course, on the defense attorneys was enormous. Enormous. So the rush to be able to get people on the stand who were unreliable, there are different aspects to that case where you just look, OK, clearly they are moving too quickly because there is all of that public pressure. And I think that that can be problematic, of course. And then when you make a mistake and it is proven, if the glove does not fit, you must acquit, and then of course it didn’t fit. And when that happens, then you just erode the public’s faith in law enforcement, prosecutors. The system is eroded. So the rush to get all of this figured out and solved, I think, has been a problem.

Klimek: Kate says that these days, the situation has only gotten worse with different murder cases and the many theories surrounding them blowing up on social media. She pointed to the recent murder of four young people in Idaho that made headlines across the country.

Winkler Dawson: With the Idaho case, you have citizen sleuths turn out and come up with all of these theories, all of which were wrong, putting pressure on Idaho and the state police, and when the federal agents got involved, and eventually they come up with a suspect who nobody knew about, was a total outlier. And people wonder why the police don’t disclose information to the public. And that is the reason why. Doing the right thing, keeping the right amount of information close to the vest so it doesn’t spoil the investigation, is the priority.

Klimek: When considering crimes of the century, like Leopold and Loeb, Kate says it’s most important to think about the humanity of those involved, to not do what the media did back in the 1920s.

Winkler Dawson: People love true crime. This is not new. The modes are new. So when I talk to my students about picking the right kind of podcast to listen to and to support or the right kind of TV series, I always say, “You’ve got to look for the folks where this is victim-forward.” I think that we need more people who are willing to take more responsibility with reporting true crime in a way that’s balanced, in a way that respects the victims, the survivors, and a way that really doesn’t sensationalize all of these crimes, because these are real people.

Klimek: Kate Winkler Dawson is the host of the podcasts “Tenfold More Wicked” and “Wicked Words,” and the co-host of the podcast “Buried Bones.” Thank you, Kate, for this conversation.

Winkler Dawson: Thank you.

Klimek: To read Meilan Solly’s article about Leopold and Loeb, head to SmithsonianMag.com. We’ll also put a link in our show notes, along with links to more of Kate Winkler Dawson’s work.

Klimek: Our dinner party fact might not exactly belong at the dinner table, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Let’s go back to Kate from more information on forensic entomology, or the way bugs are used as evidence in murder cases.

Winkler Dawson: One of the best field trips I had ever taken was to what was called the Body Farm. I don’t know if they prefer to call it the Body Farm, but it’s a forensic anthropology lab at the Texas State University, and it is acres and acres of land where you can choose to donate your body after you die, and they will place it on the land and they will observe it and they will see how bugs arrive to it, how animals arrive to it, and it helps them solve crimes.

So when I was there, I learned a little bit about forensic entomology from the Body Farm. The blowflies come first. Within the first 24 hours, they start to lay eggs very quickly. The beetles come next, and then there’s a list of bugs that arrive, and it’s predictable, and it is a great way to figure out how long a body has been there. So it’s been a very useful technique. It’s a solid forensic. It is not junk science. It happens and people use it all the time.

Klimek: “There’s More to That” is a production of Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions.

From the magazine, our team is me, Debra Rosenberg and Brian Wolly.

From PRX, our team is Jessica Miller, Genevieve Sponsler, Adriana Rozas Rivera, Ry Dorsey and Edwin Ochoa.

The executive producer of PRX Productions is Jocelyn Gonzales. Our episode artwork is by Emily Lankiewicz. Fact-checking by Stephanie Abramson. Our music is from APM Music.

I’m Chris Klimek. Thanks for listening.

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