The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb by Maureen McKernan
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
"The crime itself was indefensible. The brilliant, spoiled and bored sons of two of Chicago's wealthiest families planned to commit the perfect crime both for the thrill of and to prove their perverse misunderstanding of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy of the 'superman,' who was above all law so long as he made no mistake. Their plan, worked out over several months, was to kidnap and immediately kill one of their younger neighbors and hide his body. They would then demand and collect a ransom. The body would never be discovered, the crime would never be solved and only they would know that they had prevailed over ordinary human beings and their simple-minded legal system. But far from being the 'perfect crime,' the murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks turned out to be amateurishly botched. Before any ransom could be paid, the boy's body was discovered in a culvert near where Nathan Leopold often went bird-watching. A pair of telltale glasses were found adjacent to the body. They were easily traced to Leopold who first came up with a paper-thin alibi and soon thereafter confessed to the crime. His fellow murderer likewise confessed. Each of the 'superboys' placed blame for the actual killing on the other." - Alan M. Dershowitz
If you mentioned the names Leopold and Loeb today, many people wouldn't know who you were talking about, but if you had mentioned them just thirty years ago, many people would recall the 'murder of the century.'
If you are a fan of the True Crime genre, you'll come across the case of two wealthy Chicago boys who thought they could get away with murder. (The trial is probably the most talked about trial to-date because this is the first time that psychology was brought before a court room.)
For a good part of the late 1920's, Leopold and Loeb were household names for good reason: they came from millionaire families, they were college graduates before they were 18-years-old, and their trial was the first time in history that the world saw psychology put in front of a judge. The trial was even more unforgettable due to a closing speech given by famous defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, which is reprinted in its entirety,spanning a hefty 93 pages.
Nathan Leopold, Jr. and Richard Loeb were two people who should have never met, according to the courtroom. The two met at about the age of fifteen, soon after they began to embark on criminal acts together, ranging from theft to arson. It's stated in 'the Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb' that Loeb had created a fantasy world where he was a crime ringleader that was too smart for the police to catch. Readers get to judge for themselves whether or not they believe Loeb was the cause of their crimes, or if Leopold was the one really in charge.
After robbing Loeb's fraternity house together, Leopold and Loeb came up with a plan to kidnap a wealthy child that they could then ransom. "They began to devise elaborate plans for this kidnapping, and soon the planning became the all-important thing. They gave up the idea of kidnapping this particular person [a young man named William], and settled on the idea of kidnapping anyone who would fit in their kidnapping plans." Throughout the book, we find out that the boys were pretty desperate for a kidnapping victim, that they even thought about kidnapping one of their close friends:
"The plan of kidnaping Dick Rubel was given up because Dick Rubel's father was so tight we might not get any money from him."
Leopold and Loeb discussed everything from how they would receive the ransom, what weapons they would use, how they would get the victim inside a rented vehicle, and what they would do with the body afterwards. "In March, 1924, the patient [Loeb] conceived the idea of securing the money by having it thrown off a moving train. This idea was discussed in great detail, and gradually developed into a carefully systematized plan. As time wore on the plan became greatly modified from the original one. They discussed at considerable length the choice of a suitable subject for kidnapping. The patient's companion [Leopold] suggested that they kidnap a young girl instead of a boy, but the patient [Loeb] objected to this. His companion [Leopold] also suggested that they kidnap the patient's [Loeb] younger brother, but the patient apparently did not seriously consider doing this. They then considered half a dozen boys, any one of whom would do, for the following reasons: that they were physically small enough to be easily handled and their parents were extremely wealthy and would have no difficulty or disinclination to pay ransom money."
During the trial, Leopold and Loeb's psychological evaluations became the forefront of their guilty plea, stating that they were not responsible for their actions due to their upbringing and environment. "I submit the facts do not rest on the evidence of these boys alone. It is proven by the writings; it is proven by every act. It is proven by their companions, and there can by no question about it." Clarence Darrow explains in his famous closing statement. "We brought into this courtroom a number of their boy friends, whom they had known day by day, who had associated with them in the club house, were their constant companions, and they tell the same stories. They tell the story that neither of these two boys was responsible for his conduct."
'The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb' contains the portions of the psychiatric evaluations that were submitted in court,but the testimony of character witnesses is omitted. For a factual telling of a real life trial, this book is okay. If the reader pays attention, they may notice that some of the book contradicts itself, such as one page states that the car robe used to wrap up Franks' body was found buried near Lake Michigan,but then pages later, the book states it had been burned at Loeb's home.
The psychiatric reports are very repetitive,just using different words to describe the same things. Yet, these reports are the backbone of the trial and well worth a read. The evaluations and Darrow's extensive speech were what saved Leopold and Loeb from a death sentence.
There are very few books written about the 'murder of the century,' and even less about the 'lawyer of the century.' Leopold and Loeb, as well as Darrow, have faded into the obscurity of the True Crime genre, but because the boys' mental state was brought into question, we now accept forensic science/psychology in the court room today. I feel that only people who are truly interested in True Crime, or even have a fascination for the court room are the only ones who will enjoy 'The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb.'
Here are the photos I took of this beautiful book: