LEOPOLD-LOEB CASE. Few murders in American history were as notorious or sensational as the "thrill" slaying of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks in the summer of 1924. Two of his Chicago neighbors, eighteen-year-old Richard Loeb and nineteen-year-old Nathan Leopold, pleaded guilty.
What made the crime puzzling was its motive. Both of the killers were born to wealth and were intellectually gifted. Loeb apparently wanted to prove that he was capable of committing the perfect crime (which included kidnapping), and needed an accomplice. Leopold wore eyeglasses that were extremely rare, and had mistakenly left them near the culvert where police discovered the corpse. Trapped by such evidence, the pair confessed. Their families hired Clarence Darrow, a canny criminal defense attorney who never lost a client to the gallows. Arguing that the minds of his clients were not normal, though not insane, Darrow secured for them a judicial sentence of life imprisonment, plus an additional ninety-nine years. So remarkable an evasion of capital punishment attracted as much international attention as the trial itself. Loeb was murdered in prison in 1936; Leopold was eventually released, after submitting to dangerous medical
experiments and demonstrating contrition. He died in 1971. The case inspired Meyer Levin's best-selling novel Compulsion (1959).
Higdon, Hal. The Crime of the Century: The Leopold and Loeb Case. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.