Nathan Freudenthal Leopold PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 March 2009 18:15

File:Nathan-Leopold.jpgNathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr.

Born: November 19, 1904, Chicago, Illinois

Died: August 29, 1971, Puerto Rico

Age: 66

Cause of death: Dabetes-related heart attack 

Notable because:  Highly intelligent extremely privileged individual set out to commit perfect crime for amusement. Kills young man, spends time in jail where he learns 27 languages.


Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr and Richard A. Loeb, more commonly known as "Leopold and Loeb", were two wealthy University of Chicago students who murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in 1924, and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The duo were motivated to murder Franks by their desire to commit a perfect crime. Once apprehended, Leopold and Loeb retained Clarence Darrow as counsel for the defense. Darrow’s summation in their trial is noted for its influential criticism of capital punishment and retributive, as opposed to rehabilitative, penal systems.

Leopold, age 19 at the time of the murder, and Loeb, 18, believed themselves to be Nietzschean supermen who could commit a "perfect crime" (in this case a kidnapping and murder). Before the murder, Leopold had written to Loeb: "A superman ... is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do."

The friends were exceptionally intelligent. Nathan Leopold was an intellectual prodigy who spoke his first words at the age of four months, and tested with an I.Q. of 210. Leopold had already completed college, graduating Phi beta Kappa and was attending law school at the University of Chicago. He claimed to have studied 15 languages but in reality spoke four. He was an expert ornithologist, while Loeb, with an I.Q. in the 160s, was the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Michigan. Leopold planned to transfer to Harvard Law School in September, after taking a trip to Europe. Loeb planned to enter the University of Chicago Law School after taking some post-graduate courses.

Leopold, Loeb and Franks lived in Kenwood, a wealthy Jewish neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Loeb's father, Albert, began his career as a lawyer and became the vice president of Sears and Roebuck. Besides owning an impressive mansion in Kenwood, two blocks from the Leopold home, the Loeb family had a summer estate in Charlevoix, Michigan. Richard Loeb was born to a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Franks' family, originally Jewish, had converted to Christian Science.

Leopold and Loeb met at the University of Chicago as teenagers. Leopold agreed to act as Loeb's accomplice as long as Loeb would be his lover. Beginning with petty theft, the pair committed a series of more and more serious crimes; the series culminated in murder.

Ransom Note

Leopold and Loeb spent a year planning the murder, working out a way to get ransom money with little risk of being caught. On Wednesday, May 21, 1924, they put their plot into motion. The pair lured Franks, a neighbor and distant relative of Loeb, into a rented car. Either Loeb or Leopold first struck Franks with a chisel. Leopold or Loeb then stuffed a sock into his mouth. Franks died soon thereafter.

The killers covered the body and drove to a remote area near Wolf Lake in Hammond, Indiana. They removed Franks' clothes and left them at the side of the road. Leopold and Loeb poured hydrochloric acid on the body to make identification more difficult. They then had dinner at a hot dog stand. After finishing their meal, they concealed the body in a culvert at the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks near 118th street, north of Wolf Lake.

After returning to Chicago, they called Franks' mother and said her son had been kidnapped. They mailed the ransom note to the Franks. The killers burned items of their own clothing that had been spotted with blood. They also attempted to clean blood stains from the upholstery of their rented automobile. The two then spent the rest of the evening playing cards.

Before the Franks could pay the ransom, Tony Minke, a Polish immigrant, discovered the body. When Leopold and Loeb learned that the body had been found, they destroyed the typewriter used to write the ransom note and burned the robe used to move the body.

A pair of eyeglasses were found near the body, unremarkable except for a unique hinge mechanism. In Chicago, only three people had purchased glasses with such a mechanism, one of whom was Nathan Leopold.

Upon being questioned, Leopold told police he had lost the glasses while birdwatching. Loeb told the police that Leopold was with him the night of the murder. Leopold and Loeb claimed they had picked up two women in Leopold's car and had dropped them off near a golf course, never learning their last names. Unfortunately for Leopold and Loeb, Leopold's car was being repaired by his chauffeur that night. The chauffeur's wife also said the car was in the Leopold garage that night.

During police questioning, Leopold's and Loeb's alibis fell apart. Loeb confessed first, followed by Leopold. Although their confessions corroborated most of the facts in the case, each blamed the other for the actual killing. Most commentators believe that Loeb struck the blow that killed Franks.

The ransom was not their primary motive; each one's family gave him all the money that he needed. They admitted that they were driven by the thrill. While in jail, they basked in the public attention they received and regaled newspaper reporters with the crime's lurid details again and again.


Robert Franks and his father
Defense attorney Clarence Darrow

The trial became a media spectacle. Held at Courthouse Place, it was one of the first cases in the U.S. to be dubbed the "Trial of the Century." Loeb's family hired 67-year-old Clarence Darrow — a well-known opponent of capital punishment — to defend the men against the capital charges of murder and kidnapping. While the media expected Leopold and Loeb to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, Darrow surprised everyone by having them both plead guilty. In this way, Darrow avoided a jury trial which he believed would most certainly have resulted in a conviction and perhaps even the death penalty. Instead, he was able to make his case for his clients' lives before a single person, Cook County Circuit Court Judge John R. Caverly.

During the 12-hour hearing on the final day, Darrow gave a speech, which has been called the finest of his career. The speech included: "this terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor … Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? … it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university."

In the end, Darrow succeeded. The judge sentenced Leopold and Loeb each to life imprisonment (for the murder), plus 99 years each (for the kidnapping).

Leopold and Loeb

At Joliet Prison, Leopold and Loeb used their educations to teach classes in the prison school. On January 28, 1936, Loeb was attacked by fellow prisoner James E. Day with a straight razor in the prison's shower room, and died from his wounds. Day claimed afterward that Loeb had attempted to sexually assault him. This was never proven and Loeb's throat was slashed from behind. Nonetheless, an inquiry accepted Day's testimony and the prison authorities ruled that Day's attack on Loeb was made in self-defense. According to one widely reported account, newsman Ed Lahey wrote this lead for the Chicago Daily News: "Richard Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition."

In 1944, Leopold participated in the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study, in which he volunteered to be infected with malaria. Early in 1958, after 33 years in prison, Leopold was released on parole. While in prison he mastered 27 languages. That year he wrote an autobiography entitled Life Plus 99 Years. Leopold moved to Puerto Rico to avoid media attention, and married a widowed florist. He was known as "Nate" to neighbors and co-workers at Castañer General Hospital in Castañer, Puerto Rico, where he worked as a lab and x-ray assistant."

At one time after his release from prison, Leopold talked about his intention to write a book entitled, Snatch for a Halo, about his life following prison. He never did so. Later, Leopold tried to block the movie Compulsion (see below) on the grounds of invasion of privacy, defamation, and making money from his life story.

He died of a diabetes-related heart attack on August 29, 1971 at the age of 66. He donated his organs.

Leopold and Loeb have been the inspiration for many works in film, theater and fiction, such as the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, which served as the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same name. In 1956, Meyer Levin revisited the case in his novel Compulsion, a fictionalized version of the actual events in which the names of the pair were changed to "Steiner and Strauss." Three years later, the novel was made into a film of the same name. Never the Sinner, a theatrical recreation of the Leopold and Loeb trial, was written by John Logan in 1988.

Other works inspired by the case include Tom Kalin's more openly gay-themed 1992 film Swoon; Michael Haneke's 1997 Austrian film Funny Games, with an American shot-for-shot remake produced in 2008; Barbet Schroeder's Murder by Numbers (2002); and Stephen Dolginoff's 2005 off-Broadway musical Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story.

The case has also inspired episodes of the TV crime drama Law & Order. (One episode involving a thrill kill by two young men, each refusing to implicate the other (they know neither can be definitively proven to have fired the murder weapon) elicits a reference from Jack McCoy's assistant: "Darrow got Leopold and Loeb. What do we get?" McCoy's sardonic reply: "Beavis and Butt-head."

The primary villains of the James Patterson novel 7th Heaven share many similarities with Leopold and Loeb to the point that the pair are directly referenced by the investigating detectives.

There are prominent references to the murders in Richard Wright's novel Native Son.

In the 1977 movie Annie Hall, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) credits Leopold and Loeb for saying there is "too much burden placed on the orgasm to make up for empty areas in life".

In the television sitcom M*A*S*H, Hawkeye refers to Leopold and Loeb in the episode "The Incubator". The reference is in an exchange between Hawkeye, Trapper, and a Colonel. Hawkeye: "We've gotten nothing but static so far Colonel." Trapper: "First from a supply captain who won't tie his shoe without a direct order." Hawkeye: "And then from a Major Morris who in civilian life is known as Leopold and Loeb."

In the television sitcom Seinfeld, the character of Jerry Seinfeld refers to Leopold and Loeb in the episode "The Junior Mint". When he voices misgivings to Kramer about their illicit secret of a candy piece in a recuperating surgery patient's peritoneal cavity, Jerry says "I can't have this on my conscience. We're like Leopold and Loeb!"

The Leopold and Loeb case is a theme in Daniel Clowes' 2005 graphic novel Ice Haven, which includes a short story about the criminal duo, as well as references to the incident in other stories.


January 28, 1936.

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb had breakfast in Richard's cell the morning of January 28th, as they did most every morning. Breakfast consisted of some sweet rolls purchased from the prison commissary. The day was cold. While they sat and ate, James Day stopped by the cell and had a roll with them. He got up to leave and told Richard that he'd see him around noon.

Leopold and Loeb spent the morning correcting lessons. They discussed a new algebra course. Richard remarked that nothing exciting ever seemed to happen.

At 11:30 AM Richard picked up clean underwear and a towel and said he was going to go take a shower. Leopold returned to his own cell and began working on the algebra course.

Richard Loeb's Cell At 12:20 Leopold heard from a prisoner returning from the dining room that Richard was badly hurt and had been taken to the hospital.

"I grabbed my hat and coat and started out of the cell house. The door had just been locked. The guard was jittery; he didn't think he could let me out on his own authority. I was all excited, too, and I insisted he call the deputy or the warden, do something. He tried, but the warden had gone to the hospital. A couple of lieutenants came in and went to Dick's cell and started to shake it down. I was wild."

Leopold convinced on of the civilian school supervisors to escort him through the gate. "Just as I was debating whether I could kick the gate in, I caught sight of Father Wier hurrying in from the front. I hailed him and asked him to get permission for me to come in."

Richard lay on the table unconscious and surrounded by doctors. He had an ether mask on his face and was breathing through a tube in his windpipe. He was covered with razor cuts. Every time he breathed a gush of blood would rise up from his throat.

Richard Loeb died at seven minutes to three.

The doctors left, and Leopold and an inmate nurse washed Richard Loeb's still bleeding body and stitched up some of the cuts. At last they covered him with a sheet.

"But after a moment I folded the sheet back from his face and sat down on a stool by the table where he lay. I wanted a long last look at him."

After a while some men came in and carried Richard Loeb's body away in a basket.

"I felt like half of me was dead."

Richard Loeb had gone to an officer's washroom that contained a toilet, sink and tub shower. It's use was allowed by the 19 prisoners that worked on the prison school. James Day, who had stopped to have a roll with Loeb and Leopold earlier that morning, had slashed Richard Loeb over 50 times and killed him.

The bathroom lay 20 feet west of the main dining room, where Day had been headed for lunch when he stepped out of line, and into the bathroom. After the killing, Day gave this statement;

Warden Ragen in the Bathroom where Loeb was attacked "After four months of being friendly with him, he offered to get me a job in the office. I refused. He said he would do anything I wanted for friendship's sake....

"About June 1935, we walked into the library one day, and he told me he had something he wanted to say to me- something important. I was sitting on a chair close to a radiator, and he came and sat on the radiator and started to tell me how much our friendship meant to him; that he probably never would get out for the rest of his life, and that during the preceding months there had grown up in him another feeling than just friendship. He asked me not to get mad but to be broad minded. He said there had been others, but that they had been paroled and they wrote him letters once in a while. He told me that I would never have to worry about anything. He told me he got ten dollars a week from his brother and half of it would be mine if I would do as he said. I told him that he was a double crosser and not a friend, and that I thought he was my friend, and that he was only a dirty skunk, and that I was through with him. I started to get up. He put his arms around my waist...

"He pleaded that I should not get mad. I jumped up, causing him to fall to the floor...

"After that he would stop me when I was alone- reminded me he got me my job and that he could get it taken away, that he could speak to someone up front." Leopold diagram

Day goes on to describe the crime.

"After dinner he came to my cell and told me he was on his way to take a bath and if I wanted to talk to him I could see him in the bathroom." Once supposedly in the bathroom, Richard locked the door behind them.

"I was talking- don't remember what I was saying- when he turned around and got between me and the door with a razor in his hand he had taken out of the bundle. I knew the door was locked. Loeb said, 'Get your clothes off before I start in on you.' I was afraid- the thought struck me I should watch a chance to do something. I stepped under the shower. He took two steps toward the sill of the shower and I kicked him in the groin. He slashed at my face downward and missed by inches. When he fell I hit him on the back of the neck with my fist-and the hand in which he had the razor hit the sill and the razor fell. We fell to the floor together. I got the razor and slashed at him and the blood flew in my face as he locked his arms around me....

Loeb got the razor away from me then and got on top of me, holding me by the throat. Something told me I was going to die if I didn't get out from under. I got him off me, I don't know how. The razor was in my hand when I got up.

Loeb swung at me, half laughing, and hollered: "So you can fight when you have to?"

..."My whole body was red. I put on Loeb's shirt. I thought it was mine. People were running. Excitement, a disturbance. The captain came and I gave him the razor."

In Warden Ragen of Joliet, author Gladys Erickson wrote the following regarding the Death of Richard Loeb;

When Ragen took over at Stateville, Loeb and Day were cell mates in Cell House C. Loeb had been receiving an allowance of fifty dollars a month from his family. Since Day had no income, Loeb supplied him with such luxuries as cigarettes, candy and food. They had had several arguments over the division of Loeb's "groceries" after Loeb had shared his supplies with a number of other inmates who had no cash.

Loeb was one of those hit hardest when Ragen rook all money out of circulation and decreed that each inmate could spend a maximum of three dollars (later raised to five) a week in the prison commissary. This rule left Loeb with barely enough buying power to supply his own needs, and the squabbles between the two increased until Ragen moved Day out of Loeb's cell. This had taken place about six weeks before the fatal stabbing.

After the murder, Ragen's inquiry indicated that Day had continued to demand his ration of cigarettes and other luxuries from Loeb, but Loeb had refused. Their last known argument had taken place two weeks before the killing. Apparently Day had borrowed the razor to take revenge on Loeb for his refusal.

The warden went over the prison records of the two men and saw that Day was marked as a potentially dangerous inmate, with a long punishment record. Loeb, on the other hand, had a clean record; he had been placed in Grade A, the top rating that can be given, six months after his arrival in prison, and had remained in that grade through the years...

James Day was charged with the murder of Richard Loeb and brought to trial in a Will county court in June 1936. There were no witnesses to the attack itself, but Day had mobilized half a dozen inmates who appeared as "character" witnesses in his behalf. Several of them told the story of how Loeb had bewildered Day and a number of others by describing in lavish detail the baths of ancient Greece and Rome. These lurid vocal tours ended, according to the witnesses, with propositions for immoral activity.

Day told the court that he had been invited into the shower by Loeb. When Loeb made indecent proposals to him, he resisted. Loeb pulled out the razor, which Day took away from him after a struggle. He said that Loeb was slashed during the struggle and in self defense.

His lawyers assured the jury that Loeb had wielded unlimited influence over fellow inmates for a long period of time and also told it that if it find Day guilty the jury would be "rebuilding the Walls of Sodom and Gomorrah."

Warden Ragen was called to the stand and asked only three questions: his name, how long he had been warden, and whether or not he had seen the actual attack. Then the jury retired and eventually returned with a verdict of "not guilty".

This verdict astounded Ragen, prison officers, and even inmates. While no one held Loeb up as an angel, most believed that Day's defense had been fabricated, that he had planned the attack on Loeb, and that revenge had been his motive. However, at the time of the trial there was no evidence to show or to prove that Day had had the razor in his possession prior to the killing.

I wasn't until two years after the murder that Ragen was able to get Bliss, who had been Day's cell mate at the time of the killing, to admit that he had passed him the razor half an hour before the slaying.

When Day was returned to the prison after the acquittal, the warden recommended to the Director of the Department of Public Safety that all the good time he had to his credit be forfeited, on the grounds that he had been in posession of a contraband item and also for other violations already in his jacket. Day would have been eligible, under his ten year sentence, for discharge after serving a minimum of six years and three months. With his good time canceled, he would have to serve out the entire ten years."

Richard Loeb's body was cremated at Oak Woods cemetery in Chicago's South side. There is no marker. His ashes were retrieved by family members in July, 1936.

Neither Nathan Leopold, nor Richard Loeb have a burial site.


Last Updated on Thursday, 12 March 2009 18:32

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