Leopold and Loeb

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Leopold and Loeb

(lōb), notorious American murderers defended by Clarence DarrowDarrow, Clarence Seward,
1857–1938, American lawyer, b. Kinsman, Ohio. He first practiced law in Ashtabula, Ohio. In 1887 he moved to Chicago, where he was corporation counsel for several years and conducted the cases that the city brought to reduce transit rates.
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 in 1924. The gregarious, dominating Richard A. Loeb (1905–1936) and the shy, submissive Nathan F. Leopold, Jr. (1904–1971) were wealthy young Chicagoans and boyhood friends who had formed a sexual relationship and begun to commit petty crimes together. Loeb, convinced of their brilliance and obsessed with committing the perfect crime, was the main architect of the kidnapping and murder. On May 21, 1924, they abducted a 14-year-old neighbor, Bobby Franks, while on his way home from school, murdered him, and hid his body in a railroad drainage culvert in rural Indiana. Returning to Chicago, the two sent Franks' mother a note demanding a $10,000 ransom, but Franks' body was soon discovered, and prescription eyeglasses found nearby were traced to Leopold. Arrested, both confessed.

Leopold and Loeb pled guilty on Darrow's advice, and the trial, held before Judge John R. Caverly, focused solely on their punishment. Much of the defense hinged on the testimony of psychiatrists, who spoke of the defendants' immaturity, obsessions, and other problems. In a lengthy, emotional, and eloquent summation, Darrow argued for their lives, citing their upbringing, youth, and other factors but most of all condemning the death penalty itself. Caverly sentenced Leopold and Loeb to imprisonment—life for murder, 99 years for kidnapping. Loeb was murdered by a fellow prison inmate, but Leopold was paroled in 1958, moved to Puerto Rico, married, taught, and wrote a book on ornithology.

The sensational murder and subsequent trial transfixed the public's imagination and were widely called "the crime and the trial of the century." The events came to wide attention again in the second half of the 20th cent. with the publication of a fictionalized version, Meyer Levin's best-selling novel Compulsion (1956), and the popular film that followed in 1959.


See Leopold's Life plus 99 Years (1958); M. McKernan, The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb (1924); H. Higdon, The Crime of the Century (1975); S. Baatz, For the Thrill of It (2008).

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References in periodicals archive ?
Loeb and Leopold decided that the greatest need for education inside Joliet and Stateville was at the high school level.
These materials proved invaluable as outlines and templates, but Loeb and Leopold decided that in order to work for their students, the materials should contain considerably more detail.
Loeb and Leopold administered the program under the supervision of the Education Superintendent.
Indeed, both Loeb and Leopold (with his prior prison teaching experience) worried that the announcement might spark a negative public reaction that could brand the school as a frivolous and misdirected exercise.
While the four were immediately sent to solitary confinement, in under an hour, both Loeb and Leopold were released to the general population.
The Loeb and Leopold case, which Wright followed in the Jackson, Mississippi, newspapers when it erupted as "the crime of the century" in 1924 (Rowley 153), was another source that Wright used consciously in his fiction.
A survey of outstanding physical similarities between the fictional account of Bigger Thomas and the actual story of Loeb and Leopold clearly establishes Wright's intentional use of this infamous case in the writing of Native Son.
But the substance of the two notes is surprisingly similar since a $10,000 ransom is demanded in both, and the parents of each victim are instructed to place the money in a box (a cigar box for Loeb and Leopold and a shoe box for Bigger) and then to drop the money at an assigned place from a moving vehicle (a train in the historical case and an automobile in Wright's fictional narrative).
Loeb and Leopold were Jews and their trial known to many as "the Jewish trial," whereas Wright's Bigger is, of course, black.
Just as Max pleads that the "fundamental problem" Bigger faced was his emergence "from an oppressed people" (294), Darrow stressed that the natural and social factors conditioning Loeb and Leopold were "infinite forces" (Darrow 21) beyond their understanding and control.
Depending on whose version you believe, Loeb and Leopold had so acted either for the deluded "thrill" of committing the "perfect crime" or (as the prosecutor would gamely insist) because Loeb needed the ransom to pay off his gambling debts.
For the sake of readers who may not know how the story ends: The judge in the case, acting in "accordance with the progress of criminal law" and "dictates of enlightened humanity," granted Darrow's plea, and sentenced Loeb and Leopold to "life" imprisonment.