Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leopold & Loeb

Alienists Tesitfy: Nathan Leopold

Nathan Leopold
Nathan Leopold

Nathan Leopold was the boy to whom the alienists were most sympathetic. He was the youngest of four sons and acquired the nickname of Babe. He had been a sickly boy, suffering from a number of glandular problems: hyperthyroidism, a calcified pineal gland and related difficulties. He had not been expected to reach an old age.

His mother died from nephritis when he was seventeen. She had never recovered her health after his birth, a fact for which Nathan felt the blame. After his mother's death, his maternal aunt, Mrs. Birdie Schwab, who lived in the neighborhood, managed the household.

Nathan was a genius with an IQ of 210. Supposedly he spoke his first words at four months of age.

There were several governesses, all of whom had their hands full with four boys. Nathan Leopold, Sr., a successful businessman, left the raising of the children to Aunt Birdie and the governesses.

Phrenologist's interpretation of Leopold
Phrenologist's interpretation of Leopold

Nathan went to the Harvard School where he was not particularly popular. His extraordinary intelligence made him feel superior to his classmates, a fact that he impressed upon them repeated. His schoolmates considered him supercilious and conceited.

When he was sixteen, he went to the University of Chicago along with Richard Loeb. When Loeb transferred to the University of Michigan, Leopold followed him. But Richard was involved in his fraternity and kept Nathan at bay. Zeta Beta Tau had accepted Richard with the provision that he not hang around with Leopold and thereby quash rumors of homosexuality. Nathan returned to Chicago and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He began law school at the same university.

The alienists noted that Leopold "does not make friends very easily and he has especial difficulty in getting along with the opposite sex." The only sexual relations he had were with women prostitutes. He had never really been attracted to women and considered them to be inferior intellectually.

His mother's death had a very profound effect on him. He could not reconcile the suffering of his mother with a belief in God and became an atheist after her death.

The alienists considered Leopold to be truthful and frank, compared to Richard. "The patient makes no effort to shift the blame for the crime to his companion, although he insists that he did not desire to commit the crime and derived no special pleasure from it. He feels that his only reason for going into it was his pact of friendship with his companion, and his companion's desire to do it....Since he had a marked sex drive, and has not been able to satisfy it in the normal heterosexual relations, this has undoubtedly been a profound upsetting condition on his whole emotional life...he endeavored to compensate for [his physical inferiority] by a world of fantasy in which his desire for physical perfection could be satisfied. We see him therefore fantasizing himself as a slave, who is the strongest man in the world." The slave fantasies began at the age of five and continued throughout his youth: "In some way or other [in these fantasies]...he saved the life of the king. The king was grateful and wanted to give him his liberty, but the slave refused."

Leopold jumped at any opportunity to discuss his philosophy with the alienists, so they were quite familiar with it when they wrote their report: "In such a philosophy, without any place for emotions and feelings, the intelligence reigns supreme. The only crime that he can commit is a crime of intelligence, a mistake of intelligence, and for that he is fully responsible...In the scheme of the perfect man which he drew up, he gave Dickie a scoring of 90, himself a scoring of 63, and various other of their mutual acquaintances various marks ranging from 30 to 40.


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