Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leopold & Loeb

Enter Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow

The story of Leopold and Loeb dominated the newspapers. The Tribune explained why: "In view of the fact that the solving of the Franks kidnapping and death brings to notice a crime that is unique in Chicago's annals, and perhaps unprecedented in American criminal history, the Tribune this morning gives to the report of the case many columns of space for news, comment, and pictures.

"The diabolical spirit evinced in the planned kidnapping and murder; the wealth and prominence of the families whose sons are involved; the high mental attainments of the youths, the suggestions of perversion; the strange quirks indicated in the confession that the child was slain for a ransom, for experience, for the satisfaction of a desire for "deep plotting," combined to set the case in a class by itself."

The public was aghast at the crime and the newspapers demanded swift retribution. "It should not be allowed to hang on, poisoning our thoughts and feelings. Every consideration of public interest demands that it be carried through to its end at once," wrote the Herald and Examiner.

The story created tremendous anguish in the Jewish community. It had been unimaginable that such a crime could have been committed by the brilliant, cultured, pampered children of the Jewish social elite. These families represented society's role models for success. Albert Loeb was a millionaire executive in charge of Sears, Roebuck's prosperous mail-order business. Nathan Leopold, Sr., was a wealthy shipping and manufacturing executive. Both men were highly respected members of the community. Both were sympathetic figures. Albert Loeb, recovering from a serious heart attack, and Nathan Leopold, an elderly invalid, trying to cope with the horror that their sons had thrust upon them and their families.

Meyer Levin noted that "there was one gruesome note of relief in this affair. One heard it uttered only amongst ourselves a relief that the victim too had been Jewish. Though racial aspects were never overtly raised in the case, being perhaps eclipsed by the sensational suggestions of perversion, we were never free of the thought that the murderers were Jews."

Once the ink on the confessions was dry, Crowe took the boys on a search for evidence. The clerk was found who sold Leopold the hydrochloric acid that he had poured on Bobby Franks' body to disguise his features and circumcision. The chisel that killed the boy was retrieved from a man who had seen it thrown from the car. Bobby's shoes that had been discarded on the side of the road were found after a long search. etc.

Crowe was very satisfied with the evidence they found that day. "We have the most conclusive evidence I've ever seen in a criminal case," he announced.

During the day, Jacob Loeb, Richard's uncle, and Benjamin Bachrach, a successful attorney, tried to find out where the boys were being held, but they were not told. The two boys were in desperate need of an attorney.

Robert Crowe (l), Benjamin and Walter Bachrach, and Clarence Darrow (r)
Robert Crowe (l), Benjamin and Walter Bachrach, and Clarence Darrow (r)

Later that evening, Jacob Loeb went to the apartment of the one of the country's most brilliant lawyers. Loeb got the sixty-seven-year-old Clarence Darrow and his wife out of bed. Darrow had made a name for himself championing the underdog and fighting capital punishment.

"Get them a life sentence instead of death," Loeb begged for his nephew and Leopold. "That's all we ask. We'll pay anything, only for God's sake, don't let them hang."

Darrow took the case, not for the fee, but by defending these two boys, he had a unique opportunity to combat the death penalty. This case was getting so much publicity around the country and the world that it was a rare chance for him to be widely heard on his capital punishment soapbox.


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