This blog is a record of the way The New York Times covered the trial of Nathan F. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb in the case of the murder of Robert Franks in Chicago, Ill. in 1924. The murder of the young Mr. Franks was one that was done for the thrill of the kill, to experience such an adventure by two young men who were considered some of the brightest youths the city had to offer at the time. The purpose of this blog is to look at exactly how Nathan E. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb were framed in the reporting of the investigation of the crime and during the trial of the murder.
On May 21, 1924, Robert Franks was enjoying time with his friends at school. He left the school to go home to his family’s mansion, but he never made it. A frantic search ensued to try and find the young boy. Eventually the Franks family received a call about their young son: the boy had been kidnapped and was safe, if the family agreed to pay a ransom of $10,000 for his return. Jacob Franks, the boy’s father, agreed, and immediately gathered the funds to pay the ransom. As Jacob Franks waited for more instructions, it was during this time that the body of young Robert Franks was identified at the morgue by another family member.
What the Franks family didn’t know was that they were never going to see their young son alive, as he had been killed immediately after being taken on his way home from leaving the school yard. The two perpetrators of the kidnapping and murder of Robert Franks were two young men that were in the same socioeconomic class as the Franks: Nathan F. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb. Leopold and Loeb had planned the crime in advance for months, wanting to commit the perfect crime. Though the two had done extensive planning and made plans for how to get away, their plans were foiled almost as soon as they had been put into motion.
Investigators had managed to pick up on the trail of Leopold and Loeb due to evidence found at the place where Robert Franks body had been dumped. The police eventually were able to link more evidence to the two after they had confessed that they had committed the crime. The two led them to the different points where they had either dumped or destroyed the evidence of their involvement with the crime. Leopold and Loeb were arrested and put on trial for the kidnapping and murder of Robert Franks.
Nathan F. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb were two young men who lived in the same area of Chicago as their victim, Robert Franks. Leopold and Loeb were older, and therefore were seen as acquaintances of the Franks, being about five years older than their victim, as they were between 18 and 19 during the investigation and the trial, while Robert Franks was between 13 and 14.
The two were sons of wealthy men and as such had been given the best education that money could provide. Leopold was finishing his last year studying law at the University of Chicago, and planned on attending Harvard Law School afterwards. Loeb had attended the University of Chicago before transferring and attending the University of Michigan. Loeb was reportedly the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan, as he had graduated from the university at 18.
In the coverage of the investigation by the New York Times, Leopold was often referred to by his status of the son of a millionaire businessman, as well as his status as a student. This was demonstrated by the headlines of articles that were published during the investigation of the crime, such as “Two Students Held in Franks Slaying.” In this particular article, Leopold is described, admittedly by Leopold himself, as “…the ‘youngest graduate of the University of Chicago'”. (20) He was also described as having “presented a manly, straight-forward appearance and an intelligent, quick-thinking mind.” (20) During the course of the investigation, Leopold was reported to have given his full cooperation to the investigators, even going as far as having advised them to not release him until he was completely cleared of suspicion of the crime. (20) It was after both Leopold and Loeb had confessed to committing the crime of kidnapping and killing Robert Franks that Leopold reportedly expressed interest in committing suicide, though he wasn’t bothered at all that he had been identified as one of the kidnappers and murders of the young boy. (19)
The descriptions of Leopold changed over time, as more evidence was compiled and more witnesses came forward. At one point, Leopold was reported to have been happy with the crime fresh on his mind, as well having been a very charming young man. According to a young woman who was friends with Leopold, “He seemed highly amused. He thought the fellow who sent the letter was a great joker.” (6) The articles and news coverage also spoke of Leopold in terms of his relationships with his peers. Leopold was known to snub those he thought were beneath him intellectually. “He took little interest in most of the things that ordinarily attract a student and adopted a sneering attitude toward the university, his courses and his professors.” (3) It was during the trial that Leopold stated that he believed that he would live because he had work to still left to do and that an “easy” judge would see that and only give him life imprisonment, even though the public saw him as a cold blooded killer and called for him to be sent to the gallows. (9)
As time went on, public opinion of Leopold soured. Leopold was called abnormal on multiple occasions by the news coverage, and was called mentally abnormal. He was called a brilliant and precocious youth by psychiatrists in the city who were following the case. One, Dr. Bernard Sachs, noted that precocity in youngsters scared him. “It is likely to mean an unbalanced condition,” he said. (10) Leopold was often referred to as intelligent, or brilliant, though it was latent that his mental stability was questioned by reporters and by those who were affiliated with the trial and investigation. He was also referred to as a smart aleck during the trial by one headline. (18)
In the confessions that were received by investigators, and later released through reporters, Leopold gave the impression of having remained calm and collected during the entire event. He was said to have suggested the crime would be “a means of furnishing excitement and adventure and obtaining money.” (14) Leopold had been seen as a person that would analyze the emotions and reactions of those around him, and thought it was fascinating how lines of thought would bring about different emotions. (6) He was also seen as being a very curious person, and would experiment to see how things worked out. “Leopold is an experimenter in human emotions… He wanted to kill a human being so he could satisfy his curiosity as to ‘what a man who has committed a cold blooded murder thinks about.'” (7)
It was during the trial that the questioning of Leopold’s mental soundness was truly given voice. Leopold’s own lawyers called to attention his “weird mentalities” and that they had committed an “irrational, mad and horrifying crime.” The lawyers also stated that Leopold thought himself to be a superman, and was a victim of his own delusion. (2) Witnesses also called attention to Leopold’s mental soundness, calling him a “victim of phantasies.” (4) After the trial and during his sentencing, Leopold took to joking about his sentence and gambling on it with the reporters (who promptly put it into the paper) and Loeb. (8)
Richard Loeb was often described in similar terms as his counterpart, Nathan Leopold, at least at the beginning. He was describe as being the son of Albert H. Loeb, who was a millionaire and vice president of a reputable company, and a student. (20, 19) It was also noted that he was the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan on multiple occasions. Through his student status at the University of Michigan, Loeb was noted to be a member of a fraternity, and while not terribly active in campus life, he was seen as a normal and active member of his fraternity, the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. He was reportedly well like by his fellow fraternity members. (3)
During his time giving his confessions and alibis, Loeb was reportedly shaken when given news that contradicted his statements. When he was given the chauffeurs statement that contradicted his own, Loeb was reported to have blanched and trembled, as though he was finally afraid of something. (19) Though he was shaken when contradicted, Loeb was steadfast and calm when he was first contacted by the police and was held for further examination by police in the beginning of the investigation of his involvement of the crime. (20)
As the investigation and eventually trial went on, Loeb was painted in a similar light as Leopold, since they were seen to have similar personalities. He was termed a smart aleck in headlines (18) while he was considered brilliant by his educational standards (13). He had his mental soundness questioned by those affiliated with the trial and investigation, while also being pronounced legally sane for the purposes of being tried under law. Loeb was seen as being different in his mental soundness than Leopold, though both were pronounced legally sane, as his was reported to be able to “better distinguish the difference between right and wrong.” (7) He was still also seen as possibly still not being of complete mental soundness by many, just as Leopold was seen, and was hinted at having a unstable condition due to him being precocious. (10)
It was in jail that differences between Leopold and Loeb were staunchly different. While it was reported that in situation Leopold would not do much beyond snub those he thought were stupid, Loeb took to interacting with others in the prison yard and even teaching a highway patrolman the “mysteries of the alphabet,” as well as splitting his meals with his cellmate. (15)
It was noted that Loeb, not Leopold, was the one with “criminal tendencies” due to his indulgence in mysteries and specifically crime mysteries. “Dick read detective stories. He had many such magazines and was fascinated by the mysteries. He was with Babe frequently… He was the one who was interested in police matters.” (6) But even though Leopold was not interested in crime as much as Loeb, the details and extensive planning of the crime were much more of Leopold’s intelligence.
- Bovsun, M. (2014, May 17). 90th anniversary of Leopold and Loeb’s horrific murder. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/thrill-kill-article-1.1796537
- Darrow Ends Plea for Franks Slayers. (1924, August 26). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/08/26/104048580.html?pageNumber=1
- Differed in College Life. (1924, June 2). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/02/104039092.html?pageNumber=3
- ‘Dual Personality’ Of Franks Slayers Bared by Alienist. (1924, August 2). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/08/02/301983232.html?pageNumber=1
- Indict Boy Slayers for Double Crime. (1924, June 6). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/06/104040177.html?pageNumber=1
- Joked With Girl About the Murder. (1924, June 2). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/02/104039087.html?pageNumber=3
- Leopold and Loeb called Abnormal. (1924, June 16). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/16/119039794.html?pageNumber=7
- Leopold and Loeb learn fate today. (1924, September 10). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/09/10/101610121.html?pageNumber=1
- Leopold would live, having ‘work to do’ (1924, July 26). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/07/26/105467159.html?pageNumber=1
- Loeb and Leopold Called Abnormal. (1924, June 2). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/02/104039091.html?pageNumber=3
- Loeb and Leopold Plead ‘Not Guilty’ (1924, June 12). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/12/119039634.html?pageNumber=21
- Loeb and Leopold will Plead Today. (1924, June 11). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/11/104042900.html?pageNumber=23
- Loeb Graduated at 18. (1924, June 1). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/01/101599989.html?pageNumber=2
- Loeb in Confession Accuses Leopold. (1924, June 8). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/08/101601006.html?pageNumber=14
- Put Franks Murder Before Grand Jury; Third Killing Hinted. (1924, June 4). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/04/104699961.html?pageNumber=1
- Slayers of Franks to Plead Insanity. (1924, June 7). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/07/104700342.html?pageNumber=1
- State Ending Case of Franks Slayers with Confessions. (1924, July 30). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/07/30/99453504.html?pageNumber=1
- Terms Franks Slayers Merely ‘Smart Alecks’ (1924, June 17). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/17/104253551.html?pageNumber=33
- Two Rich Students Confess To Killing Franks Boy in Car. (1924, June 1). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/06/01/101599987.html?pageNumber=1
- Two Students Held in Franks Slaying. (1924, May 31). The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1924/05/31/99450417.html?pageNumber=1