Law and Famous Trials

Mata Hari

Who were Leopold and Loeb?

Nathan “Babe” Leopold (1904–1971) and Richard “Dickie” Loeb (1905?-1936) were privileged, well-educated, even brilliant young men who committed what they believed to be the perfect murder. Both were from well-to-do Chicago families. In May 1924 Loeb, then 18 years old, became the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan; he was to go on to postgraduate studies at the University of Chicago. Nineteen-year-old Leopold was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a law student there. The two became friends, and, as testimony would later reveal, in the fall of 1923 became convinced that they could literally get away with murder—that they could plan it, carry it out, and never get caught.

On May 21, 1924, the pair carried out their dastardly plan. Their victim was 14–year-old Bobby Franks, son of a millionaire and cousin to Loeb. Franks’s body was found, as were a pair of eyeglasses belonging to Leopold. The spectacles were traced to him, and he and Loeb (who was part of Leopold’s alibi) were grilled by the police. They stuck to their story for exactly one day. Then Loeb, believing Leopold had betrayed him, confessed. They were charged with murder and kidnapping. Under the counsel of noted defense attorney Clarence Darrow (1857–1938), who had been hired by their families, the pair pled guilty, reducing what would have otherwise been death sentences to life in prison plus 99 years. In 1936 Loeb was killed by a fellow prison inmate. In 1958 Leopold was freed—his sentence had been reduced by Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson in exchange for the inmate’s contribution to testing for malaria during World War II (1939–45). He lived out his life in Puerto Rico, where he married, earned a master’s degree, performed charitable works, and taught.


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