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social sciences

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Leopold, Nathan F. (1904-1971), and Richard A. Loeb (1905-1936)  
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Leopold & Loeb

Although they had been acquaintances and casual friends since they were boys, Loeb and Leopold did not become close friends until 1920, when Leopold entered the University of Chicago, where Loeb was in his sophomore year.

They soon became involved in an intense and passionate--if somewhat one-sided and tumultuous--affair.

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When Loeb transferred to the University of Michigan for the 1921-22 school year, Leopold followed him to Ann Arbor with plans to transfer there himself. They initially shared lodgings, but soon became the subject of rumors that they were homosexual.

Loeb became involved in his fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau, which accepted him on condition that he not associate with Leopold in order to quash the rumors of homosexuality. Feeling rejected by Loeb, who moved into the fraternity house, and mourning the recent death of his mother, Leopold returned to Chicago bereft and angry.

Although both frequently dated girls, Loeb was decidedly more successful in his heterosexual exploits than Leopold, who desired a more reciprocal and monogamous relationship with Loeb.

Indeed, Leopold was hopelessly in love with the handsome Loeb, who seemed so different from himself in his extroverted nature and easy charm.

The young men were engaged in a battle of wills: Leopold desperately sought Loeb's affection, while Loeb withheld his sexual favors in order to manipulate Leopold to do his bidding.

Central to their relationship was delinquency, justified on Leopold's part by the idea that he and Loeb were Nietzschean supermen who were morally entitled to violate the rules and laws that bound lesser mortals. Leopold's superficial reading of Nietzsche dovetailed conveniently with the fantasies Loeb had indulged since adolescence of being a "master criminal."

Perhaps neither man would have committed murder without their intense involvement with each other. Leopold later wrote that his motive "to the extent that I had one, was to please Dick." Loeb seems to have been motivated primarily by a need to realize his romantic fantasy of criminality and to escape the boredom and ennui he felt in his daily life.

Loeb exploited Leopold's sexual attraction to him as a means of enlisting him as his partner in crime. They agreed to a compact in which Loeb conditioned having sex with Leopold on the latter's assistance in his criminal adventures.

During their undergraduate years, the two committed petty thefts, cheated at bridge, set fires, stole cars, vandalized warehouses, smashed store windows, and engaged in other acts of sociopathology.

On one occasion they burglarized Loeb's fraternity house at the University of Michigan, and they may also have made an unsuccessful attempt to murder a fraternity brother whom they suspected of spreading rumors that they were homosexuals. Although some of their petty thefts had been discovered, they were never reported to the authorities or punished.

The Murder of Bobby Franks

By late 1923, Loeb had come to regard the criminal exploits in which he and Leopold had engaged as frustrating because they were such penny-ante crimes that they rarely even made the newspapers. Loeb decided that they needed to commit a more serious crime, one that would command the attention of the entire city of Chicago.

As early as November 1923, Leopold and Loeb began discussing the kind of crime that would garner the attention Loeb craved. They soon decided to kidnap a child and hold him for ransom. They spent hours over several months planning the details of the venture, devising what they thought would be a fool-proof scheme to demand a $10,000 ransom and retrieve it without being caught.

The murder of their victim was never the centerpiece of their fantasies. Neither Loeb nor Leopold seem to have relished the prospect of killing their kidnap victim, and apparently did not receive any particular "thrill" from the act, but they thought it critical to minimizing their likelihood of being identified as the kidnappers.

The choice of Bobby Franks as their victim was entirely opportunistic. On the afternoon of May 21, 1924, as Leopold drove a rental car around Chicago's South Side, he and Loeb looked for a possible victim. They noticed Loeb's young cousin Bobby Franks walking along Ellis Avenue. The fourteen-year-old Franks was the son of a wealthy businessman who would be able to pay the ransom the kidnappers planned to demand.

It may be that Franks was also deemed a suitable victim because though he lived in Kenwood, his family did not enjoy the social acceptance of the Jewish elite who were their neighbors. His father, Jacob Franks, had earned his fortune from his ownership of a pawnshop rather than in a profession. Moreover, the family had converted from Judaism to Christian Science.

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