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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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Life after Prison

In 1953, Leopold applied for parole. Not only was his application resolutely rejected, but the parole board ruled against hearing another application for twelve years. However, five years later, in early 1958, the parole board reconsidered Leopold's appeal. In March of 1958, having served more than thirty-three years, Leopold was released from prison.

Later that year, he published an autobiography, Life Plus 99 Years, in which he accepted responsibility for his part in the murder of Bobby Franks and vowed to seek expiation for his crime.

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To avoid harassment by the press, Leopold moved to Puerto Rico. There he obtained a master's degree from the University of Puerto Rico. He continued studying birds and published a book entitled The Birds of Puerto Rico. He also taught mathematics at the University of Puerto Rico, and worked as an x-ray and laboratory technician in a hospital.

Leopold seemed to be attempting to redeem himself by living a life of service to others. As Hal Higdon remarked, in his last years Leopold "wanted to be seen as human."

In 1961, Leopold married Trudi Feldman Garcia de Queveda, a former social worker from Baltimore and widow of a Puerto Rican physician.

On August 29, 1971, Leopold died of heart trouble brought on by diabetes. He left his body to the University of Puerto Rico for medical research.

Leopold and Loeb in Popular Culture

The story of Leopold and Loeb has inspired dozens of works of fiction, theater, and film, as well as numerous nonfiction accounts of their crime and trial. Many of these works sensationalize their subject, presenting Leopold and Loeb as sexual degenerates who killed for the pleasure of it. More recently, however, more sophisticated accounts have offered more accurate and more complex portraits of the criminals and their crime.

Some of the more significant works inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case include Alfred Hitchcock's film Rope (1948); Richard Fleischer's film Compulsion (1959), based on Meyer Levin's best-selling novel of 1956; John Logan's theatrical re-creation of the trial Never the Sinner (1988); Tom Kalin's independent art film Swoon (1992); Michael Haneke's Austrian film Funny Games (1997); Barbet Shroeder's film Murder by Numbers (2002); and Stephen Dolginoff's musical Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story (2003).

Hitchcock's film, based on a 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton, and featuring a screenplay by Arthur Laurents, is only loosely based on the actual events of the Leopold and Loeb case, but its characters, wealthy young men who murder a classmate simply for the experience of it, are clearly modeled on the popular image of Leopold and Loeb.

Because of Hollywood censorship, the film never explicitly identifies Philip and Brandon (as the characters are called) as homosexual, but clearly codes their relationship as that of a gay couple by means of their affluence and mannerisms. Brilliantly acted by young gay actors John Dall and Farley Granger, the couple are depicted as normal young men rather than as grotesque degenerates despite the opening scene in which they strangle their victim. Set in a beautiful New York apartment, the film presents a rare picture of homosexual domesticity in the 1940s.

One reason Rope continues to be fascinating is because it avoids the pitfalls of the treatments that sensationalize homosexuality. Tautly suspenseful, the film concentrates on the couple's boldness--and depravity--in hiding the body of their victim in the room in which they host a dinner party for his fiancee and father, and on their half-baked understanding of Nietzsche.

While the homosexuality of Philip and Brandon is obvious, it is not explicitly identified as the motive for the killing. When the murder is discovered by a former teacher of theirs (Jimmy Stewart), he suggests obliquely that their sexuality may have contributed to their decision to commit murder: "There must have been something deep inside you from the very start that let you do this thing . . . you strangled the life out of another human being who could live and love as you never could."

But, unlike many other treatments of the Leopold and Loeb case, the emphasis of Rope is not on the murder as a sexual killing but as the attempt to commit a "perfect crime," and the linking of the couple's sexuality to their crime is presented tentatively rather than definitively.

The most famous film version of the Leopold and Loeb story is Compulsion. Closely based on the details of the 1924 murder, the film is more of a crime story than an exploration of character, though Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as Arlie Strauss and Judd Steiner are effective in the roles.

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