Born in Chicago in 1905, Richard Loeb skipped several grades in school and was accepted to the University of Chicago at age 14. There he grew close to another young prodigy named Nathan Leopold, who became his partner in crime. In 1924, the two murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks, who was a cousin of Loeb's. The duo were caught more than a week later and, following a high-profile trial, eventually sentenced to life in prison. Loeb was killed by another inmate in 1936.
Background and Early Life
Murderer Richard Albert Loeb was born on June 11, 1905, in Chicago, Illinois. The third of four sons of a wealthy Jewish lawyer who became a senior executive at Sears, Roebuck & Company, Loeb was extremely intelligent and skipped several grades at school, thanks in part to the oversight of a disciplinarian nanny.
Outwardly an affable, popular child, Loeb also showed a more sinister side to his personality. He became an accomplished thief early on and readily resorted to fabrications when caught. He also developed an elaborate fantasy life as a master criminal, and his interests evolved from minor family theft to shoplifting, vandalism and arson.
Involvement With Leopold
Loeb was admitted to the University of Chicago at age 14, where he eventually befriended Nathan Leopold, another prodigy from the Chicago suburbs. In 1921, Loeb transferred to the University of Michigan. Two years later, though having a spotty academic record and suffering from alcoholism, Loeb became the youngest graduate in the school's history at age 17.
Upon returning to the University of Chicago for graduate work, Loeb reunited and developed a deeper connection with Leopold. The two were an excellent match psychologically: The brilliant but socially inept Leopold was enthralled by the handsome and vivacious Loeb, who in turn found an excellent alter ego for his fantasy world. Their relationship became sexually intimate. Loeb continued to embroil Leopold in a number of different criminal pursuits, becoming increasingly obsessed with the development and commission of the "perfect crime" that would make headlines.
Bobby Franks Murder
On May 21, 1924, Loeb and Leopold put their plan into action: They obtained a rental car, obscuring its license plates, and drove to the Kenwood neighborhood in search of a convenient victim. By happenstance, they settled on 14-year-old Bobby Franks, who was Loeb's cousin and believed to be walking home.
Lured into the car, Franks was hit over the head with a chisel repeatedly and gagged before being hidden under blankets in the backseat. After burning his face and genitals with acid to obscure his identity, they deposited Franks's body in a culvert at nearby Wolf Lake. Loeb and Leopold then mailed a ransom note to the boy's father, Jacob.
Trial and Sentencing
Unbeknownst to Leopold and Loeb, Jacob Franks had contacted the police, and Bobby Franks's body was found by a laborer and identified before the ransom was delivered. A distinct pair of eyeglasses were also discovered near the body and traced to Leopold. The two young men were interrogated by police and eventually confessed to the murder, although Loeb claimed that Leopold had struck the fatal blow on Franks, while Leopold insisted the opposite was true.
With the state's attorney of Cook County, Robert Crowe, seeking the death penalty, the families of Loeb and Leopold hired prominent criminal defense lawyer Clarence Darrow to represent their sons. Choosing to enter a guilty plea in order to remove a jury from the proceedings and have a judge determine the verdict, Darrow sought to stave off the death penalty by portraying his clients as "mentally ill," their actions driven by traumatic events from childhood.
With the public closely following the details of the "crime of the century," both the prosecution and defense paraded a series of leading psychologists to the witness stand to make their case. Darrow gave an impassioned speech as part of his closing remarks, which lasted for a whopping three days and may have helped sway the judge: On September 10, 1924, Leopold and Loeb were spared the death penalty, each receiving a life sentence plus 99 years for the kidnapping and murder.
While serving his sentence in Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois, Loeb was viciously attacked and killed on January 28, 1936, by inmate James Day, who claimed that Loeb had made sexual advances on him. Leopold endured more than 33 years in prison, earning his parole in 1958.
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