Leopold and Loeb

Intellectual Thrill Killers
A New Crime Library Find

The last post featured instructions for mining content from the Crime Library and gave links to three favorite articles from the discontinued but accessible website. This week, I’d like to concentrate on a fourth Crime Library gem, Leopold and Loeb.

Loeb (left) was considered the handsome, confident half of the pair, while Leopold was described as socially awkward

Ninty years before affluenza, the trial of these privilaged 19-year-old murderers captivated the public.

Richard Loeb and Nathan Lepold both finished high school by age 15 and came from fabulously wealthy families. Loeb’s father was a lawyer and Sears Roebuck executive, and Leopold’s owned a box-manufacturing businesses.

As sometimes happens when you have teenagers with high IQs and few responsibilities, Leopold and Loeb latched onto the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. The two decided that they fit the German philosopher’s definition of infallible supermen unfettered by conventional morality.

To prove it, in 1924, Leopold and Loeb plotted to carry out a murder with impunity. They kidnapped Bobby Franks, 14, a cousin of Loeb’s who lived in Kenwood, the same Chicago neighborhood of mansions that the duo called home.

The killers lured Bobby Franks into their rental vehicle by telling him they wanted to talk about tennis

They suffocated Bobby and secreted his body in a culvert, then sent a note to his parents soliciting $10,000 in exchange for his safe return. (Leopold and Loeb didn’t need the money; the demand was part of their game.)

But Bobby’s body was discovered and identified before the Franks paid any ransom. The killers had left one of his limbs protruding from the culvert. Investigators traced a pair of eyeglasses accidentally dropped at the scene to Leopold.

At first, Leopold and Loeb tried out some phony alibis, most notably that they had picked up a couple of girls (it was the Roaring Twenties, after all) and were cruising around with them at the time of the murder.

Then the two suspects cracked, admitted to the crime, and shocked the world by explaining the methodology and reasoning behind it.

Newspaper readers feasted on the story of Loeb, who received a monthly allowance of $250 and had tennis courts in his backyard, and Leopold, who had a chauffer and, despite his young age, was an authority on ornithology.

Loeb’s parents engaged Clarence Darrow to defend their son, and he persuaded the jury that the teenagers were undeserving of capital punishment. A snippet from Darrow’s closing statement:

“It was the senseless act of immature and diseased children, as it was; a senseless act of children, wandering around in the dark and moved by some motion, that we still perhaps have not the knowledge or the insight into life to thoroughly understand.”

After his release, Leopold was law-abiding. He wrote an autobiography, “Life Plus 99 Years

Both received life sentences. Loeb promptly died at the hands of a fellow inmate in Stateville Prison in Joliet, Ill., but Leopold got out alive after 33 years.

Writer Marilyn Bardsley’s 25-page Crime Library piece on Leopold and Loeb is a nice read and includes many vintage photos of the cast of characters as well as accoutrements such as the Hammond Multiplex typewriter used to compose the ransom note. RR

The Crime Library Unearthed

Befriend the WayBack Machine
Using Internet Archive to dig up a gem

A previous post mentioned a favorite true-crime website that was itself killed off.

The Crime Library had an advantage few blogs can hope for: corporate ownership. In other words, a total budget way larger than the $52.95 a year I pay Host Gator for True Crime Truant.

The website logo lives on. It’s just harder to find

TruTV provided the Crime Library with editorial staff, IT people, and designers — who all got paid for their work. (What’s up with that?)

But what Corporate America gives, it can also take away.

Marginalized. According to a Reddit post by a former Crime Library editor, TruTV began to turn away from its true-crime roots and instead produce shows like Impractical Jokers.

The network got less comfortable with having serious murder-related subject matter as part of its brand, and gradually cut back on Crime Library’s resources until one day it sentenced the site to death.

It’s a shame because long-form true-crime pieces written for websites are in short supply.

Excavating. Fortunately, all the Crime Library content still exists online; it’s just a bit more work to dig it up. The Internet Archive makes it available via the WayBack Machine. Try following these steps:

1. Go to archive.org

2. In the “WayBackMachine” field at the top center of the page, type in “crimelibrary.com.” Hit return.

3. Wait patiently for it to load.

4. This is the step that can throw you off. You’ll see a horizontal time line of years above a month-by-month calendar. Scroll right to 2014, and click on it. Next, click on the blue circle around January 1 on the calendar.

5. It’ll take you to a Crime Library landing page with one or more promoted stories accompanied by photos; ignore this content. (It’s from the site’s later days, when corporate owners were pushing the editors to create lightweight items.)

6. On the righthand side of the page, use Categories to click through lists of older, more substantial pieces.

Some good ones:

• An American Tragedy: The Murder of Grace Brown tells the true story behind Theodore Dreiser’s novel An America Tragedy and the movie A Place in the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift: In 1906, a social-climbing young executive named Chester Gillette killed his pregnant working-class girlfriend, Grace Brown. The highly publicized trial was a precursor to the Lindbergh and OJ circuses.

Dr. Jeff MacDonald is about the Mr. Everything That’s Great About America surgeon convicted of the 1970 murders of his wife and two small children. The story remains relevant because MacDonald still has advocates working to get him out of prison. Crime Library writer John Boston argues the case for his innocence, a none-too-popular stance since the book Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss pretty much locked him in as guilty in the minds of the public. But it’s definitely worth reading the Crime Library’s take on the matter, particularly since MacDonald does have a few heavy hitters, including New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm, on his side.

John List, the accountant who executed his family in 1971, has never stopped fascinating true crime fans. He left a note explaining that he shot his mother, wife, daughter, and two sons to save their souls. Then he disappeared for two decades. His gigantic Victorian house in Westfield, New Jersey, remained empty, spooking neighborhood kids (scavenger hunts would require players to retrieve something from the property) and then mysteriously burning down.  The Crime Library piece by Katherine Ramsland provides details I never read or saw anywhere else, including in the Forensic Files episode “The List Murders.”

Please leave a comment to let me know whether you find the WayBack Machine instructions useful  and whether you discover any other treasures in the Crime Library; there are surely many more to be recovered and reexamined. Cheers.RR


True Crime Truant will off for Christmas next week, back with a post on December 29.