Because the recent kidnaping and murder of the fourteen-year-old son of a Chicago millionaire by two young honor students at the University of Chicago presents itself as a milestone in the evolution of American society at which every one may well pause and look with deep concern, Liberty begins the publication in this issue of an analysis of the remarkable and alarming crime.
The murder, as Miss Forbes' series of three articles will reveal, had its real origin in youthful egoism, in the quest of two rich and precocious boys for new, and always more intense, emotional experiences. In that respect it is probably unique in American criminal annals; and in that respect also it tends to bring into sharp relief certain modern tendencies in education and in morals.
But it has another and even greater significance in American life. Many children are an enigma to their parents; and conversely many parents are an enigma to their children. Neither understands precisely, nor sympathizes to any great extent with, the others' point of view.
Miss Forbes' articles will disclose that it was this barrier of silence and misconception which was to blame, in the first instance, for the shocking tragedy of the Franks boy's death.
— The Editors
(Pictured above: Leopold and Loeb with their lawyer, Clarence Darrow.)
It was on May 22 last that a workman, taking a little used path across a prairie on the southern outskirts of Chicago, by chance looked down into a culvert and discovered the naked body of a boy, jammed head first into the water pipe.
A few hours later the newspapers told the nation that Robert, the fourteen-year-old son of Jacob Franks, a Chicago millionaire, had been murdered.
At the very moment the workman was lifting the boy's body out of the ditch water, Franks, unaware that his son was dead, sat in the well-appointed library of his luxurious home in the fashionable Hyde Park district — sat hunched up over a cigar box which bulged with $10,000 in bills.
He chewed nervously on a cigar, and his eyes, sunk deep in their chalky sockets, alternated between the box and a typewritten letter, held in a trembling hand. Frequently his restless glance veered toward the telephone, which oddly failed to tinkle with the call he expected soon to advise him what to do with the $10,000 in the cigar box. The box was securely wrapped and ready, and the money was in old bills, as had been demanded in the typewritten letter which had reached him a few hours before.
"George Johnson" was the signature the letter bore. It stated that the author had kidnaped Franks' son. It was an unusual letter to come from a criminal; its diction was precise and its punctuation perfect. In the choice of every noun and verb, in every inflection of meaning, it proclaimed itself the work of an educated man.
And Franks, as he waited, with the sweat gathering on his white face, for the signal which would speed him toward his son's recovery was torn between apprehension for the boy's safety and bewilderment concerning the motive for the abduction.
The millionaire, whose time of late years has been devoted principally to the management of his real estate holdings, had begun his career as a pawnbroker in Chicago's happy-go-lucky days a score of years ago, when gambling houses flourished and the town was "wide open."
But Franks had always been known as a "square shooter." He had no known enemies. Even if he had, he reflected as he fumbled with the box of money and sent repeated glances at the telephone, time must have dulled their animus.
Revenge for a fancied wrong could not have prompted his son's abduction. He was sure of that. No, it must have been only the money that "Johnson" and perhaps his confederates were after when, the afternoon before, they had met Bobby on his way home from umpiring a sandlot baseball game at the Harvard School and spirited him away.
Franks in his anxiety was even grateful for that circumstance.
He would pay the money in precisely the manner that the mysterious and cultured "Johnson" had promised soon to direct over the wire. There would be no police interference, no delay — nothing to jeopardize the boy's safety.
But even as Franks eagerly waited the summons that he thought would effect his son's liberation, though it left him $10,000 poorer, the boy was dead. Indeed, he was dead when the kidnapers' well phrased letter had been dispatched.
And these, in stark outline, are the circumstances which surrounded the discovery of what had proved to be perhaps the most appalling deed in American criminal annals.
Just a few feet from the culvert in which the Franks boy's naked body had been thrust a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles later was found.
The ownership of these spectacles, after a number of days, was traced to one of two young honor students at the University of Chicago. Both were boys still in their teens; both were members of rich and respectable families; both were noted as intellectuals. Yet they jointly confessed the double crime.
Near the Franks mansion were two other mansions, each centering about a precocious, pampered son.
Nathan F. Leopold, Jr., nineteen years old and the youngest graduate of the University Chicago, is the son of Nathan F. Leopold, millionaire paper box manufacturer and head of lake shipping interests.
Richard Loeb, 18 years old and the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan, is the son of Albert H. Loeb, multimillionaire vice president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.
The two boys had money and education and leisure. They "lived their own lives" in an upholstered world of good food, fine linen, expensive recreation, and valet service. Bored with every physical comfort and intellectual satisfaction that money, modernism, and egoism could pile up for them, the youths wished to squeeze still drier the sponge of human experience.
So they went adventuring that spring afternoon of May 21.
And, by their own amazing confession, they kidnaped and murdered little Bobbie Franks just to get an emotional "kick" from the ultimate experiment in their laboratory of human reactions.
It is not a pretty story — how they seized the lad while he was on his way home; how they beat him over the head with a cold chisel; how they suffocated him as he lay in the tonneau of a rented automobile; how they stripped him and plunged his body into the culvert pipe; how they buried his shoes and burned the blood stained motor robe; how they mailed the ransom demand to Mr. Franks and returned home to discuss the crime.
The very horror of these details renders them almost incredible. Yet it is not horror that makes the crime principally remarkable. It is the motive which stamps it as incomprehensible.
None of the usual explanations suffices. The deed cannot be laid to insanity, nor to environment, nor lack of education. If irrationality is to be ascribed as the cause, it must indeed be of a rare and subtle sort, because, by every test which society customarily applies, both of the slayers are wise beyond their years.
Neither can it be said that they suffered a major social or financial impediment to happy and successful lives.
Wealth, leisure, friends, admiration, exceptional mental ability, the love of their parents, the benefactions of a harmonious home — they possessed all these. They could hardly ask for more. Yet they turned their backs upon their heritage of good fortune, became the executioners of their neighbor's son, and now stand within the shadow of the gallows.
And so it is only natural as the two youths await trial for murder which promises to be the most bitterly contested court hearing since that of Harry Thaw, that mothers, fathers, educators, and legal authorities all over the United States are inquiring: "What made them do it?"
Was it the courage of an assumed mental supremacy on the part of two prodigies?
Or a surfeit of softness and wealth which isolated murder as the only sensation not yet experienced?
Or a shocking but potentially possible outcome of the modern whirl of living, in which parents don't understand their children and children are baffled by their parents?
Or was their deed the logical but astounding product of precocious but immature minds sick with too much feeding on erotic Sixteenth Century literature?
Somewhere in this category of reasons — somewhere in the experiences which overtook them during what every parent knows as "the dangerous age" — the explanation must lie, because before they became familiar with liberated emotionalism, with Sixteenth Century cults, with erotic impulses and other sinister enterprises of the mind, Nathan and Richard were not much different from the average boy.
Another article will seek an explanation, because there is hardly a parent in the United States who hasn't a "dangerous age" to contend with, who hasn't read of the Franks boy's murder with a barely repressed shiver.
In the beginning Nathan Leopold's main characteristic was brilliancy. At the age of ten he had established a reputation as "that bright boy." It continued in preparatory school. When he went to the University of Chicago he absorbed books and dates with such ease that in June, 1923, when he was eighteen, he received his Ph.B. degree, the youngest scholar ever to be graduated from that institution.
It was the same with that voluntary education which is called culture.
He hurdled the barriers of foreign languages as if they had never existed. Fifteen languages he reads, or speaks, or knows.
"Surely, I can 'get up on any language' in a few weeks," Leopold confided to the bewildered detectives who had him in custody.
Then there was the power of dollars.
From infancy Nathan had understood the value of his father's millions. In his boyhood he and three friends were fined for fishing out of season in a northern lake. The little rich boy paid the fines. Their equipment was confiscated. "Father's money" bought new outfits for all.
Later Nathan wished to shoot birds in a city park. It was against the rule.
"But pull did it," he recalls. "I had the money and I found a way to get a permit." Thus did precocity and license keep pace with each other in the boy's development. And yet nothing especially vicious.
Nothing essentially different, perhaps, between the daily program of young Leopold and that of the 1924 wealthy boy who lives around the corner.
His father's chauffeur to drive him where he willed. A monthly allowance of $125 just for spending money. Luncheon at the best hotels; dinner at the most sophisticated eating places. A winter in Hawaii; a summer wherever he wished. Soft beds, rich food. Life wasn't especially hard for the nineteen year old heir to several millions. But neither was he a sluggard, as his application to his many and abstruse books revealed.
Leopold's recreation was, in fact, an apparently innocent combination of his money and his intellect.
Fond of birds and their ways, he studied ornithology. Presently his father fitted up a complete laboratory for him, with the latest and most expensive of equipment. Deep recesses for stuffed birds. Pedestals for the mounted specimens. Rare books on rare birds.
His scientific detachment teased him along to impale an insect on a pin, just to see how the experiment worked out.
Gradually, easily, the student progressed.
But as adolescence came upon him — "the dangerous age" — his mind began excursions into the mysterious and inviting realm of sex. No young person ever escaped the impulse at the time when nature takes its first step toward the propagation of its species. But young Leopold brought to his investigations an abnormally keen intellectual equipment.
Books which remain closed to the ordinary youth, by reason of lack of sufficient funds to obtain them and scholastic ability to peruse them, opened readily in Nathan's fingers.\
He began to be attracted to the quaint and direful customs of bygone ages, especially the hostile sciences and abnormalities of the Sixteenth Century. Again and again paternal money bought first editions, stacked the library shelves with priceless volumes.
There were tales of strange culls, and young Leopold, for all his conventional Twentieth Century life in the drawing room downstairs, was ardently sympathetic to these mediaeval heroes, as he sat in his private library and perused their offerings.
He read the horrors of Pietro Aretino, the "Scourge of Prinees," whose obscene dialogues, I Ragionamenti (The Reasonings), he says he once wished to translate, for the first time, into English. He had planned to write a preface of praise for the Italian blackmailer, and of justification for his revolting work on perversion.
Then there was Benvenuto Cellini, casting his unwholesome shadow across the recesses of the Sixteenth Century. The young super-intellectual of 1924 admired him as passionately as ever a country lad adored Lincoln.
There were also tales of Jack the Ripper and his ghastly crimes, and of the Fifteenth Century Bluebeard and his torture of boys. Copies of Nietzsche and his philosophy made Leopold say, with superior finality:
"God is fine for the masses, but a bit amusing for an educated man."
Pages of Schopenhauer and his sentences of pessimism. Volumes of Freud and his sex complex. The recently translated "Lą Bas" (Down There), by J. H. Huysmans, with its explanation of Sadism, that morbid disease of the emotions which made, its disciples delight in inflicting pain on others.
And Oscar Wilde had a message for Leopold, a message which he repeated, zestfully, on the Jay of his confession:
"To regret an experience is to nullify if."
These books were as amazingly available for this modern youth as they seem, strangely enough, to be handy for many an adolescent boy and girl today. And this boy, like many another, was curious for a new sensation. So he drank up the mass of sensations that lurked between the covers of these volumes.
But quietly, or else in the company of Loeb. Before his father, with whom he discussed less esoteric subjects brilliantly, he remained silent concerning the facets of his brain which scintillated with sinister lore. And his father, proud of his son's attainment, encouraged him in the development of his precocity.
It is harder to diagram Dick Loeb as he sits in his cell. He looks like somebody's younger brother who has overdrawn his college allowance and is awfully worried about it. He will be nineteen in a few days. In the last month of his seventeenth year he was graduated from the University of Michigan, its youngest graduate.
But he has been grown up ever since he was thirteen.
He never liked it, he maintains, but ever since he was a youngster he has been thrown in with older folks. And he has tried to do as he thought they expected him to do. His precocity developed into wine, then gin. Girls; then, they say, older girls.
Character analysts will point out that Loeb has the social sense which Leopold lacks; that Loeb has a sense of vanity missing in Leopold. Thus Dicky Loeb wished to be thought well of. He desired an older generation to regard him as one of its members. And, like more than one of his spiritual comrades throughout the land, this boy set the pace for his elders in trying to keep up with them.
His father had three times as many millions as Nathan's father. But he lived rather simply. That is, if you except the valet, the fine underclothing, the automobiles, the whirligig of expensive recreations.
Dicky needed a father. Nathan needed a mother. Nathan's mother died three years ago and the children lived in the big house with their father, who admired Nathan's ability. And two years ago Dick's father was stricken with heart trouble. Since then he has been a virtual invalid.
Dicky Loeb's home life may have been too soft; it may have revolved too completely about the slogan, "Youth Will Be Served." But in many respects it was a home atmosphere envied by the mothers and fathers round about. His father is a graduate of an eastern university; his mother is a clubwoman identified with welfare work; the two had established a high place for themselves in the community of prominent Jewish people in Chicago.
Like his friend, Dicky Loeb had his book shelf. On the one side it touched the Sixteenth Century and medięval abnormalities. On the other side, Twentieth Century abnormalities.
Then, in a far corner of the bookcase was a mass of the latest detective stories, charting the most intricate criminal puzzles. These books, plus an alert imagination, caused him to spend hours inventing "crime games," or puzzling our robber games" for the fascination of himself and his chum.
The imagination of youth is active. Youth is also remarkable for the keenness of its curiosity. It is not illogical to suppose that Nathan contributed most to their companionship. His was the more active intellect, his the more profound lore. He tutored Dick in the obscure ramifications of sex, and Dick rendered his quid pro quo by suggesting bizarre enterprises on conduct.
Educated youth, and precocious!
Normal minded folks may prefer to call Leopold, for example, an "educated upstart" rather than an "intellectual giant." But he can't be explained away as easily as that. Not when he absorbs ideas and facts as smoothly as a piece of blotting paper sops up ink.
He's hard to classify.
Just the other night at supper, Leopold, in custody of the police, was giving his opinions on pretty nearly everything.
"You've been called an 'infant prodigy'; but that, is old stuff. Give us something new," a member of the party challenged.
"Why not call Mr. Leopold the modern Thomas Babington Macaulay?" and there was real eagerness in Mr. Leopold's voice as he imitated Cęsar's mode of referring to himself as "Cęsar."
Macaulay, he is perhaps remembering, was the intant prodigy of all times. Before he was eight years old he had written a "Compendium of Universal History." It was of this precocious youth that Lord Melbourne said, seriously, "I wish I were as cocksure of any one thing as Macaulay is of everything."
As cocksure of any one thing as Nathan F. Leopold Jr. is of everything.
That's what gives him a common denominator with many of the normal "average" young egoists here and there in the land.
And the next moment, at this supper party, still in holiday mood, they ask him to find a synonym for "master mind," which they have called him.
Quick as a flash he shoots back, "What about 'Nietzchean colossus'?" And nobody knows whether or not he was in earnest.
But precocity and maturity, as every father and every teacher and every minister knows, are not the same thing.
At fourteen, as Dr. Herman Adler, the noted psychiatrist, points out, a boy may know enough of books to enter college. But that doesn't at all mean that he is ready for all the contacts that a college course might bring to him. All of us have known some very precocious people to do some very foolish things.
Parents and educators have long agreed with Dr. Hugh T. Patrick, the noted alienist, that "the intellect which enables a boy to graduate so early from school is only a part. It may be a small fraction of the total personality."
Many a time, as they puffed rings of smoke in their luxurious apartments in their homes, as they motored to luncheon at an expensive hotel, as they wandered about near the culvert that was to be the burying ground, Leopold and Loeb, the brilliant university students, mused on the problem of life, of sensations to be still experienced, and the great adventure they confidently expected and hoped for. And they doubtless felt that their great adventure would have a termination of pleasure and power.
Every other adventure of theirs — every other enterprise in which they had collaborated to test their emotional reactions — had ended in that happy way. And as they talked they yearned to get a real "emotional kick" out of the life that had already given them so much.
It had given them strange old stories of strange old cults. It had given them philosophy. It had given them learning and its power. It had given them wealth and its power.
Nineteen and eighteen; on top of the world; and nobody had ever given them a mental spanking. Presently there wasn't anything left, they convinced themselves, except the real test, murder.
Perhaps the most law abiding of us, in his moment of whimsical egoism, has mused, "I could do a murder that nobody'd ever catch me in. They'd never get me."
Then the pipe goes out; the fire dies. It's time to go to bed, and the leisurely plotter forgets all about his plan and goes on about his business.
But the boys didn't stop there when they dreamed of a "murder that would never out."
II. The Horn-Rimmed Spectacles, the Automobile, and the Typewriter
In the previous installment of this series Miss Forbes described the circumstances surrounding the kidnaping and murder of Robert Franks, the fourteen year old son of a Chicago millionaire, on the afternoon of May 21. She told how a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles was found near the lonely culvert where the body lay, and how these eyeglasses, together with a letter demanding ten thousand dollars ransom, led to the arrest and confession of two young students at the University of Chicago.
The youths, Nathan F. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, were neighbors of the Franks boy. Both were members of wealthy families and both were of exceptional mental brilliance. Leopold had been the youngest graduate of the University of Chicago, and Loeb had attained a similar distinction at the University of Michigan.
They bore no animus against the Franks boy. Their crime, they said in their confession, was inspired solely by a desire to experience the emotional reactions of a murderer.
Miss Forbes laid the basis for her analysis of this almost incomprehensible act by describing the home lives of young Leopold and Locb — their parents' encouragement of their precocity, their delving into erotic literature, their researches into their own emotions (which the perusal of such literature inspired), and their initial experiments upon animals and birds.
It was the pleasure which they derived from these sinister pastimes that determined them to climax their investigations by taking a human life. The present article opens at a point just after the discovery of the Franks boy's body and depicts the confessed slayers' evident elation at having outwitted the police.
For nine glorious, egoistic, foolish days the two nineteen year old university graduates, Nathan F. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, supremely wealthy, supremely brilliant, neighbors as well as racial kinsmen of the bereaved Franks family, forgot books, studies, and leisure to plunge into the hunt for the kidnaping murderers.
Publication Date: June 28, 1924