It was a crime that shocked the nation: the brutal murder in Chicago in 1924 of a child by two wealthy college students who killed solely for the thrill of the experience. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were intellectuals—too smart, they believed, for the police to catch them. When they were apprehended, state's attorney Robert Crowe was certain that no defense could save the ruthless killers from the gallows. But the families of the confessed murderers hired Clarence Darrow, entrusting the lives of their sons to the most famous lawyer in America in what would be one of the most sensational criminal trials in the history of American justice.
Set against the backdrop of the 1920s—a time of prosperity, self-indulgence, and hedonistic excess in a lawless city on the brink of anarchy—For the Thrill of It draws the reader into a world of speakeasies and flappers, of gangsters and gin parties, with a spellbinding narrative of Jazz Age murder and mystery.
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About the Author
Simon Baatzholds a joint appointment as associate professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
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For the Thrill of It Leopold, Loeb, And The Murder That Shocked Chicago
By Simon Baatz HarperCollins
Copyright © 2008 Simon Baatz
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE KIDNAPPING
Wednesday, 21 May 1924-Thursday, 29 May 1924
This cruel and vicious murder ... this gruesome crime ... this atrocious murder ... the most cruel, cowardly, dastardly murder ever committed in the annals of American jurisprudence. Robert Crowe, state's attorney of Cook Country, 23 July 1924
Everybody knows that this was a most unfortunate homicide. That it is the cruelest, the worst, the most atrocious ever committed in the United States is pure imagination without a vestige of truth.... A death in any situation is horrible, but when it comes to the question of murder it is doubly horrible. But there are degrees ... of atrocity, and as I say, instead of this being one of the worst ... it is perhaps one of the least painful. Clarence Darrow defense attorney, 23 July 1924
Flora Franks glanced at the clock. Already past six o'clock and still no sign of Bobby!. The cook had prepared dinner and the maids were waiting patiently for the family to move to the dining room. Normally she could rely on her eldest sons, Jack, sixteen years old, to keep an eye on his youngerbrother, but Jack lay upstairs in bed, ill with chicken pox; he had not been to school all week. Her daughter, Josephine, seventeen years old, tried to calm Flora's fears-Bobby always played baseball after school; perhaps he had gone to a friend's home for supper after the game.
Jacob Franks agreed with his daughter. Admittedly it was not like Bobby to be late for dinner; but nothing serious had happened to the boy. It was only three blocks from the Harvard School to their house and Bobby was now fourteen years old, old enough to know no to talk to strangers. The boy had probably fallen in with a classmate after the game and had forgotten the time. Still, he was annoyed that his son should be so thoughtless and forgetful, annoyed with Bobby for causing his mother to worry.
Jacob Franks was proud of his four children: Josephine had been accepted at Wellesley College for the fall, and Jack, a junior at the Harvard School, was planning to attend Dartmouth College. Jacob Jr. was the youngest child, still a student in grade school, but already showing signs of academic promise. Bobby, the darling of the family, was a bit of a scamp who got into his share of scrapes at school, but he was, nevertheless, his mother's favorite. She loved his assertiveness, his independent spirit, his ambition; he had already announced to the family that he too would go to Dartmouth and then would study for the law. No doubt he would keep his promise: the principal of the Harvard School, Charles Pence, had reported that Bobby was a precocious child. Only a freshman at the school, he was a member of the class debating team. He was a popular boy at school, a keen tennis player and an avid golfer; he had joined with some other boys in establishing a reading group, and only a few days earlier, he had won a debate on capital punishment, arguing for a link between criminality and mental illness-"most criminals have diseased minds"-and protesting against the right of the state "to take a man, weak and mentally depraved, and coldly deprive him of this life."
For Flora and Jacob Franks, their four children were the capstone of their lives. As a young boy, Jacob Franks had lost his own father. His mother had run a clothing store and then a pawnshop in Chicago, and in 1884 Jacob had set up in business for himself, opening a pawnshop on Clark Street south of Madison Street. It was a good location and an auspicious time-gambling was then unregulated in the city and there were at least a dozen gaming houses within a block of Jacob Frank's pawnshop.
Jacob soon built up a loyal clientele-the gamblers could rely on Jacob to lend them as much as ninety percent of the value of the diamonds, watches, and rings that they pawned-and once their luck turned, they could easily redeem their property. Michael (Hinky Dink) Kenna, Democratic alderman of the First Ward and one of the most powerful politicians in Chicago, remembered Jacob Franks as an honest businessman who earned the loyalty of his customers: "He ran the business strictly on the square and he had the respect of every man who ever made a loan.... He knew who he was dealing with, and for that reason would take a chance."
Chapter Two THE RELATIONSHIP
Their criminal activities were the outgrowth of an unique coming-together of two peculiarly maladjusted adolescents, each of who, brought into relationship a long-standing background of abnormal life. Psychiatrists' Report for the Defense (Joint Summary) [July 1924]
[Nathan] was very egocentric. Practically all the time I was with him, in ordinary social conversation, he attempted by any sort of ruse possible to monopolize the conversation. It didn't make any difference what was being said or what was being talked about, he always attempted to get the conversation revolving around him so he could do most of the talking.... He thought his mentality was a great deal superior to the ordinary person. Arnold Maremount, student at the University of Chicago, 7 August 1924
[Richard smoked very much, constantly.... We were in the habit of seeing him drunk a good deal.... We would be sitting in the house playing a game of bridge and Dick would walk in and one or two of us would say he is drunk again and one or two of us would say no he is not. Half of the time it would work out he was drunk. Theodore Schimberg, student at the University of Chicago, 8 August 1924
Nathan Leopold was just fifteen years old; but already he felt that he was passing into adulthood, gratefully slipping out of his adolescence, gladly discarding his high school years. That month-October 1920-he was to begin his freshman year at the University of Chicago.
The university had been in existence less than three decades, but to Nathan it seemed to have been around forever. He had grown up in its shadow-the Leopold house was just then blocks from the campus. He had often walked past the imposing, monumental Gothic buildings, constructed of gray Bedford limestone, that stretched south from 57th Street to the Midway. There was much to admire about the campus: Mitchell Tower-reminiscent of the tower of Magdalen College, oxford-with its august presence on 57th Street signaling the approach to the university; Cobb Gate, linking the anatomy and zoology building, the fantastic gargoyles on its inclines representing the upward progress of the classes; the student dormitories with their red-tiled roofs, ornamented doorways, and heavyset bay windows; and Harper Library, a massive, brooding building looking out over the green fields that stretched south of the Midway.
The architects had constructed the campus in the late Gothic style. It might have seemed anachronistic to build in Chicago-the most modern of American cities-a university that resembled the medieval colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, but there was a pleasing regularity about the campus. Everything was in proportion; nothing was too large or too small; and the Gothic style allowed for an astonishing diversity of embellishment and ornamentation. Innumerable gargoyles studded every building, peering down on the students making their way to class; crockets and finials-elaborate decorations shaped in the form of foliage-ran hither and thither over the building, stretching across the tops of doorways and around the arches of bay windows; and the generous use of stained and leaded glass in the windows provided an essential ingredient to the riot of medievalism that constituted the University of Chicago.
Already-even before his matriculation-the university dazzled Nathan Leopold with its promises of future achievement: academic triumphs in the classroom, acclaim from the professors, scholastic awards and honors. His mother-his gentle, loving, affectionate mother, Florence-had extracted a promise from him, willingly given, that he would make Phi Beta Kappa before graduation. Nathan intended to keep his promise-and perhaps, also, he hoped, he would attain what had almost always eluded him in high school: companionship and friends.
For Nathan Leopold-fifteen years old, five feet three inches tall, weighing 110 pounds, with a sallow complexion, gray eyes, thick black hair, and a curiously asymmetrical face that gave him an evasive appearance-had always been a lonely and unhappy child.
Excerpted from For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Part 1 The Crime
1 The Kidnapping 3
2 The Relationship 27
3 Planning the Murder 54
4 The Murder 72
5 The Ransom 91
6 The Interrogation 109
7 The Confessions 131
Part 2 The Attorneys
8 Clarence Darrow 165
9 Robert Crowe 197
Part 3 The Courtroom
10 The Indictment 227
11 The Scientists Arrive 245
12 Mitigation of Punishment 280
13 Psychiatrists for the Defense 305
14 Psychiatrists for the State 339
15 Closing Statements 358
16 Sentencing 391
17 The Aftermath 410
Leopold and Loeb in Fiction 449
Author's Note 453
Illustration Credits 537
What People are Saying About This
“The story of the Jazz Age thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb has never been told in so gripping a style. A significant work of historical scholarship that reads like a page-turning thriller, Simon Baatz’s masterly book now stands as the definitive account of this legendary case.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is very well-done historical writing. The author did a great job of making clear the perception of things like psychiatry, biology, and causation of the time period, which necessarily must inform our understanding of what happened and the outcome of the trials. For instance, I found it very disconcerting to read the testimony of the psychiatrists describing the defendants who then them diagnosed with "paranoid psychosis" when they are so clearly, nearly word-for-word, describing what we today would call "anti-social personality disorder" - but the concept wasn't even around yet. It's also interesting to see how differently (on both ends - the prosecution's and the defense's) culpability regarding mental illness was understood. Not to mention the interesting descriptions of the endocrine system! I was interested in this as a piece of Chicago history (and as a fan of the movie Rope) but it was much better than I expected, especially after my last true-crime-history disappointment.
Those pages which cover the Psychiatrists and the Scientists are way too long and boring. The book could have been shortened by 100 pages.
The book was very good, the writing was excellent. However it took me along time to get through this book and as someone who loves to read and goes throught a book in 2 days, this was slow going. I thought that the information could have been given in a lot less pages. Over all though it was pretty good.
extremely well researched chilling re-telling of the infamous 1924 Chicagoland murder that shocked the nation. Baatz takes the reader through every detail of the cold blooded murder of 14 year old Bobby Franks by local college students Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold. Along the way, Baatz leaves no detail unaddressed, including how the "highbrow" kiilers were caught, thier motive, how clever police work got confessions , and thier subsequent trial/defense by Clarence Darrow, the most famous defense attorney of his day. One of the issues Baatz addresses that I found very interesting is: what was the true relationship between Loeb and Leopold. Way too controversial for audiences of the 1920's, the real story can now be told-Baatz clearly links thier homosexual relationship as the underlying cause for the murder