ntellectually gifted by morally stunted, the pampered teenage sons of two wealthy Hyde Park families, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold lived a secret life of petty crime. Loeb did it just for kicks, but Leopold used these adventures as a binding agent to secure sex with Loeb.
To cement their relationship, they planned what they imagined would be the "perfect crime": murdering a kidnap victim while still collecting a ransom, but covering their tracks so thoroughly they would never be implicated. On May 21, 1924, using a rented car, they picked up 14-year-old Bobby Franks on his way home from school, bludgeoned him to death, and stuffed his body into a drainpipe in a culvert near Wolf Lake. But they left Bobby's feet sticking out of the pipe.
The body was soon discovered, as was a pair of eyeglasses nearby which the police traced to Leopold. Other evidence accumulated, and the pair confessed to murder and kidnapping as well as their sexual relationship. This led to lurid psychiatric testimony and newspaper coverage that also darkly pondered their fabulous wealth, superior intelligence, and Jewish heritage. America's most famous defense attorney, their Hyde Park neighbor Clarence Darrow, pleaded them guilty to avoid trial by an enraged jury and asked Judge John Caverly for what would now be called a mitigation hearing. Darrow's extended argument against the death penalty is a classic of legal literature.
Each defendant got life plus 99 years. In 1936 a fellow inmate murdered Loeb in the shower room: The Chicago Daily News said he had “ended his sentence with a proposition.” Leopold was paroled in 1958 and then settled in Puerto Rico as a hospital technician, married a local woman, took a degree in social work, and continued the ornithological studies he had pursued since childhood. He died of natural causes in 1971.
From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.