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Leopold and Loeb Trial: 1924

"they Killed Him Because They Were Made That Way"

"Why did they kill little Bobby Franks?" asked Darrow. "They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man, something slipped. That happened, and it calls not for hate but for kindness, for charity, for consideration."

Darrow said he was astonished that the prosecution asked the judge for the death sentence. "Your Honor, if a boy of 18 and a boy of 19 should be hanged in violation of the law that places boys in reformatories instead of prisons—then we are turning our faces backward toward the barbarism which once possessed the world. Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys by the neck until they are dead. But you will turn your face toward the past. I am pleading for the future, for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men, when we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man."

As Darrow ended his summation, no sound was heard in the courtroom. Tears were streaming down the face of Judge Caverly.

His verdict, two days later, sentenced Leopold and Loeb each to life imprisonment for murder, plus 99 years for kidnapping. "In choosing imprisonment," he said, "the court is moved chiefly by the age of the defendants."

The prisoners were taken to the Illinois State Prison at Joliet. In 1936, Richard Loeb was slashed to death by a fellow prisoner during an argument. After World War II, Governor Adlai Stevenson reduced Nathan Leopold's original sentence, thus making him eligible for parole, in gratitude for his contribution to testing for malaria during the war. Freed in 1958, Leopold was permitted to serve out his parole in Puerto Rico in order to avoid media attention. There he worked in hospitals and church missions, married, earned a master's degree, and taught mathematics. He died in 1971.

Clarence Darrow was forced to dun the Leopold and Loeb families repeatedly. Of the $100,000 fee agreed to, he collected $40,000 before he died in 1938.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Aymar, Brandt, and Edward Sagarin. A Pictorial Histoty of the WVorlds Great Trials. New York: Bonanza Books, 1985.

Leopold, Nathan F., Jr. Life Plus 99 Years. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958.

Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts On File, 1982.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Leopold and Loeb Trial: 1924 - The Perfect Murder… For Its Thrill, "i Have A Hanging Case", "they Should Be Permanently Isolated From Society"