Leopold and Loeb: Clarence Darrow goes too far, etcetera

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Leopold and Loeb were infamous teenage killers of the 1920’s.  May 21, 1924 to be exact.  They kidnapped and viciously murdered a fourteen-year-old boy named Bobby Franks. Richard Loeb (Dickie) was eighteen years old; Nathan Leopold (Babe)  was nineteen.  Much has been made of the fact that Leopold had an I.Q. of 200.  Big deal!

Anyway, these snotty University of Chicago thugs were rich and they hired Clarence Darrow.  “The mad act of mad boys,” Darrow described the murder.  He used the word “boys” and “children” quite a lot during the trial to refer to his clients.  Darrow’s two hour summation was brilliant except for a tiny detour where he intimated that Bobby Franks may not have grown up to be such a swell guy.

Darrow: “Mr. Savage told us that Franks, if he had lived, would have been a great man and have accomplished much. I want to leave this thought with your honor now.  I do not know what Bobby Franks would have been had he grown to be a man.  I do not know the laws that control one’s growth (blah, blah) …but I can say– perhaps, the boy who died at fourteen did as much as if he had died at seventy, and perhaps the boy who died as a babe did as much as if he had lived longer. Perhaps, somewhere in fate and chance, it might be that he lived as long as he should.”

In truth, that doesn’t sound as bad as it did when I first read it.  I still think it’s a big misstep, though, and that the prosecution could have exploited it.  But the prosecution assumed the facts made their case a slam dunk.

Darrow saved L&L’s entitled little asses from the death penalty.

Sometimes– because of the alliterative names, people get their Leopolds and their Loebs mixed up.  You’d assume from the name Leopold that he was the “take charge” guy and that squishy-earlobe-sounding Loeb was the go along guy when really it was just the opposite.  Of course L&L were equally rotten– Nietsche-worshiping, Raskolnikov-squared “Supermen” who considered themselves above, way above, any stupid suburban laws of civility.  However, Loeb was the psychopath whereas Leopold was the guy in love with a good-looking psychopath and behaving accordingly.

Mainly, they thought they were smarter than everybody else in the whole world.

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The arrogant guy from my old office thought he was smarter than everybody else too.  He was much too fond of the word “augmentation”.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with that word but it should never be used more than three times in a speech.

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A few years ago, I watched a documentary on the public television channel about Leopold and Loeb.  Loeb was attacked in jail by a psychopath with a straight razor and died in 1936.  In 1958, Leopold was paroled.  Upon his release from prison he went to a picnic where a woman asked him to hold her baby for a moment.  When she looked back at him again he was crying.  Was it because somebody was trusting a guy like him to hold a baby?  Or was it that the enormity of his past crime was sinking in?

After prison, Leopold moved to Puerto Rico.  He married a woman named Trudi in 1961.  She was American– a social worker turned florist.  She was also the widow of a doctor, Garcia de Queveda.  She met Leopold at a Passover seder.  Leopold taught math, wrote his bird books and performed many good works at the Puerto Rican hospital where he was laboratory technician.  He was popular with kids.  He was known as “Mr. Lollipop”.**

Here is one thing, though.  I swear I read this in a newspaper someplace.  Which doesn’t mean it’s true.  I know that.  Leopold died of a heart attack August 30, 1971 and–  his wife Trudi had no clue her husband was one of the stuck up scoundrels who committed the Crime of the Century!  She knew nothing at all until he died and the media revisited all the gory details of the murder.  Isn’t that something?  If it’s true.

There are so many movies about widows who discover their husbands were two-timing them.  Who cares about that crap?  The de rigueur restaurant scene where the wife and mistress shout it out– tears, rage, jealousy, guilt.  At the end of the movie the women bond and realize it was the husband who was the real scumbag here.  You go, girls!

Why doesn’t Mrs. Leopold have a movie?

She’d rather not think about it, I guess.

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The mean guys in my old office were more like “Loeb and Loeb”.

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MOVIES, PLAYS, AND LITERATURE INSPIRED BY THIS AWFUL CRIME

1) NEVER THE SINNER, stage play, by John Logan.  Premiered at Chicago’s Stormfield Theatre in 1985.  Terry McCabe directed.  Denis O’Hare as the squeamish Leopold, Brian Stillwell as the frightening Loeb.  In a revival of the play at Victory Gardens in 1995, Dennis Zacek portrayed Clarence Darrow.  The title of the play comes from a Clarence Darrow quotation.  “I can see sin in all the world.  And I may well hate that sin, but never the sinner.”  This quote is very similar to what Lawrence of Arabia’s mom said while she hit him with a belt. (see Forgiveness post.)

2) ROPE, 1929 British stage play, by Patrick Hamilton– of “Angel Street” (Gaslight) fame.  For  Broadway production, renamed ROPE’S END.  Made into an Alfred Hitchcock movie with James Stewart as a prep school professor, Farley Granger (the weak killer) and John Dall (the psycho killer).   In color but shot in 1948.

3) SWOON, British movie directed by Tom Kalin.  With Daniel Schlachet (psycho) and Craig Chester (weak one).  In b&w but shot in 1992.

4) COMPULSION, a 1959 movie, directed by Richard Fleischer  from a really extremely thinly veiled novel by Meyer Levin.  Dean Stockwell (weak one), Bradford Dillman (psycho), and Orson Welles as Jonathan Wilk a.k.a silky-voiced Clarence Darrow.

5) THELMA & LOUISE, a 1991 movie directed by Ridley Scott.  With Geena Davis (Thelma– weak housewife), Susan Sarandon (Louise– waitress) and Brad Pitt as a hunky pickpocket.

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**”He was known as Mr. Lollipop” is a direct quote from journalist Richard Jerome.  “Playing for Keeps,” June 14, 1999, PEOPLE magazine.  This article is also where I saw that Leopold met his wife at a Passover seder.

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Leave a comment if you are so inclined.

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2 thoughts on “Leopold and Loeb: Clarence Darrow goes too far, etcetera

  1. Greg Helm

    Trudi did know her husband was the same Nathan Leopold that had committed the murder. He kept a picture of Clarence Darrow in their apartment. He also kept a picture of Richard Loeb on the wall. She knew very well who these people were and why he displayed their pictures.

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    • Thank you, Greg Helm. It did seem odd when I read that in the newspaper. But I was intrigued by the idea of his wife being unaware of the murder. While I read later that he had Darrow’s picture up in the apartment– I still wasn’t positive that meant Trudi absolutely knew. Thank you for clearing that up. I appreciate your writing in.

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