• U.S.

GRIME: Last of Loeb

4 minute read


On May 21, 1924, two perverted Chicago youths named Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped 14-year-old Bobby Franks, knocked him unconscious, violated him, killed him, poured acid over his face, buried his body in a culvert on a forest reserve. Wealthy South Side Jews, the Leopold, Loeb and Franks families were friends and neighbors. When the boy’s body was found, Loeb, 18, and the University of Michigan’s youngest graduate, called at the Franks home to offer condolences, helped police search for clues. Leopold, a brilliant law student at the University of Chicago and at 18 an ornithologist of repute, continued with his bird-study classes. Ten days after the murder the case suddenly broke when a pair of glasses found at the scene of the crime were identified as Leopold’s, and Loeb and Leopold blandly confessed that they had killed Bobby Franks “for a thrill.” In one of his greatest forensic efforts, Lawyer Clarence Darrow threw his clients on the mercy of the court, explained that they were psychologically corrupt, quoted from Omar Khayyam, got them off with 99-year sentences. This autumn Leopold will have completed twelve years of his term. Loeb completed his last week.

Richard Loeb died after being slashed 56 times with a razor by another convict in a prison washroom at the Illinois Penitentiary at Stateville. Held for murder, Prisoner James Day, a bantamweight larcenist of 23, swore he had killed in self-defense, told as foul a tale as has ever come over prison walls. He said that Loeb was an autocrat behind bars. As head of the prison school, he could parcel out soft jobs to fellow inmates. He ate in his cell and, by transferring sums from their well-stocked bank accounts, he and Leopold could get guards to do their bidding. Prison had only exaggerated Loeb’s un-natural appetites. Day declared Loeb had first given him a job with the prison school, later offered him $20 a week to be his partner in perversion. Refused, Loeb had ordered Day to meet him in a private bathroom, to which Loeb had a key.

In the bathroom, according to Day, Loeb stripped, ordered Day to take off his clothes also, threatening him with a razor. Aware of what was intended. Day claimed he kicked Loeb in the groin, seized the razor, slashed him so terribly that the blood flew in his face. They clawed around the bathroom floor, Loeb finally crawling to the door, unlocking it, staggering naked down a corridor. His family rushed physicians from Chicago. Another convict gave a quart of blood. Once Loeb, Prisoner No. 9305, looked up at his companion in crime Leopold, Prisoner No. 9306. “I think I’m going to make it,” he whispered. He was wrong.

Added to the fact that Illinois’ reigning Democrats are split internally, this unsavory affray threatened to raise a scandal at Stateville equal to the one created two years ago by revelations of vice and perversion at New York City’s Welfare Island Prison (TIME, Feb. 5, 1934). Even non-partisan citizens wondered if it were customary at Stateville to pamper wealthy prisoners, place perverts in positions of authority.

Warden Joseph Ragen blamed it all on his predecessor who, he said, ran the institution so badly that upon his departure “two buckets full of knives” were collected from the cells. As to perversion. Warden Ragen declared by radio: “There’s always such things in prison and always will be. . . What can we do?” Chicago’s Mayor Kelly, out for Governor Horner’s scalp, replied: “There should be more watchfulness on the Dart of the guards , The minds of the prisoners should be kept on a healthy plane.”

Meantime Loeb’s funeral arrangements made fantastic news. A hearse with name plates and licenses covered arrived at Stateville for the body. In Chicago, a force of detectives kept the public away from the funeral parlor, and a cordon of police turned all comers away from the cemetery. Thereupon a rumor swept through the city that Loeb had not been killed at all, that the whole tale of murder and burial was a fabrication by which his family had at last bought his way to freedom. That made Warden Ragen laugh. Said he: “You don’t need to worry any more about Loeb.”

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