Why Do Children Kill Children? Part III

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

The year was 1924, the town was Chicago. Three young men’s lives were changed because two young adults killed a young man by the name of Bobby Franks, age 14 at the time of his death. The killers were Nathan Leopold, age 19 and Richard Loeb, age 17. Like Loeb, Leopold came from a wealthy background. His father was a box manufacture and Loeb’s father a retired Sears Roebuck vice-president.

At an early age Loeb was fascinated with crime. He was so fascinated with crime he read as many crime novels that he could. He delved into to how to commit crimes; he learned how to plan them and execute them; and he moved from planning crimes to executing the crimes. He was highly intelligent graduating from the University of Michigan. The youngest graduate ever at the University.

Leopold had taken a different route than Loeb, but the two of them together was like placing two sticks of dynamite and lighting the fuse. Leopold and Loeb became very close friends and lovers. At the time of his arrest, Leopold was in law school at the University of Chicago. He was obsessed with ornithology and philosophy. He was recognized as the leading authority on the Kirtland Warbler, an endangered song bird.

There was conflict in their relationship. It was up and down and at one point Leopold thought about killing Loeb. The enormous pressures, the life style and the issue of confidentiality drove both of them to act out towards one another.

In planning the big heist, Leopold and Loeb had decided to kidnap a wealthy child and demand a ransom. However, the plan involved killing the child after they had received the ransom. The plan was to have authorities throw out the money from the ransom on a moving train at a specific location.  The problem with the plan was Bobby Frank’s body was located in the brush and the ransom demands were not met. Earlier Leopold and Loeb sent a letter to the Franks family requesting $10,000.00, but after hearing Bobby’s body had been located the ransom was not paid.

All plans have their weak areas and the possibility of making mistakes. Upon hiding the Bobby Franks’ body, Leopold’s glasses fell out of his pocket. The glasses had a special hinge on them and the glasses were tracked back to a Chicago optometrist, who tracked them back to Leopold.

The police then arrested Leopold and Loeb. The perfect crime had taken place, but the perfection did not consider all of the possibilities. The perfect crime rarely occurs because the perpetrator generally can’t and doesn’t consider all of the possibilities. The glasses falling out of Leopold’s pocket was seen as God working in the case.

Clarence Darrow and Benjamin Bachrach were hired by the two families to represent the two young men. Immediately the pleas of not guilty were changed to guilty and Darrow and Bachrach prepared for the second phase of the trial, sentencing, which exposed Leopold and Loeb to the possibility of death.

The judge, John R. Caverly, heard from four psychiatrists and the sentencing lasted just over a month. The decision by Judge Caverly was that Leopold and Loeb were sentenced to life in prison. 

So the tragedy of three young men came about because two young men were obsessed with the structure and acting out of a planned kidnap and murder. In evaluating and examining the crime, it is possible that Leopold and Loeb acted out because they believed they could. Maybe because they believed they were too intelligent and planning the crime, which minimized the possibility of being identified and arrested.

Leopold and Loeb lived a lavish life and were pursuing a life of status in their community. The problem for both young adults was their unwillingness to accept what their fathers had given to them and provided for them. The education they had received throughout their lives made them the monsters they became. Learning from authors who wrote about crimes, made them difficult young men to deal with.

They treated their friends and especially women with disrespect, believed they were superior to others and cruel. Narcissistic and egocentric behavior made them strong, invincible and arrogant. They simply were not nice young men and were a danger to those they had relations with and to the community they lived in.

This outrageous behavior allowed them to have the confidence and feeling of invincibility that made them the murderers they turned out to be. However, no matter how invincible one may believe they are, they are human and mistakes are just something that happens, no matter how careful they are.

They lacked the experience in how to commit the ultimate crime of murder. They simply were not good criminals. In the end Loeb, in prison, was killed with a razor in what some called a “showroom fight”. The opponent was a James Day, another inmate.

Leopold was released from prison after serving 33 years in prison, and placed on parole. He moved to Puerto Rico, where he died of a diabetes-related heart attack on August 29, 1971, at the age of 66.

Tomorrow, I will continue why do children kill children? In the Leopold and Loeb matter it demonstrates that young adults through education and minimal experience sometimes can become monsters, monsters that kill for the thrill of it. It should make you mad, as you read this article. Bobby Franks became the victim of a crime which took his life and put away two young men, who if not arrested and sent to prison, would have victimized other children, just for the thrill of it.

This is


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