Leopold and Loeb Collection
Scope and Contents
Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. (November 19, 1904-August 29, 1971) and Richard Albert Loeb (June 11, 1905-January 28, 1936), often referred to as "Leopold and Loeb", were privileged and wealthy teenage University of Chicago students who murdered 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks in 1924 in a desire to commit the “perfect crime” and were sentenced to prison for 99 years plus a life term.
Through correspondence, newspaper clippings, court documents, miscellanea, photographs, publications, and more, this collection traces the arc of Leopold's life. The story winds from the sentencing hearing, to his work and life in prison, to his efforts with lawyer Elmer Gertz to secure parole, to his parole in Puerto Rico and his life beyond.
The brutality of the crime shocked the nation and drew unprecedented media attention, becoming the first so-called "crime of the century." Both youths were highly intelligent and had graduated from college at a very young age. They were influenced in part by Nietzsche's philosophy of the Superman, who was superior to normal men in every way and was not bound by the morals or laws of common people. Though many of the details are unclear, it seems that Loeb was the one obsessed with crime and was the driving force behind the planning and execution of the kidnapping and murder. By many accounts, Leopold was motivated by an infatuation with Loeb, and participated in their crimes in order to perpetuate an intimate, and sometimes sexual, relationship with Loeb. Regardless of their motivations, they were both fully guilty and responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks on May 21, 1924.
After their story and fake alibi fell apart, the case against them grew increasingly airtight, and both young men confessed to the crimes. Their families brought in famous defense lawyer and anti-capital punishment crusader Clarence Darrow to help them escape the gallows. Darrows convinced the boys to plead guilty to the charges, and thus avoid a jury trial that would almost assuredly end in a death sentence. With the plea, Darrow only had to convince the judge in a sentencing hearing that their two lives should be spared. After an impassioned defense by Darrow, with the story captivating the city of Chicago and the entire country during the summer of 1924, Cook County Circuit Court Judge John R. Caverly pronounced on September 10, 1924 that they would not be executed, but would spend their lives plus 99 years in prison
Loeb would be murdered in a razor attack in prison in 1936 at the age of 30, while Leopold would serve over 33 years in jail, eventually being paroled in 1958. He went to Puerto Rico, working as an x-ray technician in a Church of the Brethren mission for several years. He successfully petitioned to be released from his parole, married a widow, traveled the world, and lived for years as a free man before dying of a diabetes-related heart attack in 1971, at age 66.
This collection was donated to Special Collections by lawyer Elmer Gertz (1906-2000), who represented Nathan Leopold in his bid to secure parole, and later a complete release from his parole. Gertz was a notable human rights and civil liberties campaigner, author, and, in addition to Leopold, he famously defended Henry Miller during his "Tropic of Cancer" obscenity trial, and helped Jack Ruby avoid the death penalty for murdering Lee Harvey Oswald. Gertz remained a close friend of Leopold throughout his life, corresponding regularly, and visiting him in Puerto Rico several times.
- 1894 - 1990
- Other: Majority of material found within 1952 - 1971
- Other: Date acquired: 11/30/1963
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on use of the materials in the department for research; all patrons must comply with federal copyright regulations.
Language of Materials
Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. (November 19, 1904-August 29, 1971) and Richard Albert Loeb (June 11, 1905-January 28, 1936), often referred to as "Leopold and Loeb", were privileged and wealthy teenage University of Chicago students who murdered 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks in 1924 in a desire to commit the "perfect crime," and were sentenced to prison for 99 years plus a life term. Through correspondence, newspaper clippings, court documents, miscellanea, photographs, publications, and more, this collection focuses on the arc of Leopold's life. The story winds from the sentencing hearing, to his work and life in prison, to his work with lawyer Elmer Gertz to secure parole, to his parole in Puerto Rico and his life beyond. This collection also includes material relating to Clarence Darrow's life, career, and the centennial celebration of his birth.
The collection fills 49 full-size archival boxes, 3 half-size boxes, and one drop-front box, and is divided into 23 series. Correspondence, newspaper clippings, court documents, miscellanea, and photographs form the majority of the collection. While the title of the collection is "Leopold and Loeb," the bulk of the material focuses on Nathan Leopold alone. There is also a significant amount of material relating to Elmer Gertz and Clarence Darrow.
Gertz became Leopold's attorney in the early 1950s, and the majority of items were collected beginning from that time period. Leopold sent much of his personal material and correspondence to Gertz during his incarceration and parole. Gertz donated this material in frequent chunks to the library, beginning in the late 1960s and continuing right up to his death in 2000, with some material arriving as late as 2002.
Within each series original order has been preserved for the most part, most notably in the Nathan Leopold/Gertz Correspondence section. This series includes correspondence between Leopold and Gertz, but also letters between others and Gertz and others and Leopold. Both men often sent carbon copies of their letters to one another, and when they discussed other correspondence within a letter, they often sent a copy of the letter. This series reveals information about Nathan Leopold that may not exist anywhere else. He displays a growing trust for Gertz as their relationship develops, and his letters offer a fairly candid view into a complicated psyche. This is especially true in letters sent after Leopold had been in Puerto Rico for several years and his parole situation was stable.
The Leopold and Loeb trial material contains some copies made from the Northwestern University Archives Harold Hulbert Collection.
Source of Acquisition
Accruals and Additions
Elmer Gertz made periodic deposits of material, beginning as early as 1964, with material coming in until 2002 following Gertz’s death in 2000.
Existence and Location of Copies
Items from Box 4, Folders 7 and 9 have been digitized and are available through HathiTrust.
- Guide to the Leopold and Loeb Collection
- Jason Nargis, reprocessing from Russell Maylone's original 1991 finding aid.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Part of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections Repository
Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US