Bobby Franks Murder: Are Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb Dead or Alive?

Image Credit: PBS

Investigation Discovery’s ‘A Crime to Remember: Hearts of Darkness’ follows the heartbreaking murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago, Illinois, in May 1924 and the sensational trial it ensued. Dubbed as one of “the trials of the century,” the case stood apart because of the alleged motive of the killers – they were bored and wanted to seek thrill by committing the perfect crime. If you wish to know more about the case, as well as the identity of the perpetrators, you’re at the right place. Let’s dive in!

How Did Bobby Franks Die?

Robert Emanuel “Bobby” Franks was born in Chicago, Cook County in Illinois, to Jacob Franks, a wealthy Chicago watch manufacturer, and Flora Griesheimer. Bobby was the youngest son of the couple, preceded by son, Jack, and a daughter, Josephine. The 14-year-old had a lot of enthusiasm regarding various sports and was a student of the prestigious Harvard School. He was a brilliant and precocious boy who was planning to attend a good university after graduation.

On May 21, 1924, a journalist from Chicago Daily News overheard Illinois senator Samuel Ettelson and his friend, Jacob, telling the police that Jacob’s son, Bobby, did not come home from school that day. When he left to search the school for his son, his wife got a phone call from a man named “Johnson” who claimed to have kidnapped Bobby. The police asked Jacob to wait for the instructions from the kidnappers before they hit the street and spooked them, causing Bobby any harm.

The next day, the Franks’ residence received a ransom note that demanded Jacob secure $10,000 in a cigar box, sealing the cash with white paper. While Jacob was following the demand, he received another call that stated the city morgue had a body that matched Bobby’s age. But when they heard that the body wore glasses, they were relieved because Bobby did not have glasses. It was stated on the show that an uncle of Bobby went to the morgue to confirm it since the family did not want the media to report false news.

However, before Jacob could go to deliver the ransom, Bobby’s uncle called, confirming that the body indeed belonged to their boy. A factory worker was returning after the night shift at the mill, walking through the Wolf Lake area in Hammond, Indiana, when he noticed Bobby’s body in the bushes. Police arrived at the scene, a culvert along the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, around 25 miles north of Chicago. The murderer(s) had poured hydrochloric acid on Bobby’s face and genitals to conceal his identity. The face was so badly mutilated that the police had almost missed the wounds on his head.

Who Killed Bobby Franks?

While there were not many leads or evidence for the police to go on, they decided to focus on the faculty at Bobby’s school. As per the show, the police thought the mutilation of genitals indicated perverseness on part of the killer(s). Based on the reports of various students, they initially suspected the English teacher since he allegedly made indecent proposals to many students. However, he was cleared of suspicion later on.

Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr.

The most important piece of evidence that the police had was the pair of glasses that were left behind at the scene. The mill worker had thought the glasses belonged to the victim and he had put them on Bobby’s face, arising the initial confusion. While the prescription for the pair of horn-rimmed glasses was very common, it reportedly had a distinguishing feature that ultimately led police to the killer — a patented hinge that connected the earpiece to the nosepiece.

One New York company manufactured these hinges, and it had only one outlet in Chicago: Almer Coe & Company. This outlet had sold only 3 pairs of glasses with such hinges, one belonging to a lady and another to an attorney who was in Europe at the time of the murder. The third pair was sold to Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr., who had been initially questioned by the police as a possible witness. Leopold claimed he might have dropped the glasses while he had been out there bird-watching.

Richard Albert Loeb

Police also found out that Nathan had a close friend, Richard Loeb, who some claim to be his lover. Both men were called in for formal questioning on May 29, 1924, and Richard was the first one to confess. He claimed that Nathan was the mastermind and had killed Bobby with a chisel while Richard drove the car. Nathan also confessed soon after, claiming that he was the driver while Richard was the murderer. While the police could not ascertain who the killer was, both confessions were made public on May 31, 1924.

Are Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb Dead or Alive?

However, the most astonishing aspect of the murder was the motive behind it – Nathan and Richard killed Bobby because they were allegedly bored and wanted to commit the perfect crime, driven by Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermenschen (supermen) delusions, as per the show. The trial for both men began in July 1924, with the killers represented by famed lawyer Clarence Darrow. The trial lasted for over 30 days. Following Clarence’s eloquent and famous appeal against capital punishment, both men were sentenced to 99 years for kidnapping and life imprisonment for murder.

The convicted killers were incarcerated in Northern Illinois Penitentiary near Joliet, Illinois. In 1931, Nathan was moved to the Stateville Penitentiary, with Richard following suit. The two managed to hold on to their alleged relationship and even played a significant role in expanding the prison school system by advocating for the addition of high school and junior college curricula. Richard was murdered in a prison shower room by a fellow inmate James Day on January 28, 1936. James had slashed his throat from behind, inflicting more than 50 wounds on Richard’s body with a straight razor.

A depressed Nathan continued with his work and published his autobiography in 1958, titled ‘Life Plus 99 Years,’ while in prison. He was released on parole in March 1958. After serving as a medical technician in a Puerto Rican hospital, Nathan moved to Santurce and married a widowed florist. He also went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico, took classes there, and later did research on leprosy at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. He died of natural causes, a heart attack related to diabetes, at the age of 66, on August 29, 1971.

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