Just a few blocks from my present home, two University of Chicago students set out to commit the “perfect crime”–and had it not been for a dropped pair of glasses they would probably have succeeded. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped and murdered a fourteen year old boy in a rented car with wood chisel. They poured acid on the body, burned both Bobby Franks’–and their own–blood-stained clothes, and dumped the corpse in a drainage culvert.
These gifted university students, both the sons of wealthy Hyde Park families, had selected their fellow Hyde Park victim the previous November. At that time they also began establishing fictitious identities complete with stays in far-flung hotels, falsified registries, and alternate bank accounts. Confident they would not be caught, they put their plan into action on Wednesday, May 21 inviting the boy to play tennis at Loeb’s family mansion (5017 South Ellis Avenue) before killing him and prepared a ransom letter to the Frank’s family requesting $10,000.
The fourteen year old’s body was discovered before the letter could be sent, however, and an unusual hinge mechanism on Leopold’s lost glasses was easily traced to their former owner. Under questioning the two boys admitted that they considered themselves to be Nietzschean uber mensch (supermen) who were capable of committing the perfect crime. Leopold wrote Loeb before the murder that “A superman (…) is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do.” Clarence Darrow defended the boys and argued that “This terrible crime was inherent in his organism (…) Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? (…) It is hardly fair to hang a nineteen year old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university?”
Darrow’s “the philosophy made them do it” defense was successful and on September 09, 1924 the two were sentenced to life sentences plus ninety-nine years. It really was their professors who were to blame–what sort of fool takes philosophy seriously?