Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leopold & Loeb

The Prosecution's Case

The hot, stuffy courtroom held only 300 people, 200 of which were representatives of the news media. Only seventy spaces were allotted for spectators.

Judge John R. Caverly was scholarly man of sixty-three years. Born to English immigrants, he worked his way through college and law school by working in the steel mills. Nearly at the end of his career when this trial began, he had imposed the death sentence fixed by juries five times in his time on the bench.

State's Attorney Robert E. Crowe made the opening statement: "The evidence in this case will show that Nathan Leopold, Jr., is a young man nineteen years old, that the other defendant, Richard Loeb, is a young man of nineteen years; that they are both sons of highly respected and prominent citizens of this community; that their parents gave them every advantage wealth and indulgence could give to boys. They have attended the best schools in this community and have, from time to time, had private tutors. These young men behaved as a majority of young men in their social set behaved, with the exception that they developed a desire to gamble, and gambled, for large stakes, the size of the stakes being such that even their wealthy companions could not sit with them.

"The evidence will further show that along in October or November of last year these two defendants entered into a conspiracy, the purpose of which was to gain money, and in order to gain it they were ready and willing to commit a cold-blooded murder."

Leopold, left, Darrow, and Loeb, officer in the rear
Leopold, left, Darrow, and Loeb, officer in the rear

An hour later, he concluded his statement with, "in the name of the people of the State of Illinois, in the name of the womanhood and the fatherhood, and in the name of the children of the State of Illinois, we are going to demand the death penalty for both of these cold-blooded, cruel, and vicious murderers."

"The Old Lion," as Darrow was called, responded to the prosecution. "We shall insist in this case, Your Honor, that, terrible as this is, terrible as any killing is, it would be without precedent if two boys of this age should be hanged by the neck until dead, and it would in no way bring back Robert Franks or add to the peace and security of this community.

The prosecution began bringing forward its witnesses before Judge Caverly. Their strategy was to present every detail to stress the horror of the crime. There was almost no cross-examination by the defense since it would have underscored the brutality of the crime.

The boys continued to be light hearted despite the hangman's noose that swung over their heads. The next day, Thursday, July 23, before the court convened, Loeb told the reporters he had an important statement to make: "We are united in one great and profound hope for today," Loeb said pompously. "Mr. Leopold and I have gone over the matter and have come to a mutual decision. We have just one hope: that it will be a damned sight cooler than it was yesterday." He burst into laughter.

A week and eighty-one witnesses later, Crowe rested his case. He had proven the boys' guilt beyond a doubt. Of course, the boys had already pleaded guilty, so the entire week simply belabored the obvious.