Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leopold & Loeb

Darrow's Summation

The highpoint of the trial was Clarence Darrow's speech on August 22, 1924. It lasted for two hours and was considered the finest of his long career.

Near the beginning of the speech, he stressed that "never had there been a case in Chicago, where on a plea of guilty a boy under twenty-one had been sentenced to death. I will raise that age and say, never has there been a case where a human being under the age of twenty-three has been sentenced to death....Why need the state's attorney ask for something that never before has been demanded?

"I know that in the last ten years four hundred and fifty people have been indicted for murder in the city of Chicago and have pleaded guilty....and only one has been hanged! And my friend who is prosecuting this case deserves the honor of that hanging while he was on the bench. But his "victim" was forty years old."

Later, Darrow took issue with the constant use by the prosecution of the term "cold-blooded murder." Darrow put this rhetoric in perspective: "They call it a cold-blooded murder because they want to take human lives....This is the most cold-blooded murder, says the State, that ever occurred....I have never yet tried a case where the state's attorney did not say that it was the most cold-blooded, inexcusable, premeditated case that ever occurred. If is was murder, there never was such a murder...Lawyers are apt to say that."

He took head-on the issue of whether it really was a cold-blooded murder and the most terrible murder that ever happened in Illinois. "I insist, Your Honor, that under all fair rules and measurements, this was one of the least dastardly and cruel of any that I have known...Poor little Bobby Franks suffered very little....It was all over in fifteen minutes after he got into the car, and he probably never knew it or thought of it. That does not justify it....But it is done.

"This is a senseless, useless, purposeless, motiveless act of two boys....There was not a particle of hate, there was not a grain of malice, there was no opportunity to be cruel except as death is cruel -- and death is cruel."

Nathan Leopold, Sr. (left), Darrow, and Jacob Loeb (right)
Nathan Leopold, Sr. (left), Darrow, and Jacob Loeb (right)

Darrow trashed the silly motivation that Crowe had ascribed to the crime: that the murder was committed so that each boy could get $5,000 in ransom money. Loeb had $3,000 in his checking account at the time of the murder and his father gave him money any time he wanted it. Leopold's father was about to give him $3000 for a trip to Europe.

Crowe had mentioned that the boys had run up huge gambling debts playing bridge. The huge gambling debt consisted of $90 which one boy lost to the other. "It would be trifling, excepting, Your Honor, that we are dealing in human life. And we are dealing in more than that; we are dealing in the future fate of two families.

"We are talking of placing a blot upon the escutcheon of two houses that do not deserve it. And all that [the State] can get out of their imagination is that there was a game of bridge and one lost ninety dollars to the other, and therefore they went out and committed murder."

He summed up the bizarre mental states of the two boys and the tragic result of their friendship: "They had a weird, almost impossible relationship. Leopold, with his obsession of the superman, had repeatedly said that Loeb was his idea of the superman. He had the attitude toward him that one has to his most devoted friend, or that a man has to a lover. Without the combination of these two, nothing of this sort probably would have happened....all the testimony of the alienists....shows that this terrible act was the act of immature and diseased brains, the act of children.

"Nobody can explain it any other way.

"No one can imagine it any other way.

"It is not possible that it could have happened in any other way."