Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Men and Supermen: The Nietzsche Syndrome

The Perfect Crime

They were raised in a privileged area of Chicago and believed they were better than everyone else. Both young men were geniuses with time on their hands and a penchant for petty crimes. One day, tired of going unnoticed for their criminal skills, they decided it was time to prove themselves. The year was 1924. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were both 19 years old. Close friends with homosexual leanings, they had an odd relationship. Leopold worshipped Loeb, who had no conscience and who liked to push the social envelope, no matter the cost. He appreciated Leopold's devotion and vulnerability. It was useful. Together, they were dangerous.

Loeb (left) & Leopold
Loeb (left) & Leopold

Leopold was an avid reader of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and was especially taken with the idea that superior men are not bound by social moral codes. He considered himself to be superior, and Nietzsche gave a name to his arrogance by proposing the idea of the Übermensch ('overman' or super man) and the privileged class of aristocrats who made and lived by their own moral rules. Leopold did not have to work hard to persuade Loeb that they were among those exceptional beings and could prove it by committing the perfect crime.

They started with cheating friends at cards, shoplifting and burglary, says Hal Higdon, author of The Crime of the Century: The Leopold and Loeb Case. These acts thrilled them, but they wanted more. For six months, they meticulously planned a spectacular crime: They would kidnap and murder a young boy.

Book cover: The Crime of the Century: The Leopold and Loeb Case
Book cover: The Crime of the
Century: The Leopold and Loeb

On May 21, they went out to select their victim. At first, they considered Loeb's younger brother, but then thought that if the victim were related to them, they'd quickly come under suspicion. They decided to troll the area around the exclusive boys' school that Leopold had once attended, because students there knew them and wouldn't hesitate to accept a ride. The plan was to grab one, kill him, and then get money from his parents.

These two young men were so obsessed with this act that they rehearsed it down to the letter. They had repeatedly gone to the area to watch the boys, learning their routines and routes. To them it mattered little whom they grabbed. It only had to be someone they could quickly overwhelm and whose disappearance would generate publicity. They used Nietzsche's writings to bolster their plan, and as they watched, fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks walked toward them.


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