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For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the…

For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago (edition 2008)

by Simon Baatz (Author)

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Title:For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago
Authors:Simon Baatz (Author)
Info:Harper (2008), Edition: 1st, 560 pages
Collections:Your library, Basement, Read 2017

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For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz



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This is a 1920's kidnapping and murder of a 14 year boy. The murderers are 18 & 19. They planned this because they wanted the thrill of carring out the "perfect murder". I liked how the author told the story from the history of the boys, the crime, the court & sentencing, and after their life in confinement. I did skim over the history of the attorneys and some of the details of Psychiatrists.
I would recommend this to any True Crime book lover. ( )
  ChildofGod | Dec 11, 2015 |
an excellent book about a senseless crime. the da did suggest that dickie wanted the ransom for gambling debts. i wonder. ( )
  mahallett | Mar 6, 2015 |
I suppose that anyone who has read about the career of Clarence Darrow is familiar with his famous defense of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold. In short, a little Jewish boy (Richard’s cousin!) from a wealthy Chicago family, Bobby Franks, was kidnapped after school and murdered by two intelligent and wealthy college students, both also Jewish. Suspicion initially fell on teachers at the school Bobby attended, the Harvard School, and despite lots of exculpatory evidence several of them were held by the police and beaten severely to try to get them to confess. They didn’t and finally their lawyers convinced a judge to release them

Then there was an eyewitness who saw a gray Winton car right by the school at the time Bobby was kidnapped. Soon every person in Chicago with a gray Winton was being reported to the police. One owner parked his car in the garage and walked to work rather than having to face the police almost every day as people reported seeing him in his gray Winton. (The car they actually used was a dark green Willys-Knight.)

Pedophiles, homosexuals, anyone the police considered a “sexual deviant” were rounded up for questioning, although even the district attorney noted that it would be a rare event indeed for a pedophile to ask for a ransom and set up such an elaborate mechanism to collect it.

The story is horrifying in its depiction of the two psychopaths. Convinced they were smarter than everyone else (Richard was the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan,) they had successfully embarked on a series of petty vandalism before deciding to commit the “perfect murder.” They almost succeeded, except for Nathan’s glasses.

There was no question as to their guilt. They had confessed and revealed all the details to the police. They were perhaps lucky that they committed their crimes at a time when research in genetics and animal instinct was being popularized. Darrow, who had engaged in a “lifelong campaign on behalf of the defenseless” had read Altgeld’s book, Our Penal Machinery, which argued that “criminal behavior... was less a consequence of free will and deliberation and more a matter of education, upbringing, and environment. The majority of criminals—the overwhelming majority, Altgeld stressed—had grown up in circumstances of dire poverty, in families where one or both parents were absent, and without the benefits of education, schooling, or discipline.”

Darrow was also determined to rid society of capital punishment. He had defended numerous people who faced the death penalty. The Loeb/Leopold case was perfect “not because the defendants were deserving... the trial of Leopold and Loeb would capture the attention of the nation. … "The importance of instinct in the animal world, Darrow stated, provided a clue to its significance in higher forms of life. Human beings believe that they act rationally, but might they not also be subject to instinctual drives? …”human beings were no more capable of free agency than the mason bee or the red ant."

The trial provided a forum for the relatively new field of psychiatry (even then occasionally called “alienists”) that wanted to impress upon the rapt audience their “belief that criminal behavior was a medical phenomenon best interpreted by scientific experts.” That is, if they could avoid an adversarial battle between experts (each getting $1,000 a day - a huge amount of money in those days,) which would require the cooperation of the state’s attorney. The facts might not be at issue but the interpretations could very well be, and that would be embarrassing to the new profession. Darrow countered with the argument that no one wanted to see the boys freed by claiming insanity; they were trying to avoid the death penalty. Interestingly, efforts to broadcast the trial --a first -- were nixed after opposition from religious and social groups worried about their children being exposed to the filth (homosexuality) that would come out during testimony.

To explain Darrow’s brilliant strategy would be to reveal too much. Excellent read for anyone interested in Darrow, criminal motivations, and the justice system not to mention early nineteenth century culture. ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Mar 1, 2015 |
I was browsing in the history section of the local B and N and came upon For the Thrill of it a new book about the Leopold and Loeb murder case.

I realized that I knew more about L & L from fictionalized versions of it (Hitchcock's "Rope" comes to mind) then I did about the actual case.

So I picked it up.

It's the story of two educated and well-to-do kids in Chicago who for no clear good reason decided to kidnap and ransom (and later murder) a small boy picked at random from the neighborhood.

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is the obvious model for this one - except that when Capote writes he sits you down at the table and brings you up close and personal to the people on both sides of the story.

Simon Baatz for all his through and capable research always seems to be looking at these guys through a long lens from far far away. It chills the book - and I think badly weakens it.

It was interesting to see that Clarence Darrow, who defended the boys, was interested in Darwin and evolution years before he took up the Scopes Trial in Tennessee.

But the author never cracks the nut of who these two guys were, or why they murdered Bobby Franks.

Thinking themselves criminal masterminds who would never be caught, in fact they were picked up within hours. They thought they had created the perfect alibi, and it fell apart in days. And then they shrugged and confessed.

The DA saw it as a hanging case - but the family hired Darrow to get the boys life. And he did.

The facts are all there and that's an achievement. But the book turned out to be a bit of a slog at the end.

At once more than you wanted to know and less than you wanted to know.

Your mileage may vary. ( )
2 vote magicians_nephew | Jul 29, 2013 |
Well I really enjoyed reading this book although in the middle I did get a bit bored. (reading about the lifes of the lawyer, judge and prosecutor for instance, I wanted to know more about Loeb and Leopold. I am glad that I now finally know more about this case and will give this book 4 stars. 3 stars is not enough 3.7 ;) ( )
  Marlene-NL | Apr 12, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060781009, Hardcover)

It was a crime that shocked the nation, a brutal murder in Chicago in 1924 of a child, by two wealthy college students who killed solely for the thrill of the experience. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb had first met several years earlier, and their friendship had blossomed into a love affair. Both were intellectuals—too smart, they believed, for the police to catch them. However, the police had recovered an important clue at the scene of the crime—a pair of eyeglasses—and soon both Leopold and Loeb were in the custody of Cook County. They confessed, and Robert Crowe, the state's attorney, announced to newspaper reporters that he had a hanging case. No defense, he believed, would save the two ruthless killers from the gallows.

Set against the backdrop of the 1920s, a time of prosperity, self-indulgence, and hedonistic excess, For the Thrill of It draws the reader into a lost world, a world of speakeasies and flappers, of gangsters and gin parties, that existed when Chicago was a lawless city on the brink of anarchy. The rejection of morality, the worship of youth, and the obsession with sex had seemingly found their expression in this callous murder.

But the murder is only half the story. After Leopold and Loeb were arrested, their families hired Clarence Darrow to defend their sons. Darrow, the most famous lawyer in America, aimed to save Leopold and Loeb from the death penalty by showing that the crime was the inevitable consequence of sexual and psychological abuse that each defendant had suffered during childhood at the hands of adults. Both boys, Darrow claimed, had experienced a compulsion to kill, and therefore, he appealed to the judge, they should be spared capital punishment. However, Darrow faced a worthy adversary in his prosecuting attorney: Robert Crowe was clever, cunning, and charismatic, with ambitions of becoming Chicago's next mayor—and he was determined to send Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb to their deaths.

A masterful storyteller, Simon Baatz has written a gripping account of the infamous Leopold and Loeb case. Using court records and recently discovered transcripts, Baatz shows how the pathological relationship between Leopold and Loeb inexorably led to their crime.

This thrilling narrative of murder and mystery in the Jazz Age will keep the reader in a continual state of suspense as the story twists and turns its way to an unexpected conclusion.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:05 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Documents the 1924 murder case of millionaire property developer's son Bobby Franks and the high-profile arrest and trial of his teenage killers, in an account that also offers insight into the psychological contest between the case's defense and state attorneys.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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