‘Crime of the Century’ exhibit

In 1924, wealthy and brilliant college students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago for what they later said was the sheer thrill of it.

This year, Northwestern University marks the 85th anniversary of “The Crime of the Century” with an exhibit drawn from its University Library collections.

“The Murder that Wouldn’t Die: Leopold & Loeb in Artifact, Fact and Fiction” will run from March 3 to April 30 on the main floor of Northwestern University Library, 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston. The free exhibit will be open to the public during regular library hours.

Among the featured artifacts from Northwestern University Library are the original ransom note that Leopold and Loeb sent to Franks’ parents, the original transcripts of the confessions they made shortly after their arrest, the psychiatric and medical evaluations ordered by legendary attorney Clarence Darrow, who saved them from hanging, and one of only two original transcripts of the trial.

With photographs, mug shots, letters and newspaper articles, the exhibit tells the bone-chilling story of the remorseless Leopold and Loeb, their plans to commit the perfect crime, and the court case that followed.

As best as possible, the exhibit explains how two extraordinarily intelligent University of Chicago graduate students came to randomly kill a child; a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a typewriter quickly revealed their identities; and Darrow defended the exceptionally intelligent teenagers as part of his crusade against the death penalty.

Over the years, many scholars and writers have made use of Northwestern’s Leopold and Loeb materials.

Historian Simon Baatz combed the University Library’s archives and special collections to research his critically acclaimed book “For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder that Shocked Chicago” (HarperCollins, 2008).

Similarly, Leigh Bienen, senior lecturer at Northwestern Law School, used the collections to research “Crimes of the Century: From Leopold & Loeb to O.J. Simpson,” a legal analysis she co-authored with Gilbert Geis. Bienen also created a Web site, “Homicide in Chicago,” that makes use of University Library materials.

Of particular interest at Northwestern are papers of psychiatrist Harold Hulbert, who conducted psychiatric and physical examinations of the defendants, and of attorney Elmer Gertz, who won parole for Leopold after the latter served 34 years in prison.

In 1958, Gertz walked through the prison gates of Statesville penetentiary with his client and later lifelong friend.

The Northwestern exhibit includes Gertz’s personalized copy of “Life Plus 99,” the autobiography Leopold wrote while in prison and that he titled after the impossibly long jail sentence he and Loeb received. Leopold died a free man in 1971.

Loeb’s life was shorter. In 1936, he died in Joliet Prison of more than 50 wounds from a straight edge razor wielded by an inmate accusing Loeb of sexual advances.

In announcing the death of Loeb, who at 17 was then the University of Michigan’s youngest graduate, the Chicago Daily News headline read: “Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition.”

For exhibit information, call (847) 467-5918. For general library information, including library hours, call (847) 491-7658 or visit www.library.northwestern.edu.

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