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4.6: The Trial of Leopold and Loeb

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  • The Trial of Leopold and Loeb

    Closing Argument

    The State of Illinois v. Nathan Leopold & Richard Loeb

    Delivered by Clarence Darrow

    Chicago, Illinois, August 22, 1924

    I insist, Your Honor, that had this been the case of two boys of these defendants' age, unconnected with families of great wealth, there is not a state's attorney in Illinois who could not have consented at once to a plea of guilty and a punishment in the penitentiary for life. Not one. No lawyer could have justified any other attitude. No prosecution could have justified it.

    We are here with the lives of two boys imperiled, with the public aroused. For what? Because, unfortunately, the parents have money. Nothing else.

    I have heard in the last six weeks nothing but the cry for blood. I have heard from the office of the state's attorney only ugly hate. I have heard precedents quoted which would be a disgrace to a savage race. I have seen a court urged almost to the point of threats to hang two boys, in the face of science, in the face of philosophy, in the face of humanity, in the face of experience, in the face of all the better and more humane thought of the age.

    We have said to the public and to this court that neither the parents, nor the friends, nor the attorneys would want these boys released. Unfortunate though it be, it is true, and those the closest to them know perfectly well that they should not be released, and that they should be permanently isolated from society. We are asking this court to save their lives, which is the least and the most that a judge can do.

    Who were these two boys? And how did it happen?

    On a certain day they killed poor little Robert Franks. They were not to get $10,000; they were to get $5,000 if it worked; that is, $5,000 each. Neither one could get more than five, and either one was risking his; neck in the job. So each one of my clients was risking his neck for $5,000, if it had anything to do with it, which it did not.

    Did they need the money? Why at this very time, and a few months before, Dickie Loeb had $3,000 [in his] checking account in the bank. Your Honor, I would be ashamed to talk about this except that in all apparent seriousness they are asking to kill these two boys on the strength of this flimsy foolishness. At that time, Richard Loeb had a three-thousand-dollar checking account in the bank. He had three Liberty Bonds, one of which was past due, and the interest on each of them had not been collected for three years. And yet they would ask to hang him on the theory that he committed this murder because he needed money.

    How about Leopold? Leopold was in regular receipt of $125 a month; he had an automobile; paid nothing for board and clothes, and expenses; he got money whenever he wanted it, and he had arranged to go to Europe and had bought his ticket and was going to leave about the time he was arrested in this case. He passed his examination for the Harvard Law School, and was going to take a short trip to Europe before it was time for him to attend the fall term. His ticket had been bought, and his father was to give him $3,000 to make the trip. Your Honor, jurors sometimes make mistakes, and courts do, too. If on this evidence the court is to construe a motive out of this case, then I insist that a motive could be construed out of any set of circumstances and facts that might be imagined.

    The boys had been reared in luxury, they had never been denied anything; no want or desire left unsatisfied; no debts; no need of money; nothing. And yet they murdered a little boy, against whom they had nothing in the world, without malice, without reason, to get $5,000 each. All right. All right, Your Honor, if the court believes it, if anyone believes it, I can't help it. That is what this case rests on. It could not stand up a minute without motive. without it, it was the senseless act of immature and diseased children, as it was; a senseless act of children, wandering around in the dark and moved by some motion, that we still perhaps have not the knowledge or the insight into life to thoroughly understand.

    We have sought to tell this court why he should not hang these boys. We have sought to tell this court, and to make this court believe, that they were diseased of mind, and that they were of tender age. However, before I discuss that, I ought to say another word in reference to the question of motive in this case. If there was no motive, except the senseless act of immature boys, then of course there is taken from this case all of the feeling of deep guilt upon the part of these defendants.

    There was neither cruelty to the deceased, beyond taking his life, nor was there any depth of guilt and depravity on the part of the defendants, for it was a truly motiveless act, without the slightest feeling of hatred or revenge, done by a couple of children for no sane reason.

    But, Your Honor, we have gone further than that, and we have sought to show you, as I think we have, the condition of these boys' minds. Of course it is not an easy task to find out the condition of another person's mind. Now, I was about to say that it needs no expert, it needs nothing but a bare recitation of these facts, and a fair consideration of them, to convince any human being that this was the act of diseased brains.

    But let's get to something stronger than that. Were these boys in their right minds? Here were two boys with good intellect, one eighteen and one nineteen. They had all the prospects that life could hold out for any of the young; one a graduate of Chicago and another of Ann Arbor; one who had passed his examination for the Harvard Law School and was about to take a trip in Europe, another who had passed at Ann Arbor, the youngest in his class, with $3,000 in the bank. Boys who never knew what it was to want a dollar; boys who could reach any position that was given to boys of that kind to reach; boys of distinguished and honorable families, families of wealth and position, with all the world before them. And they gave it all up for nothing, for nothing! They took a little companion of one of them, on a crowded street, and killed him, for nothing, and sacrificed everything that could be of value in human life upon the crazy scheme of a couple of immature lads.

    Now, Your Honor, you have been a boy; I have been a boy. And we have known other boys. The best way to understand somebody else is to put yourself in his place. Is it within the realm of your imagination that a boy who was right, with all the prospects of life before him, who could choose what he wanted, without the slightest reason in the world would lure a young companion to his death, and take his place in the shadow of the gallows?

    How insane they are I care not, whether medically or legally. They did not reason; they could not reason; they committed the most foolish, most unprovoked, most purposeless, most causeless act that any two boys ever committed, and they put themselves where the rope is dangling above their heads.

    There are not physicians enough in the world to convince any thoughtful, fair-minded man that these boys are right. Was their act one of deliberation, of intellect, or were they driven by some force such as Dr. White and Dr. Glueck and Dr. Healy have told this court?

    There are only two theories; one is that their diseased brains drove them to it; the other is the old theory of possession by devils, and my friend Marshall could have read you books on that, too, but it has been pretty well given up in Illinois. That they were intelligent, sane, sound, and reasoning is unthinkable. Let me call Your Honor's attention to another thing.

    Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood. Mr. Savage, with the immaturity of youth and inexperience, says that if we hang them there will be no more killing. This world has been one long slaughterhouse from the beginning until today, and killing goes on and on and on, and will forever. Why not read something, why not study something, why not think instead of blindly shouting for death?

    Kill them. Will that prevent other senseless boys or other vicious men or vicious women from killing? No! It will simply call upon every weak-minded person to do as they have done. I know how easy it is to I talk about mothers when you want to do something cruel. But I am thinking of the others, too. I know that any mother might be the mother of little Bobby Franks, who left his home and went to his school, and who never came back. I know that any mother might be the mother of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, just the same. The trouble is this, that if she is the mother of a Nathan Leopold or of a Richard Loeb, she has to ask herself the question: "How come my children came to be what they are? From what ancestry did they get this strain? How far removed was the poison that destroyed their lives? Was I the bearer of the seed that brings them to death?" Any mother might be the mother of any of them. But these two are the victims.

    No one knows what will be the fate of the child he gets or the child she bears; the fate of the child is the last thing they consider.

    I am sorry for the fathers as well as the mothers, for the fathers who give their strength and their lives for educating and protecting and creating a fortune for the boys that they love; for the mothers who go down into the shadow of death for their children, who nourish them and care for them, and risk their lives, that they may live, who watch them with tenderness and fondness and longing, and who go down into dishonor and disgrace for the children that they love.

    All of these are helpless. We are all helpless. But when you are pitying the father and the mother of poor Bobby Franks, what about the fathers and mothers of these two unfortunate boys, and what about the, unfortunate boys themselves, and what about all the fathers and all the mothers and all the boys and all the girls who tread a dangerous maze in darkness from birth to death?

    Do you think you can cure the hatreds and the maladjustments of the world by hanging them? You simply show your ignorance and your hate when you say it. You may here and there cure hatred with love and understanding, but you can only add fuel to the flames by cruelty and hate.

    Your Honor, that no human being could have done what these boys did, excepting through the operation of a diseased brain. I do not propose to go through each step of the terrible deed, it would take too long. But I do want to call the attention of this court to some of the other acts of these two boys, in this distressing and weird homicide; acts which show conclusively that there could be no reason for their conduct.

    I want to come down now to the actions on the afternoon of the tragedy.

    Without any excuse, without the slightest motive, not moved by money, not moved by passion or hatred, by nothing except the vague wanderings of children, about four o'clock in the afternoon they started out to find somebody to kill. For nothing.

    They went over to the Harvard School. Dick's little brother was there, on the playground. Dick went there himself in open daylight, known by all of them; he had been a pupil there himself, the school was near his home, and he looked over the little boys. They first picked out a little boy named Levinson, and Dick trailed him around. Now, of course, that is a hard story. It is a story that shocks one. A boy bent on killing, not knowing where he would go or who he would get, but seeking some victim. Here is a little boy, but the circumstances are not opportune, and so he fails to get him. Dick abandons that lead; Dick and Nathan are in the car, and they see Bobby Franks on the street, and they call to him to get into the car. It is about five o'clock in the afternoon, in the long summer days, on a thickly settled street, built up with homes, the houses of their friends and their companions known to everybody, automobiles appearing and disappearing, and they take him in the car.

    If there had been a question of revenge, yes; if there had been a question of hate, where no one cares for his own fate, intent only on accomplishing his end, yes. But without any motive or any reason they picked up this little boy right in sight of their own homes, and surrounded by their neighbors. They hit him over the head with a chisel and killed him, and go on about their business, driving this car within half a block of Loeb's home, within the same distance of the Franks's home, drive it past the neighbors that they knew, in the open highway, in broad daylight. And still men will say that they have a bright intellect.

    I say again, whatever madness and hate and frenzy may do to the human mind, there is not a single person who reasons who can believe that one of these acts was the act of men, of brains that were not diseased. There is no other explanation for it. And had it not been for the wealth and the weirdness and the notoriety, they would have been sent to the psychopathic hospital for examination, and been taken care of, instead of the state demanding that this court take the last pound of flesh and the last drop of blood from two irresponsible lads.

    They pull the dead boy into the backseat, and wrap him in a blanket, and this funeral car starts on its route. If ever any death car went over the same route or the same kind of a route driven by sane people, I have never heard of it, and I fancy no one else has ever heard of it.

    This car is driven for twenty miles. The slightest accident, the slightest misfortune, a bit of curiosity, an arrest for speeding, anything would bring destruction. They go down the Midway, through the park, meeting hundreds of machines, in sight of thousands of eyes, with this dead boy. They go down a thickly populated street through South Chicago, and then for three miles take the longest street to go through this city; built solid with business, buildings, filled with automobiles backed upon the street, with streetcars on the track, with thousands of peering eyes; one boy driving and the other on the backseat, with the corpse of little Bobby Franks, the blood streaming from him, wetting everything in the car.

    And yet they tell me that this is sanity; they tell me that the brains of these boys are not diseased. Their conduct shows exactly what it was, and shows that this court has before him two young men who should be examined in a psychopathic hospital and treated kindly and with care. They get through South Chicago, and they take the regular automobile road down toward Hammond. They stop at the forks of the road, and leave little Bobby Franks, soaked with blood, in the machine, and get their dinner, and eat it without an emotion or a qualm.

    I repeat, you may search the annals of crime, and you can find no parallel. It is utterly at variance with every motive, and every act and every part of conduct that influences normal people in the commission of crime. There is not a sane thing in all of this from the beginning to the end. There was not a normal act in any of it, from its inception in a diseased brain, until today, when they sit here awaiting their doom.

    But we are told that they planned. Well, what does that mean? A maniac plans, an idiot plans, an animal plans; any brain that functions may plan. But their plans were the diseased plans of the diseased mind. Is there any man with an air of intellect and a decent regard for human life, and the slightest bit of heart that does not understand this situation? And still, Your Honor, on account of its weirdness and its strangeness, and its advertising, we are forced to fight. For what? Forced to plead to this court that two boys, one eighteen and the other nineteen, may be permitted to live in silence and solitude and disgrace and spend all their days in the penitentiary. Asking this court and the state's attorney to be merciful enough to let these two boys be locked up in a prison until they die.

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