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For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago Hardcover – August 5, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1924, Nathan Leopold, 19, and Richard Loeb, 18, both intellectually precocious scions of wealthy Jewish Chicago families, kidnapped and brutally murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in an attempt to commit the perfect crime. Historian Baatz, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, replays the crime (on which Meyer Levin's 1956 novel Compulsion was based) from the killers' point of view, detailing their intense, often sexual, relationship that culminated in the murder. But they left a crucial piece of evidence and eventually confessed to the murder. Clarence Darrow cleverly had the boys plead guilty to avoid a trial, and the legendary defense attorney went head to head with State's Attorney Robert Crowe in a sentencing hearing before Judge John Caverly. Both sides trotted out psychiatrists to testify whether Leopold and Loeb were mentally ill. Darrow's gamble paid off in life sentences. Loeb was murdered in prison in 1936; Leopold was eventually paroled in 1958. Baatz gives an acute portrait of the two murderers bound together in a web of fantasy, but his heavy reliance on novelistic techniques (there!—he had done it) and meandering pacing prevent this from being as convincing as his exhaustive research deserves. B&w photos. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb have been the objects of derision and curiosity ever since the sensational murder they committed on Chicago’s South Side in 1924. These two privileged teenagers, who killed little Bobby Franks, a neighbor, also from a privileged family, just for the thrill of achieving the perfect crime (“a murder that would never be solved”), have become almost legendary “bad boys.” Baatz’s comprehensive account of the case succeeds in identifying their peculiar personality traits as well as what it was in the nature of their relationship that made them believe in their infallibility in performing the ultimate crime. All of Leopold and Loeb’s intense planning quickly unraveled, however, when the victim’s body was discovered soon after the murder; the murderers had counted on the body never being located. The second strong point of this exhaustively researched and rivetingly presented account is the thoroughness with which the author reconstructs the police investigation and the trial itself; a vivid portrait of the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow, who defended Leopold and Loeb, is a fascinating by-product. One of the best true-crime books of this or any other season. --Brad Hooper
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 541 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060781009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060781002
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,035,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By IronyDee on September 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
While I appreciate some of the never-before-seen photos in this book, right off the bat, I am troubled by some of details the author has provided. Any prior book or news article I've read about this case clearly stated that the Franks had only three children, Josephine, Jacob Jr, called Jack, with Bobby being the youngest. And yet on page 4 we are introduced to a yet another Franks child, also named Jacob, who is described as being younger than Bobby and a promising grammar school student. The author even describes him fidgeting at dinner the night Bobby was taken. (While Jack is upstairs in bed with the chicken pox.) But who exactly is this mystery boy? Where did he come from? Where did he go? He was never mentioned during the time of the trial. Jacob Franks' 1928 obituary only lists two surviving children. Jack died in 1938 and Josephine was said to be the sole survivor of Bobby's family when she was reached for comment around the time of Leopold's release from prison. Are we to believe that Jacob Number Three died sometime between 1924 and 1928, a time period when the Franks case still very much in the public mind, and the press never even made mention of this other child's death?

I checked the Franks family on the 1920 census, and it lists only Josephine, Jack, and Bobby. So if another child existed in 1924, he had to have been four years old or less at the time of the crime. This doesn't fit with the author's description of him either. I can only conclude this boy never existed.

I can certainly live with one research mistake, but the author actually describing this imaginary kid's behavior at dinner is very troubling and makes me question every other detail in this book.
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on August 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
How to understand Leopold and Loeb, the two young men who live on in national memory as the poor rich kids who murdered a youngster in 1924 to see if they could pull off the perfect crime? Motivated on the surface by a Nietzsche-inspired urge to go beyond conventional standards of good and evil, the crime actually seems to have been drawn from much murkier waters: sexual passion, feelings of inadequacy and rage, cultural ennui. Like Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, what Loeb and Leopold claimed as their motive was only the tip of the iceberg.

Simon Baatz's For the Thrill of It explores the underbelly of Leopold and Loeb by focusing heavily on the psychiatric testimony of three expert witnesses marshalled by defense attorney Clarence Darrow. These three witnesses--William White, William Healy, and Bernard Glueck--shared Darrow's view that most of criminal law was really a subset of psychology: criminals are suffering from mental disorders and need to be treated rather than punished. Despite this conviction, Darrow entered a plea of guilty for his two clients, fearing that if he copped an insanity plea and took the case to a jury, he would lose. So his strategy instead was to plead guilty and try to lessen the sentence by convincing the presiding judge that Leopold and Loeb were crazy as bedbugs.

It didn't work. The two were sentenced to 99 years. Loeb was killed in prison 12 years later; Leopold was eventually paroled and died in Puerto Rico.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By JCher on August 19, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book is absorbing, but the Kindle edition is loaded with typographical errors that make reading difficult. Missing periods at the end of sentences occur on just about every page.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Nola Harroway on August 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in human behavior, the criminal process, Chicago, Clarence Darrow or political ambition, among many other things. Baatz has taken a chilling and complex case and made it terrifically readable and exciting. His meticulous research assures the reader that s/he is reading non-fiction, yet Baatz is a superb storyteller and the book reads like a great piece of fiction. All of these events took place in my neighborhood in Chicago, and I now find it easy -- and creepy -- to picture the parties to this crime on my streets. I can't praise this book enough, I hope someone makes a movie of it that is faithful to this well-told story.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Borowy26 VINE VOICE on January 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Rosehill Cemetery is located a few blocks from my Chicago residence. The corpse of Robert Emanuel Franks was laid to rest in the tomb of his father, Jacob Franks, in the Jewish section of this same cemetery in 1924. Bobby Franks is remembered today as the victim of one of the most cruel and fiendish murders in American history.

The fourteen year old was walking home from school one May afternoon, when he was called to the curb by someone that he recognized. It was one of his neighbors. The young man wanted to talk to Bobby about a new tennis racquet. The neighbor offered to give him a ride home in a car driven by his friend. The boy accepted the offer and sat in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.

Shortly after he had entered the rented automobile, without warning, Bobby Franks was abducted, bludgeoned and suffocated to death by a wealthy pair of graduate students, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. The two killers resided in the same exclusive neighborhood as did their victim and his affluent family. After the murder, the killers drove to a remote and isolated location where they stripped the clothing from the body, poured acid on the face and genitals, in an effort to conceal the victim's identity, and placed the naked corpse in a water filled drainage culvert beneath a railroad track in an obscure and not easily accessible forest preserve.

The two killers tried to obtain ransom money from the parents of the deceased child by falsely promising that their kidnapped son would be returned home safely if all of their demands were met: $10,000.00 was to be paid in old bills, the police were not notified and all of the other specific instructions in the kidnapper's note were strictly complied with.
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