on September 10, 2010
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.
on August 19, 2008
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.
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.
Baatz's book is both an intriguing history of one of the most notorious American crimes of the twentieth century, but also an interesting reflection on the insanity plea in criminal cases, told through the intense courtroom battle between Darrow and Prosecuting Attorney Richard Crowe But in all honesty, at times I found myself flipping pages. The book is perhaps 100 pages longer than it need be, and Baatz's invention of scenes and dialogue and internal monologues for the key players in a book that purports to be history is (for me, at least) disconcerting. The story is dramatic enough without Baatz's "literary" interpolations.
Still, well worth reading. Leopold and Loeb remain intensely interesting characters. One can understand, to some extent, the psychology behind In Cold Blood murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. They were social outcasts, "losers" seething with anger at the cards dealt them by fate. But what motivated Leopold and Loeb, wealthy, intelligent, educated, healthy young men? Even after a reading of Baatz, they remain mysterious.
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. The ransom scheme failed when the dead body of the teenager was discovered by a group of laborers who summoned the authorities before the money was delivered.
Within a short period of time, despite extreme obstacles and hardships, the two murderers were identified as possible suspects, interrogated and arrested as the result investigation conducted primarily by the staff of the Cook County State's Attorney. A sensational trial followed and the nation was riveted by the efforts of the prosecutors to impose the death penalty upon the defendants and the arguments of Clarence Darrow to spare the murderers from capital punishment by changing their pleas to guilty and arguing in favor of mitigating circumstances.
As the title indicates, the two privileged perverts had selected Franks at random, kidnapped and killed him simply for the thrill of proving that they were Nietzchean supermen capable of committing the perfect crime. By choosing their victim without a particular motive and leaving a trail of false clues, the two depraved individuals felt that they could commit murder without ever being identified since they were superior beings not subject to the laws and morals that supposedly applied to other lesser human beings.
This new book on the subject is not free from problems. It is tiresome to note the all too common tendency of so many contemporary true crime authors, who have quietly studied the yellowed and brittle pages of time obscured books by other writers before producing new manuscripts of their own, who then proceed to proclaim in advance sheets, interviews and publicity materials that they have written the definitive books -- without ever acknowledging their indebtedness to prior historians or honestly admitting, in the worse cases, that they simply revised and updated prior titles. In many instances, the original titles that they examined were produced by now deceased authors and these books are largely forgotten, out of print and not widely available for library circulation.
I am not suggesting that there is no room whatsoever for new books upon familiar subjects, providing that something new and substantial can be added to the historical record. Frequently, newly discovered evidence and original research warrants that revised books be written. What I am arguing is that contemporary authors have a legal and moral obligation to give proper credit to previous authors where and when credit is due.
With that general statement as my preface, I was less than pleased to read Simon Baatz's dismissive claim that no "serious" book had ever been published concerning the murder of Bobby Franks by Leopold and Loeb before his own book. This pompous boasting overlooks that numerous publications have been previously published on this same crime dating back to the 1950s, including several listed in Baatz's bibliography, such as Meyer Levin's bestselling novel, "Compulsion," a roman clef which is a thinly disguised fictionalization of the crime and the trial which incorporated quotations from the court transcripts. More importantly, Hal Higdon's widely read and thorough nonfiction title, "Crime of the Century," predated Baatz's book by more than three decades.
When Baatz belatedly admits the existence of Higdon's earlier work in the conclusion of "For the Thrill of It," he trivializes its importance by describing it as little more than a popular history of the crime and suggests that it cannot be taken too seriously. In reality, the earlier book, which is still in print and available for purchase, is well written and researched and annotated. Many critics have described this superlative book as definitive. Personally, I found it to be reliable and concise.
Like so many recently released true crime titles, the layout and packaging of "For the Thrill of It" is glossy, the blurbs are filled with exaggerated praise, but the actual contents are less than wholly satisfactory. What does differentiate the newer book from the old is that Baatz makes greater use of the court transcripts, including lengthy references to the expert testimony of the alienists and physicians called upon by the defense team of attorneys. Whether or not the reader finds this additional piling on of repetitive testimonial details to be worthwhile or not is a matter of personal preference. Higdon summarized these same details while Baatz padded out the length of his book by quoting the psychiatric reports and transcripts verbatim in long excerpts. On the plus side, there are many more period newspaper photographs accompanying the text of "For the Thrill of It" which is a welcome development.
Unfortunately, despite the author's claims to have produced a comprehensive and authoritative book, "For the Thrill of It" is not entirely free of errors and omissions. Biographical details of some of the principals are incorrect and the political and background information contained in the book is not always entirely accurate. I was completely baffled by Baatz's omission of the impressive closing argument of State's Attorney Robert E. Crowe from the expanded text. Much has been made of the eloquence (or euphemistic verbosity) of Clarence Darrow's final plea to spare the lives of the two defendants on account of their youth and immaturity. Crowe's rebuttal is less well remembered today, but it was nonetheless brilliant. His response to Darrow's argument was to recite from the moving poem "In Flanders' Fields" and remind the court of the many seventeen and eighteen year olds who were conscripted into military service and killed in combat during the recently concluded Great War and whose corpses were buried, row upon row, in the former battlefields of Europe. If such youths were deemed mature enough to be sent to their deaths in the name of military necessity, how could the court entertain the argument that two wilful murderers could not be executed for their heinous crimes on account of their youthful ages? Regrettably, Baatz chose merely to summarize this particular argument rather than to provide the relevant quotes.
For a first time reader, who is not familiar with this celebrated criminal case, there is sufficient information in the book with which to learn the basic details of the crime and the trial, but I would not go so far as to rate the book as the absolutely definitive. The author wasted a significant opportunity to improve upon the previous books written about this same crime. I would rate this book as C+ effort (2.5), but, since half points are not available, my Amazon score will be rounded up to the next whole number.
on August 10, 2008
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.
on October 8, 2010
Part of this author's story on Loeb and Leopold is taken from newspaper reports, which were often notoriously sensationalized (and unapologetically inaccurate) during this early "trial of the century". And much of his story is clearly imaginative rather than factual, on what occurred before, during and after the murder. Simon Baatz attempts to delve into the minds of the characters to tell us what they're thinking and feeling, which is good in a novel but hardly representative of an accurate historical picture. As for facts, the writer apparently couldn't be bothered to get them straight: Richard Loeb's birthday, for example, isn't June 22 - it's June 11. The name of his governess wasn't Emily; it was Anna. There had been no rape or violation of the victim; Judge Caverly set that record straight in his final findings. The true identity of the murderer - whether Loeb or Leopold - was never admitted to nor determined. As well as getting facts wrong, Baatz also omits truths from his story, presumably because they don't conform to his bias. A glaring example of this is that the inmate who butchered Loeb in prison, James Day, was later caught sodomizing other inmates. There is evidence that Loeb was in fact the one resisting Day's advances, not vice-versa. If you want a good book about Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, buy Hal Higdon's "Leopold and Loeb: Crime of the Century." The best thing I can say about "For the Thrill of It" is that it has a few rare photos.
on July 12, 2011
Unfortunately, the primary purpose of Baatz's For The Thrill of It is to sensationalize through lazy research or outright deception an already sensational crime. He obviously found the true details of the case to be lacking and decided to fictionalize both minor and major aspects of the crime and trial. One of Baatz's overall detractions is his writing style, which I found wholly inappropriate for a nonfiction book. He makes the mistake of turning real people into characters whom he can imbue with thoughts and emotions, the veracity of which can only be speculated. For instance, when describing the actual murder, Baatz writes, "...Richard felt on the car seat beside him for the chisel. Where had it gone? There it was!" (83). Time and time again, citations were missing that would justify the inclusion of such meandering, unnecessary details and I often wondered which of these descriptions were based on fact and which were just pulled from the author's imagination in an attempt to add "color." Similarly, Baatz constantly digresses in talking about unrelated or tangentially related historical information in an attempt to paint a clearer picture of the social and political climate of Chicago during the 1920s. These extraneous details only further lessen the effectiveness of For The Thrill of It because it is impossible to use any historical context to elucidate the crime. Having to suddenly read a long-winded summary of Clarence Darrow's career feels like a deliberate waste of time because it does not add to my understanding of Leopold and Loeb.
Regardless of my subjective objections to Baatz's writing style, I feel that For The Thrill of It is so selectively researched and devoid of objectivity that it is impossible to take it at all seriously. For example, Baatz seems determined to brand Leopold and Loeb as rapists, as well as murderers. Though rape was certainly not an unfathomable accusation to make against two people as gleefully amoral as Leopold and Loeb, facts simply do not support this allegation and never quite did. Baatz minutely recounts Robert Crowe's desperate, last-minute accusations of rape, while neglecting to mention Judge Caverly's independent decision to clear Leopold and Loeb of this charge upon their sentencing. Likewise, Baatz cites a single issue of the Chicago Tribune to validate his assertion that Loeb was killed while propositioning sex from a fellow inmate, though all other evidence is entirely contrary to this. Why discount all other evidence in favor of a single issue of a newspaper from a city then notorious for its dislike of Leopold and Loeb? I find these clear insertions of Baatz's unsupported opinions to be quite troubling. Though Leopold and Loeb's sexual relationship is interesting in respect to its influence on other aspects of their behavior, it does not permit the author to convict them of every other sexual accusation made against them. Leopold and Loeb never admitted to practicing sodomy together, so why is Baatz so determined to accuse them of forcibly sodomizing others? I'm certain that any attempt to answer that question would be insufficient.
The rare and interesting photographs found inside For The Thrill of It hardly redeem its atrocious writing and do not justify purchasing this book. I would recommend instead Higdon's Crime of The Century, which is very well-written and largely impartial. McKernan's The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb is also worthwhile. Because there is so little reading material available on this subject, I understand the impulse to purchase this woefully inadequate book, but anyone who is even moderately familiar with the case will find fault with Baatz's careless and inexplicable misrepresentation of fact.
on September 14, 2010
Contrary to popular belief, sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover. My initial misgivings regarding FOR THE THRILL OF IT: LEOPOLD, LOEB, AND THE MURDER THAT SHOCKED CHICAGO began when I saw the photo of Chicago's Merchandise Mart on the cover. Construction of the Merchandise Mart was not completed until 1929--five years AFTER the Leopold and Loeb trial! Most people might not catch this detail (the publisher obviously didn't) but to me this is a pretty glaring error and just as inaccurate as putting a shot of Buddy Holly on the cover of a book about 1940s Big Band music.
As for the contents of the book, the author accomplishes something I thought would have been impossible: he takes a fascinating subject and makes it deadly dull. There are times when the writing seems so disinterested, I wonder why he even bothered to tackle this subject to begin with. Names, dates and other facts are rattled off in a perfunctory manner. As vile and repugnant as their crime was, Leopold and Loeb were complex individuals, yet the author doesn't seem to be terribly interested in what made them tick. Of course, much of their vile behavior is ultimately unexplainable, but a good writer knows how to keep the reader involved and bring people and events to life. But none of this happens here.
Amazingly, the author takes Clarence Darrow to task for what he feels are tactical errors in Darrow's defense strategy. While all historical events can and should be examined from different viewpoints, there's no denying that Darrow's defense saved both young men from death sentences. So to repeatedly state that Darrow misjudged his approach is foolish in light of the facts. This sort of revisionist take on Darrow would have been more palpable if the author offered genuine insights, but he merely comes across as an obnoxious know-it-all who an expert on everything--AFTER it's happened. Everyone is brilliant in hindsight, but it takes a real genius to know what to do at the exact moment events are unfolding.
The most disheartening thing about FOR THE THRILL OF IT is that it will prevent another, superior book on the subject from being published for a while. This volume tells its tale in a tedious, superficial fashion. That's a crime in itself.
on March 5, 2016
This is the first book I have read concerning the murder of Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb on the sunny Chicago afternoon of May 21, 1924. Nathan Leopold was the son of a millionaire businessman who lived in the posh Kenwood neighborhood. Leopold graduated from the University of Chicago and was studying at the law school at the time of the murder. Richard Loeb was the son of the Vice-President of Sears and Roebuck Co. The two boys were fond of Nietzche and pulp fiction detectives. Leopold wanted to be the perfect slave to his sexual partner Richard Loeb. Loeb wanted to be a master of crime who sought out a random victim to murder. This was done for the thrill of it and was consistent to Loeb's belief in the superman morality he espoused. Loeb was the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan and was doing graduate level study in history at the University of Chicago. The murder victim Bobby Franks was 14 years old and a second cousin of Loeb. He was murdered in the backseat of a rented green car by being strangled. The clues in the case included Leopold's missing eyeglasses found near the culvert pipe were the nude body of Franks was found by police. A portable typewriter used by the murderers was also located. The two killers confessed; they were defended by famed attorney Clarence Darrow. His opponent was Robert Crowe who represented the state of Illinois in the case. Darrow saved them from the gallows and they were sentenced to life for the murder and 99 years for kidnapping Frank.
Simon Baatz does a good job in explaining the intricate case in easy to read and understand prose. This is a fine book which will keep you flipping the pages. Fascinating reading!
on December 3, 2013
I had always heard about Leopold and Loeb but never thought about the background of the case. I didn't really expect too much from this book but I was amazed at how absorbing it was to read. I like to go back and forth reading several books at a time on my Kindles, but once I started this one, I went back to it very frequently. I actually haven't finished it yet - but I'm up to the trial which includes the famous Clarence Darrow. I must disagree with several people about the Kindle edition - I found it to be great on both my big HD Fire and my Paperwhite; both the print and the pictures were fine and error free. This book was a great bargain and I encourage you to pick it up if you are interested in true-crime nonfiction books.