February 29, 2004
Richard Loeb with his arm around Nathan Leopold.
Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold were as unlikely a pair of cold-blooded murderers as ever appeared in U.S. history. Privileged, brilliant, and coddled, they conjured up the perfect crime – just for the hell of it – and then executed it quite imperfectly. Only Clarence Darrow's virtuoso courtroom performance saved these remorseless, self-styled "supermen" from being hanged.
by Denise Noe
In 1924, 18-year-old Richard "Dickie" Loeb and 19-year-old Nathan "Babe" Leopold of Chicago had reason to think of themselves as "superior" people who could easily outwit the ordinary folk who enforced the law. Both were exceptionally intelligent and had academic careers in which they skipped several grades. Loeb, with an I.Q. estimated at 160, had already graduated from the University of Michigan, to which he had transferred after a year at the University of Chicago, completing his B.A. degree in two and a half years. Likewise, Leopold was a child prodigy, entering the University of Chicago at age 14. When he graduated four years later, earning Phi Beta Kappa status, he was among the youngest graduates in the elite university's history. Leopold's I.Q. was estimated to be stratospheric: over 200. There was much else remarkable about Leopold. He had already studied 15 languages and spoke at least five fluently. He had also developed a strong interest in ornithology and had collected nearly 3,000 bird specimens. According to the website, "Nathan Leopold and Ornithology," the teenage Leopold "kept about 3,000 bird specimens in the third-floor study of his home . . . lectured on the subject at the nearby Harvard [Preparatory] School and taught, as an unpaid volunteer, a 'bird class' to girls from the University Elementary School." In October, 1923, Leopold delivered a paper on a rare songbird called the Kirtland's Warbler to the annual meeting of the American Ornithological Union."