True Crime

Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

A shocking tale of intellectual arrogance and criminality in Chicago, where two wealthy young geniuses, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, committed a heinous murder. Explore their twisted Nietzschean philosophy, the meticulous planning of the crime, and the groundbreaking trial that followed, highlighting a pivotal moment in American legal and psychological history.

Today’s story is about a crime so notorious, it has been dubbed the “crime of the century.” But the reason for its notoriety has less to do with the crime itself, and more to do with who committed it.

On Wednesday, May 21st, 1924, a man named Jacob Franks walked up the steps to his mansion, and right as he went to open his door, his butler opened it up, welcomed him inside, and Jacob smiled at the butler and stepped in. Jacob had just spent a long day at his office in Chicago, Illinois, doing a big real estate deal, and now he was just happy to be home with his wife and his three kids.

Jacob Franks | Leopold and Loeb - These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN
Jacob Franks | Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

Jacob was an incredibly successful businessperson who had made a name for himself first in the early 1900s when he ran a bank that specialized in giving out these enormous loans to gamblers. But it wasn’t until he was named the president of the Rockford Watch Company and he expanded into real estate, that he became outrageously wealthy. His fortune, in today’s dollars, would have been around 70 million dollars.

The Rockford Watch Company | Leopold and Loeb - These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN
The Rockford Watch Company | Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

But now that Jacob was so well-established in the business world in Chicago, he was trying to make a more conscious effort to spend more time at home with his wife and kids. And so, as soon as he walked past his butler into his mansion, he hung up his hat and his jacket, and he went to find his wife, Flora, to tell her about an idea he had for a trip for that upcoming weekend.

Flora Frank | Leopold and Loeb - These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN
Flora Frank | Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

But when Jacob found Flora, she was not remotely interested in talking about their weekend plans, because Flora was very worked up about their youngest son, Bobby.

Bobby Franks, who was 14 years old, was supposed to come home right after school, but it was now 6 p.m., and he still hadn’t shown up, and she had no idea where he was. And Jacob’s reaction to this news was just to feel kind of aggravated.

Bobby Franks | Leopold and Loeb - These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN
Bobby Franks | Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

Bobby was generally a really good kid; he was a student at a prestigious boys’ school right down the road, and his teacher was convinced that Bobby was the smartest kid in his entire grade. Bobby was a member of the school’s debate team and regularly beat the older kids.

And Bobby was just a natural leader and very hardworking and kind. But Bobby could also be fairly irresponsible sometimes, specifically in terms of coming home on time. This was not the first time that Bobby had not come home by curfew.

Bobby Franks | Leopold and Loeb - These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN
Bobby Franks | Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

So, Jacob told Flora, “You know, don’t worry about it. This is something Bobby does. He likely lost track of time.” And as Jacob and Flora are having this discussion, Bobby’s older brother came into the room and suggested to his dad, Jacob, that perhaps Bobby was across the street at Richard’s house.

Richard was Bobby’s cousin, playing tennis on their private court. Richard and Bobby were quite close, even though they were four years apart — Richard was 18, Bobby was 14 — but they really bonded over tennis, and so that was something they did all the time.

And so, Jacob said he would go across the street and see if Bobby was there. He also told his wife Flora to just continue to call around town and see if anybody knew where Bobby might be. And so, Jacob left his mansion and began walking across the street towards Richard’s family’s mansion to see if his son was there.

Now, this neighborhood that Jacob lived in was one of the most exclusive neighborhoods, really in the entire country, but definitely within Chicago’s city limits.

It was called South Kenwood, and basically, imagine a street where every house is a huge mansion, and every mansion is home to some business tycoon or famous person. And all the families who lived in this neighborhood had a full staff of maids and butlers and drivers and fleets of private cars. I mean, these people who lived in South Kenwood were literally the richest of the rich.

Frank's House in South Kenwood | Leopold and Loeb - These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN
Frank’s House in South Kenwood | Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

And so, Jacob, he gets across the street, he’s standing in front of Richard’s family’s mansion, and he looks around the side, and he can see the private tennis court where his son and Richard would always play, but it’s totally vacant. And in fact, the house is just totally quiet. No one’s home.

When Jacob got back to his own home, he found his wife pacing around in the parlor, looking really concerned. And so, Jacob immediately asked her, “You know, what’d you learn? What’s going on?” And she would tell Jacob that she had spoken to one of Bobby’s friends, who told her that Bobby had umpired a baseball game after school and had left to walk back home at around 5 p.m.

The school and the baseball field where Bobby would have been was only about three blocks away from their home. And now it was 6:30 p.m., so it’s been an hour and a half since Bobby had supposedly begun his walk home. And so by now, he certainly should be here, but of course, he wasn’t.

At this point, Jacob went from feeling aggravated with his son to being concerned for his son’s safety. Despite the fact that he’s thinking, “Okay, well, my son is likely somewhere in this neighborhood in South Kenwood, one of the safest, richest, best places in the country, he’s got to be okay, but I really want to find him.”

And so, Jacob would call one of his very close friends who lived in this neighborhood, who also happened to be a former state senator, and he asked him to come over and basically look around the neighborhood for Bobby.

Bobby Franks | Leopold and Loeb - These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN
Bobby Franks | Leopold and Loeb – These spoiled rich kids KILL for FUN

When the state senator friend arrived at Jacob’s house, the two men left and began walking down the street lined with mansions, making their way towards the school where Bobby supposedly had been umpiring. And when they got there, they saw there was no baseball game happening, and the school was dark and closed for the night.

But Jacob and his friend decided that, you know, maybe it was possible that after umpiring this game, when Bobby had begun his walk home, maybe he had taken a detour into the school to get something, and then perhaps the doors got shut and locked on him.

And so, Jacob and his friend went to the school and looked for a way to basically break into the school. And sure enough, they would find an open window, they’d open it up, they would climb inside, and they would search the entire school, but Bobby was not in there.

At this point, Jacob was really starting to panic. His friend was trying to calm him down, but Jacob is now thinking something is terribly wrong with my son. And so, the two men actually ran from the school back to Jacob’s house.

And when they went inside, Jacob immediately called out to his wife to see if maybe she had located Bobby. But when he called Flora’s name, there was no response. And so, Jacob and his friend they run inside and they make their way towards the parlor, which is where they had last seen Flora before they left.

And when they walked in there, they found Flora lying on the ground, totally lifeless, with the phone off the hook right next to her hand.

And so, Jacob and the senator they run over and they begin shaking Flora, and suddenly she wakes up with a gasp. She looks up at Jacob and just begins sobbing hysterically. And after Jacob finally calmed her down, she would tell him that after they had left to go to the school, she had received a phone call.

And at first, she thought it was Bobby calling to check in, but when she answered it, it wasn’t Bobby, it was a man’s voice she didn’t recognize who told her that Bobby had been kidnapped.

He was safe for now, but if they went to police, something terrible would happen to him. This mystery man also told Flora that they would be in touch soon with more information, and then they hung up.

Flora had been so overwhelmed by what she was told that she had fainted, and that was why they found her on the ground. That night, Jacob, Flora, and the state senator friend stayed up late, going over what they should do. Of course, they wanted to go to the police, but this felt like a credible threat that Bobby could be harmed if they did that.

And so, they just went back and forth and back and forth over how to handle this horrible situation. But by 2 a.m., they had made a decision. The state senator had some close friends and connections in the police department, and so they decided that they would go talk to the police but would swear them to secrecy so the kidnapper or kidnappers wouldn’t know the police were investigating.

And so, a few hours later, when the police department opened up, Jacob and the state senator friend went to the police. They spoke to the highest-ranking officer who was sworn to secrecy, and then that morning the police would begin a quiet investigation into Bobby’s kidnapping.

At the same time this investigation was beginning, on the morning of May 22nd, 1924, a man named Morton D. Ballard drove through downtown Chicago in a luxury car known as a Willys-Knight. He pulled this luxury car into a parking lot right next to a rental car company.

Morton D. Ballard
Morton D. Ballard

And after parking the car, Morton got out, he went inside of the shop, and he handed the keys over to the clerk behind the desk. The clerk would ask Morton, you know, how did it go with your rental car? And Morton would say, oh, it was perfect, went totally fine.

After that, Morton thanked the clerk, he turned around, and walked outside where another luxury car was waiting for him, being driven by his good friend Louis Mason. And once Morton had climbed inside, the two men smiled and drove off and disappeared into traffic.

That same morning, Jacob and Flora received a letter from the kidnapper or kidnappers demanding ten thousand dollars in small unmarked bills.

And if they gave this money over, they would get their son back. Immediately, Jacob went to the bank and got the money, but before he could actually deliver the money to the kidnappers at the location they had specified in this letter, the police who were quietly investigating discovered a clue that would break the case wide open.

It would take over a week to unravel this bizarre clue, but it all started to come together when the police brought in Morton D. Ballard and Louis Mason for questioning.

Louis and Morton
Louis and Morton

Here is the shocking story that detectives were finally able to piece together about what happened to Bobby Franks on May 7, 1924. So, two weeks before Bobby went missing, Morton D. Ballard walked into a hotel in Chicago called the Morrison and rented room 1031.

He would tell the front desk that he wanted them to hold his mail for him. And over the next couple of days, Morton would come in, and he would get his mail from the front desk, but he didn’t appear to ever actually go up to his room.

Finally, a suspicious maid at the Morrison Hotel, who had been going into room 1031 every day to clean it, only to discover that Morton was not in there and the room was totally untouched and clean already, she went in one morning and saw Morton was not in there.

And she would actually just open up one of Morton’s suitcases that he had left inside. And instead of the suitcase containing clothes or toiletries, it just contained a bunch of random library books. As it happened, after this maid found this strange suitcase full of books, Morton stopped coming to the hotel.

He stopped getting his mail, he did not claim his luggage, and he didn’t pay the bill. He just kind of vanished.

On May 9th, so just a couple of days after Morton first booked that room at the Morrison Hotel, Morton also opened a bank account in Chicago. He also made his first appearance at that car rental company where he asked for the Willys Knight car.

Willys-Knight Car
Willys-Knight Car

The rental company would not just let anybody take a Willys Knight car; you needed a reference to show that you were someone who could pay for this type of vehicle. And so Morton’s friend Louis Mason would give him that reference and allow him to rent the Willys Knight car.

About a week and a half later, on May 21 first, so the day Bobby went missing, Morton and Louis were driving around South Kenwood in their Willys Knight car when they spotted Bobby by himself walking down the road. Now Louis recognized Bobby, and he knew that Bobby was an incredible tennis player.

Louis had a question for Bobby about a particular tennis racket. So Lewis, who was in the front seat of the car, told Morton, who was driving, to pull over so Lewis could talk to Bobby. And so Morton pulled over, Lewis rolled his window down, he called over to Bobby, Bobby came over, and before long Lewis and Bobby were talking about this tennis racket.

And then, when that conversation naturally wrapped up, Louis offered Bobby a ride the rest of the way home because that was where Bobby was walking to when they stopped him. And so Louis climbed into the back seat, Morton stayed in the driver’s seat, and Bobby climbed inside and sat in the front seat.

And then, once those two were situated, Morton pulled away from the curb and began driving towards Bobby’s house. And as they were driving to Bobby’s house, Bobby just kind of continued talking about this tennis racket because that was the thing they were talking about.

And as he was mid-sentence, Louis from the back seat reached into his pocket, pulled out a chisel, and then lunged forward and began smashing Bobby in the back of the head over and over again with this chisel.

And as Bobby is screaming in pain and trying to protect himself, Louis lunges forward, grabs Bobby, drags him into the back seat, and then holds him down, pulls a rag out of his pocket, and jams it into Bobby’s throat. And then he closes Bobby’s mouth and holds it shut until Bobby goes still.

After that, Louis kind of grimaced at all of Bobby’s blood all over him, and he kind of pushed Bobby down onto the floorboards below. And then Louis calmly climbed back into the front seat and sat down. Meanwhile, Morton has not remotely reacted to what’s just happened; this is just business as usual.

Morton and Louis did not go to Bobby’s house but instead drove towards Indiana. And on their drive to Indiana, they would stop at a Roadside restaurant and eat hot dogs and root beers, with their car parked right near this restaurant, with Bobby’s body just totally exposed, laying out on the floorboards of the back seat.

Hot Dog Stand
Hot Dog Stand

Morton and Louis would eventually get into Indiana, and they would head to this particular Forest that Morton was familiar with because he was a bird watcher and often came out here.

And when they got to this Forest, they parked in this clearing, they got out, they checked on Bobby and confirmed that he was dead, so they pulled him out, they stripped all of his clothes off of him, they rolled him up in a rug, and then they dragged him over to this drainage pipe that sat underneath some railroad tracks in this swampy area, and they jammed him inside of it.

And then they got back in their car, they drove back to Chicago, at which point Morton called Bobby’s mother Flora and informed her that her son was kidnapped but alive, even though he wasn’t, and “don’t call the police, we’ll be in touch soon.”

That night, Morton and Louis would burn all of the clothes they had stripped off of Bobby. They would also clean the interior of their Willys Knight rental car. And then they would play a game of cards together before going to bed.

The next day, May 22nd, so the same day that police began their quiet investigation into Bobby’s kidnapping, Morton and Louis would send that letter to Jacob and Flora demanding ten thousand dollars for the safe return of Bobby. But unfortunately, before Louis and Morton could claim their Ransom money, Bobby’s body was discovered.

In fact, that day he was discovered, a walker was cutting through the woods in Indiana and saw Bobby in the pipe. And so when Morton and Louis realized that, you know, The Jig Is up, the family is never going to pay for their son because he’s dead, they just returned their Willys Knight rental car and went back to their normal lives as if nothing had ever happened.

But unbeknownst to him, Morton had accidentally dropped his eyeglasses right next to Bobby’s body when they dumped him in the woods in Indiana. And Morton’s eyeglasses were very unique; in fact, there was only one store in the world that sold this particular kind of eyeglasses.

And so when detectives got the call about Bobby’s body being found, they would also find these glasses, and that was the big clue because these glasses LED detectives to the store where they were sold, and the owner of the store was able to say that yep, those particular glasses were sold to Morton.


And when detectives went to Morton, Morton immediately pointed the finger at Louis, saying that Morton didn’t do anything to Bobby, Louis did. But about a week later, on May 31st, both Morton and Louis would confess to police that they murdered Bobby.

But far more shocking than what Morton and Louis had done was who they were. Because Morton and Louis were not their real names. The two men who killed Bobby Franks were rich kids just like Bobby who lived in South Kenwood.

They created two fake names, Morton D. Ballard and Louis Mason, and then they booked room 1031 at the Morrison Hotel. Now they had no intention of actually staying at this hotel, and so they just left that suitcase full of books inside of the room to make it appear like they were staying there.

Louis and Morton
Louis and Morton

But in reality, the only reason they booked that room is they needed a physical mailing address that was connected to their fake personas.

And so after booking this room, they began sending mail to Morton D. Ballard and Louis Mason at the Morrison hotel, room 1031. And then after collecting that mail, which served as a sort of proof of legal name and address, they were able to open a bank account in Chicago.

They dumped some money into that, and then again, they used their proof of legal name and address to rent that Willys Knight car, and then used money from their phony bank account to pay for it. And then once they had their luxury car, it was time to go kill.

In reality, Morton was actually a 19-year-old prodigy named Nathan Leopold. He spoke five languages, had already graduated from college, and was a nationally respected ornithologist, which is someone who studies birds. Nathan’s IQ was so high it literally couldn’t be measured.

Nathan Leopold
Nathan Leopold

His father was the president of a very successful steamship company, and Nathan was planning to attend Harvard University in the fall to get yet another college degree.

And Louis was actually 18-year-old Richard Loeb, who was Bobby’s cousin and one of his best friends. Bobby and Richard played tennis together all the time in Richard’s private court, which is where Bobby’s father went first to go looking for his son.

Richard Loeb
Richard Loeb

Like Nathan, Richard was also a genius. He was the youngest person ever to have graduated from the University of Michigan, graduating at 17 years old. To celebrate the occasion, Richard’s father, who in today’s dollars was worth about 175 million dollars and was a retired president for the major retail store Sears, bought Richard a custom golf course.

He built him his own golf course, that was his graduation present. At the time of Bobby’s murder, Richard was actually enrolled at the University of Chicago’s law school, studying to become a lawyer.

Richard Loeb
Richard Loeb

Nathan and Richard would very proudly tell investigators that they didn’t kill Bobby to get money out of his parents. Nathan and Richard were fabulously wealthy; the money meant nothing.

Instead, they had come up with the scheme and killed Bobby because of their belief in the philosopher Nietzsche’s concept of Superman, men whose superiority allows them to rise above all ordinary rules, ethics, and laws.

Basically, Nathan and Richard believed they were so much better than everybody else in the world that if they wanted to kill someone, they should be able to, and Bobby seemed like a pretty easy target.

After Nathan and Richard confessed, they were put under arrest. A chauffeur was allowed to come to the police station and drop off silk pajamas for them to wear in custody, and instead of being held in a cell, they were allowed to stay in a hotel.

But ultimately, they both were sentenced to life in prison. Bobby’s family never recovered from his murder, and his father, Jacob, would die just four years after his son died.

Richard & Nathan in the Courtroom
Richard & Nathan in the Courtroom

As for Nathan, he would be murdered in prison in 1936 by another inmate. As for Richard, he would serve his time and get paroled, and then die of natural causes in 1971. Today, the murder of Bobby Franks is often referred to as the crime of the century.

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