Trials of the Century from Leopold and Loeb to OJ Simpson

Posted on October 15, 2020 by Martin Oaks under Community, Resources
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“The dog got nervous and was pulling me harder,” Sukru Boztepe testified.  “It stopped in front of a gate on Bundy…I saw a lady laying down full of blood.”

It was just before midnight on Sunday, June 12, 1994 when Boztepe, trying to find the home of a lost akita with bloody paws, discovered the lacerated bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman at 875 South Bundy in the posh Brentwood section of Los Angeles.

That night marked the beginning of the O.J Simpson saga: it culminated with a not guilty verdict 25 years ago (October 3, 1995) in what was heralded as “the trial of the century.”

  1. Lee Bailey, one of the “dream team” lawyers Simpson employed, took exception to the term “trial of century,” saying it was comparable to calling a circus “the greatest show on earth.”

“Every time I turn around, there’s a new trial of the century,” Bailey explained to The Washington Post.  “It’s a way of saying, ‘this is really fabulous, it’s really sensational.’  But it doesn’t really mean anything.”

The Simpson trial did capture public interest: over 95 million Americans watched on live television as the verdict was delivered.  Names like Kato Kaelin,  Mark Fuhrman, Johnnie Cochran, Marcia Clark, Judge Lance Ito, Robert Kardashian, and Rosa Lopez were all spotlighted, some more favorably than others.  But trial of the century?  No, there are just too many other high profile cases in a century to rank one above the others.

Consider these notorious 20th century defendants: Sacco/Vanzetti, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Bruno Hauptmann (Lindbergh baby case), spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, The Chicago Seven, and Charles Manson.  This list does not include international trials for Nazi Adolf Eichmann or the 199 collaborators at Nuremberg.

Then there is the heinous Leopold and Loeb case that was dubbed both crime and trial of the century.

Two exceptionally intelligent teenagers from wealthy families — Nathan Leopold, 19, who had a recorded IQ of 210 (highest of any killer on public record) was on his way to Harvard Law School; Richard “Dick” Loeb, 18, the youngest graduate from the University of Michigan, was pursuing further studies in History at the University of Chicago — murdered Loeb’s cousin, Bobby Franks, 14, on May 21, 1924 for reasons which their defense attorney, Clarence Darrow described as: “Not for money, not for spite, not for hate.  They killed him (Franks) as they might kill a spider or a fly.  For the experience.”

In his confession, Leopold admitted, “the thing that prompted Dick to want to do this and prompted me …was a sort of pure love of excitement, the satisfaction of putting something over.”

Loeb’s confession was similar: “I don’t remember just how it came about, we had been discussing crimes…the main thing was the adventure.”

There were other antecedent contributory factors:  from the age of 8, Loeb had initiated a gradually escalating series of delinquent behaviors — petty theft, breaking car windows, setting fires.  Leopold, who subscribed to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s superman theories, saw himself above the law — he became a willing accomplice in Loeb’s criminal forays.

The two studiously began planning the perfect murder: Bobby Franks was never the intended victim, he was chosen at random.

On that cloudless May day, the killers cruised the Harvard School for Boys in the prestigious

Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago.  Just after 5pm, they spotted Franks and induced him into the passenger seat of the car Leopold was driving — from the backseat, Loeb struck Franks with a chisel and ultimately suffocated him.  Under the cover of darkness, they hid the body near Wolf Lake, twenty miles south of Chicago.  Leopold was familiar with the area because of his nearby bird-watching expeditions.

The perfect crime unraveled when police discovered a pair of distinctive eyeglasses Leopold dropped while concealing Frank’s body.

Shortly, Leopold and Loeb each confessed.  Their affluent families hired Clarence Darrow, the most famous criminal lawyer of that time.

The attention of the country was focused on the Chicago courtroom where Darrow instructed the teens to plead guilty.  The defense attorney did not want to put the killers’ fate in the hands of a jury: he trusted that Judge John Caverly would not put the two to death.

Calling 102 witnesses (Sigmund Freud was asked to come from Europe to examine Leopold and Loeb, but begged off due to sickness), Darrow used a “masterful” strategy — his summation lasted more than 12 hours and was a seething indictment of the death penalty.

On September 10, 1924, Caverly sentenced the defendants to 99 years plus life.  Loeb was killed in a knife fight in prison on January 28, 1936:  he was cremated and only family members know for certain where his ashes were put to rest.  Leopold was paroled in 1958; he moved to Puerto Rico, where he repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime.  He died of a heart attack on August 29, 1971 –there was no funeral and Leopold’s body was donated to medical science.

In his closing argument to Judge Caverly, Darrow declared, “you may search the annuals of crime and you can find no parallel. …there is not a sane thing in all of this from the beginning to the end.”

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