'Crime Of The Century' Has Ties To 1920s Northern Michigan

The murder of Bobby Franks was described as a thrill kill by the two teens.

July 12, 2018 - 11:58 pm

CHARLEVOIX (WWJ) - A brutal murder with Michigan ties that dates back almost a century has been the subject of several films and theater productions. 

In May of 1924, a young teen was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Chicago. 

Fourteen-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks was the victim of the crime described at the time as "the crime of the century."

The two young men who confessed were from very wealthy families -- one of which spent summers in Charlevoix and was a prominent member of the seasonal community.

The pair, Nathan Leopold, 19 and Richard Loeb, 18 at the time of the murder were two wealthy students at the University of Chicago. Both were deemed exceptionally intelligent with records saying Loeb skipped several grades and was the youngest University of Michigan graduate at age 17. 

The killing of Franks was described as a thrill kill by the two when they confessed. The trial drew national attention, infamously known as the Leopold and Loeb case.

Richard's father Albert Loeb, a Sears and Roebuck executive and attorney in Chicago, had a deep fondness for Northern Michigan and built several homes and other buildings in Charlevoix, among them Castle Farms. 

The families retained Clarence Darrow (a leading member of the ALCU) and defender of John Scopes in the Scopes "Monkey" Trial to represent the two teenagers -- with the hope of getting life sentences and not the death penalty. Darrow's 12-hour sentencing argument against the cruelty of the death penalty swayed the judge in the case. Leopold and Loeb were sentenced to life plus 99 years. 

The gruesome story inspired the film "Rope" by Alfred Hitchcock, and the Meyer Levin 1956 novel and later film of the same name "Compulsion." 

"Never the Sinner" a John Logan play from 1988 included newspaper accounts of the murder and subsequent trial, among the many adaptations of the true story which shocked the nation. 

Loeb was murdered by another prisoner in 1936; Leopold was paroled in 1958 and died of a heart attack in 1971.