The Murder

Morrison Hotel where Leopold & Loeb rented a room under the name of Morton Ballard

Culvert crime scene

Ransom note

Leopold's glasses

Red Willys Knight

Leopold & Loeb standing next Gray Willys Knight they rented for the crime

Drug store L&L called

Crime scene map

Dew Drop Inn

Culvert at Wolf Lake

Ransom note envelope
Ransom drop instructions


Pre-May 21, 1924

Babe and Dickie developed a complex plan to commit their "perfect crime."  Following their smaller crimes -- arson, burglary, vandalism -- they recognized they needed a more sophisticated, elevated plan for murder.  They considered several potential victims concentrating on boys from the Harvard School where Dickie attended.  The Harvard School was located in the Kenwood neighborhood where they both lived.  They decided on a boy as he as they could overpower someone younger, and supposedly weaker than themselves.  Dickie suggested his own younger brother, but they opted instead to leave the victim to random chance.

Part of the plan was to disguise their identity.  They went to extensive lengths to invent Morton D. Ballard, the kidnapper.  The first step in the establishment of Ballard was they drove down to Peoria and opened a bank account in Ballard's name.  Their next step was to rent a room at the Morrison Hotel as Ballard.  They would not be able to rent a car without a Chicago address and they could not use their own.  They even dropped off luggage at the hotel, which was later retrieved by the police.

Using the Underwood typewriter they stole from the University of Michigan fraternity, they typed the ransom note addressed to Dear Sir as they had not yet identified the victim or his father.  The ransom would be $10,000.  They also typed instructions on how the victim's father would drop off the ransom (see below.)  Another of their errors was that Nathan used the typewriter for his law school study group.  One of his fellow students would identify the typewriter as belonging to Leopold.  After typing the notes, they tossed the typewriter into Lake Michigan in Jackson Park.     

Wednesday, May  21, 1924

At 11 A.M, Nathan met Dick after their post graduate classes at the University of Chicago.

They drove in Nathan's Red Willys Knight, to a Rent a Car on South Michigan Ave. where they rented a Gray Willys Knight. Nathan rented the car under Morton D. Ballard. They then drove to a local restaurant where they put side curtains up on the rented car and had lunch with a friend, Dick Rubel. After lunch they  returned to Leopold's home.  Nathan drove his own car. Richard followed in the rental car. They dropped off Nathan's car, after transferring their "gear" from Nathan's red car to the rented car. These included a pair of rubber boots, some ether, hydrochloric acid, rope, some gags,  two guns and a chisel.

Nathan asked the Leopold family chauffeur, Sven Englund, if he could do something about the squeaking brakes Nathan's car. Sven replied that he'd read in an auto magazine about oiling the brake bands. He warned Nathan to be careful to use the emergency brake afterwards, or he might run into somebody. "I'd rather hit someone than have squeaking brakes," said Nathan.

From the medicine cabinet inside the Leopold home Nathan retrieved a roll of zinc oxide tape. He and Dick then went for a drive in the rented car, leaving Nathan's red car in possession of the chauffeur. This would prove a fatal mistake

They ended up in the golf course of Jackson Park, where Nathan taped the metal end of the chisel- to use as a grip. Dick had shown him how. Their weapon would be the wooden handle of the chisel, their blunt object. Loeb referred to this weapon as his "Toy."

They  remained in the park for 45 minutes to an hour, until the local schools let out. They had a victim in mind; Johnny Levinson. Johnny was a neighborhood boy who fit their 'profile'. The victim must have wealthy parents, he must be small so they could easily overtake him, and he must be someone they knew, so he would come willingly into the car and not make a scene. They returned to their own neighborhood and began driving around the Harvard School on Ellis Ave and eying groups of boys.  Loeb  got out and meandered around the school playground. He stopped to talk with his brother, Tommy. They caught sight of Levinson and began trailing him. However, they later lost him. Leopold returned to his house to retrieve his binoculars, which Loeb referred to as Leopold's "bird glasses".

The afternoon was wearing on and Levinson had not reappeared. They stopped at a drugstore and looked up his address in the hope of catching him as he walked home. But he seemed to have vanished. However, at approx 5PM, a boy broke away from a baseball game and began walking south on Ellis Ave. His name was Bobby Franks. Another boy followed Bobby at a distance. His name was Irving Hartman. Loeb and Leopold spotted Bobby walking south as they were driving north. They turned the car around, let Franks gain a little on them, then pulled over.

Richard Loeb knew Bobby.  Leopold did not. Bobby Franks was a friend of Richard's young brother, Tommy. Bobby often played tennis on the Loeb's court, and had even played with Richard on occasion. The Franks lived diagonally across from the Loebs on Ellis Ave.

Richard Loeb called to Bobby, "Bobby, you want a ride home?" Bobby said he'd just as soon walk. His house was only two blocks away. "Wait. I want to ask you about that tennis racket you were using last week. I was thinking of getting one for Tommy." Bobby got in the car, beside the driver, in the front seat.

As he got in, Richard introduced Bobby to Nathan. "You know Babe? This is Bobby Franks. Do you mind if we drive around the corner?"

Bobby said he didn't mind. 

Meanwhile, young Irving Hartman paused in his walk to examine some tulips. When he looked up, Bobby was gone.  The car rounded the corner and Bobby was hit over the head with the chisel a block from his home.

The plan had been to knock him unconscious. The boy would be hit with the blunt end of the chisel, knocked out, and taken to the predetermined dumping site, at which point they would complete the plan by strangling him. Each was to hold an end of the rope and both pull, to share equally in the guilt. However, Bobby did not succumb instantly. He screamed. He was hit again. And again. He bled. It was another mistake. He was dragged over the seat of the car smearing blood on the seat. Gags were stuffed into his mouth. He was wrapped in a blanket and shoved onto the floor of the car.

Nathan began to lose his composure, mumbling, "This is terrible. This is terrible!" Richard calmed him down by talking to him, joking and laughing.  Loeb later would describe how he felt as "cool and self possessed". But things were already going  horribly wrong. There was a great deal of blood. They hadn't intended on that. It seeped out the wounds in the head and stained the carpeting. It stained the floorboards underneath.  "Well, probably the blood was rather effusive," Leopold would later comment.

They began to drive around, killing time until nightfall. They headed out to Indiana towards a location they had already decided upon.  At a deserted spot they stopped the car, removed Bobby's pants and shoes, belt and class pin. They left the shoes on one side of the road, the belt and pin on the other. The plan stated the clothing would be burnt. Items that wouldn't burn were hidden. In their alibi, Leopold and Loeb claimed they had dinner at the Coconut Grove. In reality, they had their dinner at a hot dog stand on May 21st. They stopped at a lunch stand called the Dew Drop Inn and Leopold ordered them hot dogs and root beers.  They sat eating.

At about 8PM, they stopped at a drugstore so Leopold could phone a friend, Susan Lurie, with whom he had a date that evening. He told her he would be unable to keep their date. Richard Loeb remained in the car.

Leopold had a date with Susan for May 21st, and thus, one could argue, Lurie gets dragged into Leopold and Loeb's alibi just as does Dick Rubel. Thus, their friend Rubel could be called on to state he'd had lunch with Leopold and Loeb at 1 PM. Lurie could be called upon to say she spoke with Nathan on the phone at approximately 8 or 9 PM. It was never stated that Leopold's date with Lurie was part of an alibi. It was stated however, that one of Leopold and Loeb's favorite topics of discussion was "What if our friends knew what we really were". Perhaps there was an added thrill in circumstantially involving these people.

Once it was dark enough, they proceeded to the place where they intended to dispose of the body- a culvert at Wolf Lake, where Leopold had often gone birding. The culvert was a drainpipe under the railroad tracks that connected two lakes.  Leopold had never noticed it when birding and thought nobody else would notice it either. He and Loeb had discovered the site together while wandering around looking for places to hide a body.

They completed removing the body's clothing in the car, dragged the body in the robe to the culvert, then poured the acid on the face, the genitals and an identifying scar. The reason for the acid was to prevent, or delay identification should the body ever be discovered, although the intention was that the body would entirely decompose in the pipe. They poured acid on the genitals because Richard was under the impression that a person could be identified by his genitals, believing his brother Tommy had an unusually shaped penis. Later, the alienists would comment on this, asking if they really believed one could be identified by their genitals, to which the reply was "We were under the impression at the time". 

Leopold had brought some rubber hip boots and he now put them on. When the body hit the water it splashed a bit onto his clothes, causing some concern. He shoved the body head first into the culvert. Richard helped, then went to the other side to wash some blood off his hands. The smell of the acid and the coldness of the water caused some discomfort, and Leopold did not push the body into the pipe far enough, and one of the boy's feet protruded. It was another mistake. 

With the body hidden, they then stopped at another drugstore so  Leopold could phone his father telling him he would be a bit late getting home to drive home his aunt and uncle, who were visiting.

While at the drugstore, they retrieved the Frank's number and address from a telephone directory. They called the Franks home but the operator took longer than they liked making the connection and they hung up, thinking the phone might be bugged. They addressed the envelope with the ransom note, marked it SPECIAL and mailed it at the Hyde Park Post Office.

They then called the Franks from another phone at another drugstore. Leopold told Mrs. Franks he was George Johnson, they had kidnapped her son, he was safe, and further instructions would follow tomorrow.

They then drove back to Leopold's home. They parked the bloodied rented car on the street in front of an apartment building on Greenwood Street and Nathan retrieved his own car from the garage. He drove his aunt and uncle home while Richard stayed, talking to Nathan Sr.. Ten minutes later,  young Nathan returned. They had a few drinks with Mr. Leopold until he went to bed- at 11:30 PM. Nathan and Richard remained for a while, drank some more, and played two games of Casino ("for fun"). at 12:30 or 1 they drove the two blocks to the Loeb house and burnt the boy's clothing in the furnace. They made a haphazard attempt at cleaning the car in the Loeb driveway.

The chisel was disposed of by being tossed out the window of the car, an action that was witnessed by a night watchman, who retrieved the weapon, covered with  tape and blood,  from the gutter to give to the police.

Thursday, May 22, 1924.

The plan continued after classes on Thursday. It was Ransom day.

An elaborate plan had been hatched for the delivery of the ransom. It was the most interesting and most complex part of the entire crime, and it was the part Richard Loeb liked best.

"Who says there's no way to get delivery of the ransom without letting anybody get a look at you? Or giving them a chance to plant a gang of dicks to watch you pick it up? This is neat, Nate- hey, I'm a poet! I knew if we just put our heads together and gave ourselves time enough we could come up with a foolproof scheme. Let's see them unravel this one." 

The ransom collection plan was as follows. Place a note in the trash can on a certain street corner. Place a note in the telegraph blank box aboard a certain train. Order a cab and have it sent to the Franks Residence. Phone Mr. Franks. (Interestingly, Leopold's phoning of Franks actually became one of the many incriminating pieces of evidence.) Direct him to take the cab to the street corner, and look in the trash bin. In the trash bin will be a note that will direct him to a certain drugstore where he should await a phone call. Call Franks at the drugstore only minutes before the train is about to leave, and direct him to immediately board and go to the telegraph blank box in the last car. On the train, Franks will find a note, directing him to stand on the back platform, and wait for the train to pass a large brick factory that has a sign saying "Champion". He is to count quickly to five, then throw the box with the ransom as far as he can. The boys would be sitting in an alley in the rented car, and watch the box be thrown from the train, then watch the train speed away. Should Franks have notified the police, should the police have even boarded the train with Franks, they would all be carried away, and not know where the kidnapers were. Should the train stop or slow, well, then they only had not to move to pick up the ransom. It seemed a foolproof plan. They couldn't get caught.

Unfortunately, things continued to unravel. The note wouldn't stick to the waste basket. So they eliminated that part of the relay. Mr. Franks had indeed alerted the police, and he forgot the address to where he was to take the cab. Leopold did not tell the cab company where he (he was posing as Mr. Franks when he ordered the cab) wanted to go, so the cabbie arrived at the Franks, and nobody knew where to go. And then, an unidentified body had been discovered in a swamp in Indiana . The jig, so to speak, was up.

The boys phoned the drugstore several times. Mr. Franks never arrived.  The ransom never came.

They grabbed a paper from the newsstand and read about the discovery of the body. Loeb wanted to quit, to return the car and lay low, sure that the game was over. Leopold however, insisted they try again. The body hadn't been identified yet. What was there to lose?

Loeb argued against it. It was too risky. But Leopold persisted. They phoned the drugstore again, and again, there was no Mr. Franks in the store. And then, then the game was truly over.

They returned the rental car, and stopped at another drugstore for a soda, where Dick bought all the latest papers he could find. At the drugstore, they ran into one of the instructors from the Harvard school, Mott Kirt Mitchell, who would become a suspect. They discussed the tragedy. Terrible shame, wasn't it? Leopold then drove Loeb home.