Leopold and Loeb:
The Crime of the Century
Originally published in 1976, Hal Higdon's best-selling book on the kidnap and murder on May 21, 1924 of Bobby Frank by two wealthy teenagers named Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb has been reprinted by the University of Illinois Press in time for the 75th anniversary of what was attorney Clarence Darrow's most famous case. Following is an excerpt from the book: its opening chapter titled, "Burglary."
AUTUMN HAD CAPTURED THE LAND by the second weekend of November in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The few leaves that clung to the trees were brown, ready to fall. The acrid smoke from the fires of those that had fallen hung heavy in the air. Winter soon would be coming.
The ritual of fall in the Midwest includes burning leaves; it also includes football. Forty-five thousand appeared at the University of Michigan's Ferry Field on November 10, 1923: students, alumni, and ordinary fans. The Wolverines had the best team in the nation: undefeated, unscored on, led by All-American halfback Harry Kipke and center Jack Blott. Among those who traveled to Ann Arbor that weekend to see Michigan play the Quantico Marines was Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, class of 1896, who diplomatically divided his loyalties by watching half the game from the Michigan side and half on the side of the Marines.
The Marines scored first, the only touchdown Michigan would allow during a season in which they went undefeated. Michigan quarterback Irwin G. Uteritz broke his ankle and had to be carried from the field. It was a brutal, rugged game, but the Wolverines eventually prevailed, 26 to 6. Afterward their fans wrote angry letters to the Michigan Daily, the school newspaper, demanding that the university never schedule those vicious Marines again.
The 45,000 fans dispersed following the game. Many returned to their homes. Others stayed for parties that night. The movie Held to Answer was playing at the Majestic. The stage play The Circus Lady could be seen at the Whitney. There were two dances on campus, an Armistice dance at Barbour gymnasium, an overflow dance at the School of Music auditorium. Edwin Denby, who would resign his Secretaryship during the Teapot Dome scandal, probably attended neither movies, theater, nor dances, but if he followed the pattern of the typical alumnus, he might have stopped by his fraternity house to meet old friends, greet his Fraternity brothers, and have a drink. Despite Prohibition, the constitutional act that made the manufacture and sale of liquor throughout the United States illegal between 1920 and 1933, most fraternity houses and their members had little difficulty obtaining bootleg booze for their parties, which began after games, lasted through the evening, and finally concluded in the early-morning hours when the last fraternity brother had passed out or fallen asleep.
The Phi Chapter
The Phi chapter of Zeta Beta Tau sponsored its usual postgame party following Michigan's victory over the Marines. Zeta Beta Tau was exclusively Jewish, its roster of members including names like Schrayer, Weinfeld, Hirschman, Greenebaum. The big prestige fraternities on campus, such as Sigma Chi, refused to pledge Jews, so Jews formed their own fraternities. Other than the religion of its members, Zeta Beta Tau differed little from most other Greek societies on campus.
Perhaps because of anti-Semitism, the members of Zeta Beta Tau displayed considerable ambition. The Phi chapter of that fraternity recently had remodeled its house at 2006 Washtenaw Avenue, changing it from a simple barnlike structure into an impressive gabled home. It was laid out in the fashion of many fraternity houses: a living room, a dining room, a powder room, a kitchen on the first floor; individual study rooms, closets and bathrooms on the second; and a large attic on the third where everybody slept.
The fraternity brothers, after a night of revelry on the first floor, would head upstairs to undress on the second floor (often dumping their clothes over chairs and desks, not bothering to secrete wallets or valuables), then ascend the final flight to sleep it off in double-decker beds.
The party after the Quantico game followed the pattern of the usual football weekend on campus. It ended in the early-morning hours of Sunday, November 11, 1923. The last brother headed upstairs. The living room, its lights still blazing, stood empty. At approximately 3 A.M. the front door creaked open. In walked two men. Had anyone been awake to see them, he would have realized instantly that the two men had not come to Ann Arbor to party or watch football. The two men wore masks.
Two men wearing masks
Each also carried a flashlight. One carried a chisel, its blade wrapped with tape. He had wrapped the blade that way to transform the chisel into a weapon for hitting people over the head. The taped blade became the grip. The wooden handle became q bludgeon. The instrument could be used to render a person unconscious with a quick blow.
The other individual carried a rope, which could be used to bind anyone discovering them. He also carried a revolver, as did his partner. Later the man with the rope would admit, "If anyone had recognized us, I would have shot to kill!"
The two men eased the Zeta Beta Tau front door shut behind them. One tiptoed toward the powder room of the living room and cautiously looked inside. The powder room contained a bed. Weekend guests sometimes slept there. But the room was empty.
He motioned for his companion to follow him to the stairs. They moved up them, step by cautious step, listening nervously for the sound of anyone who might be awake above. After reaching the second floor, they tiptoed down the hall and slipped into one of the darkened study rooms, switching on their flashlights for light. Someone had emptied the contents of his pockets on his desk before hanging up his clothes. They grabbed what they found: money, a knife, an Eversharp pencil.
Counting the loot
They moved from room to room. One removed a fraternity pin from the lapel of a coat thrown over a chair. The other came to a desk belonging to Max Schrayer, a graduate student living in the house. He took money, a watch, a medal. In another room they took a fountain pen, more money. One of them spotted a portable typewriter, an Underwood, that belonged to a freshman from Milwaukee named Pierce Bitker. He took it.
The two crept silently out of the fraternity house and returned with their loot to a car parked nearby. The counted the stolen money: $74. They drank from a bottle of liquor. The one who had wielded the chisel suggested they return home. The one with the rope insisted that they burglarize a second fraternity house, as planned.
The first burglar argued against it. Nobody had seen them, as they had hoped. His friend, however, insisted that they continue with their plan. It was a manner of honor. The first had wanted to burglarize Zeta Beta Tau, and he had cooperated. But they had also planned to burglarize a second fraternity, one of this choice.
The two headed there now. On the first floor they found a camera,which they took. But hearing snores above, they did not go upstairs. Unlike Zeta Beta Tau, the second fraternity house contained a second-floor sleeping porch. The intruders became nervous. With the camera as their only loot, they fled to their car.
Soon Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb had vanished into the night.
"Burglary" appears in Leopold and Loeb: THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY by Hal Higdon, Copyright © 1976, 1999 by Hal Higdon, all rights reserved. Autographed copies of this book are available for $18.50 (includes shipping and handling) from Roadrunner Press, P.O. Box 1034, Michigan City, IN 46361-1034.