Nothing but the Night: Leopold & Loeb and the Truth Behind the Murder That Rocked 1920s America

Authors: Greg King, Penny Wilson

I believe the authors of this book were angry when they wrote it. It comes through when they talk about how for a hundred years Richard Loeb has been fingered as the leader of the team; it comes through when they describe the actions and inactions of the judge; it comes through when they describe the behavior of the doctors brought in on both sides of the case. And, if unexpected in a non-fiction recounting of an infamous murder and its repercussions, the anger is justifiable, because in a perfect world almost nothing told of in this book would have happened.

Starting, of course, with the almost random murder of fourteen year old Bobby Franks by two slightly older boys who … what? Wanted to know what it was like to kill someone? Wanted a spike in their otherwise sociopathically monotone experience? Wanted to exert their power as “uber menschen”, and prove how superior to everyone else, especially flat-footed law enforcement, they were? (To which I really can’t resist saying: lol)

The case is, as I said, infamous: two wealthy nineteen year old boys committed a motiveless murder on a fourteen year old neighbor (and cousin to one of the killers). Was there a sexual component to the crime? Who actually struck the blows that killed the boy? Who did most of the planning? It’s intensely frustrating to explore the situation, because the two primary witnesses, Leopold and Loeb, were habitual and fluent liars.

I can’t say I’m glad I read this book. I knew about the crime; I knew about a lot of the circumstances around it; I knew about the inevitability of women “falling in love with” evil -doers. (“The gruesomeness of the crime seemed to have no effect upon the feelings of the giddy little flappers who begged to get in”.) I did not know about how awful Clarence Darrow and the judge were (Darrow: “But as compared with the families of Leopold and Loeb, the Franks are to be envied, and everyone knows it”), or about just how truly empty and despicable Leopold and Loeb were, or about their later lives. (I didn’t know the “affluenza” defense was pretty much born here: “But your honor, it is just as often a great misfortune to be the child of the rich as it is the child of the poor. Wealth has its misfortunes.” Just once, I would like my character to be tested in this way.) (Also: The only purpose that they use themselves for is to debase themselves.” There could be a lot of blame placed on the army of adults who made no effort to give these two cretins purpose.) I kind of wish I had kept it that way. The book felt like a long hard slog through a particularly fetid swamp – not because of bad writing; that was adequate. But everything about this story made it hard to think well of humanity.

The solitary person who came through this book with my respect and even some admiration was State’s Attorney Robert E. Crowe. He fought the good fight (if you can call trying to get two young men executed a good fight, and that’s a debate I’m too emotionally and physically tired to even touch on here and now), and his bafflement at how horrifically ridiculous pretty much everything involved in this case was was almost comforting – he seemed to be the only one saying some of the things I was thinking.

“I wonder now, Nathan, whether you think there is a God or not. I wonder whether you think it is pure accident that this disciple of Nietzschean philosophy dropped his glasses or whether it was an act of Divine Providence to visit upon your miserable carcasses the wrath of God in the enforcement of the laws of the state of Illinois.”

I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley for an honest review.

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2 Responses to Nothing but the Night: Leopold & Loeb and the Truth Behind the Murder That Rocked 1920s America

  1. kimalexander1 says:

    Reminds me of Dorothy Parker’s quote about despising the rich (but she’d be absolutely darling at it.) Also it is so, so good to see your reviews popping up. I’ve missed your voice!

  2. stewartry says:

    Thank you, my dear! That means a lot to me.

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