January 20th, 2014 / 2:06 pm
I Like __ A Lot

Boys Who Kill: Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb

HIST leo01.jpg

The third installment of Boys Who Kill stars Nathan Leopold (right) and Richard Loeb (left). On 21 May 1924 in Chicago, Nathan and Richard kidnapped and killed a 14-year-old boy.

Nathan and Richard each had daddies who amassed mountains of money. Nathan’s daddy owned one of the biggest shipping business in the country and Richard’s daddy was the vice president of Sears Roebuck. But the wealth that surrounded them didn’t dispel boredom. The two didn’t want money, they aimed for fame, sensationalism, and transgression. One of Richard’s favorite dreams had him as a notorious criminal who was beat and whipped in public, with girls and boys arriving in droves to express their mixture of awe, sympathy, and disgust. As for Nathan, he envisioned himself as a king’s favorite slave. One day, Nathan saved the king’s life, and the king offered to set him free, but, being loyal, Nathan declined. Both fantasies are rather Jean Genet: they are sumptuous, romantic, and somewhat sordid.

Like that French prison boy, Nathan and Richard carried out many crimes, including stealing automobiles and smashing bricks through windows. Mostly, though, the crimes were initiated by Richard, who insisted that Nathan come along to serve as an audience. After the two stole a typewriter and other possessions from Richard’s former frat house at the University of Michigan, Nathan became upset at Richard because the latter wasn’t wasn’t having enough xxx with the former.

Nathan and Richard’s friendship/boyfriendship sort of resembles the typical depiction (though it’s likely bullcrap) of Eric and Dylan. Eric is the aggressor and Dylan is the follower. Eric constructed NBK and Dylan just acquiesced. It’s also been rumored that Eric and Dylan liked boys (though that’s definitely bullcrap). Columbine jocks told the media that the two BFFs were a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, whose members touched one another in hallways and convened group showers. In Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, the two Columbine-esque boys get into the shower together and kiss and maybe do other things before they commit their high school massacre.

But Nathan and Richard really did like boys. Though Richard was perceived as the leader, he was the one who took it in the tushy. That this is so, sort of confounds how boys who take in the tushy are assessed. Richard engineered many crimes, including murder, so maybe boys who take in the tushy aren’t all basic bitches after all. Another hypothetical reason for why Richard took it in the tushy is, as he declared to friends, he didn’t need xxx. Richard was beyond lust and all of that other stuff that occupies the ironic minds of 20-something Brooklyners day and night. The symbolism about taking it in the tushy had no effect on him, as he only cared about a life of crime.

Like Eric and Dylan, Nathan read Nieztsche. According to Richard, Nathan would speak ceaselessly about the German philosophy boy and his idea of the Superman, who is “beyond any moral code that might constrain the acts of men.” While being interviewed by a reporter, Nathan explained his and Richard’s murder: “The thirst for knowledge is highly commendable, no matter what extreme pain or injury it might inflict upon others.” Matriculating at the University of Chicago at 15, Nathan received A’s in Greek and miscellaneous romances languages, as well as A minuses in Latin, Russian, and Sanskirt. Though Nathan disavowed Christianity, his adherence to thought is considerably Christian. For John Milton, knowledge and God are almost synonymous, and the good Christian spends his life collecting knowledge (which Milton associated with truth) through books. Just as John Milton believed that his staunch and sassy faith should exempt him from laws (like censorship and divorce), Nathan suggests that his Superman search for knowledge shouldn’t be condemned just because it left average humans upset. Though Nietzsche and Nathan both excoriate God (which is a bad thing to do), there is correspondence between the Superman philosophy and Christianity.

Richard’s avowed indifference toward xxx renders him a kind of Superman too. Almost every American/Western subject has xxx or does xxx things constantly. It’s nothing special. What is special is not having xxx — like Emily Dickinson, Bill Cunningham, or Joseph Cornell — or, if you must, then do it in ways that are extraordinarily theatrical, like by having xxx with the boy who’s also your murder partner.

When Nathan and Richard went to trial, one of psychologists brought up that they were sort of boyfriends. Instead of allowing the psychologist to discuss this issue in front of the packed courtroom, the judge summoned the lawyers to him so that only they, he, and the stenographers could hear. Such caution calls attention to the threat of these types of boys back then. To like other boys was so abnormal and particular that it couldn’t be discussed in front of indiscriminate ears. If you were a boy who liked boys, you were a tenacious disease that would cause harm to anyone who came into contact with you. Now, in 2014, it’s quite clear that most boys who likes boys aren’t threats at all, and they are just as average, boring, and innocuous as boys who like girls.

Though Richard claimed the opposite, in Joliet, the Chicago jail were the boys served their sentence (much to the attorney general’s chagrin, they weren’t hung), Richard used his influence on the guards to get other prisoners cigarettes, alcohol, and roomier cells. In return, the prisoners would have xxx with Richard. One prisoner, though, didn’t like being harassed by Richard, so he cut him in the shower and Richard died. Nathan, though, ceased his xxx with boys. At a parole hearing, his lawyer told the board, “Nathan Leopold is not now, and he’s not been since his imprisonment, a sexual deviate.” That Nathan is longer a boy who likes boy means that he is no longer threatening to society, which may be one of the reasons he was released from jail. As if to prove how normal and average he’d become, Nathan married an ugly 54-year-old Baltimore widow.

In the 1924, there was no world wide web nor were there 24/7 news channels, but Richard and Nathan’s murder still stirred up a sensation. According to Simon Baatz, whose book, For the Thrill of It, is all about Richard and Nathan, “Every major newspaper in the United States planned to send at least one reporter to cover the trial, and inquiries had already been received from press agencies in Cuba, Argentina, Canada, Britain, Italy, and Australia.” The boys’ dreams had come true: they were spectacles. The international superstars would be the topics of headline after headline. Members from the Chicago Cubs would visit them in jail, WGN attempted to broadcast the final verdict, and Orson Welles starred in a movie based off of their murder. As with Eric, Dylan, and Cho Seung-Hui, Richard and Nathan captivated the media. In the hours following the murder, Nathan was nauseous. But when he encountered a former teacher at the Harvard School for Boys, and the two started to speak about the murder, Nathan, says Baatz, “felt a sudden sense of excitement — they had succeeded in a crime that would be the talk of the town.” Richard, too, was rapturous about his his covert role as killer, being so bold as to suggest scoops to his friends at the Chicago Daily News. On Richard’s behavior, Baatz elaborates, “Like the killing itself, his flirtation with the reporters excited and aroused him. His secret knowledge of the murder was congruent was his self-image as a master criminal.”

NBK was an elaborate plan that took plenty of preparation, and so was Richard and Nathan’s murder. Their killing was a production that involved rental cars, Chicago subways, a ransom note, and more. The ransom note was inspired by one that they had read in a short story in a detective magazine. As with the first three boys spotlighted in Boys Who Kill, Richard and Nathan’s crime was impacted by literature. Though their preparation didn’t lead to a double-digit body count, it was still an entertaining show that’s worthy of literature and cinema.

Stay tuned next week for the next Boys Who Kill.

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One Comment

  1. Richard Grayson

      This writer seems unaware of the great Meyer Levin. In 1972, the Los Angeles Times called Meyer Levin “the most significant American Jewish writer of his time.” Norman Mailer referred to him as “one of the best American writers working in the realistic tradition.”