Arrested Adolescence: The Secret Life of Nathan Leopold
By Erik Rebain
Publication Date: April 15, 2023
Summary from NetGalley:
Nathan Leopold seemed to live a charmed life: a published, polyglot college graduate by the time he was 19 and from a prominent, wealthy Chicago family. So, it was a shock to everyone when he and his lover, Richard Loeb, confessed to killing their 14-year-old neighbor Bobby Franks “for a thrill.”
During the summer of 1924 the world watched in fascinated horror as the pair were defended by the famous Clarence Darrow in what many labeled “the trial of the century.” There was a massive public outcry when the murderers were spared the death penalty, and once they were behind bars, most hoped they would never be heard from again.
33 years after the murder, it seemed that Nathan Leopold was a changed man. In prison he ran a high school and library, worked as a nurse, and helped find a cure for malaria. He was deemed rehabilitated and paroled to a tiny town in the mountains of Puerto Rico. There he got a degree in social work, raised funds to build a hospital, and advocated for the abolishment of prisons and capital punishment. When he died in 1971 there was an outpouring of support for the “gentle” “reformed” killer. Yet his life was not what it seemed.
100 years after the murder, this groundbreaking new biography uses previously unseen archival collections to look at the full life of Nathan Leopold and reveal the motivations behind Bobby’s death and the secrets kept hidden from history.
Erik Rebain is an archivist who works for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago History Museum. He has spent ten years researching the life of Nathan Leopold in over forty archives across the United States.
ARC provided by Rowman & Littlefield via NetGalley for an honest review.
I went into the book knowing very little about the Leopold and Loeb case or the men for that matter. I had heard of the 1924 murder committed for no apparent reason except that the boys wanted to know what it was like to murder someone and whether or not they could get away with it. But beyond that I knew nothing else. This book does not hold back on the events that led to the murder or afterwards and Leopold’s life both in prison and out.
Although the story was interesting, I did find the narrative a bit dry and at times long winded. I was fascinated by the way the cops caught the two boys after the murder and was appalled at the conditions in the prison they were sent to. It is surprising that Leopold was able to survive. He was able to do some ‘good’ work while in prison, such as starting a school for the prisoners and helping with medical research, but it was only so that he could gain privileges for himself. His work in prison reform was also interesting, but again he only saw it as a way to promote himself in the eyes of the public.
Nathan Leopold’s life was an interesting one and the author does not hold back on the good or the bad aspects of it. This is an honest account of everything Leopold did and accomplished. The author has done a meticulous job with his research and it shows. Even some of the most mundane details were told. But it all comes down to whether or not Leopold was rehabilitated and I have to agree with the author that he most definitely was not. He lived his life the way he wanted, and for the most part didn’t care if others were hurt by his actions. He cared for no one but himself, although he presented a much different persona to the world and was able to charm many people into thinking otherwise.
This is a biography with a lot to discuss and think about. I highly recommend it to those familiar with the case and even to those whose only interest is in true crime. It is a fascinating look at a very interesting life.