In 1924 two wealthy Chicago students named Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb murdered a 14-year-old boy because they believed they had deduced a way to commit a “perfect murder”.
Leopold was a former child prodigy who was fluent in five languages and had recently been accepted to Harvard Law School. Loeb was so smart he graduated from the University of Michigan at 17. The boys had grown up together and shared a love of Nietzsche, a philosopher who Leopold believed was describing the two boys with one of his ideas in particular: “A superman … is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do.”
In order to prove their status as “supermen”, Leopold and Loeb spent seven months planning a murder. They selected 14-year-old Bobby Franks as their victim. He was the son of a successful businessman and Richard Loeb’s second cousin and neighbor. They rented a car under a fake name and offered the boy a ride home from school. They killed him and disposed of the body 25 miles away.
When Franks’ body was found, Leopold told people “If I were to murder anybody, it would be just such a cocky little son of a bitch as Bobby Franks.”
A pair of glasses Leopold wore (along with only two other people in the entire city of Chicago) were found with the body. The men then told police that on the night of the murder, they were in Leopold’s car with two women whose last names they don’t remember. Police were able to confirm that Leopold’s car was being serviced on the night of Bobby Franks’ murder.
It was then that Richard Loeb confessed to Franks’ murder. Loeb accused Leopold of being the mastermind behind the crime and that Leopold had killed Frans while Loeb drove. Leopold confessed next, saying that Loeb was the murderer and Leopold was only the getaway driver. Leopold also said he had looked forward to seeing how it would “feel” to be a murderer but had been disappointed to learn afterwards he did not feel differently.
If this story sounds familiar, you might recognize the historical “Leopold and Loeb murder case”, or you might recognize the plot of killer early 00s thriller Murder by Numbers.
Loosely based on the historical crime, Murder by Numbers follows Detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) as she investigates the murder of a woman. At first she finds evidence that leads to two high school students, Richard (Ryan Gosling) and Justin (Michael Pitt), but the boys claim they don’t know each other and eventually more evidence is found that leads to the school’s janitor, who is found dead in an apparent suicide. While this unfolds, the audience is privy to Richard and Justin’s fucked up relationship. The two are aspiring serial killers, though at this point they’ve only killed on person so far.
Cassie’s gut instinct is that Richard and Justin are murderers. However, her partner, her fellow police officers, and the local ADA all refuse to believe her because Cassie is a female and unpopular with the other officers. I won’t spoil the ending, but there are a lot of twists and knowing how the historical case ended up does not give away the ending of this movie at all.
Murder by Numbers is streaming on Amazon.