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This week in history: Robert Franks found murdered, launching Leopold and Loeb trial

On May 22, 1924, the body of 14-year-old Robert Franks was found murdered on Chicago’s South Side. The murder would launch the infamous Leopold and Loeb trial.

Headline for Bobby Franks’ murder in Chicago Daily News
The murder of Robert “Bobby” Franks made the headline of the Chicago Daily News on May 22, 1924.
Chicago Daily News

As reported in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A gruesome discovery connected to what would later be dubbed the “crime of the century” was made in Chicago 96 years ago this week.

A report in the May 22, 1924 edition of the Chicago Daily News detailed the discovery that morning of 14-year-old murder victim Robert “Bobby” Franks, whose body was found “stuffed into a culvert under the Pennsylvania railroad tracks at 118th street,” the report said. At the time, officials didn’t even realize they had a murder victim.

But before Franks was found, his family had received a letter from the kidnappers, demanding $10,000 for the boy’s safe return.

Franks’ killers — University of Chicago Students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb — had picked up the teen the previous afternoon while he walked to his Kenwood home, the report said. The pair had decided they would attempt to commit the perfect crime, reportedly just to prove they could get away with it.

“The police first diagnosed the case as accidental drowning, for the head wounds were not easily seen,” the report explained.

Once the two stab wounds on the boy’s head were identified, Franks’ uncle was allowed to view the body. “It’s Robert,” he cried.

The criminal trial that followed — “the trial of the century” — would go on to captivate the nation, catapult defense attorney Clarence Darrow to fame, and inspire the novel “Compulsion” and movies including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film “Rope.”