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This week in history: Catching Bobby Franks’ killers

It took a little over a week for Chicago police to identify Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb as Bobby Franks’ killers. Here’s a look at how the investigation played out in the papers.

Bobby Franks as he looked in 1924.
Bobby Franks as he looked in 1924.
Chicago Daily News

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

The murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks on May 21, 1924 dominated Chicago headlines in the week following the crime. Reporters at Chicago Daily News documented every clue, every lead and every development that could unmask the killer — or killers, as the city would soon find out.

University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb would not fall under suspicion until May 30 when their names first appeared in print connected to the crime, but reports leading up to that day show how the case unfolded.

On May 23, 1924 — the day after authorities discovered Bobby’s body under the Pennsylvania railroad tracks at 118th Street — an inquest into the murder began that afternoon at 934 E. 47th St. An 11-year-old witness, Irwin Hartman, testified, along with a watchman at the Ford plant in Hegewisch who claimed to have seen the body dumped.

From the report: “Irvin didn’t see Robert the instant he disappeared, but he did see Robert walking toward home and a minute later saw that Robert had disappeared and a gray Winton touring car that had been moving slowly along the curb was speeding northward.”

The watchman claimed he saw three men walking up the tracks and away from the culvert where the body had been found.

“They were all young fellows, probably between 25 and 30, and they all wore caps,” he said. “Even then before I knew about the murder, I thought they acted rather suspiciously.”

The paper also described two clues: a pair of horn-rimmed glasses found near the body and the typewritten ransom note to the Franks family. Detectives concluded that “the demand for ransom and the kidnapping story probably were fictitious, created by the killer to throw suspicion in the wrong direction.” One doctor believed Bobby died before the killers sent the letter.

The next day, the paper reported that a letter arrived for the Chief of Police. The writer claimed to be Bobby’s kidnapper and said he intended to kill himself. By comparing the letter to the ransom note, police concluded that they were both written on the same typewriter, and though there was one recorded suicide that day, police could not connect Bobby to the deceased.

On May 28, police sought a red-haired woman believed to be present in the marshland when the killers dumped Bobby’s body. Their source? A psychic, Eugenie Dennis.

“Her vision and what she perceived were announced to the Chicago police today in a telegram from Detroit where Miss Dennis, while visiting friends, undertook psychic discussion of the Franks tragedy,” the paper said. “She obtained, she said, general descriptions of a red-haired woman and two men, the kidnappers; a view of the boy’s death and the conviction that one of the abductors is among those in custody of the police.”

The psychic claimed the red-haired woman and a man picked up Bobby and later strangled him in the car (he was actually beaten), the paper reported, and she even spoke with a Daily News reporter to get a clearer picture of the crime. Her information, however, turned out to be mostly false.

Meanwhile on that same day, police managed to trace the horn-rimmed glasses to a manufacturer and then to a Chicago office, the paper noted. By tracing the prescription, police uncover their first real suspect: Nathan Leopold Jr., whose name would first appear in the May 30, 1924 edition of the paper.