"The Murder that Wouldn't Die"
It was called “the murder of the century” by the press. This exhibit makes it easy to see why: Lining the walls are huge photos of the murderers, Nathan Leopold, age 18, and Richard Loeb, age 19. They capture the youth, handsomeness and, seemingly, the glint of malice that made two wealthy University of Chicago students notorious for the stone-cold 1924 slaying of 14-year-old Bobby Franks.
As the exhibit relays, Leopold and Loeb put a chisel to young Franks’s head and then suffocated him with a cloth, allegedly because they were wealthy, adolescent and bored—and lusted after the thrill of committing a crime. This exhibit does little to provide an original look at the sensationalized murder, but it does show some interesting visuals: Northwestern’s library holds the aging murder-trial archive, most of which is on display, including the original ransom note, the trial transcript and the psychiatric evaluations ordered by Leopold and Loeb’s famous attorney, Clarence Darrow. Glass cases contain the artifacts accompanied by chronologically ordered, well-written texts that unfortunately make the exhibit unfurl like a trite Hollywood movie.
Without any new facts revealed, the real questions is: Why unearth the grisly murder 85 years later? The first text panel explains that “libraries not only house history books, they also preserve the materials from which history continues to be made.” It’s an overly erudite statement that elicits a “no duh.” But the final two glass cases that serve to underlie this point are worth a look—each displays books, movies and plays inspired by the murder, which almost gives the exhibit’s subject much needed contemporary relevance.