Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What If Wednesday: Leopold and Loeb Get Away with Murder

I recently read For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago by Simon Baatz. As the title suggests, it recounted the tale of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two affluent and well-educated young men who decided to commit the perfect murder. They kidnapped young Bobby Franks (who was actually a second cousin of Loeb) and murdered him, dumping the body culvert north of Wolf Lake, which is not far from my old neighborhood. They were arrested after Leopold's glasses were found near the body and the two eventually confessed to the murder.

The crime shocked the country and many news agencies covered the trial. Leopold and Loeb's families hired famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow, who successfully managed to save them from the death penalty by having them plead guilty but requesting a lesser sentence from the judge. Loeb eventually died in prison, while Leopold was released in 1958 and died in 1971. Neither had managed to commit the "perfect" crime.

But what if they had gotten away with murder?

With so many alternate histories created by big events like battles with death tolls in the thousands, I wanted to try my hand at how the death of just one person being slightly different could have changed the timeline. In this case Leopold is a bit more careful and doesn't lose his glasses while disposing of Franks. The murder makes headlines for quite some time, but with police getting nowhere, the public's attention begins to wane. An attempt to blame one of Franks' teachers goes nowhere and prosecution accepts the fact that this will be an unsolved mystery.

Leopold and Loeb celebrate their "victory" in the only way people with a warped view of Nietzsche can. I don't believe, however, that they would commit more first. Leopold was planning on transferring to Harvard Law School after taking a trip to Europe, while Loeb would remain at the University of Chicago. If there plans aren't changed, then what would Leopold do in Europe? What would he see and experience? I have no idea if he planned to go to Italy or Germany, but I wonder how much he knew about fascism and whether he would run into anyone promoting the ideology in Europe. Certainly Nazism would probably not appeal to him because of Jewish roots (he was not practicing, but as we know that mattered little during the Holocaust), but maybe their example might stir some dark thoughts.

As I started thinking about that, I started writing down my ideas. Leopold and Loeb come up with a different type of crime. One that is even more dangerous, but the rewards of not getting caught are even greater: politics. The short story I have been picking away it is a 1930s American dystopia, essentially the Jazz Age gone bad. The more intelligent Leopold is now the face of a growing political movement sweeping the country. Loeb is still in Chicago, but he is a powerful party boss and we learn about him and his alternate relationship with Leopold from a low-level enforcer who rises through the ranks of the party.

I am having fun writing it, despite knowing I am straining plausibility to its limit. I am even enjoying all of nifty references I am including. What do you think about my scenario? What did I get right and what did I get wrong? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and if want to submit your own scenario email me at ahwupdate at gmail dot com for a chance to be featured on the next What If Wednesday.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Leopold's glasses confessed to the murder? I guess looks can kill.

    Grammar Nazism aside, an interesting what-if scenario.

    1. Groan. Hopefully the change I made makes things clearer.