The “Crime of the Century” occurred in 1924. Two 19 year old law students coming from two wealthy families in Chicago murdered a 14 year old boy – Bobby Franks. The reason? They wanted to have the experience of killing someone. And they wanted to commit the perfect crime. The two were caught thanks to a pair of glasses found near the body and a unique eyeglass hinge which had been ordered by only three people in the country – an old lady, a lawyer who was traveling in Europe and Nathan Leopold — a law student at the University of Chicago and a student of ornithology.
Leopold and his partner in crime – Richard Loeb – were arrested and grilled by police. After the typewritten ransom note was found to match Leopold’s school papers, they confessed. Their lawyer Clarence Darrow pleaded them guilty to murder and kidnapping and threw them on the mercy of the court — Judge John L. Caverly. Following a month-long hearing on aggravation and mitigation, States Attorney Robert Crowe argued for five hours demanding that the two be sent to the gallows. Clarence Darrow argued for eleven hours. Pleading for mercy. Pleading for life. When Darrow finished his closing argument, there was not a dry eye in the courtroom — except for the dour States Attorney. Two weeks later, Judge Caverly read the verdict. His decision? “Life” in the penitentiary.
For the last nine years, I have been performing in a one act play – “Pleading for the Future.” It is a continuing legal education program and a real life account of the murder and the closing arguments. Famed reporter and author Ben Hecht (played by lawyer and former Army Stars & Stripes reporter Bill Hannay) provides the introduction and prologue. I (as a former States Attorney) play the part of Bob Crowe and Todd Parkhurst (an actor and lawyer) has the role of Clarence Darrow. When the play ran in a West Diversey Street theater (for – count ’em 4 nights), we had two young men playing the parts of Loeb and Leopold plus a bailiff played by Jim McKechnie. The play has taken on a life of its own. Now if only we could get Steven Spielberg, Disney or Warner Bros. to pick it up — keeping the original cast of course . . . .