The perfect murder goes completely wrong
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were wealthy young men in the early 1920s. They lived in big homes in Chicago and had world-class educations. They were both pushed hard academically, and Richard was sexually abused as a child. Both graduated early from high school and college. The two were an odd pairing. Nathan was quiet and awkward, not particularly handsome. Richard was gregarious and outgoing, good-looking… and a psychopath.
Nathan loved Richard, and the two sometimes had sex with each other. Richard realized he could control Nathan by trading intimacy for criminal activity. They started with typical juvenile delinquent behavior. Soon, though, Richard wanted more. He considered himself a master criminal, someone too smart to get caught.
Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch or superman
He and Nathan were exposed to the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote that the ultimate purpose of humanity was to evolve into what he called the ubermensch or superman. Leopold and Loeb thought they were that evolved human. Therefore, they should be able to plot and execute the murder of a young boy without ever getting caught.
Only, they were so bad at it that it took very little time to pin it on them. Only the brilliance of Clarence Darrow, the country’s most prominent defense attorney, could save their lives.
In this episode, we’re joined by Candace Fleming. She’s the author of the book Murder Among Friends about the crime.
The version of Also Sprach Zarathustra used in this episode is courtesy of the Creative Commons License and was produced by Kevin MacLeod.
- Murder Among Friends by Candace Fleming
- Helpful article on the Houston Symphony’s website about Also Sprach Zarathustra
- Article about what Nietzsche meant by “God is dead”
- Full text of Also Sprach Zarathustra
- Helpful video about Nietzsche’s work
- Smithsonian article about Leopold and Loeb
- William Jennings Bryan’s closing arguments of the Scopes trial
- Clarence Darrow’s closing arguments of the Leopold and Loeb trial
- Now that you know what the song Also Sprach Zarathustra is about, does it change your opinion of the piece?
- Do you think Nietzsche was right to worry about what would happen after Christianity took a back seat to world events? What should have been our response?
- With this little bit we covered about Nietzsche today, what do you think of his work? Can you see why it makes Chris nervous just to mention it in an episode?
- Do you see the connection between evolution and superman?
- Were people like Darrow and Bryan right to be concerned about young people learning Nietzsche’s philosophy?