by Jeff Costello, September 6, 2017
Funny how things will stick in one's memory. The bit on Sacco and Vanzetti in a recent AVA column reminded me of other infamous duos from the dark distant past that have stayed with me since I was a kid. The Everly Brothers. Louis Prima and Keely Smith. Great stuff. Even Sonny and Cher, not so great but still floating in the archive. But it's not musical entertainment I'm thinking of, it's crime and punishment. Sacco and Vanzetti. The Rosenbergs. Sometimes I'll wake up in the morning with a song in my head, and not always a good song, but they're in there and have to come out. The other day I woke up to the memory of Leopold and Loeb. They were old news but still getting air and print time when I was young. Famous. The Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel, executed by electric chair for passing nuclear bomb information to agents of the Soviet Union. Their guilt or innocence is still unclear. Strictly guilty however, were Leopold and Loeb, two rich kids from Chicago who, under the influence of Nietzsche's idea of the ubermensch or superman, decided they fit the description. According to Nietzsche, the superior man is above conventional morality and laws. Leopold and Loeb, not entirely unlike Donald Trump, seized on this notion, and plotted the "perfect crime." They would murder a kid named Bobby Franks and get away with it. They didn't get away with it. Who is the "superior man?" As with the issue of eugenics, the question of who decides who stays and who goes is "Me. I am superior and I decide." After waking up to this historical business I had to refresh my memory with the wikipedia page on Leopold and Loeb. Classic case of hubris and ego far out of reality.
Nathan Leopold (left) and his lover Richard Loeb confessed that they had kidnapped and murdered Bobby Franks solely for the thrill of the experience. (Underwood & Underwood/ Corbis)
Almost a hundred years later, the human condition doesn't seem to have improved but gotten worse with overpopulation. Not enough room for all the egos. Loeb was murdered in prison when his family allowance was cut to five dollars a week and he could no longer pay protection money. Leopold became a model prisoner and was paroled in 1958. He lived until 1971. Clarence Darrow, later of Scopes monkey trial fame, secured life sentences plus 99 years on the basis of arguing against the death penalty. Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up with a Sonny and Cher song in my head, or maybe the Beatles if I'm lucky.