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Tom Kalin's Swoon

ON MAY 21, 1924, Nathan Leopold, Jr., and Richard Loeb murdered Robert Franks, their 13-year-old neighbor, in the back of a rented pale-blue Willys-Knight while motoring along a busy Chicago highway. They then made a failed attempt to extort ransom money from the dead boy’s father, a wealthy entrepreneur. Eight days later both were arrested, brought in on circumstantial evidence—Leopold had inadvertently left his custom-made eyeglasses at the marsh where the naked and mutilated body had been secreted. Two days later the friends confessed. Subsequently tried and convicted, they were sentenced to life imprisonment plus 99 years.

Some 70 years after the fact, the force that the Leopold and Loeb case had at the time is difficult to grasp, given that tracking serial murder has become something of a national pastime. In 1924, the killing seized the public imagination with an intensity bordering

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