Fictional accounts of the Leopold and Loeb case began to appear before the pair were even apprehended. Newspapers from the time spun story after story, competing to out-sensationalize each other with speculations about the killers and even comics depicting what they thought may have happened on May 21st. This trend continued throughout the trial process and many of the stories written by newspaper reporters were partial or complete fabrications. Though very entertaining, these fictions helped to create an altered sense of who Nathan and Richard were, a trend that later adaptations continue promoting to this day.
This list includes not only direct adaptations, but also works of fiction in which Leopold or Loeb appear as characters in someone else’s story or where the story/antagonists were inspired by the case. In many ways they have inspired something of a trope in fiction, that of two philosophical rich kid killers who enjoy toying with the police. Only very seldom are their later lives depicted in any major way.
These are organized by the date they were released, from oldest to newest.
R Current Count: Books: 15 Movies: 10 Plays: 16 TV Shows: 3 Others: 2 Total: 46
Published in 1929 by Patrick Hamilton, Rope is usually credited as the first Leopold and Loeb adaptation. Hamilton continually denied that he had heard of the case until years after his play was published, but as stated by Nigel Jones in his biography of the author, the connections between Hamilton’s play and the murder had too much in common to be mere coincidence.
“[Hamilton] borrowed for his killers…Leopold and Loeb’s cold arrogance and Nietzschean pretensions; their intended method of murder; their drawn-out teasing of their victim’s parents; their close connection with the victim; their blunders; and their gradually escalating panic.”
Rope’s opening scene is the murder of a young man and the rest of the story is a suspenseful ride as the viewer waits to see if the two young killers will be discovered. The killers, Wyndham Brandon and Charles (Granno) Granillo, who share an apartment and are implied to be lovers, kill a friend of theirs as an assertion of their superiority over common man. As they invite the victim’s friends and family over for dinner, Brandon feels compelled to tease and hint at their crime while Granno gets drunk and attempts to get through the evening without being found out. They are caught by a badly hidden ticket stub belonging to their victim rather than a pair of glasses, and the play ends with their old professor damning them and speaking on behalf of society to imply that the world will reject and hang them for their crimes.
Richard Wright’s Native Son, published in 1940, tells the story of a young african american man named Bigger Thomas, who accidentally murders the daughter of the rich family he is working for. After concocting a ransom note to divert the police from his trail, the police discover the girl’s bones in the family furnace Bigger was supposed to clean. He flees from the police, kills his girlfriend and is eventually brought to court and is sentenced to hang.
Wright, who had followed the Leopold-Loeb case in 1924 became interested again in 1936 as Loeb’s death brought the crime back to public attention, and around this time he began conceptualizing for his new novel. Many details point to the Leopold-Loeb inspiration: the family Bigger works for live in Kenwood, the same neighborhood as the Loeb, Leopold and Franks families and the defense for Bigger was largely based on Darrow’s defense of Leopold and Loeb. The characters also make numerous references to the case and killers, as the novel takes place in 1930s Chicago. Though not a direct adaptation, Wright was inspired by the morality, personalities and circumstances of Nathan and Richard, and he adapted their story to talk about the racial and class prejudice that saved two rich Jewish boys but would see a poor black man killed.
In 1948 Alfred Hitchcock, along with screenwriter Arthur Laurents, filmed an adapted version of Patrick Hamilton’s play. The story was brought to New York and the names of all involved were Americanized; the two murderers changing to Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan. Many assume that Phillip, the more passive, represents Nathan and that Brandon, the more aggressive, represents Richard, but both characters share about an equal measure of traits and histories from each of the boys. The film, shot in a series of continuous takes designed to make the movie feel like a play, and it was thematically similar to the play, discussing the feelings of superiority and learned philosophy that backed the motive for murder. In a heavy-handed speech at the end of the movie James Stewart, former teacher to the murderers and their victim, damns the philosophy and action he himself inspired.
The movie was tamed from the original play, but many of the scenes stick closely to the original, and the crew worked as hard as possible to sneak references to the killer’s sexualities through the censors. Though the word ‘homosexuality’ or indeed the relation to the Leopold-Loeb case was never mentioned, Hitchcock made sure everyone involved knew that homosexuality was one of the central themes of his movie. Both killers were played by gay or bi actors who kept the relationship in mind, and Arthur Laurents, who wrote the screenplay, was gay as well, and living with Farley Granger, who played Phillip, when Rope was being written and filmed. It was banned in some cities upon its release for this ‘controversial’ material.
Published in 1948 by the Transatlantic Pictures Corporation to coincide with the movie, the Rope novelization fleshes out the thoughts and motivations behind the killers. The reader is given backstory into how Phillip and Brandon met and the apparently platonic dominant/submissive relationship they maintained. Brandon is shown to be almost entirely devoid of emotions while Phillip is guilty and unsatisfied, only happy when he is being controlled. This is showcased in recurring imaginings Phillip has about a crumbling structure as his composure breaks down and he wants to turn on Brandon. Interestingly, the plan of the apartment included on the back cover of the book does not even come close to matching that of the movie set.
In 1954 a man named Meyer Levin paid a visit to Nathan Leopold in prison. Meyer offered to help Nathan write his autobiography, but Nathan would not agree to writing about anything prior to the time he entered prison (an idea he later reconsidered). The two parted ways and Meyer went to work researching for his own book, a novel published in 1956 which he called Compulsion.
In many places the fictionalization is very accurate to the Leopold-Loeb case, Levin did a thorough job researching relevant documents and newspapers. Nathan himself stated that he sometimes had trouble deciphering what was true and what was false after reading the novel several times. The killers in this version are Judd Steiner (Nathan) and Artie Strauss (Richard), their personalities, looks and lives modeled closely on those of Leopold and Loeb. The book relies heavily on 1950s psychology and frames the case through the lens of many outdated theories about sexuality and gender identity. Nathan would sue Meyer in 1959 soon after his release from prison for invasion of privacy and identity misappropriation in connection with this book and its future incarnations.
Nothing But the Night
In 1957 another book inspired by Leopold and Loeb was published, a novel by James Yaffe called Nothing But the Night. The title was taken from an A.E. Housman poem quoted by Darrow in his closing speech during the trial. In this version the boys are called Barry Morris (Nathan) and Paul King (Richard) and the characterization for Nathan’s character is especially interesting. Barry is a scared, shy and sweet boy who falls in love with Paul, a cold and manipulative schemer. Barry is helpless to resist and goes along with Paul’s schemes because he is afraid of what will happen if he doesn’t. This heightens the more nuanced but still biased characterization in Compulsion and emphasizes a trend that continues in fiction about the case today. Wherein Nathan loses most of his culpability and the blame is laid more and more heavily on Richard’s shoulders.
Little Brother Fate
Again in 1957, Mary Carter-Roberts published a book of three stories, one of which was based on the Leopold-Loeb murder. It follows Thomas Meyer, who is a combination of Nathan and Richard’s personalities and Herman Levy Jr, who is apparently supposed to represent Nathan according to his history, though he doesn’t have much of a character beyond his compliance with Thomas’ wishes and affection for the man he sees as his leader.
The story continues the trend of combining actual events, amateur psychology and fiction that creates a strange and interesting rendition of the familiar history. Homosexuality is seen as both wholesome and damning, and used as a cover for true sexuality; which in this case is seen as heterosexuality and pedophilia. It sympathizes while showing the many ways these boys went wrong from the very beginning and emphasizes the evil inherent in Thomas and their partnership.
The last chapter focuses almost exclusivity on the lawyer, Garrett, and his genius in devising the defense strategy. His complicated endeavor to place pity on the boys and make them boring and secondary to the trial was a success and culminates in a life sentence rather than death. Herman spends the rest of his life in jail, compliant with no real sense of self and the reader follows Thomas’ descent from genius to relentless homosexual, culminating in his death in a prison shower.
Compulsion: A Play
1957 also saw the release of a play version of Compulsion, again written by Meyer Levin. The play is told in a series of flashback as Sid Silver, a reporter, talks with an aged Judd in prison as he looks back over the events of 1924. It follows the same analytic delving as the novel, and is still explicit about the sexual relationship between the main characters. Meyer had considerable problems with the director of the play and includes a 40 page forward in the published version complaining about the production. The play preformed on Broadway, billed as “the producer’s version”, was quite different from Levin’s published play and was especially sensational, stressing the King-Slave dynamic between the pair and less interested in sticking to the truth.
Dean Stockwell who played Judd in both the play and movie versions, preferred the play, which he said was stronger. “It got into the psychology of the two guys, in more detail and more depth. It had more guts to it.” It ran for several months and once that version had finished its run, Levin was able to find theaters that would produce his own version of the script. This version premiered in New Jersey in December of 1958 with Warren Beatty playing the role of Artie.
There was to be another play about the case opening across the street from the Broadway version of Compulsion, called Counsel For the Defense, written by Jay Julien. The production was delayed indefinitely, allegedly because the team could not find the right actor to play Darrow.
In 1959 a movie version of Compulsion was released, adding fuel to the fire as Nathan and his lawyer Elmer Gertz were preparing to sue Meyer Levin, 20th Century Fox and a long list of over 60 movie theaters that used Nathan’s name or likeness in the film’s marketing. As fiction goes, it steps off the psychological focus of its past incarnations, cutting out the point of view of older Nathan and spends the last third of the movie with Orson Welles who plays the Darrow stand-in. Judd and Artie remain similar to their earlier versions; Artie is manipulative, high-strung and popular, Judd is reserved, philosophical and sarcastic.
Their relationship is masked more for movie audiences, though the trailer hints tantalizingly: “Do you know the strange relationship that existed between them?” The movie has several lines that hint at a relationship and Judd especially shows his strong feelings for Artie, though nothing is ever stated or suspected outright. Despite Nathan’s bitter fight against the movie, he later admitted that he thought Dean Stockwell did a “bang-up job” portraying him.
Beyond the Night
Written in 1963-1964 by Don Murray with Nathan’s approval, Beyond the Night was to be a film version of Nathan’s autobiography with the addition of many years of Nathan’s life in Puerto Rico. Though this project never got beyond the planning stages, a screen treatment does exist which shows the ideas behind the film. This short outline version creates a melding of Nathan’s prison time, smashing together important events and characters in the guise that they were all connected. It is nothing but kind in its treatment of Dick, who is popular, generous and protective of Nathan. He is to be shown joking and smiling as he is attacked by Day and it is clear that Dick did nothing to provoke the attack. The movie focuses on Nathan’s good deeds in prison, telling a very favorable story of his rehabilitation, both after Dick’s death and while working in Puerto Rico. The movie also focuses, as a central piece, around Nathan falling in love with his wife Trudi and finally being grateful that his life had been saved in 1924.
On March 12 1964 as part of a three day event, a Jazz Ballet interpretation of the case was preformed at the Music Hall of the Brooklyn Academy. The choreographer, Hal Grego (who also danced as Loeb) and composer Elmer Bernstein designed the piece as a psychological study of the murderers. According to one reviewer, their rendition included “flashbacks, visions of the dead mother of Leopold, and presentations of the youthful murderers as Iittle boys, the result could have been disastrous, but it was not. It was not a total success, either, but it did hold the attention and make one wish that it could be given the touches needed to put it across completely.”
The Death of Dickie Draper and Nine Other Stories
The title story in this collection, written by Jerome Weidman, was based off of the Leopold-Loeb case and published in 1965. Inspired by Leopold’s release from prison, the story opens with Arthur Breedon (Leopold) on his first day out on parole. As he walks around the city he was raised in he recalls his relationship with Theodore Bier (Loeb) and the crime they committed together.
Boastful and disappointed when he realizes that the new generation doesn’t know who he is, he nonetheless is convinced that he’s been rehabilitated. But as he begins visiting his old haunts, his past memories overwhelm him. He gets completely caught up in the past and takes orgasmic pleasure in his recollections of killing Dickie Draper (Bobby). When he comes to his senses, he concludes that he hasn’t changed at all and the story ends as he decides to send himself back to prison to protect humankind.
Clarence Darrow: A One Man Play
This play, written by David Rintels, premiered in 1974. The play is light on Leopold and Loeb, it is staged to represent a culmination of the work Darrow did, touching lightly on several of his largest cases. The play ends with part of Darrow’s closing statement in the Leopold-Loeb case, emphasizing his stance against the death penalty and his cry for kindness and understanding.
In 2014 Kevin Spacey stepped into the titular role, reviving the play in London at the Old Vic Theatre where Spacey is Artistic Director.
The Rich Boy From Chicago
Despite the title, Derek Marlowe’s novel, published 1979, is not a direct adaptation. It is instead about a young boy growing up in Chicago and searching for meaning as he matures. The first scene in the book is the main character almost getting abducted by Leopold and Loeb instead of Bobby. When he finds out how close he came to death, it sticks with him. As the years pass he follows the lives of both boys in the newspapers. Several years after Nathan’s release he reads an article in which Nathan says he has discovered the secret to happiness. Depressed and desperately unhappy despite his riches and success, he goes to Puerto Rico to find Nathan and ask for the secret. What he learns there helps him let go of his material obsessions and find contentment.
Darrow is a tv movie from 1991 starring Kevin Spacey as Clarence Darrow. The movie, told from the perspective of Darrow’s son Paul, spends about fifteen minutes on the Leopold-Loeb case, as the closing section of the film. Many details are changed, but an excerpt from Darrow’s closing speech is quoted verbatim in a more than six-minute monologue. Leopold and Loeb in this version are obnoxious, ungrateful and without remorse. They are proud of their crime and Richard in particular seems unconcerned with the pain they’ve caused or the situation they’ve ended up in. Understandably, more attention is paid to Darrow and his wife Ruby, and the hardship and triumph caused by their association with the case, rather than to Leopold or Loeb themselves.
In 1992, as part of the New Queer Cinema movement, Tom Kalin released Swoon; a study into the perception of stories, history and homosexuality. This independent movie brings the relationship of Nathan and Richard to the forefront while mocking the censorship that came before it. They are portrayed essentially as a married couple, exchanging wedding rings and living together in a rented apartment. Swoon mixes reality, showing video of the real Nathan Leopold and often recreating quotes and scenes almost verbatim from transcripts, with obvious fiction, as the boys entertain their drag queen friends and Nathan listens to language lessons on technology that hadn’t been invented in 1924.
The movie emphasizes the king-slave phantasies entertained by Nathan, and places him in a more passive role, often showing him to be visibly scared of the sadistic and in Kalin’s opinion, “sociopathic,” Richard. In contrast to the majority of films, the movie does not dwell on heavy-handed morality lectures and actually follows the boys to jail. Even more surprisingly, it ends not with Richard’s death, but with Nathan’s, after some short scenes documenting his grief over Richard and his remaining prison years. Though the movie can be confusing and vague it offers an interesting perspective and reaction to the fiction of the past.
Leopold and Loeb: Trilogy
Three plays, entitled Leopold and Loeb: Get It Up, Leopold and Loeb: A Goddamn Laff Riot and Leopold and Loeb: Are Dead Now, were written by Laural Meade and preformed by The Butane Group from 1993-1995. These plays offer a very unique take on the Leopold and Loeb story, playing with time and space as characters revise themselves, often repeating scenes over and over again while looking for the right tone. Though there are three different works, the later plays borrow and adapt scenes from earlier ones as well as from past fictional adaptations created by other people.
All three plays cast two-three Leopolds and two-three Loebs who are onstage at the same time, sometimes acting in the same scenes together, sometimes on opposite sides of the stage in their own world and occasionally just sitting by to watch and comment on their counterparts. This was done, according to the playwright, because there was such a depth to the two characters that just one actor or one scene could not contain them. There were so many unexplored sides to Leopold and Loeb themselves as well as a wealth of fictional adaptations to draw on, that the plays sought to examine every possible angle.
Funny Games (1997 and 2007)
These films are perhaps the loosest adaptations of the case on this list. The original Austrian Funny Games was directed by Michael Haneke and stars Frank Geiring as Peter and Arno Frish as Paul, (Tom and Jerry, Beavis and Butthead) the two characters who were inspired by Leopold and Loeb. The movie was remade almost shot-for-shot in 2007 with the same director but a different English-speaking cast, with Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet playing Paul and Peter. Though no reference is made directly to Leopold or Loeb, the actors were aware of the inspiration, and a few reported doing some research into the case and personalities of the boys. Pitt joked in an interview that it was his second time playing a Leopold-Loeb character, referencing his role in the 2002 film, Murder by Numbers.
This movie begins with a family arriving at their vacation home, beginning to unpack and unwind, until some genteel and polite young men come over, asking a small favor. The men, who introduce themselves as Peter and Paul, quickly create chaos for the family; imprisoning them in their home, torturing them and making them play sadistic games, all with a detached air of amusement and control. The movie was made as a criticism of horror movies and audiences who love to watch human suffering, and though not a direct Leopold and Loeb adaptation, it carries many themes present in other works about them.
Never the Sinner
Never the Sinner, written by John Logan, was first produced in 1983 when Logan was a senior at Northwestern University in Illinois. The version published in 1999 is the most well-known and is used today when the play is produced. Never the Sinner focuses heavily on a romantic relationship between Nathan and Richard, the published version reminds readers and actors before the play begins: “And one final point to remember: this is a love story.” The play jumps around in time, switching between the boys’ early relationship and moments at their trial, finally ending with their first meeting. It also borrows and adapts much of the transcripts, archival material and newspaper articles to pepper small details throughout that would go unnoticed to many, but make it clear that the playwright did extensive research.
Though Richard is manipulative and seductive, Nathan is a more than willing partner, callous and cruel in his own way. The play is poetic and occasionally ventures on the edge of melodrama but in spite of this, the characters feel real and the atmosphere created is a pleasant blend between reality and fiction.
Leopold & Loeb
Written by George Singer and produced at the 28th street theatre, this play was preformed by the Emerging Artists Theatre Company. It ran from May 27-June 14 in 1997 for 16 performances. Information on this production is scarce, but it seemed to focus again on the romantic relationship between Leopold and Loeb as well as the homophobia of the time.
Law and Order SVU; Uncivilized
This episode of the popular true crime show aired on November 15th, 1999, episode seven of its first season. It opens with the murder of Ryan Davis, an 8-year-old boy who was assaulted, strangled and buried in a park. The obvious suspect is an adult sex offender who lives nearby and frequently rode his bike in the park where Ryan was killed. When his alibi checks out, the team brings in two eyewitnesses who led the police to this suspect earlier, teenagers named Mike D and Jimmy G. They tell conflicting stories about what they’d seen and once the murder weapon and the victims glasses are found with Jimmy’s fingerprint on them, the police begin to grill the boys.
Mike, the smarter of the two and the one with a conscience, takes the conventional Leopold role, as someone who was led astray by a sociopathic partner. The boys say the murder was not premeditated, only meant as a prank, but when Jimmy started sexually assaulting Ryan he began screaming and they strangled him with the bike chain to silence him. Jimmy, in the Loeb role, is remorseless and doesn’t care about the life he’s taken while his partner cries with guilt in the next room, unable to understand how things could have gone so wrong.
This children’s book, written by Karen Hesse and published in 2001, explores the influence the KKK had on a small town in Vermont in 1924. Told in prose from multiple perspectives, there are several poems from the point of view of people hearing about the Leopold-Loeb case as it progresses through the summer. Various quotes and attitudes taken by Darrow are used to measure against the characters understanding of capital punishment and the direction the country seems to be headed. It raises the question if giving life sentences to the boys is enlightened or a sign that murderers (like the KKK) will be treated lightly and allowed to continue their horrific acts.
Murder by Numbers
Murder by Numbers, which premiered in 2002, offers an unconventional look at the crime. Transported to the modern world, the movie splits its focus between the lives of Justin Pendelton (Michael Pitt) playing the Leopold character, Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) playing Loeb and the investigator (Sandra Bullock) who is working to solve the crime they committed. The movie, asking the audience to seemingly root for both the killers and the crafty detective, is similar to Compulsion in that it tries to tell a larger story rather than just focusing on a single relationship. Whether it succeeds in its attempt to be inclusive, or the perspective shifts are damaging and confusing, is debatable.
The movie, not particularly well received, is rather jumbled together and the relationship between Justin and Richard especially is not well explained. The two are fond of each other, but fight, are incredibly jealous and manipulative but plan to run away together at the end of the movie. They torture and flatter each other, Richard says to Justin “I’m the only one who really understands you, really cares about you,” after he records himself having sex with Justin’s female love interest. The film plays up the themes of wealth, superiority, precociousness and the goal of outsmarting the police that connect it to its roots. These killers, as did the boys they were based on, leave several clues and are caught, turning against each other in their confessions.
Semblance of Balance
Published in 2002, Semblance of Balance was written by Wayne Nielson, the grandson of Elizabeth Sattler; a maid at the Leopold house who testified during the trial. The story is told from her perspective, and this gives an interesting account of the life of a servant to a rich family in the early 1900s.
In Neilson’s account Nathan is a charming, manipulated, sweet boy who fell in love with the wrong guy. Richard is the sadistic and criminal seducer who planned the crime and forced Nathan to participate. The two flirt openly in front of the servants, have anal sex in earshot of their families and Nathan confides to Elizabeth about their relationship. He also has a change of heart in court while Richard is unchanged and dies while trying to rape another prisoner.
Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story
Website: With photos, interviews and videos
Thrill Me; written, directed by and sometimes starring Stephen Dolginoff, is a musical based on Leopold and Loeb. This musical first premiered in 2003, but didn’t start getting attention until 2005. From there it skyrocketed in popularity, launching multiple cast albums and productions around the world.
Regarding the closeness of the material to the truth, Dolginoff says himself that he used the story as a jumping off point and that he is more interested in telling a story about twisted relationships than historical fact, as benefits a musical. This incarnation again tells the story of a dominating, manipulative Richard and a Nathan who got too caught up in love to help himself. It is Richard who takes joy in their crimes while Nathan worries, feels guilty and whines about the danger. Though it seems that their characters are very cut and dry, there are twists and reveals that add surprising depth and nuance to characters who could otherwise easily come across as one-note.
Ice Haven was adapted from an issue of the comic series Eightball, written by Daniel Clowes and published in 2001. The comics featured a series of disjointed stories which Clowes then supplemented and formatted into his graphic novel, Ice Haven, which he published in 2005. Leopold and Loeb themselves are a running theme through the stories in this work. One set of comic strips contains a basic overview of the case, another is a less realistic comic of Nathan and Richard’s lives as they look for something to do after the Franks murder.
Their largest impact on this fictional world shows in the story of a young boy who is given a book about Leopold and Loeb by a classmate. When a murder is committed in their town, the boy becomes increasingly worried that the owner of the book was inspired to murder another child based on what he had read about Leopold and Loeb.
Golden Age was written and produced in 2005 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa while he was as a grad student in New York. Aguirre-Sacasa, who now writes for the Afterlife With Archie comic book series, first wrote Archie as a character in this experimental play. Golden Age, intended as a commentary on the idea of an all-American, feel-good character and model of life, sees Archie coming out of the closet, moving to New York and working various jobs in the media industry. In the middle of this he attends the University of Chicago where he is roommate and lover to Nathan Leopold. While this play is not published, it introduces interesting ideas, especially as the point was the comparison between Archie and Nathan/Richard who were thought, before their crime, to be essentially those model young adults that the Archie comic characters embodied.
Dear Mr. Klezcka
Part of the short story collection Chicago Noir, this piece was written by Peter Orner and published in 2005. It takes place in 1958 shortly after Nathan’s parole, as he answers a letter from someone who didn’t think he should have been released. Most of the story takes the form of Nathan’s reply to this letter, in which he assures the writer, Mr. Klezcka, that he loves him for his fury, and that if he decides to come down to Puerto Rico to murder him, well, his door is always open. Nathan’s tone is reflective and he seems genuinely glad for this hate mail in among all the people who support his release. It is nice for him to get reminders that there will always be people who remember his crime, and he seems both remorseful for his past and wistful for death.
Written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, this play premiered in 2005 and was published in 2007. Inspired by the Columbine school shooting, the play focuses on the development of the two killers called Loner (Dylan Klebold) and Freak (Eric Harris) as well as the other students and adults who influenced them. This play is included in this list, though it is not an adaptation, for a scene in which Nathan and Richard briefly appear. The scene, set up as a history lesson, involves Nathan, Richard, Cain and Abel offering murder advice to Freak, the young killer-to-be. They argue over superiority, perfect crimes and who is more famous, before the teacher reveals that the boys were suspected to be lovers. The high schoolers and Cain discredit and mock them, and they end the scene chanting for blood and hatred with the rest of the characters. A reference is made to the idea of the superman in a later scene as Freak and Loner steal for the first time, seconds before they are caught by the police.
Folie à Deux: Insanity in Pairs
This play, written by David Stallings (who also played Leopold), premiered in October of 2006 in New York and has not been published. It explores the concept of folie à deux, defined as a delusion shared by two people in close association, by comparing the relationships of Leopold and Loeb and the Papin sisters, another young murderous couple. Both couples alternate between expressing love and violence for each other as they become codependent, eventually leading to their commissions of murder. Scenes between the sets of characters are narrated by Clarence Darrow, who voices his opinion on their motivations and the sad inevitability of their downfalls.
This movie premiered in Australia in November of 2006 and was released in America in 2007 under the title Murderous Intent. The film was originally conceived as a documentary on sociopaths, the writer was interested in the combination of two people, who through their relationship become something bigger and more dangerous than either of them apart. Over many years, the idea evolved into a fictional psychological thriller and exploration of the relationship between two intelligent English high school students.
The story begins with the arrest and interrogation of Alex Forbes for the murder of Nigel Colbie. Flashbacks that track the length of Alex and Nigel’s relationship make up a large part of the movie, along with the work of a forensic psychologist and police detective who work to solve the murder and several others committed previously by the pair. The movie is not a direct adaptation but the main characters and several of their traits and parts of their relationship grew out of the writer’s research into Leopold and Loeb.
The Agony & The Agony
Written by Nicky Silver, was first preformed in 2006 and published in 2008. The play focuses on Richard Aglow, a failed playwright who is attempting to write a play about Leopold. (Richard Loeb is mentioned once as part of Leopold and Loeb, but never again.) As Richard describes this play to his confused wife, Nathan walks into room and begins criticizing the characterization and bemoans the trend of fictional adaptations including him, especially when they’re poorly written and inaccurate.
He spends the first half of the play reading and commenting on Richard’s play without interacting with the other characters. In the second act he talks with Richard and tries to convince him to not write about his story, specifically because Richard’s writing is so terrible. He is sarcastic and aloof, seems to show little concern for his murder, even taking a certain of pride in it, but out of all the other characters he comes across as genuinely sympathetic. The play is a comedy and Nathan is used very well as both an audience foil, an emotional core and a comedic straight man.
Written by Marta Aponte Alsina in 2007, this novel is a look into Nathan’s life as seen by the woman who performs his autopsy in 1971. The book, intertwining the worlds of the living and the dead, reveals Nathan’s life and relationships with the people he knew and loved, including the famous singer Sammy Davis Jr. The book was published in Spanish and to my knowledge, no English translation exists.
Dickie and Babe: The Truth About Leopold and Loeb
Written and directed by Daniel Henning in 2008, this docudrama, as Henning calls it, attempts to be as historically accurate as possible. Though liberties are taken in the first half of the play when exact moments or quotes were not available, the second half, which focuses on the crime and trial, is almost exclusively made up of verbatim quotes from newspapers and transcripts.
Henning’s Nathan is restrained and monotone, though he clearly has strong feelings for Richard, feelings that sway between love and hatred. His Richard is energetic, constantly moving, giggling and grinning, it isn’t until his composure breaks and you see beneath that the audience realizes he’s been putting up a front the whole time. This is wrapped up in a letter from Dick to Darrow that is read near the play’s end, uncovered by Henning in his meticulous research. Accompanied by a rotating cast composed of five other actors, Nathan and Richard’s world is fleshed out beyond each other and they are given a depth and back story often left out in other incarnations.
Murdoch Mysteries: Big Murderer On Campus
This Canadian mystery show, which focuses on the life and career of detective William Murdoch, aired an episode based on Leopold and Loeb in 2009. The episode begins with the murder of college professor Samuel Bennett and another professor who had a heated relationship with the victim is immediately considered the most likely suspect. Two brilliant students, Robert Perry and James Gillies, who attended the classes of both professors, are quick to give Murdoch insight into the professor’s personality and possible motives. They are given permission to observe the police until Robert’s handwriting is matched to a note connected to the murder.
Murdoch worked to make the boys, who are implied to be lovers, turn on each other, and the police’s efforts focused on Robert, the less composed of the two. Robert eventually confessed to the murder in exchange for a lighter sentence and both were arrested in their classroom. They returned in later seasons where it is revealed that James escaped prison, sawed Robert’s head off and then began to tease and torment Murdoch. He died in the shows seventh season after jumping from a bridge.
Gin and “It”
Created and directed by Reid Farrington, this play, produced in 2010, examines Hitchcock’s “Rope” both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. As the production of Rope itself was a nightmare, with an enormous camera, constantly moving set pieces and long continuous takes, not to mention the censorship of homosexuality ( called ‘it’ among the cast and crew), this piece of live theatre brings that all into context with the filmed movie itself. Showing the crew, the actors and screened images of the movie characters, it brings the background action to the front for an in-depth examination of several dimensions of the story.
Criminal Minds; True Genius
In season 7 episode 12 of the tv show Criminal Minds, the team is faced with a copycat Zodiac killer, a man who turns out to be Caleb Rossmore. Caleb, the Leopold character, is desperate to regain the friendship of Harvey Morell Jr, his Loeb, a man he was close to in high school, who is now getting married. Both are highly intelligent, though Harvey is successful and Caleb is stuck in a menial job. It is heavily implied that Caleb has romantic feelings for his friend, giving a speech near the beginning saying “your soul mate is standing before you” in reference to himself. He weaves an intricate map of clues for his friend to follow, hoping to bring him back to the closeness they shared when they were teenagers and killed a young boy together. The episode, while playing with location and specifics, carries the underlying themes of superiority, one-sided affection and folie a deux often seen in other adaptations and creates an interesting world in which the Leopold and Loeb characters got away with their initial murder only to get caught as middle-aged adults.
Forgive Me, Bobby: A Time Traveler’s Lament
This novella, written by David Britt and published in 2013, tells the story of Edmund Grant, a theoretical physicist who builds a time machine and travels back to Chicago on May 21, 1924. The date and location, which were largely coincidences, put Grant in a moral predicament as he is forced to choose between trying to save Bobby’s life and letting history take its course. At the last minute he decides to try and change things, he warns Bobby to hurry home in the middle of his baseball game so he will avoid Leopold and Loeb cruising the block for him later. But when Grant runs ahead to make sure Bobby gets home safe he instead sees him get into a dark car and disappear around a corner. Devastated and confused about the implications of his act of attempted mercy, he returns to the future. After a couple more trips through time Grant destroys his machine, forever haunted by his visit to 1924.
Directed by Raphaël Neal, this French independent film premiered in 2014 and saw its American video release in 2015. The film, based on a book of the same title by Leslie Kaplan, begins with a motiveless murder carried out by Damien and Pierre, two rich high school seniors. They kill to test a philosophical theory of Damien’s, who plays the Loeb archetype of the more devious and unfeeling, that a crime committed without a reason has no culpability. The bulk of the movie follows the teenagers down their path to paranoia, helped along by a woman named Eve who suspects them of their crime and their growing obsession with World War 2 and the crimes committed by army officers.
Blood Brothers (originally called The Divine Tragedies) was written and directed by Jose Prendes, premiering in 2015. The movie stars Graham Denman and Jon Kondelik as Charles and Thomas, step-brothers who turn to serial killing. Thomas is the more assertive and Charles the more reserved, but both brothers are intelligent and eloquent, and both have a taste for blood. Their goal is a prefect crime, an artistic and iconic murder, which once committed, completely changes the dynamic of their relationship. Charles begins to hallucinate and grows increasingly violent, losing control over his thoughts and actions while Thomas becomes overwhelmingly remorseful of what they’ve done. This escalates as a police officer, played by Ken Foree, closes in on the pair. Again, while not a strict adaptation, the creators and actors were inspired by the personalities and motives of Leopold and Loeb when creating this work.
The Hunting Accident
This graphic novel, written by David Carlson with art by Landis Blair, had a limited edition release on Kickstarter in 2015 and has since found a publisher, a new edition will be published sometime in the future. The story told is that of Matt Rizzo; a young man who was blinded in an attempted robbery, then sent to Stateville in 1936 where he met Nathan Leopold who helped him learn Braille. Though based on truth, here the story diverges into fiction, as Nathan helps Matt regain his will to live through the works of Dante. The work is very philosophical, and explores both the Nietzschean philosophy that led to the Franks murder and Matt’s changing views of the world that would grow to shape his later life and writings.
Nathan, still struggling with his grief over Richard’s death, is arrogant and constantly annoyed at Matt for things he can’t control. While Richard is mostly shown in a negative light, having betrayed Nathan by lying about who killed Bobby, Nathan is given a more nuanced portrait than usual. He is selfish and elitist, but he truly cares about Matt and teaching. The book also reveals an interesting perspective as Matt grew up as a boy in Chicago after the Franks murder, hearing stories and rumors about the teenagers who were involved, then getting a chance to meet Nathan: his real-life boogeyman.
Dialogues of Leopold and Loeb
This new play, extensively researched and written by By Brad Walton, premiered in April of 2016 in Toronto, Canada. Walton’s play takes the unique route of focusing only on a year and a half of the boys lives, and cuts out before the trial begins, giving the audience a different idea and set of parameters for the boys’ relationship. The play is largely interested in the relationship between Leopold and Loeb, they are the only characters, and each scene showcases them and their strange, complex dynamic. Richard is still the sociopathic leader and Nathan his follower, but he does not follow blindly, and often revolts against ideas and plans he dislikes. They shift between being loving and violent towards each other, and the play ends as they make up one last time, ready to face the trial side by side.
Homo Superiors, written by L.A. Fields and published in June of 2016, is a modern retelling of the story set in Chicago, Illinois and Ann Arbor, Michigan. This unconventional take sees Noah Kaplan (Nathan) and Ray Klein (Richard) from their childhoods up to the very cusp of the murder. Fields uses the narrative to explore the nature of both boys and the circumstances that pushed them into their destructive paths rather than dwelling on the trial and aftermath. Much focus is given to the boys’ families, who are sometimes oversimplified, but the killers themselves are complicated and interesting. Noah is still the more squeamish and shy while Ray can be demanding and cruel, but they each reveal unsuspected traits that helps keep things interesting. Fields’ intense research of the Leopold-Loeb case shows through in her adaptation, creating characters that manage to embody the people they are based on while being skillfully modernized and changed to keep them realistic and grounded.