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.
These are organized by the date they were released, from oldest to newest.
For a full list of the fiction inspired by this case see this page, which includes short stories, songs, movies, plays and more.
This book, published during the summer of 1924 by Edwin Herbert Lewis, is likely the first fictional book to adapt the Leopold-Loeb story. While the novel is mainly focused on the life of its main character Sally and her adventures running a small town newspaper, Lewis was a professor at the University of Chicago and deeply disturbed by the murder and trial. He added the characters of Taliesin Glendower and Martin Block and their rape of a young woman to comment on the causes he thought had led Leopold and Loeb to their crime-including their over indulgent parents and a lack of religious education.
The Grindle Nightmare
In 1935 pulp horror novel The Grindle Nightmare by Quentin Patrick (a pseudonym) the story’s main villains are inspired by Leopold and Loeb. The plot focuses on a young doctor trying to solve a series of murders in a small New England town, ranging from animals to adults with no discernible pattern or motivation behind them. The two collegiate killers are added into the story along with a myriad of other potential victims/murderers and are not suspects until the very last pages.
There is some question about the sexuality of the murderers; the meek Gerald and handsome, graceful Peter. One character remarks: “Very odd how those two boys are always about together. Never seen them with a girl or anything.” But, this being the 30s, the novel does not do too much to dive into the tension between the pair (or the protagonist and his roommate for that matter). The reason for the murder is explicitly given as folie à deux, specifically folie imposée, with Peter as the more dominant partner. Leopold and Loeb themselves are mentioned as the book wraps up to compare and contrast them with the book’s killers, and it is regrettably stated that one of the differences is that Leopold and Loeb definitely raped Bobby, while Peter and Gerald never assaulted their victims.
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 Leopold and Loeb, 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.
Published in 1948 by the Transatlantic Pictures Corporation to coincide with the movie, the Rope novelization is mostly just a published script of the movie, but it does flesh out some of the thoughts and motivations behind the killers. The reader is given a backstory into how Phillip and Brandon met and details on 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 map 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. Levin offered to help Leopold write his autobiography, but Leopold would not agree to writing about anything prior to the time he entered prison (an idea he later reconsidered). The two parted ways and Levin went to work researching for his own book, a novel published in 1956 which he called Compulsion.
The novel focuses on the crime and fallout of 1924, and in many places the work is very accurate to the Leopold-Loeb case, as Levin did a thorough job researching relevant documents and newspapers. Leopold 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 (Leopold) and Artie Strauss (Loeb), their personalities, looks and lives modeled closely on those of Leopold and Loeb, but there are some glaring departations from the truth. 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 Levin 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 (1957)
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 of the story, the boys are called Barry Morris (Leopold) and Paul King (Loeb) and the characterization for Leopold’s character is especially interesting. Barry is a scared, shy and sweet boy who falls in love with Paul, a cold and manipulative schemer.
After the boys form a friendship the story continues as usual: Paul begins on a series of crimes ending in murder, with Barry along for the ride, a little bit in love and afraid of Paul’s fury if he refuses. After the murder Barry confesses it all to his father and the boys are tried and sentenced to life in prison. Paul continues to have no remorse in prison, while Barry is consumed with guilt over what he took part in.
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 Leopold and Loeb’s personalities and Herman Levy Jr, who is apparently supposed to represent Leopold 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.
Crime Gratuit: L’affaire Leopold-Loeb
This 1959 novel was apparently only released in French, the 15th entry in the Collection Le Crime Ne Paie. Not being able to read French, I am unable to give much of a summary, though it seems to take place during 1924 and Meyer Levin appears to be a reporter character in the narrative, inspired by the success of Compulsion.
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, the information haunts him. As the years pass he follows the lives of both boys in the newspapers. Several years after Leopold’s release he reads an article in which Leopold says he has discovered the secret to happiness. Depressed and desperately unhappy despite his riches and success, he goes to Puerto Rico to find Leopold and ask for the secret. What he learns there helps him let go of his material obsessions and find contentment.
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 sections 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 character’s 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.
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 half of the book is given over to an account of the life of a servant to a rich family in the early 1900s.
In Neilson’s account, Leopold is a charming, manipulated, sweet boy who fell in love with the wrong guy. Loeb is the sadistic and criminal seducer who planned the crime and forced Leopold to participate. As the entire thing is framed as being from Sattler’s perspective, the two flirt openly in front of the servants, have anal sex in earshot of their families and Leopold confides to Sattler about their relationship. He also has a change of heart in court while Loeb is unchanged and dies while trying to rape another prisoner.
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 Leopold and Loeb’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.
Written by Marta Aponte Alsina in 2007, this novel is a look into Leopold’s life as seen by the spiritualist woman who performs his autopsy in 1971. The book, intertwining the worlds of the living and the dead, reveals Leopold’s life and relationships with the people he knew and loved, including the famous singer Sammy Davis Jr. He is depicted as being dissatisfied with his paroled life, having an affair with a beautiful leper woman and stealing a mummy from a basement. The book was published in Spanish and to my knowledge, no English translation exists.
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, puts 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.
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 was given a wide release publication in 2017. 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 Leopold 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.
Leopold, still struggling with his grief over Loeb’s death, is arrogant and constantly annoyed at Matt for things he can’t control. While Loeb is mostly shown in a negative light, having betrayed Leopold by lying about who killed Bobby, Leopold 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.
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 (Leopold) and Ray Klein (Loeb) 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.
Nothing But the Night (2018)
Written by K. C. Krantz, this piece of Leopold and Loeb fiction boasts a unique framing device. The story begins with Trudi Leopold, recently widowed, finding a manuscript Nathan had written about the murder and his relationship with Loeb and left for her before he died. Besides the first and last chapters, the entirety of the novel is told through this fictional manuscript, wherein some of the problems lie.
The novel itself is a patchwork of real information taken from many sources somewhat haphazardly stitched together with completely fictional scenes. It can be occasionally jarring when the fictionalized versions run into real facts and the author has to try to justify why a Leopold she has characterized as shy, non-confrontational and rarely angry acted as he did to friends, family and reporters. For a change, Richard Loeb is shown mostly sympathetically and has a real emotional attachment and love for Leopold. Leopold is mostly portrayed as sweet, unwilling to commit the murder and hopelessly in love.
These Violent Delights
This 2020 debut novel by Micah Nemerever tells the story of Paul Fleisher and Julian Fromme, two precocious teenagers whose obsessive relationship quickly leads to them planning a philosophically inspired murder together. While based on Leopold and Loeb in the plot and some of the themes (class, Jewishness, queerness, superiority) These Violent Delights and its characters are quite distinct from the facts of the 1924 case and offer many unique twists to the old story.
The Moralist: A Psychological Crime Thriller
This 2020 self-published novel by Joshua Marcus follows modernized versions of Leopold and Loeb, exploring what would happen if they never got caught. Nate and Dickie have grown apart in the years since they were accused of murder, but when Nate’s 14-year-old son is kidnapped and old evidence begins to resurface, he’ll be forced to confront the past he’s been trying for 20 years to forget.
The Good Evil Queen
Published in 2020 by Michael Fridgen, this modern adaptation combines the Leopold-Loeb story with a crime thriller delving into Minnesota history. Craig Kellerman, a 47-year-old restaurant owner seduces the religious and gay 18-year-old Ezekiel Smith, and once the two have bonded Craig begins to coax the teen into increasingly risky museum heists. The book is split between their perspective and that of Shanyah and Mark; the detectives determined to take them down.