The best books about the Leopold-Loeb case

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been researching the Leopold-Loeb case for around a decade, ever since a documentary sparked my interest back in high school. That sent me on a quest for knowledge: devouring all the books I could find on the subject, before turning to archival collections to look at the primary source material. Flash forward to today and I’ve read thousands of newspaper stories, hundreds of scholarly articles and books on the subject and travelled around the country searching in over 50 archives, trying to understand this case as much as I possibly can. Here’s a list of books I found particularly helpful or inspiring on my journey.


I wrote...

Book cover of Arrested Adolescence: The Secret Life of Nathan Leopold

What is my book about?

Based on newly examined archival documents, my biography of Nathan Leopold doesn’t just tell the story of his and his partner Richard Loeb’s murder of Bobby Franks, which made them infamous. It covers the entirety of his life; examining the mindset that allowed him to kill as a teenager, the life he led in prison, and who he became when he was paroled after 33 years.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Leopold and Loeb: The Crime of the Century

Erik Rebain Why did I love this book?

Despite being published in 1975, Hal Higdon’s book about the Leopold and Loeb case remains the definitive account, at least to me.

If you’re looking for a factual, in-depth look at the crime, investigation, and sentencing hearing, look no further. Higdon was able to interview and correspond with dozens of people who were close to the case and who personally knew the killers and victim. He weaved those recollections into the narrative along with newspaper reports and quotes from the court documents in addition to the rest of his vast research, which gives his book a wonderful richness and depth. 

By Hal Higdon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leopold and Loeb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Among the criminal celebrities of Prohibition-era Chicago, not even Al Capone was more notorious than two well-educated and highly intelligent Jewish boys from wealthy South Side families. In a meticulously planned murder scheme disguised as a kidnapping, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb chose fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks at random as their victim, abandoning his crumpled body in a culvert before his parents had a chance to respond to the ransom demand. Revealing secret testimony and raising questions that have gone unanswered for decades, Hal Higdon separates fact from myth as he unravels the crime, the investigation, and the trial, in which…


Book cover of Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story

Erik Rebain Why did I love this book?

There have been many, many fictional adaptations of the Leopold-Loeb story, and it seems to be tricky to get the details and the people portrayed accurately, while still telling a tight and intriguing story. This play achieves that the best that I’ve seen.

Told in a non-linear fashion, it explores a nuanced relationship between Leopold and Loeb and what led them to the murder, as well as the arguments of the lawyers and the vitriol of the press. Exploring themes of prejudice, love, and mob hysteria, the audience gets to see many angles of the case and feel the vast effect it had on the city, without losing the more nuanced explorations of the characters and their struggles.  

By John Logan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Never the Sinner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Life Plus 99 Years

Erik Rebain Why did I love this book?

This pick is not without some caveats. This book, Nathan Leopold’s autobiography, was written while he was trying to get paroled from prison and it has to be taken in that context.

There are lies and omissions, but there are also harrowing sections describing the brutality that prisoners faced in the 1920s and genuine emotion when he discusses his complicated feelings for Richard Loeb. There’s no better place to go for information about his life in prison, or to get a feel for his personality, as long as you can read between the lines and remain skeptical when things seem a little too good to be true.

By Nathan F. Leopold Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life Plus 99 Years as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry

Erik Rebain Why did I love this book?

The Hunting Accident is a graphic novel that explores a fictionalized version of the life of Matt Rizzo: a prisoner whom Leopold knew in the 1930s.

While the book is more focused on Rizzo’s story, Leopold also plays a big part, and I recommend it because it’s a very unique way to experience this story. Rizzo was blinded while committing the crime which got him sent to prison, and the book focuses on Rizzo adjusting to living without his sight while Leopold adjusts to living without Loeb, who was murdered shortly before Rizzo’s arrival.

The artwork is detailed and sometimes disturbing as it portrays the pair navigating the prison and searching for purpose, connections, and meaning in their lives. 

By David L. Carlson, Landis Blair (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hunting Accident as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a child, Charlie Rizzo had been told that his father lost his vision in a hunting accident. It wasn't until Charlie found himself in a jail cell for his petty crimes that he learned the truth. Matt Rizzo was blinded by a shotgun blast to the face while working for the mob. Just a teenager and newly blind, he began his bleak new life at Statesville Prison. It was there that his life and very soul were saved by one of America's most notorious killers: Nathan Leopold. From David Carlson and Landis Blair comes a moving biography of a…


Book cover of The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb

Erik Rebain Why did I love this book?

If you’re someone who would like to dive more deeply into the sources from the case, this book is a great place to start.

The book’s author, Maureen McKernan, wrote half a dozen articles for The Chicago Tribune about the case in 1924, and then worked with defense lawyers Clarence Darrow and Walter Bachrach to compile this primer of the important facts and sources. In addition to a solid summary of the case, this book contains large portions of the actual confessions, psychiatric reports, testimony, speeches, and the Judge’s final decision from the hearing itself.

As the book was published in 1924, there are omissions of some subjects, notably homosexuality, but this is still an excellent introduction to deeper research.

By Maureen McKernan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vintage paperback


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Book cover of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

John Kenneth White Author Of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

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Why am I passionate about this?

Reading was a childhood passion of mine. My mother was a librarian and got me interested in reading early in life. When John F. Kennedy was running for president and after his assassination, I became intensely interested in politics. In addition to reading history and political biographies, I consumed newspapers and television news. It is this background that I have drawn upon over the decades that has added value to my research.

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