Nathan Leopold, along with Frank Loeb, two wealthy college students, murdered 14-year old Bobby Franks in what was called at the time, "the crime of the century." The duo were motivated to murder Franks by their desire to commit a perfect crime. The two spent months planning the crime and working out an arrangments to collect a kidnapping ransom with little risk of being caught. Indeed, it was a pair of eyeglasses found near the scene that led to their capture. The glasses had a special spring mechanism and Nathan Leopold was one of only three persons in the Chicago area to own glasses with this mechanism.
Once apprehended, Leopold and Loeb retained Clarence Darrow as counsel for the defense; Darrow’s summation in their trial is noted for its influential criticisms of the capital punishment and retributive, as opposed to rehabilitative, penal systems. In the end, Darrow succeeded in defending the two from a death penalty and they were sentenced to life in prison (for the murder) plus 99 years each (for the kidnapping).
In prison, both Loeb and Leopold used their education to teach prison classes. In 1936, Loeb was killed by another prisoner. In 1944, Leopold agreed to participate in a Malaria study in which he was infected with malaria. While in prison he mastered 27 different languages.
Finally in 1958, Leopold was paroled and this begins the Brethren-portion of his story. His parole was under the sponsorship of the Brethren Service Commission. On many occasions he expressed his appreciation for the willingness of the Brethren to accept him upon his parole as a medical technician at Castener Hospital in Puerto Rico.
He wrote in a 1965 article for Brethren Life & Thought, "So far as I am aware, mine was the first case in which the Brethren sponsored a man released from prison on parole. To me the Brethren Service Commission offered the job, the home, and the sponsorship without which a man cannot be paroled. But it gave me so much more than that, the companionship, the acceptance, the love which would have rendered a violation of parole almost impossible."
Leopold especially cherished the friendship of W. Harold Rowe, executive secretary of the Brethren Service Commission, who accompanied him when he left prison for service in Puerto Rico. He said, "I was privileged to know Harold for over thirteen years; I saw him at least once a year and generally more. And each time I could spend time with him, it was as if I were morally refreshed and reinvigorated."
This writer recently had the opportunity to see Leopold's personal copy of a well-worn Bible which he left at the time of his death in Puerto Rico to Dr. Lee Smith.
Preaching in a Tavern by Morse