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Famous, or rather infamous, for a number of reasons. Nietzsche fanboys spoiled rotten since birth and twisted lovers, they were pretentious little brats that murdered a 14-year-old boy out of sheer boredom. Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, two young Chicago men who introduced the world to “thrill killings.” The ’20s really were a roaring decade.

Leopold & Loeb: The Crime of the Century by Hal Higdon is probably the most informative book you’ll ever find on the topic. Among the thousands of true crime books published since Leopold and Loeb’s reign of fame, a very small percentage are actually about them. The murder of Bobby Franks is extremely well documented as are the court proceedings that followed. Just about every minor detail about the case are easily available to anyone interested with Hidgon’s book being the official textbook on the subject. Leopold & Loeb: The Crime of the Century is a heavily researched, 380-paged true crime document that you’ll come away from feeling like an absolute expert on all things Leopold and Loeb.

A dashing pair aren’t they

Some true crime books format themselves like novels where the events unfold in an actual narrative, and others are a strictly factual listing of periodic events. This one follows the latter. The bulk of it reads like an extended Wikipedia page where it’s a mixture of actual dialogue and peers/eye-witnesses/investigators recounting everything they know, which is a lot. As I said, both they and their crime are well documented because their one victim was found with relative ease and their confession was offered up on a silver platter. They gave everything up just to brag about it, describing each detail of their ridiculously complicated master plan with excitement burning in their eyes.

Here’s a simplified breakdown:

  • Kidnap and kill the chosen victim (Franks was picked at the last minute), must be rich enough to warrant sending the family a ransom note.
  • Send ransom note demanding $10,000
  • Call family and demand the father, or head of household, to wait for a cab that will drive to a drugstore where further instructions would be waiting.
  • Instructions will say to go to the train station where they’re to look in the telegraph box
  • Inside would be a note instructing them to board the train and throw the money off the last carriage.
  • Leopold and Loeb, watching from afar, would go fetch it later.

The plan might as well have come out of a Perry Mason episode. You just know one of them was masturbating while reading it over in their little bedrooms. The many steps in the plan were on account of them trying to make it clever. Whether or not they got the money was never a concern.

It all starts in 1923, with a robbery at the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house. Two masked figures familiar with the layout break-in and steal whatever they can fit in their pockets: money, pencils, a pin, a watch, a knife, metals and pens. The only thing they worked at carrying out was an Underwood typewriter. About a year later, that same typewriter would be used to write a ransom note sent to the family of Bobby Franks, after the boy’s body was already dumped in a culvert north of Wolf Lake.

In 1924, Bobby Franks willingly got into a car in broad daylight and was bludgeoned to death. His body was found on May 22, 1924, and the half-assed manhunt began. Bobby had suffered blunt force trauma to the head but apparently died from asphyxiation. Suffocated from either a gag or from being stuffed in the culvert. In an attempt to obscure his identity, hydrochloric acid was poured on his face and genitals to disguise the fact that he had been circumcised, or rather to hide that he was Jewish but all that did was start a rumor of molestation. Many schoolteachers were targeted and accused of pedophilia.

Despite the large gaps in police intelligence, it didn’t take that long for them to track the murder back to Leopold and Loeb. The smoking gun that led police to their door was a pair of bird-watching spectacles Leopold dropped near Wolf Lake and the font and print pattern of the ransom note which matched the stolen typewriter taken from Richard Loeb’s former fraternity house, Zeta Beta Tau. It took about a week to trace the crime back to them.

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“We decided to pick the most likely-looking subject that came our way.” Richard Loeb commented in his version: “The plan was broached by Nathan Leopold, who suggested that as a means of having a great deal of excitement, together with getting quite a sum of money.”

Leopold and Loeb

There are three chief reasons why Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb have lived on in true crime history so prominently and it’s because they were rich young men, their actions were the first time most people ever heard of murder without a proper motive, and they were in a romantic relationship. Though “romantic” is a bit of a stretch. They were in a weird Natural Born Killers type of relationship built off loneliness and co-dependency.

Higdon studies the relationship between them from a distance whilst looking at it from under a microscope. It’s their relationship that makes this story so engaging and it’s also about 50% of the book’s focus.

“Leopold considered himself inferior to Loeb, but Loeb considered himself inferior to Leopold.”

Honestly, every page that features real dialogue between the boys, paired with personal accounts of their behavior, makes them sound like an old married couple. The two openly admitted to planning the other’s death only to immediately change their minds because…who else would they hang out with?

The Crime of the Century points out the gay panic that ruled a lot of young men during that time, murderers included. Upon capture, Loeb was especially reluctant to be labeled a homosexual. He and Leopold were apparently having “sexual liaisons”, as the book calls them, since 1921. But according to Loeb, their “liaisons” were just part of a business agreement where he would offer sex to Leopold in exchange for partnership in crime. Two things contradict this claim: Loeb implied to vague sexual encounters with other men prior to this and their agreement was set up in 1923, two years after their “liaisons” supposedly began.

There was also a whole master/slave fantasy going on, not as sexual as it sounds, between them which would take up too much time to discuss in full so here’s a link to some info on that.

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“The alienist felt that the Franks homicide could be understood only by examining the interplay of these two personalities as they related to each other. ‘Dickie needed an audience. In his fantasies, the criminalistic gang was his audience. In reality, Babe [Leopold] was his audience.’”

“Leopold needed Loeb to compliment him and serve his alter ego.”

One can easily say that the murder was a direct result of their relationship. Not only the assumption that they wouldn’t have killed if they never met, but their reason for killing Bobby Franks was directed at one another.

A good film to watch for the Leopold and Loeb relationship is Barbet Schroeder’s Murder by Numbers from 2002. The film goes off track from the actual crime and doesn’t follow any sort of historical accuracy but the relationship between the two boys is more on the mark than in Compulsion, Swoon, and Rope. I can assume that screenwriter Tony Gayton actually read this book before penning Murder by Numbers, only to merge it with a random Sandra Bullock cop drama, which is what ruined it.

Murder by Numbers (2002)

The Hearing

A lot of Leopold & Loeb: The Crime of the Century is dedicated to the hearing. Quick correction, this case is often referred to as the “trial of the century” but it’s not actually a trial because there was no jury, making it a hearing. Leopold and Loeb pleaded guilty so the question of their guilt was already confirmed.

The hearing was about their punishment, whether or not they should get the death penalty. The famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, a fervent opposer of capital punishment, defended them in what would become his most famous case. This part of the book is long, and as someone who hates all things related to court, boring. There are at least two chapters dedicated solely to their psych evaluations, most of which are dated because psychology was still new and many illnesses were incapable of a proper diagnosis.

As I mentioned above, a good film to see Leopold and Loeb’s dynamic is Murder by Numbers, but if you’re interested in the hearing and Darrow, then I recommend Compulsion from 1959. It’s a somewhat accurate portrayal of the hearing and features a good enough replica of Darrow’s famous closing argument.

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Compulsion (1959)

Verdict

There is a lot of information given in this book. You can tell that many years went into the research of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t off much of anything new but only expands upon on facts that are already widely available. Everything mentioned in The Crime of the Century, I had already heard in some form although the book does develop the case more and fills in some of the blanks.

One of the most interesting sections of The Crime of the Century takes place in Part 3: “Nothing but the Night.” The section is set during their time in prison, they went to the same prison, and shows how incarcerated life has affected them. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 5: a Book Review

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I can’t believe we’re already at the mid-season finale of Monastery! Time indeed flies when you’re having a blast (or feel like you’ve been hit by a bag of bricks). The fifth installment of the novel is so action-packed I don’t even know where to start. All I will say right now is that we are in for a ride of a lifetime. Buckle up, folks. 

Plot

We begin the episode with Thomas preparing to leave Monastery, a plan put in motion by his mother which is thankfully quickly reversed. Can you imagine anyone else leading the investigation? Didn’t think so. Although Thomas is still dealing with his guilt over Pop Dennis’s death, he knows there is a lot at stake. After all, his cousins need directions to get to the bottom of things. 

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For arguably the first time the group comes across something of great importance as they discover Francis’s DNA test. The group then trails him and our antagonist George Turner on their quest for the money Albert hid before his death. The characters encounter a bunch of clues that the narrator basically screams are foreshadowing but David once again disregards them. Nice going, man. 

On the other end, we have an extremely disturbing scene involving Francis digging up his father’s grave and desecrating it. I don’t blame Nicole for throwing up at the sight. Seeing him getting more and more unhinged throughout the episode is unsettling as well as riveting.

Speaking of graves, we finally get a flashback sequence of the night Albert’s family covered up his murder. We still don’t know who committed the crime but can see who helped to bury the body aka who is complicit. The scene provides some great characterization to the adults of the ensemble cast. It also explains why George Turner is so involved in everything. Hell, it even manages to make me feel bad for Cassandra. Just for a moment, though. 

Our neighborhood bully Rick continues to be heavily entangled in the story. He and Thomas have a highly emotional altercation when Rick attempts to take his own life. It’s a shame Rick doesn’t tell Thomas why he’s doing this as it would alleviate both their guilt. However, it’s also a realistic exploration of how young children handle something they are not emotionally equipped to deal with.

It is purely because of Thomas’s intentions to help him that Rick ends up being a witness to something horrible. Let’s just say, Francis finally snaps and George meets his brutal end. I definitely won’t miss the guy but this doesn’t bode well for our main cast. It can’t get any crazier though, right? 

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Overall thoughts

This is easily the most exhilarating episode of Monastery so far, with action just seeping off the pages. A lot of other storylines take a backseat (such as the love triangle that is seemingly dead but not quite). Despite that, there is still some time for emotional moments to let the readers take a breath. Words can’t say how excited I am for the next part. I just hope against all hope all my favorites will come out safe. Only time will tell… 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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More from the author:

1. This episode of Monastery was probably the most morbid one yet (the flashback of the family covering up Albert’s murder, Francis digging up his body, Thomas climbing into his grave). What is your writing process when it comes to these types of scenes as they can be quite uncomfortable to think about?

I may well be a little unhinged, as I honestly love writing these morbid scenes – probably because they always feel like the reward you get after you’ve worked so hard for something, you know? As a writer, you try to build up to those big moments, so that they feel earned. My process then ties in with ensuring those big, morbid scenes aren’t gratuitous, that they make sense to the plot and the characters. The family covering up Albert’s murder comes from a place of despair and self-preservation; Francis digging up his body comes from a place of anguish and resentment, and Thomas, well, he’s a very driven young man who will stop at nothing to find the truth, and we’re only just beginning to see that.

2. The neighborhood bully Rick turned out to be a lot more integral to the story than I would’ve originally thought. What prompted you to connect a non-family character to the action to such extent and why him?

I always knew I wanted the regular cast to be an eclectic mix of characters – we have people of all generations of the family (from young Henry to nonagenarian Nana Beth), and even a couple of characters who aren’t family. There is no real reason for that, other than a quirk of mine. But Rick’s true purpose isn’t yet revealed – he just witnessed something immense, it now remains to be seen what he chooses to do about it…

3. I picked up on the theme of beauty throughout the installments of Monastery (especially Nicole and Cassandra’s interaction). Was this choice purely to provide some context for Cassandra’s character or to provide some social commentary about how beauty and youth are worshipped and as soon as a woman starts aging she’s discarded? Maybe a bit of a mix?

A little from column A, a little from column B. The commentary here ties in with the importance that the characters give to female beauty – Nicole is smart, resilient and courageous, but all everyone talks about is how beautiful she is, whereas Cassandra is often regarded as a former, faded beauty. Both women themselves attribute a lot of importance to beauty, an importance that was clearly hammered into them by the world around them. So, when we learn that Cassandra sacrificed her beauty to protect her family, it goes to show all that she was willing to sacrifice to keep her loved ones safe. She may not be grandma of the year – but she’s the hero of a lifetime. A really nasty, emotionally abusive hero, but a hero all the same!

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Book Reviews

Jennifer Weigel on Surviving Gen X by Jo Szewczyk

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Surviving Gen X is a dark and twisted tale of sin and salvation that comes to us from Haunted MTL’s very own Jo Szewczyk. Delving into the depths of debauchery, dysfunction, and deliverance, we follow our protagonists as they navigate the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas, circa 1990. The book reads sort of like an acid trip or a fever dream or both… Good, bad, and ugly, with the gut-wrenching soul-sped journey of a candle lit at both ends, simultaneously fueled by cum, gasoline, and fire. The sexual exploits of our mostly unnamed narrator and lovelorn abused housewife Annie and friends, lovers, and accomplices craft an affair of more than the heart, of two (hundred thousand million billion) lost souls swimming eternally in a fishbowl, year after year after year after…

Surviving Gen X book cover
Surviving Gen X book cover

So you think you can tell…?

Surviving Gen X reads less as a credible story and more as an immersive experience, a theatrical performance in which you are whisked away to an alternate reality caked thick in glamour and glitter and grime. It is the sort of journey that leaves a stain on the psyche that won’t wash away no matter how hard you scrub at it. It is raw and provocative and, more than anything, screams to be seen, to be heard, to be rescued. All involved are adrift, seeking fulfillment in a world that refuses to acknowledge and cannot accept them for who they are. They are surviving, moment by moment, and in that space they are each and every one alone, isolated and forsaken. Like flecks of stardust strewn across the universe, our protagonists yearn to cast their glow, to shine forth, to unite, to be made whole… but the growing vastness of the space between them prevents such true connection and eventually all succumb to their own despair.

Despite being naked and vulnerable, this is nonetheless an adventure masked in mud, merriment, and mayhem, seeking friendship and truth as gritty glimmers of hope found only when one throws oneself into the darkest depths of dysfunction to claw their way back out through all of the layers. Only here can such elements of titillating triumph be told, through snippets of scenes that seem to spring forth from the most unreal and unlikely circumstances, like a failed double date at a family restaurant that devolves into potential death by bachelorette party. It is the spaghetti thrown at the wall in the hopes of sticking, trying desperately to hold on, to cling to some sense of relativity. The result is absurd as much as it is agonizing.

Running Over the Same Old Ground, What Have We Found?

Much like a re-birthing, or a regurgitation, this experience is messy and sometimes difficult to swallow. It defies definition and refuses reality, eschewing enjoyment even despite immersing itself in all of the pleasures of the flesh. Because what is left when the body, mind, heart, and spirit are disjointed? Just an off-kilter roller coaster jaunt through oblivion, careening off course in a fast and rapid burnout. There’s no getting off that ride once the kooky contraption gets going, best just to accept the struggle, hold on tight, and see it out to its crazy conclusion. We’re still trying to wash the confetti from our hair after falling out that window.

To quote the 2006 Wergle Flomp poetry contest winning poem, this is:

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A travesty / Of buffoonery. / As if a five-year-old child / Were pointing a handgun / At a masturbating clown. Nicholas Moore, How to Write a Poem

And a hauntingly beautiful and brilliant travesty of buffoonery it is… So I’m not going to rate this experience by Cthulhus; the Cthulhus are still too busy trying to untie the ropes to release the French midget hanging from the crystal chandelier. But if you yearn to see how it all unfolds, and to experience the gritty gaudy glitz in all of its slimy sleazy splendor, then you need only to pick up the book and read for yourself. It’s an adventure you won’t soon forget. You can find it here on Amazon. Plus if you order it now you’ll have it for VD (Valentine’s Day, ya perv, though maybe there isn’t really much difference)… Oh and here’s a sneak peek from13 Days of Krampus 2020…

And if you want to explore something of similar sentiment to set the mood, may I recommend watching Unholy by Sam Smith and Kim Petras? If the following YouTube window doesn’t work, you can find it directly here.

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