September 10, 2017

Leopold and Loeb sentenced

Disclaimer: the subject of the following post is a heinous crime and includes details and language that some may find disturbing. Not suitable for children.


On the afternoon of May 21, 1924, 14-year-old Bobby Franks disappeared while walking home from school in the affluent south Chicago neighborhood of Kenwood. That evening, his parents, Jacob and Flora Franks,  received a phone call from a man who identified himself as George Johnson. Johnson claimed that the boy had been kidnapped and that demands for his safe return would arrive by mail the following day.

The next day, the promised ransom note was received by the frantic couple. But just that morning, the body of a boy had been discovered at Wolf Lake, a preserve about 40 miles southeast of Chicago, on the Illinois-Indiana state border. The body had been stripped, disfigured with acid, and stuffed into a culvert-- discovered only by chance. Despite the attempt to obliterate the victim's identity with the acid, the body was identified as that of Bobby Franks. Near the body, authorities found a sock that appeared to belong to the victim... and a pair of horn-rimmed reading glasses that didn't.


Bobby Franks

Why would anyone kidnap a child and ask for ransom only to kill their captive before receiving it?

Police immediately focused on people who were known to frequent the Wolf Lake area, especially those who wore glasses. One regular visitor in particular caught their attention: 19-year-old Nathan F. Leopold Jr, a post-graduate law student at the University of Chicago. Leopold came from a wealthy and prominent family, and was something of a prodigy; he spoke 15 languages,  had started college at 15 and graduated at 18, and was said to have had an IQ of over 200. He was also an avid, published ornithologist who taught birding classes and often brought his students out to Wolf Lake. Although the frames and the prescription of the glasses were common, the hinges were not. When opticians in Chicago checked their records, it was found that only three people in the vicinity of the city had purchased eyeglasses with these newly-patented hinges; the first person had been in Europe for weeks, and the second had been wearing her glasses when she opened her door to detectives. The third person was Nathan Leopold.

Leopold, who had first denied that the glasses were his, now admitted that they must be, that he must have dropped them on his visit to Wolf Lake the previous weekend. When asked what he had been doing on the afternoon and evening of the 21st, he replied that he and his friend Richard Loeb had been eating dinner, drinking, and riding around with some women they had picked up in Leopold's car.

The state's attorneys immediately brought in Richard Loeb to be questioned separately. The Loeb family was even wealthier than the Leopolds; Richard's father Albert Loeb was vice-president of Sears Roebuck.

Like Nathan Leopold, Richard Loeb was extremely bright (his IQ was said to be 160), and had finished college just before turning 18. Other than that, the boys were very different, and people who knew them probably puzzled over their close friendship.

The more Leopold and Loeb were questioned, the more convinced the state's attorneys became that the boys were involved in the kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks. However, they had only circumstantial evidence... until the Leopold family's chauffeur Sven Englund told them that he had been working on young Nathan's car on the afternoon and evening of the crime, and that he therefore couldn't possibly be involved. Englund had no idea that he had just destroyed the boy's alibi and sealed his fate.

Once presented with Englund's statement, Richard Loeb confessed: he and Nathan Leopold had lured Bobby Franks (a neighbor and distant cousin of Loeb's) into a rented Willys-Knight touring car and killed him with several blows to the head from a chisel. Loeb claimed that he was driving the car and that Leopold had struck the blows from the backseat. He also claimed that the idea had been Leopold's.

Nathan Leopold held up better under questioning, and only confessed after the state's attorneys proved that his friend had already done so. He vehemently denied being the actual murderer, however, and claimed that he was driving and that it was Loeb who had struck Bobby Franks.

Immediately the boys' families hired the best attorneys they could: Clarence Darrow and Walter and Benjamin Bacharach. The arraignment was set for June 10, 1924, and the boys -- to the surprise of everyone -- pled guilty to the charges of kidnapping and murder. By doing so, they would avoid a trial by jury and also deprive the State of a second opportunity for a hanging verdict (both murder and kidnapping were capital crimes in Illinois at that time).

Nathan Leopold (left) and Richard Loeb (right) after their confessions


Leopold and Loeb with their legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow (older man in jacket at right). 


For the next three months, it was State's Attorney Robert Crowe and his team versus Clarence Darrow and his defense team, and it was Judge John Caverly who, alone, would decide the fate of the adolescents. The hearing was a media-circus, and the story that emerged was shocking: Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were not just best friends, but also lovers. A letter that authorities had found in Richard Loeb's room, addressed to him from Nathan Leopold, advised being careful in the event that they broke friendship, that "the motif of 'a falling out of a pair of c___suckers is sure to be popular.'"

Richard Loeb, as it turned out, was obsessed with crime, pouring over detective stories and fantasizing about heading up his own criminal syndicate. And brilliant but lonely Nathan Leopold was obsessed with Richard Loeb. The two had been leading a double life for three years, in which Leopold would help Loeb shoplift, steal cars, burglarize, and burn buildings in return for Loeb's sexual compliance. Nathan was also heavily into the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and justified their criminal acts with the belief that he and Richard were "supermen" who were not subject to the morals and laws or ordinary people.

Their escalating crimes finally culminated in kidnapping and murder, which had been planned for months and the main motive of which was not money or blood lust, but simply the excitement of proving they were smart enough to get away with it. The ransom demand had been included to make their great plan more of a challenge, and they killed their victim to avoid being identified to the police. They hadn't even had a specific victim in mind -- their pre-typed ransom note was addressed only to "Dear Sir"; only after the murder was committed was it addressed and mailed. Bobby Franks had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While the State argued that the two young men deserved no more mercy than they had shown to Bobby Franks, Clarence Darrow and the Bacharachs tried something revolutionary: they argued that, while their clients were not insane (otherwise they would have had to have a trial by jury), they had psychological issues that should mitigate their punishment. One could say that the was the first trial in which "affluenza" was used as a defense.

On September 10, 1924, Judge Caverly finally made his ruling: For the crime of murder, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were sentenced to Joliet Penitentiary for the term of their natural lives. He gave them a similar term of 99 years for the kidnapping-- with a strong admonition to never admit the two young killers to parole.

Despite all of the psychological and physical exhibits and testimony presented by the defense, the only reason that Caverly spared Leopold and Loeb the noose was because of their youth; he was simply not comfortable executing minors. Had these two been just a couple of years older, their story might have ended differently.

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were kept separated at Joliet as much a possible before a new prison, Stateville, was built in 1925, and then the two were kept at separate facilities altogether. In 1930, Nathan Leopold, at Stateville, finally convinced the warden to allow Richard Loeb to transfer there, and the two were reunited. They were as close as ever, even starting a correspondence school for their fellow prisoners in which Richard taught English and history, and Nathan taught math and foreign languages.

But on the morning of January 28, 1936, Richard Loeb was attacked with a straight razor by a fellow inmate, and died on the operating table a couple of hours later with a distraught Nathan by his side.

Nathan Leopold eventually returned to teaching, and was a model prisoner. He later worked as an x-ray technician, and during World War II, he even headed up an anti-malaria project to help soldiers in the Pacific who were dying of the parasitic infection. He volunteered himself as a guinea pig, deliberately contracting malaria to test experimental drugs. By the early 1950's, the now middle-aged convict began to think he might have a chance for parole. He applied in 1953, and was denied, but after writing an autobiography, Life + 99 Years, Nathan applied again in early 1958. This time the parole board disregarded Judge Caverly's advice and granted the inmate his freedom.

Nathan Leopold immediately moved to Puerto Rico, where he worked at a hospital and eventually married a widowed florist, Trudi Feldman Garcia. There he lived quietly until his death of a diabetes-related heart attack on August 29, 1971 at the age of 66. To the day he died, he kept a framed photo of Richard Loeb displayed in his home, much to the shock of visitors.


Nathan Leopold in 1971, a few months before his death

This strange case still fascinates, and there are several movies based upon it: Rope, Compulsion, Swoon, and Murder By Numbers (Swoon remains the only movie I know of that depicts the actual case).

August 6, 2017

Three generations of George Norbury Mackenzies

A few months ago, I and my best friend were at an antiques shop, and I found some old photos in a bin. On looking through them, I found four of people who were members of the same family. Because of my dad's health challenges, and then his recent passing, I've only now gotten around to posting them. Perhaps descendants of the family will see this post.

The first photo is of George Norbury Mackenzie I, 11 February 1824 - 31 January 1887.



From what I could find on this gentleman on Ancestry.com, he was born in Maryland, son of Thomas Mackenzie and Tacy Burges Norbury. 


This is his wife, Martha Anna Downing Mackenzie (7 April 1827 - 16 Dec 1894), daughter of Howell Downing and Harriet Gorsuch:







This is their son, George Norbury Mackenzie II (4 May 1851 - 11 February 1919):





George Norbury Mackenzie II was author of Colonial families of the United States of America, in which is given the history, genealogy and armorial bearings of colonial families who settled in the American colonies from the time of the settlement of Jamestown, 13th May, 1607, to the battle of Lexington, 19th April, 1775 (seriously, could the title be any longer?). So he was evidently interested in family history himself.


The last Mackenzie photo I found in the bin was that of George Norbury Mackenzie III (2 April 1875 - 7 June 1928):


I would be happy to share these photos with any Mackenzie descendants or relatives who are interested. 

July 20, 2017

Goodbye, Dad

Yesterday afternoon, my father passed away-- right about the time I was leaving work. After a quadruple bypass three weeks ago, he had been found unresponsive at the inpatient rehab facility that he was at and taken to a nearby hospital, where he could not be revived. He was 83 years old.

This isn't my first rodeo with the death of a close family member, sadly; my mother passed away in 1999. So I know that what I'm currently feeling, a sort of dreamlike state of numbness like moving through water, won't last. Eventually this state, and the distraction of the practical things that need to be done right now such as service arrangements and financial matters, will be over, and there will just be raw grief that will hit like a speeding train.

It seems surreal to enter my father's death date-- July 19, 2017-- and other details into the family tree software I have. As an amateur genealogist, I've done this countless times for ancestors; it's quite a different thing to do so for your father.

Appreciate and love your family while they're here. Dad, I miss you and love you so much.

July 4, 2017

Changed platforms... again

I know it's been a very long time since I've posted here, but I've decided to get back into it. You'll notice that the look of the blog has changed a bit, and that's because I've changed platforms again (and I plan on this being the last time) to Blogger. I had been using Squarespace-- while their templates are pretty, they're now much more geared to businesses rather than simple blogs. I figured I'd go back to (free) Blogger.

Things have been really busy with work and also with some ongoing health issues that my father has been dealing with. And another reason I haven't been blogging much is, frankly, I don't find it very enjoyable to blog exclusively abut genealogy. Not sure why not, because genealogy is certainly a big interest of mine... it just seems a usually dry topic to write about, with not much room for wit or opinion (which I enjoyed in my former, defunct blog, which was focused on political, religious, and social issues).

So we're changing focus a little bit here-- I'll still write about genealogy, but I'm also going to write about other things pertaining to history, especially social history. Hopefully this will get me posting here a little bit more often than once a year...

In the meantime, a safe and happy Independence Day to you.

March 12, 2016

Baptism record for 2x great-grandfather Thomas Ryan

Last week, Findmypast had free access to their Irish records databases (this weekend, Ancestry.com does also). There I managed to find the baptism record for my great-great grandfather Thomas Ryan!

At first, I only knew that he was from Ireland (looking for a Thomas Ryan in Ireland.... yeah, good luck with that). But awhile back, I had stumbled upon an obituary that mentioned that he was from County Cork. So now at least I could narrow him down to a county. I also had a birthdate (from his death record) and his parents' names, from his marriage record.

So when I searched birth and baptism records for Ireland on Findmypast, I hit a record for a Thomas Ryan who was born on 25 July 1831 to David Ryan and Johanna Lynch, which matched the information I had.

The record states that he was baptized in Fermoy, so now I know the specific township he was from.
 
Thomas Ryan's baptism record from Fermoy, Cork, Ireland

Talk about the luck of the Irish!

I found a death index for a David Ryan who died in 1874 at the age of 70 in Fermoy. Although this was likely to be Thomas's father, I can't be certain without more details.

Thomas immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Boston, where he married my great-great grandmother Johanna Fitzgerald in 1860. I can't be sure when exactly he immigrated, or whether his parents or other family came with him or not.

January 16, 2016

This and that

Sorry for not having posted here in so long; it's been a very busy couple of months, and I frankly have had neither the time nor the motivation to write. Life has been hectic, and genealogy research slow going.

Today I was home sick with a bad cold, and was streaming videos from YouTube to my tv. I ended up watching a show I'd never seen before, Long Lost Family or something. It's British, and it's about people who try to find family members, almost always parents and children. It's a nice, heartwarming program.

One thing I couldn't help wondering at, though, were those featured who were looking for parents who had abandoned them. Maybe I don't understand, because I was fortunate enough to have a loving, stable two-parent home, but why would you want to reach out to someone who has treated you badly?

My mother's father Henry was abusive to my grandmother, and she divorced him in 1948. My mother had little contact with her father after the divorce; the last time she ever saw him was the day during her freshman year that he showed up at her school, waiting for her out front when the last bell rang. He mentioned that he was moving across the country, and asked Mom if they could go for a drive and talk before he left. Mom's intuition warned her not to go with him, and she told him no. He drove off in a fury.

In the mid-seventies, soon after I was born, Mom apparently began feeling sentimental, and decided to try to contact her father. She was thinking what a shame it was that he didn't even know he had five grandchildren.

This was before the interwebs, you see, so Mom dialed "0" hoping to get a phone number for Henry. Mom, always a talker, ended up telling the kindly Irish operator that she was searching for her estranged father. He told her, in his lovely lilting accent, "Sometimes, lass, it's better t'let sleepin' dogs lie."

Mom said that she realized that he was probably right-- why should she contact him, really? So she ended her search.

The show made me wonder how things might have been different if she hadn't. I tend to be extremely cynical about people and human nature, and think that my mother was wise to listen to the operator and leave her father out of her life. On the other hand, what if my mother and her father had reconnected, and he had changed for the better? What if Mom could have had a good relationship with him? Henry didn't die until 1987, so I might have known him.

My mother never had anything good to say about Henry, but strangely, she always kept a photo of him in her bedroom, among a collection of other family photos in silver frames. In the photo, he's posed beside my six-year-old mom, who's dressed in a cowgirl outfit. That's the only photo I have ever seen of him. This photo, along with some others, disappeared in a move about ten years ago. I know this isn't genealogy, just some ramblings about family and relationships.

In the meantime, I've updated the blog's look a bit. Added a sidebar, as I wanted it to be more searchable, and tweaked the fonts and the colors. Hope you like.

I promise to resume blogging more regularly.

November 14, 2015

Are you descended from Mayflower passengers?



About 10% of Americans are descended from someone who was brought to the shores of Massachusetts in the winter of 1620 on the Mayflower.

When you consider that there were originally only 102 passengers, and that about half of them would die that first winter, that's pretty astounding.

MayflowerHistory.com is a fantastic resource for Mayflower history and genealogy, and, among many other things, it has a transcribed passenger list, with individual passengers' names hyperlinked so that you can learn more about them. There is also pdf link to an image of the original list made by the hand of Governor William Bradford in 1651.

Courtesy of the State Library of Massachusetts

Some of the more common/prolific Mayflower passenger surnames are Alden, Billington, Bradford, Brewster, Chilton, Eaton, Fuller, Hopkins, Howland, Standish, and Winslow. If you have these names in your family tree (or any others on the passenger list), you might want to dig back further on those lines. And since the Mayflower passengers married into each other's families, chances are that, if you have one Mayflower ancestor, you probably have others.

November 7, 2015

Daniel Mace, Union Civil War veteran

My 2nd great-grandmother Elizabeth Mace Bean Winslow (1846-1907) had two older brothers who both served the Union during the American Civil War: Thomas and Daniel. Thomas, whom I've written about before, perished.

But Daniel survived, and today it's his story I want to tell.

35-star Union Civil War flag

Daniel Webster Mace was born on 14 February 1845 in New Hampshire (probably Plaistow), the second surviving child of John Mace and Sophronia Bly. Around 1848, John Mace disappeared, and in the 1850 census, Sophronia and her children were living with her aunt and uncle (she is listed as a "pauper"). On 30 April 1859, she married Joseph Fellows.

So the Mace children grew up poor and fatherless; eldest son Thomas actually joined the Navy 1857, at the tender age of 14! In the 1860 census, Thomas is a farmhand working for (living with?) a neighbor, and Daniel is a shoemaker's apprentice in Massachusetts.

I get the definite impression that, given the above information, things were not great at home.

Thomas almost immediately answered President Lincoln's call when war broke out in 1861, and was killed at Williamsburg on 5 May 1862. On 22 August of that year, just a few months after his brother's death, Daniel enlisted in the 50th Massachusetts infantry; I find this so brave and touching.

He enlisted again in February of 1864, this time in the 59th Massachusetts infantry, company E. During the siege of Petersburg, on 7 June 1864, Daniel was wounded in the left leg and captured- and he would spend the next six horrible months at Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia. He survived, and was exchanged on 25 November.

On 18 March 1865, Daniel married Mirinda Wilkinson. It would be interesting to know if they had been engaged during the war, or if they met at some point after his release from the prison camp and just had a whirlwind courtship. Daniel was discharged from the Army for disability two months after the wedding.

Daniel and Mirinda had a son, William, born in 1867, but the marriage was apparently a troubled one; Mirinda divorced Daniel in 1880, and the records give her charge against him as "habitual drunkenness."

All I can say here is, if I had spend almost a half a year at Andersonville (the conditions of which were comparable to those of Nazi death camps), then I'd probably drink too. There was no counseling, no VA, no psychological support for soldiers at all at that time. 

Tintype of Daniel Mace c. late 1860s, originally mislabeled as his son Willie. Courtesy of Dan's 3rd great-grandson Jon.

In the 1900 census, Daniel is living with his now-widowed mother Sophronia, his sister Elizabeth, Elizabeth's husband James, and their daughter Bessie (my great-grandmother). In the censuses of 1910 and 1920, he's living alone and is a laborer.

Daniel was apparently very close to his half-sister Laura Fellows Noyes, Sophronia's daughter by Joseph Fellows. She, too, was a divorcee, as well as a medical doctor. "Uncle Dan" would help her with her three girls-- two of whom would also become doctors.

When Daniel died on 1 June 1924, Laura Noyes was his attending physician. Interestingly, he left only 1 dollar each to his son and to sisters Lizzie and Sarah Ellen. The rest of his estate went to Laura and her heirs. Granted, his "estate" probably wasn't very much, but my understanding is that you leave $1 to someone as basically a way of saying, "No, I didn't overlook you-- I really meant to give you the shaft."

In Daniel's will, he also requests that his grave be given a "suitable monument" reading "Daniel W. Mace, Company E, 59th Regiment Mass. Volunteers, War of 1861-1865", along with his age and date of death.

Thank you, Uncle Dan, for your service.

October 31, 2015

The real Dracula

I was in the sixth grade when I discovered a copy of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula in my Language Arts classroom's library, and devoured it during silent reading time.

Then I discovered that Stoker's main character wasn't entirely fictional; Dracula actually existed. He wasn't a count or a vampire, however, but a 15th century Romanian prince who became renowned for his cruelty towards enemies and criminals.

Ambras Castle portrait of Vlad Dracula, c. 1560, said to be a copy of one taken from life

Vlad Dracula was born in December of 1431, the son of Prince Vlad Dracul; the name Dracul means "dragon", as Vlad's father was a member of the Order of the Dragon. Ironically, it can also mean "devil"-- the addition of the "a" means "son of"-- and so the name Dracula can be interpreted to mean "son of the devil." I'm sure that, to those on the wrong side of him, that moniker was quite appropriate.

At the time, Romania (the southern part of which was then called Wallachia) was ruled by the Ottoman Sultan, and the princes of Balkan lands were basically puppets who were allowed to remain on their thrones only so long as they paid tribute. The Sultan demanded not only money, but also boys to be trained as soldiers for his army. Princes and nobles were also sometimes made to give up their children as "good faith" hostages to ensure their parents' compliance. So long as the princes and nobles did not do anything stupid, like try to fight, their children were well treated and given a quality education.

When Vlad was only 13, he and his younger brother Radu became such hostages and were sent to live in Turkey. Four years later, Vlad was a commander in the Turkish army, now well versed in their religion, language, and military tactics. This knowledge would serve him well in the future.

Whatever he had endured as a prisoner of the Turks had made him diamond-hard, and after he took the Wallachian throne at age 17, he set out to avenge his father, who had been killed. He blamed the nobles of his land, whom he believed were in cahoots with their hated Ottoman masters, and he exacted brutal payback.

Dracula became known as Vlad Tepes, which means "Impaler", due to his favorite method of executing criminals, deadbeats, and anyone who was, in his eyes, unworthy of living in his realm: shish-kabobing them on wooden stakes and leaving them for display. The impalement was done in such a way that the unfortunate victims didn't die too quickly.

It didn't take much, either, to find yourself on the wrong end of a sharp stake: steal some bread, fail to mend your husband's clothes, and that was it. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a virtually crime-free land where even very expensive items could be safely left out in public squares.

Unlike his father, Dracula refused to pay tribute, which incurred the wrath of Sultan Mehmed. Mehmed sent an army to Wallachia's capital of Tirgoviste, but 60 miles outside the city his forces were met with a gruesome sight: thousands of bodies in varying stages of decomposition impaled on stakes, positioned in a line across a hill. The message was clear: "Come any further, and this will be you." The army retreated.

Vlad the Impaler was finally killed in battle in 1476, at the age of 45; one of his favorite tactics during combat was to disguise himself as a Turk, and he was probably mistaken for one by one of his own men.

Dracula's legend spawned this 16th century depiction of Vlad dining among some of his victims

Vlad Dracula was by no means a nice guy, and today he would be charged with countless war crimes-- but he was a man of his time. Despite his brutality, Dracula was a brilliant and innovative military leader who rewarded soldiers displaying bravery. He was a pioneer in the use of germ warfare, sending soldiers who had the plague into the Turks' camps to spread the disease among them. He also used "scorched earth", destroying crops and poisoning wells so that pursuing Ottoman armies would have nothing to eat or drink.

He single-handedly kept his country free from the Ottomans; it was only after his death that they actually invaded the Balkans. He is still considered a national hero-- perhaps the national hero-- of Romania today.

Bram Stoker, who never actually visited Romania, was inspired by the tales of corpses that rose from their graves and sustained themselves by drinking the blood of the living (a belief that came from not fully understanding the decomposition process). How much he actually intended to model his undead villain after the real-life prince, however, we don't know.

To this day, we can't seem to get enough of vampires. I frankly find the real Vlad Dracula much more interesting than the fictional vampire, and can't understand why there has been only one half decent English-language movie made about him.

A happy and safe Halloween to all.

October 24, 2015

A snapshot of life in Krasnostav

My grandfather Baruch (later Bernard) Krantzberg came from Krasnostav, a small shtetl in what is now Ukraine, west of Kiev. The other day I got an email from Mike Levin, a gentleman I know from the interwebs whose grandparents also came from Krasnostav.

Mike published an article on JewishGen that was written by a cousin of his mother's, who lived in and remembered the town, and he linked me to it.

This article proved to be a very interesting account of the town's history and lives of its inhabitants, especially regarding its Jewish population.

The article mentions that from the Bolshevik Revolution to the early 1920's, this was an unstable and frankly dangerous place to live, where Jews and their businesses were targeted. My grandfather's family ran a dry goods store, and one day it was raided by Cossacks. Great-aunt Gissie paid them off to leave; it was right about then that the family chose to get out.

My grandfather's family, circa 1915, in or near Krasnostav. Clockwise from left: my great-aunt Gissie, great-uncle Joel, great-aunt Ita, grandfather Baruch, and great-grandmother Nechama (seated).


The article also mentions by name my grandfather's older brother Moshe, who would immigrate to Ottawa, Canada, and teach at the Talmud Torah Hebrew School there. What I hadn't known is that he was a teacher back in the old country as well-- according to the article, he founded his own reformed "heider", or Hebrew school, where he taught Hebrew in Hebrew. For some reason, this was considered controversial, and it was shut down.

My great-uncle Moshe Krantzberg, rebel Hebrew school teacher, circa 1920's Canada

I want to thank Mike for sharing this glimpse into my grandfather's hometown and family.