Q&A with Hal Higdon, author of LEOPOLD & LOEB: THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY

Hal Higdon, author of Leopold and Loeb: The Crime of the Century, Centenary Edition, answers questions on his new book.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?  

I was asked to write The Crime of the Century by Walter Minton, president of G. P. Putnam’s. (Walter was also Norman Mailer’s editor.) I had written several earlier books published by Putnam’s, so he knew my work. Walter’s theory was that best-sellers repeat themselves every 25 years, and it had been approximately that long since Meyer Levin’s successful book, Compulsion. We were due another book updating the Leopold and Loeb story, especially after Leopold’s death. I was happy to fill the gap. 

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?  

Leopold and Loeb murdered Bobby Franks for no particular reason. The young boy was walking on the wrong street at the wrong time. The murder often would be described as the first “thrill killing,” but it was worse than that. It was a crime about nothing. The two teenage killers squashed Bobby Franks as they might have squashed an insect under their feet. 

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn? 

We are never secure. Death is an accident. It can strike us at any minute no matter how protected we (or our mothers) think we are. Today, children cannot even leave home for school in the morning without their parents worrying that they may not see them again. 

Q: Which part of the publishing process did you find the most interesting?  

Many of us choose to be writers not to accumulate riches or create books that land on The New York Times best-seller list, but because we are good at what we do. We write. Every morning. It’s that simple. Even a novel that fails to sell 5,000 copies can be considered a success by this standard. And so we return to our typewriters (now computers) day after day to confirm what we enjoy doing. 

Q: What is your advice to scholars/authors who want to take on a similar project? 

Pick a project that pulls you to work each morning. Pick a project that so much appeals to you that you feel slighted if you fail to find time each day to work toward your ultimate goal, which should be finishing the book. 

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?  

I enjoy reading books on almost any subject. If I read a non-fiction book, my next read probably will be a novel. My only desire is that each book be well-written, no matter the topic. Current events attract me to our TV set each evening. While writing I listen to classical music on several favorite stations streamed to me through my computer. For fun, I run. Over the years, I have run 111 marathons. Maybe if Leopold and Loeb had gone out for track in high school, or had run 10-K races, they would not have been drawn to complete the crime of the century. 


Hal Higdon is a longtime contributing editor to Runner’s World. He is the author of thirty-six books, including The Union vs. Dr. Mudd and Boston, a Century of Running.

About Kristina Stonehill