On this day in 1924 – (92 years ago) — Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two wealthy students at the University of Chicago who had read too much Nietzsche at too young an age, set out to demonstrate their own superiority to the herd of humanity by committing what they thought would be the perfect crime. They kidnapped a teenage boy named Bobby Franks, beat and strangled him to death in the back of a rented car, and drove his body to Hammond, Indiana, where they dumped it in a culvert. Though Leopold and Loeb had spent months carefully planning the murder, they were soon found out and arrested — partly thanks to a lost pair of eyeglasses that police found near the body and traced back to Leopold. The famous Chicago defense lawyer Clarence Darrow persuaded the judge to spare Leopold and Loeb the death penalty. They instead received life sentences, and Loeb was later stabbed to death by a fellow inmate at Stateville Prison. Leopold’s glasses are now at the Chicago History Museum.
On this day in 1936 – (80 years ago) — Tokyo police arrested Sada Abe, a former maid, geisha, and prostitute, for the murder of a married restaurant owner named Kichizo Ichida, with whom she had disappeared for two weeks of sex in various inns and teahouses. Abe told the police that she and Ichida had consensually engaged in kinky practices including partial asphyxiation. In the heat of lovemaking mixed with jealousy, she had strangled him to death, and then cut off his genitals — which she was still carrying in her purse at the time of her arrest. The case made lurid headlines across Japan, and Abe served five years in prison. After her release she became something of a celebrity, and even published a bestselling memoir, but the public fascination finally drove her to take refuge in a cloistered nunnery, where she probably died sometime after 1971.
On this day in 1946 – (70 years ago) — during atomic weapons research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and in the presence of seven colleagues, a thirty-five-year-old Canadian physicist named Louis Slotin was performing a delicate experiment that involved holding a hemisphere of beryllium very close above a plutonium core in order to tease and measure the beginning of a nuclear reaction without actually allowing it to take place. Slotin was using a screwdriver to prop up the beryllium and keep it from touching the plutonium — but the screwdriver slipped, resulting in a burst of hard radiation in the room. Slotin quickly knocked the beryllium to the floor, but it was too late. After nine days of physical agony, he died of radiation poisoning. His colleagues in the room, who had been standing at various distances from the plutonium core, soon recovered from their acute radiation injury, but some would later die young of leukemia and other illnesses. At Los Alamos, it was the end of such hands-on experiments with fissile materials, which afterwards were conducted only using sealed compartments and remotely controlled robotic machines.
On this day in 1972 – (44 years ago) — in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican in Rome, a thirty-three-year-old Hungarian-Australian geologist named Laszlo Toth burst into the group of tourists admiring Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, the Pietà, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of her son, Jesus. Toth announced to the surprised onlookers that he himself was none other than Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Then, he pulled out a geologist’s hammer and began smashing at Michelangelo’s masterpiece. He managed to chop off Mary’s arm at the elbow and smash chunks out of her eyes and nose before he was pulled off the statue and subdued. The Italians had Toth committed to a psychiatric ward, and later deported him back to Australia, where he was never arrested for the crime. Art experts would eventually restore the statue, but their job was made more difficult by tourists who had grabbed small broken pieces from the floor and disappeared with them as souvenirs. Today the Pietà can be seen by tourists only from a distance, and through bulletproof glass.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi