Skip to main content

Robert W. Bergstrom papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Bergstrom

Scope and Content of the Collection

Case files, exhibits, and testimony regarding People of the State of Illinois vs. Nathan F. Leopold, Jr. and Richard Loeb (1924), and several civil suits of Nathan F. Leopold, Jr. vs. Levin, et al.

Leopold and Loeb were University of Chicago students, sons of wealthy and prominent Chicago families. In the first case, Leopold and Loeb (then 19) kidnapped and murdered 15-year old Bobby Franks; the case commanded national and international attention. After their detection and indictment, their parents retained famed lawyer Clarence Darrow to defend them. During the trial, Darrow delivered a long and impassioned speech against capital punishment, and the two young men were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, in addition to 99 years for kidnapping for ransom. The complete transcript of these proceedings, including Darrow's speech and the psychiatric evaluations of both Leopold and Loeb, is available in this collection on microfilm and on paper. Photostatic copies of related legal documents follow, as do copies of Chicago newspapers from 1924 and 1927 (when Leopold and Loeb were accused of a second murder).

When Meyer Levin published his fictionalized account of the murder and trial in 1959, Leopold sued Levin, the book publishers, and the movie industry and theatres that produced and showed the movie version. (Loeb had been killed in prison in 1936 by another inmate). The latter series of case files cover the progression of suits heard in the Circuit Court of Cook County, in U.S. District Court, and Supreme Court of Illinois from 1959 to 1970. Bergstrom took Leopold's complete deposition in November, 1960, and the transcript for that deposition is in the Illinois Supreme Court's Record on Appeal, Vol. II-A. Exhibits to the case include correspondence, publicity for the book and movie, contracts, screenplays, and books. The exhibits are in paper and microfilm format; the exhibits on microfilm are more extensive and include more correspondence between those involved in producing the motion picture Compulsion.

After the legal files there are some miscellaneous files of research material and other items that might have been used as exhibits in the suits. These include newsclippings, the screenplay adaptation of Compulsion, and two articles written by Leopold on crime and imprisonment.


  • Creation: 1924-1999
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1959-1970



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Robert W. Bergstrom papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Robert W. Bergstrom papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Robert W. Bergstrom

Robert Bergstrom was born in Chicago in 1918. In 1940, he was admitted to the Illinois bar and began his practice in Chicago, specializing in representing entertainment corporations. In 1959, Bergstrom took a case representing Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, and fifty-seven motion picture theaters that had exhibited the film Compulsion. The film was based on the book of the same name by Meyer Levin, which was a fictionalized account of the famed "Crime of the Century", the 1924 kidnap/murder case of Leopold and Loeb. Nathan F. Leopold Jr., the surviving partner of the criminal duo, brought suit for an accounting for profits (approximately $2,900,000) for the use of Leopold's crime and trial. After several trials and appeals, the decision was finally made in favor for the defendants (Meyer Levin et al.), in 1970.

Amongst many other awards and distinctions, Bergstrom has a Preeminent Bar Rating from Martindale-Hubbell, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in thanks for his work with the motion picture industry. On November 28, 2003, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano declared it Robert W. Bergstrom Day in Arizona. Bergstrom died on June 4, 2006.


6.9 Linear Feet (12 boxes, 1 oversize box, and 4 microfilm reels)


Research and legal case files for the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder criminal court proceedings, and the 1959-1970 civil suits of Leopold vs. Meyer Levin et al. over Levin's book Compulsion. Bergstrom represented Levin in the latter case.


Materials organized in sections, with Bergstrom's index and description of the files at the beginning, with a brief summary of both trials. The first section is the transcript from the original Leopold and Loeb murder case; the files following are of the Leopold vs. Levin et al. civil suits. Oversize newsclippings and microfilm reels are listed at the end of the collection (microfilm reels are stored in the Microfilm Storage Room).

Collection Stack Location

1 4 7, 1 5 7, 1 16 2


Gift, Robert W. Bergstrom, 1999.

Processed by

Alison Hinderliter, 2005.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Robert W. Bergstrom papers, 1924-1999, bulk 1959-1970
Alison Hinderliter
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2011-08-16: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States