Charles Ford Heath – The Forgotten Victim of Child Killers Leopold and Loeb

Charles Ford Heath is a name that few remember when discussing the “Crime of the Century” 

On May 21, 1924, 14 year old Bobby Franks did not come home from the Harvard School for Boys in Chicago’s elite Kenwood Neighborhood.

Nathan Leopold, 19 and Richard Loeb, 18 were extremely intelligent sons of wealthy Chicagoans and both were pursuing post graduate work at the University of Chicago.  They became inseparable friends and Loeb believed that wealthy, intelligent people were above the law.  Loeb believed that they could commit the “perfect crime” and convinced Leopold that they could get away with it. 

After kidnapping young Bobby Franks, a cousin to Loeb, they beat him, strangled him, and left his body in a culvert near Wolf Lake close to the Indiana border.  They removed his clothing and burned his hands and face with acid to hide the victim’s identity.

They had sent a typed ransom note to Bobby’s father, Jacob Franks, using the alias “George Johnson” but young Bobby’s body was found by a construction worker before they could extort $10,000 from the Franks family.

The hunt for “George Johnson” was underway and the police had put together a likely description of the culprit based on the educated style of prose used in the ransom letter. 

The police received an anonymous letter from a person claiming to be the killer of Bobby Franks that said he planned on killing himself.  Chief of Police Collins then issued the order to keep all attempted suicides under surveillance and that is where 35-year-old druggist Charles Heath enters the scene.

Charles was at Mercy Hospital after his wife, Anna Vetter, found him in a stupor in the bedroom of their home at 6251 Harper Avenue with mercury and Veronal (barbital) pills by his side.  This was only two days after the disappearance of Bobby Franks. 

Charles and Anna had been married since April 17, 1913.  Anna had one daughter, Marian, who was 16 years old from a previous marriage and they had one daughter together, Charlotte, who was 8 years old.

Charles had lost his job on the same day that Bobby Franks disappeared and his wife had explained that he had not been in the best of health since he went bankrupt two years ago and lost the druggist business he had at 1524 E. 64th St.

Mercy Hospital in Chicago where Charles Heath was taken after his first suicide attempt: Library of Congress Photo

Police stationed themselves at Charles’ bed at Mercy Hospital and his wife believed that they had already come down pretty hard on her husband because their home was only one block away from the drug store that the kidnappers had told Jacob Franks to proceed to with the ransom money.

Police were shocked when they discovered that even though he was under surveillance he had somehow left Mercy Hospital undetected.

On Tuesday, May 27th, Charles Heath checked into the Coker’s Hotel on 8th and Chestnut Streets in Louisville, Kentucky.  He had a cousin in Louisville named C.C. Krause.  He showed up at Krause’s house at 2620 Portland Street and told him that he sold his business in Chicago and that he was there looking for a job.  Krause said he seemed like he was in good spirits and left his house on Tuesday night at about 10:30 pm to return to the hotel.

When he checked into the hotel he told the clerk that he had to leave Chicago because he was beaten up by a group of men due to the fact that he was named in the newspaper as a dead ringer for the killer of the Franks boy.

On the morning of the 28th, a maid entered Heath’s room and saw him motionless in bed but presumed him asleep.  She did not return until the next morning when she found him in the same position and called the authorities.  The police transported him to Louisville City Hospital where he was kept under surveillance.  He had taken another dose of Veronal and was alive but unresponsive.   Newspaper clippings of the Franks case with his name listed as a suspect were found in his pockets.  In his hotel room, there were three envelopes.  In one was a note that read: “Mrs. C. F. Heath, 6251 Harper Avenue Fairfax 2557.  Please notify.” The second paragraph of the letter read: Tell [illegible] to pay what he owes me.  The second note was addressed to the Onward Lodge of Masons and read: “Please give me full Masonic Rites and tell them that I will not be with them anymore.”  His lodge pin was attached.  The third envelope contained a four-grain tablet that appeared to have been spit back up and was sent to the city chemist for analysis.

The City Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky where Charles Ford Heath died: Herald Post Collection, University of Louisville

Also in his possessions was paperwork that indicated he was once an operative with the U.S. American Protective League and was operative 6,952. (The APL was a volunteer network of American citizens under the direction of the Department of Justice who informed on persons believed to be acting as agents against the U.S. during World War I) He was also an officer in the Liberty Loan Drive in Chicago.

While police officers waited at Charles’ bedside in Louisville for him to regain consciousness, Nathan Leopold was sitting in Chicago talking to police about a pair of glasses that were found with the Franks’s body.  Only three people in Chicago were sold glasses with a very special hinge mechanism and one of them was Nathan Leopold.

Richard Loeb was the first to confess blaming Leopold for everything but eventually, both came clean and the “Trial of the Century” was in motion. 

Anna Heath later said, “My husband never hurt anybody in his life.  He has been in poor health and dispirited since he went bankrupt and lost his drug store several years ago.  I believe the policemen hovering over his bedside at Mercy Hospital frightened him half to death.  They probably told him, just to scare him that he looked like ‘George Johnson.’  It was too much for him in the condition he was in.  He is simply suffering delusions now.”

Tragically, at the same time, the confessions were taking place in Chicago a young druggist was dying in Kentucky.  On June 1, 1924, Charles Heath died at the City Hospital in Louisville Kentucky thinking that he was the main suspect in a child murder and never regained consciousness.

Death Certificate of Charles Ford Heath.

Chicago Police had their killers.  Charles Ford Heath was buried on June 3, 1924, at Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville Kentucky and the young druggist’s widow and mother of two moved back to Porter County Indiana to live with her family.