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Murder, Movies and Macoupin County

Film crews were in Macoupin County over the weekend using several historic sites for the film American Criminal. American Criminals explores the crime and trial of Leopold and Loeb, who committed a “thrill-killing” in 1924 Chicago. Nathan Leopold is played by Bing Brazeau (seated) and Richard Loeb is played by Jake Schory (standing). Photo provided.


New film uses Courthouse, Jail to tell story of Leopold and Loeb

Enquirer~Democrat Reporter

Carlinville and Macoupin County could be coming to the silver screen sometime in the next year thanks to Director Aaron Warr and his crew who worked in several notable locations.

Warr and his crew were on site in Carlinville from June 23 through June 26 shooting scenes of their soon to be released movie, American Criminals.

This movie is based on the story of murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who were enthralled with the idea of committing the “perfect crime.”

They lured a neighbor, 14 year old Bobby Frank into their car and killed him, stuffing his body in a culvert. A ransom letter was sent to Frank’s parents demanding $10,000, though police discovered his body before the ransom could be paid. There was no link to the criminals except for a pair of eye glasses.

American Criminals is based on the book written by Leopold called Life Plus 99 years, the sentence the men received for the murder.

Warr says he was drawn to the story because it was such a polarizing event. This is not the first production to be made about the trial. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Rope (1948) is a fictionalized version of the crime but uses many of the same archetypes for the characters.

In 1959, Complusion is closer to the truth and many details remained the same though the names were changed.

Other movies about the case and inspired by the case have appeared over the years including the 2002 movie Murder by Number, starring Ryan Gosling and Sandra Bullock.

With the 100-year anniversary of the case coming up, it seems only appropriate for a new team to tackle the project.

Though the story has no connection to Carlinville, Warr chose Macoupin County for a variety of reasons, noting the Courthouse and the Old Jail were big draws to film in the area.

Warr says he did not feel the need to shoot everything in Chicago and after finding the Macoupin County Courthouse online it was an easy decision to film here. The production crew was drawn to the historical integrity of the building. Warr said that after seeing the Courthouse he decided that, “If ever there was a place to go, this would be the one for sure.”

The crew used multiple locations, including the Carlinville Square and the Old Jail. Warr says the jail “worked beautifully for what we needed.” Warr also said he was aware of only two locations in the State that would work for what this production needed, one being the Joliet Penitentiary and the other being the Macoupin County Cannonball Jail.


American Criminals shot several scenes in the Macoupin County Courthouse, including courtroom scenes and scenes in the hallways and staircases as seen here. Photo provided.


Warr has had the rights to the book for nine years in an attempt to make this movie. He says like many film projects, funding has slowed the creation process down.

Those who want to see the film may have to wait a bit as they film has not been picked up by a distribution company yet. However, like Warr’s other film College Debts, American Criminals will be premiered at film festivals with the intention of finding that distributor.

Warr expressed his gratitude to the people of Macoupin County and Carlinville for being welcoming to him and the crew.

He described shooting films in Chicago as being a question of how much, while in downstate Illinois the questions become, “What do you want? What do you need? And can we feed you?”

Warr said he was grateful to the City of Carlinville, Macoupin County, Sheriff Shawn Kahl, Dean Williams with the Central Illinois Film Commission as well as Shawnee Studios Casting. He also expressed his thanks to the locals who provided items and props like the cars that are in the background of some of the scenes shot on the Carlinville Square.

Vince Moreth, Scott Walkington and Marshall Pickel all provided era appropriate cars from their collections for the movie.

Warr said the whole community has been very kind and welcoming, and that the cast and crew who came from areas like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles were unused to the level of warmth shown to them.

Warr gave a shout out to “that amazing bakery on the corner,” Hawthorne Coffeehouse, and expressed his special thanks to Reno’s Pizzeria for the use of the restaurant as an actor holding space and for providing “delicious food” to the cast and crew.