Before Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer, the world of serial killers had as one of its most evil and gruesome members; Richard Speck. Although not as well known as the above mentioned, the name Richard Speck to the Chicago land area is very well known and for those who are old enough, they can remember where they were when they heard of the murder of eight nurses that hot July night in 1966. Perhaps the time that New Yorkers heard about the capture of David Berkowitz; the Son of Sam could not equate with such memory.
That is because the serial killer and his method of operations were far less known and far less frequent than what occurs today. In the past two weeks, there have been two mass shootings in the Chicago land area which claimed five and six casualties respectively. Sadly, such events have become almost common place in our society. In 1966, that was not the case and therefore, the murder, trial and sensitized and heavily documented prison time for Richard Speck, has helped to keep his name and actions in the headlines for longer than would have been the reality of one who partook in a crime in perhaps another part of the country.
Richard Speck was the one of the most well known and feared individuals in Chicago’s history and those who remember where they were upon hearing of the murders, will always be able to recite, at least partially, aspects of the murder and the case. Richard Speck was born on December 6, 1941 in the Chicago suburb of Kirkwood. His grew up in a religious home but his father died when he was six and his mother found it impossible to give Richard the direction and guidance that he needed. Subsequently, Richard began to experiment with drugs and alcohol at an early age.
By the age of 12, Richard was a seasoned veteran in the art of drugs and alcohol. Richard’s mother found it increasingly impossible to control Richard and seemingly gave up on him. Richard’s mother spent long periods of time away from the home and left Richard to raise himself. This resulted in an escalation of trouble that Richard soon found himself involved in. A 24-year-old high school dropout and drifter, Speck was born in Monmouth, Ill. , but spent much of his youth in Texas. By the spring of 1966, he was wanted for questioning in connection with an attempted rape and murder in Monmouth, to which he had returned.
He seemed destined to play the part of the fiendish loser, right down to his tattoos: “Born to Raise Hell” on his left forearm, “Love” and “Hate” on his knuckles. By 1966, Richard had been suspected of the rape of Virgil Harris, aged 65 as well as the beating death of Kay Harris. However, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Richard with the crimes and after a short period of interrogation, Speck was let go. The lack of evidence and the inability of the police to charge Speck with these crimes, led to the murder of eight nurses only two weeks later.
It was a crime that would cause shock, horror and wonderment in the hearts and minds of the nation and most especially, in the Chicago land area who soon became glued to the television and the various newspaper accounts in order to gain any details that they could about the murder and exactly what happened. At 11:00 PM on July 13, 1966, Speck broke into a townhouse located at 2319 East 100th Street in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood of Chicago. It was functioning as a dormitory for several young student nurses, some of whom were Filipinas.
Armed with only a knife, he terrorized the young women, who included Gloria Davy, Patricia Matusek, Nina Schmale, Pamela Wilkening, Suzanne Farris, Mary Ann Jordan, Merlita Gargullo, and Valentina Pasion. ” One managed to escape by crawling under her bed within the dormitory and eluding the capture by Speck while he was murdering her friends. The ninth woman was Filipino exchange student Corazon Amurao, who escaped death by hiding under a bed until Speck left. After dawn on July 14, Amurao made her way to a ledge outside a second-floor window.
“They are all dead,” she screamed. My friends are all dead. Oh God, I’m the only one alive. ” Her description of the killer and fingerprints at the scene fueled a massive manhunt for the man responsible for the slaughter. The woman emerged in the morning where she then ran to tell the authorities about what had happened. It would be a night that Chicago would not forget. Two days after the murders, Speck was identified by a drifter named Claude Lunsford. Speck, Lunsford and another man had been drinking the evening of July 15 on the fire escape of the Starr Hotel at 617 W. Madison.
On July 16, Lunsford recognized a sketch of the murderer in the evening paper and phoned the police at 9:30 PM after finding Speck in his (Lunsford’s) room at the Starr Hotel. The police, however, did not respond to the call although their records showed it had been made. ” It seemed as though Speck might once again escape after having committed murder. However, a doctor who had read in the paper a few days ago, that Speck had a tattoo marking on his arm which read: “Born to Raise Hell” and by a rare coincidence, realized that it was Speck that he was treating in his hospital, quickly informed police and Speck was finally arrested.
Speck had attempted to commit suicide in the process of being picked up but the police stopped him. Speck would later confess to the crime but would say that he was high on drugs and alcohol. It would be a defense that would fall short of its mark. A complete emotional exam was given to Speck by psychiatrists for two weeks leading up to the trial. It was concluded that Speck suffered from what was termed then as a “Madonna complex.
It was the belief that one would place a woman high on a pedestal in an almost hero worship stance until that woman betrayed the man in some way and then an exponential increase in the sheer hatred that the man would have for that woman, would cause him to act out. There was no reason to believe that Speck had previously known any of the nurses that he killed. Little is known about Speck’s love life before the murders occurred and while under examination, it was concluded that Speck had a love/hate relationship with his mother. He loathed her for abandoning the family but still loved her as his mother.
It was a complex relationship that it was believed, contributed to the behaviors of Speck. The trial began on April 3, 1967 in Peoria, Illinois. Due to the sensationalization of the crimes by the press over the previous eight months, a change of venue was requested and granted by the defense. “Reporters were forbidden to carry or use any kind of camera, tape recorder or other electronic equipment in the courthouse: to make courtroom sketches of anyone involved in the trial: to leave or enter the courtroom while the trial was in session: or to publish the names of any juror, whether empanelled or excused, until after the verdict.
Witnesses, jurors, lawyers and anyone else officially connected with the trial were barred from giving out-of-court statements, and court stenographers were prohibited from making a copy of the record available to anyone but the prosecuting and defense attorneys. It matter little in that sense since all of Illinois had been following the trial closely as well as the fact that there was no shortage of evidence which placed Speck at the dormitory at the time of the murders and of the eye witness account of the one nurse who hid under her bed while Speck was busy killing her friends and classmates.
In court, Speck was dramatically identified by the sole surviving student nurse, Cora Amurao. When Amurao was asked if she could identify the killer of her fellow students, Amurao rose from her seat in the witness box, walked directly in front of Speck and pointed her finger at him, nearly touching him, and said, “This is the man. ” It was a very charged and emotional trial for those who had to listen to the ways in which their loved ones were murdered at the hands of one who was perhaps insane and surely evil to have done this.
On April 15, 1967, after less than an hour of jury deliberation, Speck was found guilty by a jury of his peers and was promptly sentenced to the electric chair. However, in the immediate years that followed, the Supreme Court declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional and Speck’s verdict was later changed to life in prison. Speck would spend the rest of his life in prison and would die on December 5, 1991, a day before his 50th birthday. After Speck’s death, Dr. Jan E.
Leestma, a neuropathologist at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery, performed an autopsy of Speck’s brain. Leestma found apparent gross abnormalities. Two areas of the brain — the hippocampus, which involves memory, and the amygdale, which deals with rage and other strong emotions — encroached upon each other, and their boundaries were blurred. Leestma made tissue section slides and presented them to others, who agreed that his findings were unusual. ” However, the name of Richard Speck would not die with his body.
Secret prison tapes were then released to the press which showed that Speck had been taking estrogen pills in order to deform his body and to grow breasts. Tapes of Speck, along with other prisoners engaging in drugs and other forms of mind altering medicines further angered victim’s rights advocates who wondered how Speck would have been allowed to engage in such activities. Speck died of a heart attack more than sixteen years ago but his name still incited a variety of news programs and features upon the anniversaries of the murders.