Despite the charming pastels and exteriors of The Wonder Years, America in the 1960s was not a place of peace and love. During that decade, America’s homicide rate more than doubled from the previous decade. The problem became especially acute in American cities, where muggers, murderers, and “Peeping Toms” became fodder for the daily news.
Many sociologists blamed this great American crimewave on the country’s enlarged youth. Others pointed out that the ongoing generational conflict, the Civil Rights movement, and the widespread use of recreational drugs helped to corrode America’s tenuous stability.
Whatever the cause, in 1966, there were 11,040 murders in total. The city of Chicago was responsible for many of these murders, as the “Windy City” had a crime rate that stood at 3,300 crimes per 100,000 people. On one hot summer day, Richard Speck murdered eight young women in Chicago, thus making him one of the century’s worst mass murderers.
Speck’s ghastly crime shocked America cold. Amazingly, Speck left one victim alive. This sealed his fate.
The story of Richard Speck is one of the most bizarre and disturbing stories in American history. Speck in many ways represents the dark side of the decade of “flower power.” Like Charles Manson, he was a drifter and a loser whose anti-social proclivities led to murder.
15. Birth And Upbringing
Born Richard Benjamin Speck on December 6, 1941, the future mass murderer grew up in a religiously devout household in the small town of Kirkwood, Illinois (population 714 in 2010). He was the seventh child in a family of eight. Little is known about Speck’s life in Illinois. At the age of six, after the death of his biological father, Speck’s mother remarried and relocated the family to Dallas, Texas. Ultimately, the Speck family settled in the small town of Santo, Texas.
Speck’s stepfather was a cruel and abusive man who was addicted to alcohol. Carl Lindberg also had a criminal record, with prior convictions for drunk driving and forgery. His harsh hand likely had an adverse effect on young Richard, for not long after reaching maturity, Richard began committing a series of petty crimes all on his own.
14. A Criminal is Born
By late 1962, Richard Speck was a married man. His wife, a fifteen-year-old named Shirley Malone, gave to Richard a daughter named Bobby Lynn. Unfortunately for the young couple, Speck’s bad habits could not be tamed by marriage. Ever since his teenage years, Speck had begun drinking every day and was, by his twenties, a full-fledged alcoholic. When drunk, Speck had a habit of trespassing onto private property. Several arrests in Dallas attest to this habit.
Richard began racking up more serious offenses in the early 1960s. Not long after his marriage, Speck served a 22-day sentence for disturbing the peace during one of his drunken binges. A year later, Speck was tried and convicted on multiple charges of theft and fraud. Then, after receiving parole in January 1965, Speck went back into the slammer after only four weeks on the outside. This time he was convicted of aggravated assault and was sentenced to sixteen months in prison.
13. Escape To Chicago
Chicago was a tinderbox waiting to explode in the summer of 1966. In July of that year, Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chicago Freedom Movement launched one of the most ambitious civil rights campaigns in the American North. For a time, King and his family lived in a Chicago slum in order to bring national attention to the city’s housing practices. Specifically, the Chicago Freedom Movement claimed that the city discriminated against blacks by restricting their home ownership and renting opportunities to crumbling black-majority neighborhoods. The movement, which included a very young Reverend Jesse Jackson, also took aim at employment discrimination.
This is the Chicago that Richard escaped to in 1966 after only serving six months of his sentence. At the time, Speck was wanted on charges of burglary and assault. For months he lived with his sister Martha in the city. Speck found work for a time as a carpenter and even began thinking about looking for work as a seaman working aboard cargo ships bound for South Vietnam.
12. Crimes In Monmouth
Speck’s time on the lam did not mean that he was actively trying to keep a low profile. Quite the opposite, in fact. During his time staying with Martha and her family, Speck continued to rob and steal. Speck only gave Martha peace and quiet when he traveled to Monmouth, Illinois, a small town that Speck knew well from his childhood.
There, Speck’s blood-lust and penchant for torture finally revealed themselves. On April 2nd, 65-year-old Virgil Harris was surprised in her home by a burglar wielding a large knife. Although Harris later described her attacker as “polite” with a Southern drawl, the burglar (Speck) tied her up, raped her, and pocketed the $2.50 she had earned that night from babysitting. Police later found jewelry belonging to Mrs. Harris in Speck’s hotel room.
Days later, on April 13th, Mary Kay Pierce was found dead in a shed behind Frank’s Place, the tavern where she worked. Investigators uncovered the fact that Pierce had been struck so hard in the abdomen that her liver ruptured. Speck was questioned by police, but was ultimately let go under the assumption that questioning would resume again on April 19th. It never did, for Speck skipped town and headed back to Chicago on a bus.
11. Serial Killer?
As someone who lacked consistent employment, Speck was forced to drift from job to job. In the spring of 1966, Speck was a seaman on several ships that used Lake Michigan to transport freight and other items. Around this time, three girls in Indiana went missing and were presumed to be dead. Their bodies were never recovered, and the case remains unsolved.
Police officers in Michigan also suspected that Speck may have been involved in the murder of four women, all between the ages of seven and sixty. In both Indiana and Michigan, Speck’s ship had been in the vicinity, thus giving him the opportunity to commit these crimes and escape back to Chicago. If Speck is indeed guilty of these crimes, then his total body count is a staggering sixteen, most of which were killed within a period of four months.
10. Crime Before The Big Act
Earlier in the day of his most infamous crime (July 13th), Speck got drunk after being turned down for several seaman positions aboard cargo ships headed for South Vietnam and Indiana. 53-year-old Ella Mae Hooper had the bad luck of drinking at the same bars as Richard that day.
At some point, Hooper and Speck journeyed to his room at the Shipyard Inn. There, Speck raped Hooper at knife point and stole her .22-caliber Rohm pistol. Speck celebrated this crime by eating dinner at Kay’s Pilot House. He left the bar at 10:20 p.m. that night. He was dressed all in black and carried the stolen gun and a switchblade knife on his person.
9. The Townhouse on 100th Street
At 11:00 p.m., Speck broke into a townhouse located at 100th Street in the Chicago neighborhood known as South Deering. This townhouse was no ordinary home — it was a dormitory for nurses and nursing students attached to the South Chicago Community Hospital.
As many as nine students could be found inside of the townhouse at any given time. When Speck entered the house, inside he found nine women, all of whom were younger than twenty-five. Three of the girls were exchange students from the Philippines.
8. The Crime
After breaking into the townhouse’s kitchen by opening a window, Speck slunk up the townhouse’s stairs and knocked on the door of a room belonging to 23-year-old Corazon Amurao, one of the Filipino exchange students, and another girl. Inside of another room, Speck found four other women. Using both his switchblade and the stolen revolver, Speck herded all six women into a bedroom at the building’s rear.
According to later testimony, Speck talked to the women about why he was robbing them. He said that he needed money because he was leaving the city for New Orleans. Speck seemed calm and did not tell the women about what he had planned for them.
Speck used torn up bed sheets in order to bind the wrists of every girl. During this time, three other women, all residents of the building, returned home. They too had their hands bound by Speck.
For the next five hours, Speck led the women one-by-one into a separate room. Here he either stabbed them to death or strangled them. His final victim, 22-year-old Gloria Davy, was raped and strangled to death.
7. The Victims
As with so many other crimes, Speck’s eight victims are far less known than their killer. The dead included Nina Jo Schmale, Patricia Ann Matusek, Pamela Lee Wilkening, Mary Ann Jordan, Suzanne Bridget Farris, Valentina Pasion, Merlita Gargullo, and Gloria Jean Davy.
Schmale was a graduate of Glenbard Township High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Schmale decided to become a nurse at age nineteen after spending time volunteering for various organizations in and around Chicago. She was married to John Schmale.
Patricia Matusek was the daughter of Czech-Americans who decided that she wanted to be a nurse after watching her young cousin Tommy die when she was a teenager. Pamela Wilkening was described as “quiet” and was only one month away from graduating from nursing school.
Mary Jordan was a vibrant and athletic young woman who was the granddaughter of a Irish immigrant grandmother who became a surgical nurse at the University of Michigan. Suzanne Farris was a shy girl who had a younger brother named John. When she was murdered, John was only 15-years-old. Valentina Pasion and Merlita Gargullo were both exchange students from the Philippines. “Tina” was one of the top ten best nursing students at Manila Central University, while Merlita was the first person from her home village to ever visit America. Tina was known to cook excellent pancit noodles for the whole townhouse.
Gloria Davy was a strong-willed and independent woman who began her academic career as an English major at Northern Illinois University. A year before her death, Davy was named as the President of the Student Nurses Association of Illinois.
6. Lone Survivor
Despite being one of the first girls taken prisoner by Speck, Corazon Amurao managed to roll underneath one of the townhouse’s bunk beds for the entire duration of the massacre. At 6 a.m. on the following day, Amurao left her hiding place and managed to alert her neighbors by yelling for help from a second-story ledge.
There is no consensus why Speck overlooked Amurao. He later claimed that he was both drunk and high during the murders. There is also the possibility that Speck had miscounted the number of women in the house. Whatever the case, the fact that Amurao survived the ordeal ultimately helped to convict Speck of the homicides.
After responding to Amurao’s cries for help, Chicago police officers listened to the frightened woman as she gave a detailed description of the killer. Amurao not only told them that Speck had a pockmarked face, but that on his arm was a tattoo that read: “Born to Raise Hell.” This easily identifiable mark would later help to capture and convict Speck.
Investigators at the scene noted that all of the victims had had their hands bound with nautical knots, thus implying that the killer was a sailor or had a background as a professional seaman. Armed with this information, police fed their information to the Chicago press. Speck’s details were plastered on the front pages of several Chicago newspapers. On July 16th, while hiding out in a cheap hotel, Speck tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. The very next day, police arrested Speck at the Cook County Hospital.
Speck’s trial caused a media frenzy that not only gripped Chicago, but the entire nation. The brutal killings seemed to be completely pointless. Speck only managed to steal a paltry sum from the 100th Street home, so robbery clearly was not his main motive. It seems that Speck was driven purely by a lust for chaos and death.
On April 3, 1967, Speck trial began in Peoria, Illinois. A “gag order” was placed on the press, but the trial was still widely covered. Although investigators testified that they uncovered Speck’s fingerprints at the crime scene, the trial’s climax came when Amurao stood up and publicly identified Speck as the man who had killed her friends. It took the jury only forty-nine minutes of deliberation to convict Speck of murder on April 15th.
Since this time, Amurao has been happily married to a Filipino man named Atienza. After a brief sojourn in the Philippines, Amurao returned to the United States, gave birth to several children, and worked in Washington, D.C. at the Georgetown University Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
3. Death Sentence Overturned
In June 1967, Judge Herbert Paschen sentenced Speck to death. Despite Speck’s lawyer’s reputation for keeping his clients out of the electric chair, Judge Paschen sent Speck to Illinois’ version of “Old Sparky.” This ruling was upheld in a later appeal by the Illinois State Supreme Court.
Speck’s life was ultimately saved by the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his death sentence in 1971 by citing that anti-death penalty jurors had been systematically wedded from the jury pool at Speck’s trial. Because of this ruling, Speck spent the rest of his life behind bars at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois. Speck would die from a heart attack in December 1991.
Speck’s dissolute ways did not end once he was behind bars. Still using “Born to Raise Hell” as his motto, Speck earned the nickname “Birdman” because of his habit of keeping sparrows in his cell. Speck was far from an ideal inmate. He was caught several times making moonshine in his cell or smuggling in narcotics. Speck remained unrepentant throughout, mocking authorities by saying “How am I going to get in trouble? I’m here for 1,200 years!”
Speck’s crimes and his odd behavior behind bars made him something of a spectacle. During his trial and afterwards, some maintained the idea that Speck suffered from XYY syndrome, which would mean that he had an extra Y chromosome. Men with XYY syndrome are known for having enlarged breasts, wide hips, and other feminine characteristics. They were also once considered to be more prone to violence than normal XY males.
While Speck did have very enlarged breasts near the end of his life, there is no indication that he had XYY syndrome. However, a post-mortem examination did discover that Speck’s hippocampus and amygdala rubbed up against each other. This brain abnormality may have caused him to be hyper-aggressive.
1. Jailhouse Video
After his death, Chicago television anchor Bill Kurtis received a disturbing video from Stateville Prison. The video would eventually be screened for Illinois lawmakers, many of whom left the room in disgust.
The video shows Speck talking about the murders. Speck not only goes into detail about the crime, but also tells someone off-camera that he did not feel remorse for his actions. Speck admitted that he felt nothing during the murders, and that the eight women were killed simply because “It just wasn’t their night.”
The video also shows Speck and other inmates using cocaine. At one point, Speck, who likely grew breasts thanks to hormone treatments that he had smuggled into prison, parades in front of the camera in women’s underwear. The most disturbing moment of the video shows Speck performing oral sex on another inmate.
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