Richard Speck captured the nation's attention during the summer of 1966 after murdering eight female students who lived together on Chicago's South Side. Before then, he had been responsible for other acts of violence against his family and others but had a knack for escaping the police. After his killing spree in 1966, a manhunt ensued and he was captured two days later. He spent the rest of his life in prison until he died of a heart attack in 1991 at age 49.
Richard Benjamin Speck was born on December 6, 1941, in Kirkwood, Illinois, into a large, religious family, where he was the seventh of eight children. After the death of his father when Speck was six, his mother remarried, moving the family to Dallas, Texas. The children suffered considerable abuse at the hands of their drunken stepfather, and Speck's childhood was marked by juvenile delinquency and alcohol abuse, which soon led to petty crime.
In November 1962, Speck married Shirley Malone, and they had a daughter, Bobby Lynn, soon after. Their married bliss was short-lived, however, and Speck's reversion to type landed him a jail sentence for theft and check fraud, in 1963. Having been paroled in January 1965, he lasted only four weeks outside, before being arrested again for aggravated assault, and he was jailed for a further 16 months, of which he served 6 months.
During this period he had the words "Born to Raise Hell" tattooed on his arm, a sentiment that wife Shirley had experienced firsthand: She filed for divorce in January 1966. After Speck was arrested for burglary and assault, he fled to Chicago to seek shelter with his sister, Martha, a couple of months later. He spent a few days there before traveling to Monmouth, Illinois, where he stayed with some family friends from his early childhood.
For a short time he was a carpenter, but soon he was in trouble again: 65-year-old Virgil Harris was viciously raped and robbed in her own home on April 2, 1966, and on April 13 a barmaid in his local tavern, Mary Kay Pierce, was brutally beaten to death. He managed to deflect police questioning and escape once again, but police discovered some of Harris' personal effects in his vacant hotel room that conclusively tied him to her attack.
Speck found work on a ship, and it began to seem like bodies turned up wherever Speck had been. Indiana authorities wanted to interview Speck regarding the murder of three girls who had vanished on July 2, 1966, and whose bodies were never found. Michigan authorities also wanted to question him about his whereabouts during the murder of four other females, aged between 7 and 60, as his ship had been in the vicinity at the time. Speck, however, seemed to have a knack for making a quick escape and keeping police forces guessing.
These attacks, however, paled into insignificance on July 13, 1966, when Speck arrived on the doorstep of a townhouse in South Chicago, which served as a communal home for a group of eight young student nurses from nearby South Chicago Community Hospital.
When 23-year-old Corazon Amurao opened the front door to Speck's knock, he forced his way in at gunpoint. Speck then rounded the nurses up and ordered them to empty their purses, before tying them all up. He proceeded to brutalize them in the most horrific fashion over the following few hours. Those who had been fortunate enough to be out at the time of his arrival found themselves also subjected to brutal attacks when they returned home later that evening.
A total of eight woman, between ages 19 and 24, were systematically bound, robbed, beaten, strangled and stabbed during Speck's frenzy. According to the NY Times, at least one victim was raped. The body count was so high that he failed to notice that Amurao, who had opened the door for him on his arrival, had managed to hide herself under one of the beds. When he left, hours later, taking the money he had stolen, she cowered in her hiding place, terrified, for hours, before finally summoning the courage to seek help. She climbed out on a window ledge and screamed for help, at which point concerned neighbors summoned the police.
The police arrived to scenes of carnage, and took Amurao into custody, interviewing her and proceeding with the construction of an Identikit image. Fortunately, Amurao remembered the distinctive "Born to Raise Hell" tattoo that, along with the image, enabled police to identify their suspect as Richard Speck. Subsequent nationwide enquiries also raised the other incidents in which Speck was suspected, as well as his criminal record. In the days before automated fingerprint identification, it took almost a week to identify the prints found in the townhouse as his.
Media coverage splashed Speck's image all over the front pages and, in a desperate bid to escape, Speck tried to commit suicide on July 19, 1966, by slashing his wrists in the seedy hotel he was staying in. Changing his mind at the last minute, he summoned help, and was taken to Cook County hospital, where, again, his tattoo gave him away, and he was arrested and taken into custody. He was in need of surgery to repair his severed artery, and was watched over by a dozen policemen who were determined to ensure that his days of making lucky escapes were over.
Speck's trial began on April 3, 1967, and his claim that he had no recollection of the eight murders committed placed Corazon Amurao in the spotlight as the star witness. Despite concerns about her ability to testify after her harrowing ordeal, she gave a faultless performance, impressing the jury with every detail of that evening, identifying Speck unequivocally.
The trial lasted just 12 days and, on April 15, 1967, the jury found Speck guilty of all eight murders, after less than an hour's deliberation. The judge sentenced Speck to death.
In 1972, Speck's death sentence was commuted to 50 to 100 years in prison, when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished capital punishment. Having served 19 years of that sentence, he died of a heart attack on December 5, 1991.
Speck was never officially charged with the murders of which he was suspected prior to the events that took place in the South Chicago townhouse and, officially, those cases remain unsolved.
In 1996, five years after Speck's death, a TV journalist made public a prison video, which showed Speck taking drugs and engaging in sex with another inmate during the 1980s, while he was an inmate at Statesville Correctional Institute; Speck appears to have breasts in the video, apparently as a result of hormone treatment received while in prison, and is wearing women's underwear. In the video, Speck also casually admits to the killing of the nurses, describing the strangulations in some detail, and bragging about the strength required to kill someone in this manner.
The video's release caused a major scandal within the Illinois Department of Corrections, and was widely cited as justification for the reintroduction of death penalty. In 1991, while still in prison, Speck died of a heart attack.
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