Richard Speck PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 November 2008 12:17

Richard Franklin Speck

Born: December 6, 1941, Kirkwood, Illinois, USA

Died: December 5, 1991, Joliet, Illinois, USA

Age: 49

Cause of death: Heart attack.

Notable because: Physical problems with his brain, early alcohol dependence, a tattoo reading 'Born to raise hell' and a tortured upbringing at the hands of a violent drunken stepfather brought him to a desperate darkness.


Richard Speck was a mass murderer who systematically killed eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital in Chicago, Illinois on July 14, 1966.

Speck was born in Kirkwood, Illinois, the seventh of eight children of Benjamin and Mary Speck. He was raised in a religious family. His father died when he was six, and sometime afterwards, his mother took Richard and his younger sister Carolyn to Dallas, Texas. They moved to a section called East Dallas. After the move, his mother married Carl Lindberg, whom Speck loathed for his drunkenness, abuse, and frequent absences from the house.

Speck was a poor student. By the age of 12, he had begun drinking alcohol, a habit that would last for the rest of his life. He used alcohol partly to ease the pain of headaches he had begun to suffer at the age of five, after suffering head injuries from a claw hammer with which he'd been playing. He fell out of a tree twice, and at 15 he ran head-first into a steel girder. Speck dropped out of school in the 9th grade.

At the age of 19, Speck did something that later was a significant factor in his life: he visited a tattoo parlor. "We all had something different," he recalled in an interview. "I couldn't think of nothing to have on my arm, so I asked the tattooer if he had any ideas. He suggested all kinds of things, slogans and stuff, and one of them was BORN TO RAISE HELL. That sounded kinda good, so I let him put that. Didn't mean anything special to me."

Around the time he began drinking, Speck was arrested for the first time, for trespassing. He was also arrested for burglary and stabbing. Although he was a suspect in the rape of Virgil Harris (aged 65), and the beating death of Mary Kay Pierce, he avoided in-depth interrogation and was never charged. Speck was also a suspect in the July 2, 1966 disappearance of three women in Indiana and the murders of four other females in Michigan.

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 (the Illinois Supreme Court opinion recounting the facts of the case reports that the defendant appeared at the door of the townhouse holding a gun) — he terrorized the young women, including Gloria Davy, Patricia Matusek, Nina Schmale, Pamela Wilkening, Suzanne Farris, Mary Ann Jordan, Merlita Gargullo, and Valentina Pasion. Speck, who later claimed he was high on both alcohol and drugs, may have originally planned to commit a routine burglary. Speck held the women in the house for hours, methodically leading them out of the room one by one, stabbing or strangling them to death, then finally raping and strangling his last victim, Gloria Davy. Only one woman, Cora (Corazon) Amurao, escaped because she managed to wriggle under a bed while Speck was out of the room with one of his victims. Speck may have lost count, or he may have known there were eight women living in the townhouse but had been unaware that a ninth student nurse was spending the night there. Amurao stayed hidden until almost 6 AM. When she emerged, she climbed out of her northeast bedroom window onto a ledge screaming, "They're all dead! All my friends are dead!"

Lieutenant Emil G. Giese headed the Identification Section of the Chicago Police Department. He compared and identified a smudged fingerprint that was found at the murder scene to another provided by the FBI, which belonged to Richard Speck. Sgt. Hugh Granahan assisted with the comparison and later that morning, Senior Examiner Burton J. Buhrke found a better fingerprint on a door at the scene.

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. Speck then attempted suicide, and the Starr Hotel desk clerk phoned in the emergency around midnight. Speck, who was not recognized by the police, was taken to Cook County Hospital at 12:30 AM on July 17. At the hospital, Speck was recognized by Dr. LeRoy Smith, a 25-year-old surgical resident physician, who had read about the "Born To Raise Hell" tattoo in a newspaper story. The police were called, and Speck was arrested.

Felony Court Judge Herbert J. Paschen appointed an impartial panel to report on Speck's competence to stand trial and his sanity at the time of the crime. The panel comprised three physicians suggested by the defense and three physicians selected by the prosecution: five psychiatrists and one general surgeon. The panel's confidential report deemed Speck competent to stand trial and concluded that he had not been insane at the time of the murders.

While awaiting trial, Speck participated in twice-weekly sessions with part-time Cook County Jail psychiatrist, Dr. Marvin Ziporyn. These continued after Speck's transfer from Cermak Memorial Hospital (inside Chicago's House of Corrections) on July 29, 1966 until February 13, 1967, the day before Speck was transferred to Peoria to stand trial. Ziporyn prepared a discharge summary that listed depression, anxiety, guilt, and shame among Speck's emotions, but also a deep love for his family. It went on to note an obsessive-compulsive personality and a "Madonna-prostitute" attitude towards women. Ziporyn maintained that Speck viewed women as saintly until he felt betrayed by them for some reason, after which hostility developed. He also diagnosed organic brain syndrome, resulting from the cerebral injuries suffered earlier in Speck's life, and stated that he was competent to stand trial but was insane at the time of the crime due to the effects of alcohol and drug use on his organic brain syndrome.

Ziporyn did not testify for the defense or the prosecution. Both sides were troubled to learn before the trial that Ziporyn was writing a book about Speck for financial gain--as was the Cook County Jail, which fired Ziporyn as its part-time psychiatrist the week after Speck's trial ended. At some point during his interviews with Speck, Ziporyn had obtained a written three-sentence consent from Speck authorizing him to tell "what I am really like." Ziporyn's biography of Speck was published in summer 1967.

Speck later claimed he had no recollection of the murders, but he had confessed the crime to Dr. LeRoy Smith at the Cook County Hospital. Smith did not testify, because the confession was made while Speck was sedated. Illinois Supreme Court Justice John J. Stamos, Cook County's state attorney when Speck was tried, knew of the hospital confession stated, "...we didn't need it. We had an eyewitness." Speck confessed to the murder for the first time in public when he spoke to Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene in 1978. In a film inmates made at the Stateville Correctional Center in 1988, Speck recounted the deed.

Speck's jury trial began April 3, 1967, in Peoria, Illinois, three hours southwest of Chicago, with a gag order on the press. 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."

Lieutenant Emil Giese testified regarding the fingerprints which were matched. He provided the scientific evidence the prosecution needed for conviction and with Amurao's testimony, placed the evidence against Speck beyond a reasonable doubt which persuaded jurors.

On April 15, after 49 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Speck guilty and recommended the death penalty. On June 5, Judge Herbert J. Paschen sentenced Speck to die in the electric chair but granted an immediate stay pending automatic appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction and death sentence on November 22, 1968.

On June 28, 1971, the United States Supreme Court (citing their April 24, 1968 decision in Witherspoon v. Illinois) upheld Speck's conviction but reversed his death sentence, because more than 250 potential jurors were unconstitutionally excluded from his jury owing to their views, religious or otherwise, against capital punishment. The case was remanded back to the Illinois Supreme Court for re-sentencing.

On June 29, 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional, so the Illinois Supreme Court's only option was to order Speck re-sentenced to prison by the original Cook County court.

On November 21, 1972, in Peoria, Judge Richard Fitzgerald re-sentenced Speck to 400 to 1,200 years in prison (8 consecutive sentences of 50 to 150 years). The sentence was reduced in 1973 to a new statutory maximum of 300 years, making Speck eligible for parole in 1977. He was denied parole in seven minutes at his first parole hearing on September 15, 1976, and at six subsequent hearings in 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 1987, and 1990.

According to one theory briefly advanced, the XYY syndrome rendered a person more likely to commit crimes, and it was suggested that Speck had the syndrome. Later it was proven that he did not. The theory that there is a relation between XYY syndrome and criminal behavior was rejected soon afterward.

While incarcerated at Stateville Prison in Crest Hill, Illinois, Speck was given the nickname "birdman", after the film Birdman of Alcatraz because he kept a pair of sparrows that had flown into his cell. He was described as a loner who kept a stamp collection, listened to music, and whose work within the prison involved bars and walls. His contacts with the warden included requests for new shirts or a radio or other mundane items. The warden merely described him as "a big nothing doing time." Speck was not a model prisoner; he was often caught with drugs or distilled moonshine. Punishment for such infractions never stopped him. "How am I going to get in trouble? I'm here for 1,200 years!"

Speck customarily refused all media requests, but granted one prison interview to Bob Greene in 1978; Speck told Greene that he read Greene's column in the Chicago Tribune. In this interview, Speck confessed to the murders for the first time publicly and said he thought he would get out of prison "between now and the year 2000," at which time he hoped to run his own grocery store business. He told Greene that one of his pleasures in prison was "getting high." When Greene asked him if he compared himself to celebrity killers like John Dillinger, Speck replied, "Me, I'm not like Dillinger or anybody else. I'm freakish."

Speck said that when he killed the nurses he "had no feelings," but things had changed: "I had no feelings at all that night. They said there was blood all over the place. I can't remember. It felt like nothing... I'm sorry as hell. For those girls, and for their families, and for me. If I had to do it over again, it would be a simple house burglary."

Speck's "final thought for the American people" was: "Just tell 'em to keep up their hatred for me. I know it keeps up their morale. And I don't know what I'd do without it."

In May 1996, Chicago television news anchor Bill Kurtis received video tapes from an anonymous attorney that had been made at Stateville Prison in 1988. Showing them publicly for the first time before a shocked and deeply angry Illinois state legislature, Kurtis pointed out the explicit scenes of sex, drug use, and money being passed around by prisoners, who seemingly had no fear of being caught; in the center of it all was Speck, performing oral sex on another inmate, ingesting cocaine, parading in silk panties, sporting female-like breasts grown from smuggled hormone treatments, and boasting, "If they only knew how much fun I was having, they'd turn me loose." The Illinois legislature packed the auditorium to view the two-hour video, but stopped the screening when the film showed Speck performing oral sex on another man.

From behind the camera, a prisoner asked Speck why he killed the nurses. Speck shrugged and jokingly said "It just wasn't their night." Asked how he felt about himself in the years since, he said "Like I always felt ... had no feeling. If you're asking me if I felt sorry, no." He also described in detail the experience of strangling someone: "It's not like takes over three minutes and you have to have a lot of strength." John Schmale, the brother of one of the murdered student nurses, said, "It was a very painful experience watching him tell about how he killed my sister."

The tapes were later broadcast on the A&E Network's Investigative Reports and were used to argue for the death penalty. The same airing of Investigative Reports included interviews with people who believed that Speck was not taking hormones, wearing panties, etc. voluntarily, and that he'd instead been forced to by other inmates -- that this may have been his way of surviving his time in prison.

Speck died of a heart attack at 6:05 a.m. December 5, 1991, one day before his 50th birthday, at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet. He had been taken to Silver Cross after complaining of chest pains and nausea at Stateville Correctional Center.

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 amygdala, 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. There was no further analysis, however; the tissue samples were lost or stolen when sent to a Boston neurologist for further study, and Leestma's findings were inconclusive.

Dr. John R. Hughes, a neurologist and longtime director of the Epilepsy Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and a colleague of Leestma, examined photos of the tissue in the 1990s along with brain wave tests performed on Speck in the 1960s. Hughes stated, "I have never heard of that [type of abnormality] in the history of neurology. So any abnormality that exceptional has got to have an exceptional consequence." Hughes attributes Speck's homicidal nature to a combination of the brain abnormalities, the violence Speck suffered at the hands of his alcoholic stepfather, and his own drinking and violence in Texas.

After Speck died, his body was not claimed. Duane Krieger, Will County coroner when Speck died, said that he had talked to Richard Speck's sister: "She said they were afraid people would desecrate the grave if they had him buried out there." Krieger also stated that the sister "told her kids, 'You can never tell people Richard Speck was your uncle.'"

Speck was cremated. The ashes were scattered in a location known only to Krieger, his chief deputy, a pastoral worker and Joliet Herald News columnist John Whiteside, who has since died. All witnesses swore to keep the location, a "pastoral" and "an appropriate location" in the Joliet area, secret. "We said a couple of prayers and spread them to the wind," Krieger said. "It was a very small funeral."

  • Japanese "pink film" director, Koji Wakamatsu, based his 1967 film, Violated Angels (犯された白衣 - Okasareta Hakui) on the Speck murders.
  • A 1976 film, entitled alternately Born For Hell and Naked Massacre, is a direct retelling of the Speck murders, except that the locale is Northern Ireland.
  • In 2002, a movie called Speck was made about the case.
  • Photographs of the eight nurses Speck murdered were the basis of Eight Student Nurses (1966), a painting series by German artist Gerhard Richter.[citation needed]
  • In 2007, the movie Chicago Massacre retold the events of the nine student nurses that were held hostage and the eight that were murdered.
  • The film 10 to Midnight starring Charles Bronson parallels the Speck Murders, in that a man enters the home of several student nurses and systematically kills them while one, who was hiding under a bed, escapes.
Episode 18, Season 7, of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, titled "Empty Eyes", featured a story line with many elements paralleling the Speck case


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:27

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