Richard Benjamin Speck was born on 6 December 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 in 1963 for theft and cheque fraud. 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 six.
During this period he had had the words “Born to Raise Hell” tattooed on his arm, a sentiment which wife Shirley had experienced first hand; she filed for divorce in January 1966. Following Speck's arrest for burglary and assault, he fled to Chicago to seek shelter with his sister, Martha. He spent a few days there before travelling to Monmouth, Illinois, where he stayed with some family friends from his early childhood.