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Richard Speck

Crime Files
Richard Speck

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.

The Crimes

A spell as a carpenter was short-lived and he was soon in trouble again. Virgil Harris, 65, was viciously raped and robbed in her own home on 2 April 1966 and on 13 April 1966 a barmaid in his local tavern, Mary Kay Pierce, was brutally beaten to death. Speck managed to deflect police questioning and made good his escape once again but police discovered some of Mrs Harris’ personal effects in his vacant hotel room, that conclusively tied Speck 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 2 July 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 seven and sixty, 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 Saturday, 13 July 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 a 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 brutalise 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, aged between 19 and 24, were robbed, raped, beaten, strangled and stabbed during Speck’s frenzy; the body count 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, terrified, she cowered in her hiding place 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 neighbours summoned the police.


Born 6 December 1941The Victims 13 April 1966 - Mary Kay Pierce 13 July 1966 - Mary Ann Jordan, 20 13 July 1966 - Suzanne Farris, 21 13 July 1966 - Pamela Wilkening, 24 13 July 1966 - Nina Jo Schmale, 21 13 July 1966 - Valentina Pasion, 23 13 July 1966 - Merlita Gargullo, 22 13 July 1966 - Patricia Ann Matusek, 20 13 July 1966 - Gloria Jean Davy, 19Arrested 19 July 1966Trial 3 April 1967Convicted 15 April 1967Died 5 December 1991

The Aftermath

In 1972, Speck’s death sentence was commuted to 50 to 100 years in prison, when the US Supreme Court abolished capital punishment. Having served 19 years of that sentence, he died of a heart attack on 5 December 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 television journalist made public a prison video, which showed Speck taking drugs and engaging in sex with another inmate during the 1980s, whilst he was an inmate at Statesville Correctional Institute; Speck appears to have breasts in the video, apparently as a result of hormone treatment received whilst 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.

The Trial

Speck’s trial began on Monday, 3 April 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 15 April 1967 the jury found Speck guilty of all eight murders, after less than an hour’s deliberation. The judge sentenced Speck to death.

The Arrest

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 19 July 1966, by slashing his wrists in the dive-hotel where he was staying. 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. During the surgery that he required to repair his severed artery, he was watched over by a dozen policemen, who were determined to ensure that his days of making lucky escapes were over.