Richard Speck

I think my first exposure to Richard Speck was through a show that would be produced after his death in 1991 showing the antics that had been allowed inside the prison system in Illinois. In May of 1996 reporter, Bill Kurtis received a video that had been made in 1988. Eventually the video was complied into one of the many shows that Bill Kurtis would be the host of and showed elicit sex and drug use among the prisoners in a way in which it was clear they were in no fear of being caught. Although the video was not released until several years after it had been taken it still had a wide impact on the Illinois prison system. Within the video Speck was shown and it was clear that one, not just by his own words but by his physical appearance that he had been taking hormones during his prison stay.

If I were older I would have known who Richard Speck was considering at the time of his crime of 1966 it was dubbed as The Crime of Century. As we know this term is used rather loosely but it does point out the more prominent cases of the times, and this crime was nothing if it was not notorious. Speck would be convicted on April 15, 1967 after the jury deliberated less than an hour, for the murders of eight nursing students from South Chicago Community Hospital.

Speck was originally from Illinois but his dad died when he was six years old and it was not long before his mother remarried and moved her minor children to Texas where Richard would spend the rest of his childhood. Speck had a substantive criminal history long before he ever stepped foot in court to face charges for what was consider to be the “1st random mass murder of the 20th Century.” His first arrest had come at the age of thirteen for trespassing.

In 1962, at the age of twenty he would marry a fifteen year old girl who he had gotten pregnant. Their daughter would be born in July of that year. A year later Speck was caught after he forged and cashed a co-workers check and robbed a grocery story. He would be convicted and sentenced to three years. He would serve sixteen months. He was released on January 2nd 1965 and then on the 19th he attacked a woman in the parking lot of her apartment building with a knife. He ran away when the woman screamed but he was apprehended a few blocks away. For that he got another sixteen month sentence on top of a parole violation but a mistake in the system only had him serve six months on the parole violation and he was released in July of 1965.

By January of 1966 his wife had filed for divorce but that made little difference because between his prison terms and their own separation they had not lived together for some time anyway. But in that same month he got into a fight with a man at a bar and stabbed him. He was able to get the charges reduced to simply disturbing the peace and was fined ten dollars. Two months later he robbed a grocery story in the Dallas area and it was said that had he been arrested after they traced the robbery back to him it would have been his 42nd arrest in Dallas. Instead his sister helped him get on a bus back to the Chicago area where another sister lived. His arrests had come from robberies, home attacks, bar fights and just general intoxication. It was said that by this time Richard was a full blown alcoholic.

Once in Illinois Richard first stayed with his sister and her family for a short while in Chicago but then ended up in his hometown of Monmouth, about three hours south west of Chicago. He stayed with friends for a bit and then at a hotel. On April 3rd a sixty five year old woman came home to find him in her home with a knife. He blindfolded her, raped her, tied her up and then ransacked her home. Six days later a woman named Mary Kay Pierce disappeared from a bar she worked at and one that Richard often frequented. On April 13th her body was found. Her cause of death was attributed to a blow to her abdomen that had caused her liver to rupture. Two days later police would question Richard and told him to hang around town. They went to this hotel on the 19th to find him gone. They searched his room and found evidence from the burglary of the elderly woman as well as two others. Whether they found any evidence of his involvement in Pierce's murder is unclear.

By this time Richard had taken off and headed back to his sister's in Chicago. His brother in law would often take him to the National Maritime Union (NMU) Hiring Hall to sign up for jobs as a seaman on short trips. This was a common practice around that time for those struggling to keep employment and it was not a guaranteed thing. Often times men would spend hours waiting for a trip only to still not make it. Just around the corner from NMU there were six two story townhouses attached to each other. These were dorms in which third and fourth year nursing students for the nearby hospital stayed. Some were exchange students.

On July 13, 1966 Richard was staying at a rooming house about a mile and a half away from where the students lived. Late in the evening he would attack a woman bar patron with a knife. He would take her to his room, rape her and steal a .22 pistol. Around 10:30 that night he dressed in all black and while carrying the gun and also brandishing a knife he walked over to the townhouses. He would later claim that he was drunk and high on drugs at the time he committed the crime by breaking in a back window of one of the townhouses on the end. Inside were six students but while he was there three more arrived. He would gather all the women into one of the three bedrooms in the home. Over the next five hours he would lead each woman out of the room one by one. When he was done, eight of the nine students inside the townhouse had been murdered either by strangulation, stabbing or both. It was known that at least one of the women were raped.

His victims were: Gloria Davy, Patricia Matusek, Nina Jo Schmale, Pamela Wilkening, Suzanne Farris, Mary Ann Jordan, Merlita Gargullo and Valentina Pasion. A ninth student, Corazon “Cora” Amurao had taken refuge under one of the beds during one of the times in which Richard had let one of the others out of the room. She remained there for a few hours after he had left the home, around four in the morning. Once she felt it was safe Cora would emerge and after walking out of the room and finding her housemates dead she had gone back into the room and climbed on a window ledge screaming for help.

Authorities would arrive at the seen and find the unbelievable carnage. Cora, being their only witness would give the investigators a description of the man. She described him as have a pox scarred face and a tattoo that said “Born to Raise Hell” on his arm. This latter information would be what would intimately be Richard's downfall. It would be said that on July 16th a drifter named Claude Lunsford would see a report and sketch of the wanted man and called the police on that evening after Richard had come to his room at the rooming house. For unknown reasons despite there being a record of his call the police did not respond. It is unknown if at that point Richard knew, or at least believed that the police would be coming because three hours after Lunsford made the call Richard attempted suicide in his room by slitting his wrists. An ambulance was called and he was rushed to the hospital. It was there that the doctor who was working on him recognized the “Born to Raise Hell” tattoo and called the authorities.

While he was promptly arrested and apparently charged in the murders of the eight nursing students he was not officially questioned by authorities for another three weeks. This delay was in part due to the recent ruling in Miranda VS AZ by the Supreme Court. At this point investigators were hard pressed to change their tactics in questioning suspects to insure that any evidence they recovered or confessions made were held up by the courts.

Richard would be convicted on April 15, 1967 and on June 6, 1967 he was sentenced to death. Cora Amurao would provide a dramatic identification for the jury. Rather simply point to Richard to identify him as the attacker from the witness stand or describe him to the jury as sitting at the defendants table, she got out of the witness box, walked toward him and pointed at him, nearly touching him, proclaiming him to be the man who had murdered her fellow students. In June of 1971 the appeals court upheld his conviction but overturned his sentenced based on the belief that more than 200 people had been excluded from the jury pool because they were against the death penalty. Before any sort of re-sentencing or appeal on the order could be heard, a year later the United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty. In November of 1972 he was re-sentenced to 400-1200 years as he was given eight consecutive sentences of 50-150 years. That sentence would be changed again in 1973 when a new statutory maximum was set at 300 years. Despite the long sentence Richard would have his first parole hearing in September of 1976. It was said that the board took a total of seven minutes before denying him parole. He would be denied six more times.

For many years Richard would claim to have no memory of the crime and hence would never confess. It was not until 1978 that he first publicly confessed to a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In the video that was taken in 1988 and later sent to Bill Kurtis, he recounted the murders. At one point in time he relayed that if he had to do it over again it would be a simple burglary.

Richard Speck would die in prison on December 5, 1991 at the age of forty-nine after suffering a heart attack.  

On a high note Cora Amurao, who had been an exchange student from the Philippines in 1966 would return to her home country after the trial.  She wold marry there but by about 1973 she was back living in the United States.  She would spend her life as a critical care nurse for many years in the Washington D.C area. 


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