Richard Speck's murders were one of the first times in 20th century American history that someone had killed so many people at random.
Richard Speck was one of the most fiendish mass murderers in American history, and his 1966 slayings of eight nursing students captured a nation in terror.
Speck’s early childhood is not what you would expect from an infamous killer. He was born in the small city of in Monmouth, Illinois to two religious, teetotaling parents.
However, Speck’s childhood was derailed when he was six.
That year, in 1947, his 53-year-old father, who was beloved by Speck, died from a heart attack. When his mother remarried a few years later, Speck’s new step-father was the opposite of his clean-cut idol.
His step-father was a traveling salesman with a long criminal record who would drink and verbally abuse the young Speck. With his new family, Speck moved to East Dallas, Texas, where they bounced from house to house, living in many of the poor neighborhoods of the city.
Throughout these years, Speck was a poor student, refusing to wear glasses that he needed or speaking in class due to his anxiety.
He repeated the eighth grade, and eventually dropped out the second semester of his first year of high school.
By that time, Speck had picked up his step-father’s drinking habit and was getting drunk almost every day.
Speck held a number of regular jobs and even got married after he impregnated a 15-year-old girl he met at Texas State Fair. However, he continued to run into trouble with the law.
His wife lived in fear of Speck, who was arrested for theft, robbery, fraud, and assault multiple times.
In 1965, Speck attacked a woman in the parking lot of her apartment building with a 17-inch carving knife. Though she escaped, Speck was arrested and given a 16-month sentence but was released after six months due to an error.
Fearing for her life, Speck’s wife filed for divorce and took full custody of their child.
Unmoored from this family, Speck went further off the deep end.
After stabbing a man in a bar fight, he moved back to Monmouth to live with his sister.
There, he began committing his most heinous crimes.
In April of 1966, he burgled a 65-year-old woman’s house, tied her up, and raped her.
He then killed a 32-year-old barmaid who worked at a bar he was doing carpentry work for. After being questioned for this killing, Speck skipped town and moved in with another one of his sisters, this time in Chicago.
By July of that year, Speck had outstayed his welcome and attempted to get a job on a ship with the National Maritime Union.
He stayed there for five days awaiting a shipping assignment.
On July 15, after receiving an assignment, only to arrive at the ship to find his position had been given to someone else, Speck got fed up and embarked on a drinking spree in the neighborhood.
On his binge, Speck met Ella Mae Hooper, a 53-year-old woman who had spent the day drinking at the same taverns as him, who he held up at knife point. Speck brought her to his room where he raped her and stole her mail-order .22 caliber Röhm pistol.
Armed with the pistol, Speck set out into the streets of South Side Chicago. After a mile, he came across a townhouse which was functioning as a dormitory for eight student nurses at the South Chicago Community Hospital.
He broke in through the window of the townhouse at 11 p.m. that night and made his way to the bedrooms.
He knocked first on the door of Filipina exchange student nurse Corazon Amurao, 23, and, at gunpoint, herded her and her fellow exchange students from the Philippines Merlita Gargullo, 23, and Valentina Pasion, 23, into the next room where American students Patricia Matusek, 20, Pamela Wilkening, 20, and Nina Jo Schmale, 24, were sleeping.
Speck then woke up the Americans and tied all six girls wrists behind their backs with strips of torn bedsheets.
Amurao, the lone survivor of the encounter, said, “The American girls told us we more or less had to trust him. Maybe if we were calm and quiet he will be, too. He has been talking to us all and he seems calm enough and that is a good sign.”
He then led them one by one out of the room, where he stabbed or strangled each of them to death.
Amurao said that none of her friends screamed as they were being led from the room, but she later heard their muffled cries.
While Speck’s back was turned, Amurao rolled under a bed in the room.
In the midst of this carnage, two other student nurses who lived in the dormitory arrived home. First came Suzanne Farris, 21, who Speck stabbed to death in the upstairs hallways as she was walking to her room.
The second was Mary Ann Jordan, 20, who Speck also stabbed to death upon her entry to the house.
The final of these later arrivals was Gloria Jean Davy, 22, who was dropped off by her boyfriend late that night. She was the only one of the women that Speck raped before killing.
Likely because of these late arrivals, Speck must have lost count of how many women he had tied up, as he forgot about Amurao.
She stayed hidden under the bed until 6 a.m. for safe measure, hours after Speck had run off.
Amurao bolted from her hiding place to the nearest window, from where she screamed, “They are all dead. My friends are all dead. Oh God, I’m the only one alive.”
She continued screaming until police arrived.
Though Speck had fled, he was easily recognized after he went to a hospital a few days later when a doctor noticed his identifying “Born To Raise Hell” tattoo after reading about it in a newspaper.
Speck was placed on trial for the murders after a panel of psychiatrists chosen by both his defense and his prosecution judged him competent to stand trial.
During his trial, which began on April 3, 1967, Speck claimed to have no recollection of the murders, something that did not bother the prosecution as they already had an eye-witness ready to identify him.
Amurao took to the witness stand for the trial, and in a dramatic moment, stood directly in front of Speck, pointed at him, almost touching his chest, and said, “This is the man.” The prosecution also found fingerprints matching Specks at the scene of the crime.
The trial of Speck was a national sensation. It was one of the first times in 20th century American history that someone had killed so many people at random.
For many at the time, it was seen as the end of an era of innocence, when it was never assumed that someone would kill helpless victims without clear motivation.
After only 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury came back with a guilty verdict for Speck.
He was initially given a death sentence, but this reduced to life in prison in 1971 when the Supreme Court ruled that people opposed to the death penalty were unconstitutionally excluded from the jury.
Speck served this sentence at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois. Throughout his time there, he regularly got caught with drugs and moonshine.
He was given the nickname “birdman” because he kept a pair of sparrows that had flown into his cell.
In 1996, a bizarre taken of Speck in 1988 was released to the public by an anonymous attorney.
In the video, Speck, wearing silk panties and with female-like breasts grown using smuggled hormone treatments, performs oral sex on another inmate, while they both do large amounts of cocaine.
At one point, a prisoner from behind the camera asked Speck why he killed the eight student nurses, to which he merely replied “It just wasn’t their night” and laughed.
Speck died on December 5, 1991, the eve of his 50th birthday, from a heart attack.
Now that you’ve read about Richard Speck, learn about serial killer Edmund Kemper, whose story is almost too gross to be real. Then read about the horrific true story of the Amityville murders behind the movie.