ON July 14, 1966, an inebriated Richard Speck stumbled into the townhouse at 2319 East 100th Street in Chicago, Illinois, and took the lives of eight nursing students.
After entering the house, Speck woke up the women who were fast asleep and ordered them into a bedroom — asking for whatever cash they had and claiming that he wasn’t going to kill them. But when two women from the neighboring boarding house entered number 2319 while Speck was torturing Pamela Wilkening … all hell broke loose.
Though it’s unclear what Speck would have done had neighbors Suzanne Farris and Mary Ann Jordan not appeared, what happened next was a massacre. After killing all three of the women, Speck went back for the remaining victims he had been keeping in a separate room — taking them out one by one, raping and killing them, until no one was left.
At least, that’s what he thought. Whether he was unaware of how many women were in the house to begin with, or if the unexpected arrival of the neighboring nursing students threw him off, Cora Amurao managed to wedge herself under a bed — out of view — until Speck finally left. She was the only survivor.
Amurao was able to bring Richard Speck to justice with her eye witness account, and with the help of fingerprints at the scene that matched Speck’s. Only 49 minutes of deliberation were necessary before Speck was sentenced to death.
But how did this young man, who claimed not to remember the night in which he spent hours torturing and killing eight young women, become a killer? Born on December 6, 1941, Speck’s home life was unexceptional for his first years. But after his beloved father and his oldest brother died within five years of each other, Speck’s life began to change.
His mother, previously a temperance movement teetotaler, fell in love with a traveling insurance salesman with an eye towards his drink. Speck’s new stepfather, Carl Lindberg, was an abusive drunk who had been found guilty of forgery and drunk driving. Just a year after brother Robert’s death, 12-year-old Speck began drinking. By 15, he was drunk nearly every day.
Speck dropped out of school at 16; by this time, he had already been arrested many times for misdemeanors including trespassing and disturbing the peace. Speck escalated to violence in his 20s, stabbing two people with a knife within a year of each other. At this point, Speck’s wife, some five years younger than him, left him. With nowhere else to go, Speck moved in with his sister, then back to his hometown in Illinois.
Upon his return to Monmouth, Speck became even more violent–in April 1966, Speck raped two women, killing one. But then, Speck seemed to get his act in order: He applied to work as an apprentice seaman with the U.S. Coast Guard in June.
Then, Speck lost out on an assignment to a more senior seaman. After being kicked out of his sister’s apartment, he went on a daylong bender, ending with violence once again. He kidnapped 53-year-old Ella Mae Hooper, raped her, and stole her pistol. But that act was not enough to quench Speck’s anger.
Later that night, after dinner, Speck took the pistol he had stolen, as well as a switchblade, and set out a mile and a half to a townhouse filled with nursing students.
He arrived at 11:00 that night. Speck had been drinking all day and allegedly also abusing drugs. The seven women in the townhouse soon found themselves in a form of hell they could never have imagined. Five women were shepherded into a bedroom together, while three more hid in a closet.
Thinking that they may be able to save themselves, one of the women asked Speck what he wanted. His answer was to go to New Orleans. Each of the women gave the intruder what money they had for a ticket to New Orleans. It seemed that they may have saved their own lives … until a ninth nurse — Gloria Jean Davy – arrived home after her date. Speck panicked and tied up each of the eight women, then took his first victim, Pamela Wilkening out of the room.
Thus began a sick night, as Speck took each woman out of the bedroom, one at a time, to torture and kill them. Meanwhile, Corazon Amurao hid under a bed, within earshot but out of sight. Around 3 am, Speck’s rampage was finished. Amurao remained hidden for two more hours before escaping and finding help.
Amurao’s ability to stay hidden would prove to be Speck’s downfall. On July 16, a drifter called the police upon seeing Speck’s sketch in the paper. Before Speck could be arrested, he attempted suicide. At the hospital, a doctor also recognized Speck from Amurao’s sketch, and the mass murderer was arrested on the spot.
A number of theories surrounding Speck’s violence were proposed, from traumatic brain injuries to obsessive-compulsive disorder and XYY syndrome, which at the time was believed to make men more aggressive than their more typical XY counterparts. Regardless, Speck was quickly found guilty. His death sentence was reversed due to a 1971 Supreme Court decision, but his 1972 resentencing resulted in a 1,200 year sentence. Speck died in prison on December 5, 1991 of a heart attack.
By CATHERINE PHELAN