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Richard Benjamin Speck was an American serial killer, torturer and rapist in the 1960s.
Early life and Crimes
Richard Benjamin Speck was born in the village of Kirkwood, Illinois, six miles southwest of Monmouth in west-central Illinois, the seventh of eight children of Benjamin Franklin Speck and Mary Margaret Carbaugh Speck. The family moved to Monmouth shortly after Speck's birth. Speck and his younger sister, Carolyn, born in 1943, were much younger than their four older sisters and two older brothers (Speck's oldest brother, Robert, died at the age of 23 in an automobile accident in 1952). Speck's father worked as a packer at Western Stoneware in Monmouth and had previously worked as a farmer and logger. Speck was very close to his father, who died in 1947 from a heart attack at the age of 53. Speck was six years old at the time.
A few years later, Speck's religious, teetotaler mother met and fell in love with a traveling insurance salesman from Texas, Carl August Rudolph Lindberg, whom she met on a train trip to Chicago. The hard-drinking, peg-legged Lindberg, with a 25-year criminal record that started with forgery and included several arrests for drunk driving, was the opposite of Speck's sober, hardworking father. Speck's mother married Lindberg on May 10, 1950 in Palo Pinto, Texas. Speck and his younger sister Carolyn stayed with their married sister Sara Thornton in Monmouth for a few months so Speck could finish second grade, before joining their mother and Lindberg in rural Santo, Texas, 40 miles west of Fort Worth, Texas, where Speck attended third grade.
After a year in Santo, Speck moved with his mother, his stepfather, and his sister Carolyn to the East Dallas section of Dallas, Texas, living at ten addresses in poor neighborhoods over the next dozen years. Speck loathed his often drunk and frequently absent stepfather, who psychologically abused him with insults and threats.Speck, a poor student who needed glasses for reading but refused to wear them, struggled through Dallas public schools from fourth through eighth grade, repeating eighth grade at J. L. Long Jr. High School, in part because he refused to recite in class because of a lifelong fear of people staring at him.In autumn 1957, Speck started ninth grade at Crozier Technical High School, but failed every subject and did not return for the second semester in January 1958, dropping out just after his 16th birthday.
Speck had begun drinking alcohol at age 12 and by age 15, was getting drunk almost every day. His first arrest, in 1955 at age 13, for trespassing, was followed by dozens of others for misdemeanors over the next eight years.
Speck worked as a laborer for the 7-Up bottling company in Dallas for almost three years, from August 24, 1960 to July 19, 1963. In October 1961, Speck met 15-year-old Shirley Annette Malone at the Texas State Fair. She became pregnant after three weeks of dating him. Shirley married Speck on January 19, 1962, and initially moved in with him, his mother, his sister Carolyn, and Carolyn's husband. Speck's mother and stepfather had separated, and his stepfather had moved to California. Speck stopped using the name Richard Franklin Lindberg when he got married and began using the name Richard Franklin Speck. When Speck's daughter, Robbie Lynn, was born on July 5, 1962, his wife did not know where Speck was. He was serving a 22-day jail sentence for disturbing the peace in McKinney, Texas after a drunken melee.
In July 1963, Speck was caught having forged and cashed a co-worker's $44 paycheck and robbed a grocery store, stealing cigarettes, beer, and $3 in cash. The 21-year-old Speck was convicted of forgery and burglary and sentenced to three years in prison. He was paroled after serving 16 months (September 16, 1963 to January 2, 1965) in the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.
One week after his parole, at 2:20 a.m. on January 9, 1965, Speck, wielding a 17-inch carving knife, attacked a woman in the parking lot of her apartment building. He fled when the woman screamed. The police arrived within minutes and shortly thereafter, apprehended Speck a few blocks away. Speck was convicted of aggravated assault, given a 16-month sentence to run concurrently with a parole violation sentence, and returned to prison in Huntsville, but due to an error he was released from prison just six months later on completion of his parole violation sentence on July 2, 1965.
After his release from prison, Speck worked for three months as a driver for the Patterson Meat Company and had six accidents with his truck before he was fired for failing to show up for work. In December 1965, on the recommendation of his mother, Speck, who was by then separated from his wife, moved in with a 29-year-old divorced woman, an ex-professional wrestler who was a bartender at his favorite bar, Ginny's Lounge, and needed someone to babysit her three children. In January 1966, Speck's wife filed for divorce. That same month, Speck stabbed another man in a knife fight at Ginny's Lounge and was charged with aggravated assault, but a defense attorney hired by his mother was able to get the charge reduced to disturbing the peace. Speck was fined ten dollars and jailed for three days after he failed to pay the fine. This was the last time Speck was in police custody in Dallas.
On March 5, 1966, Speck bought a 12-year-old car. The following evening, he burglarized a grocery store, stole 70 cartons of cigarettes, sold them out of the trunk of his car in the grocery store's parking lot, and then abandoned the car. The police traced the car to Speck and issued a warrant for his arrest for burglary on March 8. An arrest, his 42nd in Dallas, would mean another prison term, so on March 9, 1966, Speck's sister Carolyn drove him to the Dallas bus depot, where he caught a bus to Chicago, Illinois.
Monmouth, March–April 1966
Speck stayed with his sister Martha Thornton and her family in Chicago for a few days, and then returned to his boyhood hometown of Monmouth, Illinois, where he initially stayed with some old family friends. Speck's brother Howard was a carpenter in Monmouth and found a job for him sanding plasterboard for another Monmouth carpenter. Speck became angry when he learned his ex-wife had remarried two days after she was granted a divorce on March 16, 1966. He moved to the Christy Hotel in downtown Monmouth on March 25 and spent most of his time in the downtown taverns. At the end of March, while Speck and some acquaintances were on a bar-hopping trip to Gulf Port, Illinois, they were detained overnight by police there after Speck reportedly threatened a man in a tavern restroom with his knife.
On April 3, Mrs. Virgil Harris, a 65-year-old resident of Monmouth, returned home at 1:00 a.m. to find a burglar in her house brandishing a knife. He was a six foot tall white man who was "very polite" and spoke "very softly with a Southern drawl." The man blindfolded her, tied her up, raped her, ransacked her house, and stole the $2.50 she had earned babysitting that evening.
A week later, Mary Kay Pierce, a 32-year-old barmaid who worked at her brother-in-law's tavern, Frank's Place, in downtown Monmouth, was last seen leaving the tavern at 12:45 a.m. on April 9. She was reported missing on April 13, and her body was found that day in an empty hog house behind the tavern. She had died from a blow to her abdomen that ruptured her liver.
Speck had frequented Frank's Place, and the empty hog house was one of several he had helped build in the preceding month, so Monmouth police briefly questioned him about Pierce's death when he showed up to collect his final carpentry paycheck on April 15 and asked him to stay in town for further questioning. When police showed up at the Christy Hotel on April 19 to continue questioning Speck, they found he had left the hotel a few hours earlier, carrying his suitcases and saying he was just going to the laundromat. He had instead left town. A search of his room turned up a radio and costume jewelry Mrs. Virgil Harris had reported missing from her house, as well as items reported missing in two other local burglaries in the past month.
Chicago, April–June 1966
On April 19, 1966, Speck returned to stay at his sister Martha's second-floor apartment at 3966 N. Avondale Ave. in the Old Irving Park neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago, where she lived with her husband, Gene Thornton, and their two teenage daughters. Martha had worked as a registered nurse in pediatrics before she was married and her husband Gene worked nights as a railroad switchman. Speck told them an unbelievable story about having to leave Monmouth after refusing to sell narcotics for a "crime syndicate" there. Gene Thornton, who had served in the U.S. Navy, thought that the U.S. Merchant Marine might provide a suitable occupation for his unemployed brother-in-law, so on April 25 he took Speck to the U.S. Coast Guard office to apply for a letter of authority to work as an apprentice seaman. The application required being fingerprinted and photographed, and having a physical examination by a physician.
Speck found work immediately after obtaining the letter of authority, joining the 33-member crew of Inland Steel's Clarence B. Randall, an L6-S-B1 class bulk ore lake freighter, on April 30. Speck's first voyage on the Clarence B. Randall was brief, since he was stricken with appendicitis on May 3 and was evacuated by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to St. Joseph's Hospital in Hancock, Michigan on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan's Upper Peninsula where he had an emergency appendectomy.
After he was discharged from the hospital, Speck returned to stay with his sister Martha and her family in Chicago to recuperate. On May 20 he rejoined the crew of the Clarence B. Randall on which he served until June 14, when he got drunk and quarreled with one of the boat's officers and was put ashore on June 15. For the following week, Speck stayed at the St. Elmo, an East Side, Chicago, flophouse at E. 99th St. & S. Ewing Ave. Speck then traveled by train to Houghton, Michigan, staying at the Douglas House, to visit Judy Laakaniemi, a 28-year-old nurse's aide going through a divorce, whom he had befriended at St. Joseph's Hospital. On June 27, after Judy gave him 80 dollars to help him until he found work, Speck left to again stay with his sister Martha and her family in Chicago for the next two weeks.
On June 30, his brother-in-law Gene drove Speck to the National Maritime Union (NMU) hiring hall at 2335 E. 100th St. in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood of South Deering, Chicago, to file his paperwork for a seaman's card. The NMU hiring hall was one block east of six attached two-story brick townhouses, three of which were occupied by South Chicago Community Hospital senior student nurses and Filipino exchange registered nurses, eight of whom lived in the easternmost townhouse at 2319 E. 100th St., just 150 feet from the NMU hiring hall.
Chicago, July 1966
On Friday, July 8, 1966, his brother-in-law Gene drove Speck to the NMU hiring hall to pick up his seaman's card and register for a berth on a ship. Speck lost out that day to a seaman with more seniority for a berth on the SS Flying Spray, a C1-A cargo ship bound for South Vietnam, and returned to his sister Martha's apartment for the weekend.
By Monday, July 11, Speck had outstayed his welcome with his sister Martha and her family. After packing his bags and again being driven by his brother-in-law Gene to the NMU hiring hall to await a berth on a ship, Speck stayed that evening at Pauline's rooming house, a mile away at 3028 E. 96th St. in the Vets Park neighborhood of South Deering, Chicago.
On Tuesday, July 12, Speck returned to the NMU hiring hall and in mid-afternoon received an assignment on Sinclair Oil's tanker SS Sinclair Great Lakes, a thirty-minute drive away in East Chicago, Indiana, but when he arrived there he found his spot had already been taken, and was driven back to the by then closed NMU hiring hall. Speck did not have enough money for a rooming house, so he dropped off his bags six blocks east at the Manor Shell filling station at 9954 S. Torrence Ave. and slept in an unfinished house just off E. 103rd St.
On Wednesday, July 13, after picking up his bags and checking in at the NMU hiring hall angry at being sent to a non-existent assignment, Speck talked for thirty minutes in their car with his sister Martha and her husband Gene who had driven down to visit him at 9 a.m., parked on E. 100th St. next to Luella Elementary School, across the street from the townhouses where the nurses lived. At 10:30 a.m., tired of waiting at the NMU hiring hall for a job and with $25 his sister had given him, Speck left and walked a mile and a half east on E. 100th St. to check in at the Shipyard Inn at E. 101st St. & S. Avenue N, an East Side, Chicago rooming house.
Speck spent the rest of the day drinking in nearby taverns before accosting at knifepoint Ella Mae Hooper, a 53-year-old woman who had spent the day drinking at the same taverns as Speck. Speck took her to his room at the Shipyard Inn, raped her, and stole her black $16 mail-order .22 caliber Röhm pistol. After dinner at the nearby Kay's Pilot House, Speck returned to drink at the Shipyard Inn’s tavern until 10:20 p.m., when he left dressed entirely in black, armed with a switchblade and Ella Mae Hooper's handgun, and walked a mile and a half west on E. 100th St. to the nurses' townhouse at 2319 E. 100th St.
The murdersAt 11:00 p.m. on July 13, 1966, Speck broke into a townhouse located at 2319 East 100th Street in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood of Chicago. It was functioning as a dormitory for several young student nurses. Armed with only a knife (the Illinois Supreme Court opinion recounting the facts of the case reports that the defendant appeared at the door of the townhouse holding a gun), he then killed most of the young women, including Gloria Davy, Patricia Matusek, Nina Jo Schmale, Pamela Wilkening, Suzanne Farris, Mary Ann Jordan, Merlita Gargullo, and Valentina Pasion. Speck, who later claimed he was high on both alcohol and drugs, may have originally planned to commit a routine burglary. Speck held the women in the house for hours, methodically leading them out of the room one by one, stabbing or strangling them to death, then finally raping and strangling his last victim, Gloria Davy. Only one woman, Cora (Corazon) Amurao, escaped because she managed to wiggle under a bed while Speck was out of the room with one of his victims. Speck may have lost count, or he may have known there were eight women living in the townhouse but had been unaware a ninth student nurse was spending the night there. Amurao stayed hidden until almost 6 a.m. When she emerged, she climbed out of her northeast bedroom window onto a ledge screaming, "They're all dead! All my friends are dead!"
Lieutenant Emil G. Giese headed the Identification Section of the Chicago Police Department. He compared and identified a smudged fingerprint found at the murder scene to another provided by the FBI, which belonged to Richard Speck. Sgt. Hugh Granahan assisted with the comparison and later that morning, Senior Examiner Burton J. Buhrke found a better fingerprint on a door at the scene.
Two days after the murders, Speck was identified by a drifter named Claude Lunsford. Speck, Lunsford, and another man had been drinking the evening of July 15 on the fire escape of the Starr Hotel at 617 W. Madison. On July 16, Lunsford recognized a sketch of the murderer in the evening paper and phoned the police at 9:30 p.m. after finding Speck in his (Lunsford's) room at the Starr Hotel. The police, however, did not respond to the call although their records showed it had been made. Speck then attempted suicide, and the Starr Hotel desk clerk phoned in the emergency around midnight. Speck was taken to Cook County Hospital at 12:30 a.m. on July 17. At the hospital, Speck was recognized by Dr. LeRoy Smith, a 25-year-old surgical resident physician, who had read about the "Born To Raise Hell" tattoo in a newspaper story. The police were called. Speck was arrested.Concerns over the recent Miranda case that had vacated the convictions of a number of criminals meant Speck was not even questioned for three weeks after his arrest.
Life in Prison
While incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, Speck was given the nickname "birdman", after the film Birdman of Alcatraz, because he kept a pair of sparrows that had flown into his cell. He was described as a loner who kept a stamp collection and listened to music, and whose work within the prison involved bars and walls. His contacts with the warden included requests for new shirts or a radio or other mundane items. The warden merely described him as "a big nothing doing time." Speck was not a model prisoner; he was often caught with drugs or distilled moonshine. Punishment for such infractions never stopped him. "How am I going to get in trouble? I'm here for 1,200 years!"
Speck customarily refused all media requests, but granted one prison interview to Bob Greene in 1978; Speck told Greene he read Greene's column in the Chicago Tribune. In this interview, Speck confessed to the murders for the first time publicly and said he thought he would get out of prison "between now and the year 2000", at which time he hoped to run his own grocery store business. He told Greene one of his pleasures in prison was "getting high."When Greene asked him if he compared himself to celebrity killers like John Dillinger, Speck replied, "Me, I'm not like Dillinger or anybody else. I'm freakish."
Speck said when he killed the nurses he "had no feelings", but things had changed: "I had no feelings at all that night. They said there was blood all over the place. I can't remember. It felt like nothing ... I'm sorry as hell. For those girls, and for their families, and for me. If I had to do it over again, it would be a simple house burglary."
Speck's "final thought for the American people" was: "Just tell 'em to keep up their hatred for me. I know it keeps up their morale. And I don't know what I'd do without it."
Speck died of a heart attack at 6:05 a.m. December 5, 1991, one day before his 50th birthday, at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet. He had been taken to Silver Cross after complaining of chest pains and nausea at Stateville Correctional Center.
After Speck's death, Dr. Jan E. Leestma, a neuropathologist at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery, performed an autopsy of Speck's brain. Leestma found apparent gross abnormalities. Two areas of the brain — the hippocampus, which involves memory, and the amygdala, which deals with rage and other strong emotions — encroached upon each other, and their boundaries were blurred. Leestma made tissue section slides and presented them to others, who agreed his findings were unusual. There was no further analysis, however; the tissue samples were lost or stolen when sent to a Boston neurologist for further study. Leestma's findings were inconclusive.
Dr. John R. Hughes, a neurologist and longtime director of the Epilepsy Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and a colleague of Leestma, examined photos of the tissue in the 1990s along with brain wave tests performed on Speck in the 1960s. Hughes stated, "I have never heard of that [type of abnormality] in the history of neurology. So any abnormality that exceptional has got to have an exceptional consequence." Hughes attributes Speck's homicidal nature to a combination of the brain abnormalities, the violence Speck suffered at the hands of his alcoholic stepfather, and his own drinking and violence in Texas.
After Speck died, his body was not claimed. Duane Krieger, Will County coroner when Speck died, said he had talked to Richard Speck's sister: "She said they were afraid people would desecrate the grave if they had him buried out there." Krieger also stated that the sister "told her kids, 'You can never tell people Richard Speck was your uncle.'"
Speck was cremated. The ashes were scattered in a location known only to Krieger, his chief deputy, a pastoral worker and Joliet Herald News columnist John Whiteside, who has since died. All witnesses swore to keep the location, a "pastoral" and "an appropriate location" in the Joliet area, secret. "We said a couple of prayers and spread them to the wind", Krieger said. "It was a very small funeral."