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killer of eight women in one night
Early Life and Crimes
Richard Benjamin Speck was born in Kirkwood, Illinois, on December 6, 1941, the seventh of eight children in a religious family. His father, Benjamin Franklin Speck, died in 1947. In 1950, his mother, Mary Margaret Carbaugh Speck, married Carl August Rudolph Lindberg, a traveling insurance salesman from Texas. The new family settled first in Santo, Texas, and then Dallas, Texas.
Speck's biological father had been a hard-working Christian man, but his step-father was an abusive alcoholic with a criminal record going back at least 25 years. Speck himself began drinking at the age of 12, was arrested for the first time at 13 (for trespassing), and dropped out of school just after his 16th birthday. By the age of 20 he had been arrested dozens of times, for a variety of misdemeanors.
Speck's first attempt at "honest work" was with the 7-Up bottling company in Dallas, where he worked as a laborer from August 24, 1960 to July 19, 1963. In October 1961, he met Shirley Annette Malone, who became pregnant after three weeks of dating him. The two were married on January 19, 1962, and daughter Robbie Lynn was born on July 5, 1962. Speck was not present at his daughter's birth, because he was serving a 22-day jail sentence for disturbing the peace in McKinney, Texas, at the time. In July 1963, Speck was convicted of forgery and burglary and sentenced to three years in the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. He was paroled after only 16 months, however, and was released on January 2, 1965.
In the early morning of January 9, 1965, Speck wielded a 17-inch carving knife at a woman in the parking lot of her apartment building. He fled when the woman screamed, but was apprehended a few blocks away. He was subsequently convicted of aggravated assault and given a sentence of 16 months, which was to run concurrently with a parole violation sentence. A clerical error led to him being released after just six months, however, on July 2. It is believed that it was during this incarceration that he had the phrase "Born to Raise Hell" tattooed on his forearm.
Escalation of Crimes
After his second release from prison, Speck got a job as a driver for the Patterson Meat Company. He was fired after only three months, after having six accidents in the company truck and failing to show up for work. In January 1966, Shirley filed for divorce. Later that same month, Speck stabbed another man in a bar fight and was charged with aggravated assault. His attorney was able to get the charge reduced to disturbing the peace. Speck was fined $10, but ended up spending three days in jail when he failed to pay the fine.
On March 6, 1966, Speck stole 70 cartons of cigarettes from a grocery store, and then sold them out of the trunk of his car in that same store's parking lot. For reasons unknown, Speck left his car in the parking lot after selling off his loot, and the police were able to trace it back to him. Knowing that another arrest (his 42nd) would mean another prison term, Speck decided to take a bus to Chicago, on March 9.
Speck stayed with one of his sisters in Chicago for a few days before moving to the Christy Hotel in Monmouth. There, one of his brothers got him a job sanding plasterboard. He spent most of his time in downtown taverns, however, and was once detained overnight in Gulf Port after reportedly threatening a man with a knife. At 1:00 a.m. on April 3, 65-year-old Mrs. Virgil Harris returned to her Monmouth home and confronted a knife-wielding burglar. The man blindfolded her, tied her up, raped her, ransacked her house, and stole the $2.50 she had earned babysitting that evening. On April 9, 32-year-old Mary Kay Pierce left Frank's Place, a tavern in Monmouth where she worked as a barmaid, but never made it home. She was reported missing on April 13, and her body was found in an empty hog house behind the tavern that same day. Because Speck was a frequent customer at Frank's and had helped build the house in which Pierce's body was found, he was briefly questioned by police on April 15. On April 19, the police decided they wanted to question Speck further, but when they arrived at the Christy they learned that he had already left. A search of his room turned up items reported stolen by Mrs. Harris, as well as from two other local burglaries.
From Monmouth, Speck moved into an apartment with his sister, her husband, and their two teenage daughters. His brother-in-law suggested that he join the U.S. Merchant Marine, and Speck was hired onto a bulk ore lake freighter on April 30. His first voyage ended abruptly, however, as he was stricken with appendicitis on May 3 and had to be taken off the ship by a Coast Guard helicopter and taken to a hospital for emergrency surgery. He was able to rejoin the ship on May 20, but was put ashore on June 15 after a drunken quarrel with an officer. He spent most of the next three weeks living with his sister in Chicago. On June 30, his brother-in-law drove him to the National Maritime Union so he could apply for a seaman's card. He returned to the hiring hall on July 8 and registered for a job on a cargo ship, but ended up losing out to a seaman with more seniority. After being kicked out by his sister on July 11, Speck tried twice more to get hired onto a cargo ship, and was rebuffed both times.
On July 13, Speck checked into a rooming house about a mile-and-a-half east of the hiring hall. He spent most of the day drinking in nearby taverns before accosting a 53-year-old woman at knifepoint. After taking her to his room, raping her, and stealing her revolver, he went to dinner at a nearby restaurant and resumed drinking. At 11:00 p.m. he knocked on the door of a townhome that was serving as a group residence for student nurses of the South Chicago Community Hospital. When Corzon Amurao answered the door, Speck brandished the revolver, as well as a knife, and forced himself inside, where he found two more student nurses. Speck herded all three women into a bedroom, where three other women were already cowering. Using nautical knots, he then tied the womens hands and feet with strips torn from bedsheets. Speck kept assuring the women that he was only going to rob them, but by midnight three more nurses had come home, leaving him with a total of nine women to control.
Despite his initial assurances, the extremely intoxicated Speck began systematically removing the women from the bedromm, taking each one to a separate room to be stabbed and strangled, and in some cases, raped. Amurao, the woman who had first answered the door, managed to stay hidden under a bed, however, and Speck ended up leaving before "getting around to her." She finally crawled out of her hiding space about 6 a.m., and then crawled out onto a second-story ledge and began screaming for help.
Police who responded to Amurao's screams obtained a detailed description of the nurses' killer, as well as a couple of fingerprints. A sketch of the killer was printed on the front page of every local newspaper the next morning, and by that evening one of Speck's "drinking buddies" had called police and identified Speck as the man they were looking for. The police never responded to the tip, however.
At 12:30 a.m. on July 17, Speck was taken to the Cook County Hospital after slashing his wrist. There, Dr. LeRoy Smith, a surgical resident and friend of the nurses who had been killed, recognized Speck from his "Born to Raise Hell" tattoo and called police. This time the police responded, and Speck was arrested. They waited three weeks before questioning, however, during which time the fingerprints left at the crime scene were matched with Speck's. When questioned, Speck claimed to have no memory of what he had done that night, due to having drunk himself into near oblivion.
Trial and Final Sentence
Speck's jury trial began on April 3, 1967, in Peoria, Illinois. Aside from the two fingerprints, little evidence pointed to Speck as the murderer. His fate was sealed, however, when Amurao dramatically identified him as the man who had held her and her roommates at gun and knifepoint, going so far as to rise from the witness box, walking directly in front of Speck, and pointing at him while saying "This is the man." Testimony ended on April 15, and it took the jury only 49 minutes to return a guilty verdict.
On June 5, Speck was sentenced to death, triggering an automatic appeal. The guilty verdict and sentence were upheld on November 22, 1968, but Speck's lawyer filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court soon after. On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court upheld Speck's conviction, but overturned his death sentence due to irregularities in the jury selection process. The Illinois Supreme Court was forced to return the case to the original trial court after the U.S. Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional, and on November 21, 1972, Speck's sentence was changed to a term of 400-1200 years in prison (equal to 8 consecutive sentences of 50-150 years). That sentence was subsequently reduced to a new statuatory maximum of 300 years, making Speck eligible for parole in 1977.
Speck was, not surprisingly, denied parole each of the seven times he applied. He was still in the Stateville Prison when he suffered a heart attack and died, on December 5, 1991. His body was never claimed, and his remains were cremated.
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This page was last updated on July 13, 2017.