Born to Raise Hell
by Troy Taylor
In 1966, Richard Speck captured the nation’s attention after he committed one of the most horrifying mass murders in American history when he systematically tortured, raped, and murdered eight student nurses from Chicago’s South Side Community Hospital on July 14, 1966. He then during the summer of 1966 after murdering eight female students who lived together on Chicago’s South Side. Before then, he had been responsible for other acts of violence against his family and others but had a knack for escaping the police.
Richard Benjamin Speck was born from Benjamin and Mary Speck on December 6, 1941, the day before the Japan sneak attack on Pearl Harbour. He was the seventh of eight children. After the death of his father when Speck was six, his mother remarried Carl Lindberg, a Texan with an arrest record, moving the family to Dallas. The children suffered considerable abuse at the hands of their drunken stepfather, and Speck’s childhood was marked by juvenile delinquency and alcohol abuse. Speck was a slow-witted failure with school work and on the fast track to nowhere. He started running with some older boys, drinking, fighting and getting into trouble. which soon led to petty crime.
In November 1962, Speck married Shirley Malone, and they had a daughter, Bobby Lynn, soon after. Their married bliss was short-lived, and according to later accounts, Speck often raped his wife at knifepoint, claiming that he needed sex four to five times each day. He ended up spending a good portion of their marriage in prison and in January 1966, Shirley filed for divorce. In the same year in Dallas, Speck was involved in a burglary and stabbing and was fined $10 for the lesser charge of stabbing. The burglary charge would have sent him back to prison — and might have saved the life of the eight young women. Unfortunately though fate had other plans.. Having been paroled in January 1965, he lasted only four weeks outside, before being arrested again for aggravated assault, and he was jailed for a further 16 months, of which he served 6 months.
With the help of his sister Carolyn, Speck took the first bus out of Dallas and headed for his sister Martha’s home in Chicago. He only stayed with her for a few days and then went to Monmouth, Illinois, a small town where he had lived as a boy. He stayed with family friends and worked as a carpenter for a month. He soon quit his job in order to spend his time hanging out in a local tavern, the Palace Tap. Speck only managed to stay out of trouble until April 2, when Mrs. Virgil Harris, 65, was attacked in her home. The man grabbed her from behind, cut her housecoat into strips, tied her up with them and raped her. Mrs. Harris told police that her assailant spoke with a southern drawl, as Speck did after his years in Texas.
On April 13, Mary Kay Pierce, a barmaid at Frank’s Place, was found dead in a shed behind the tavern. Her liver had been ruptured from a blow to the abdomen. Speck was brought in for questioning but the interrogation was cut short when he got sick. He promised to return on April 19 for more questions, but he never did. Investigators traced him to the Christy Hotel and when they entered his room, found jewelry and a radio that had been stolen from Mrs. Harris’ home, as well as items from other burglaries in town. They did not find Speck however. The hotel manager told police that he had seen Speck leaving a few hours before they arrived with two suitcases. He told the manager that he was going to the laundromat, but he caught a bus instead — heading for Chicago.
Speck now returned to the home of his sister, Martha, and his brother-in-law, Gene Thornton. Their second floor apartment on the city’s northwest side was crowded but Speck didn’t plan to be there much. He announced his intentions to search for work as a merchant seaman but after several days of doing nothing, Thornton got frustrated with him and drove his unwanted houseguest to the National Maritime Union Hall, located at 2315 East One Hundredth Street. The building still stands today as a church and was then located just a few doors away from three residential townhouses, including number 2319, which had been rented by the South Chicago Community Hospital for 24 of its 155 student nurses.
Thornton brought Speck to the Maritime Union Hall in hopes that there was still an open berth on a ship that was bound for Vietnam. As it turned out though, fate intervened once more. The position went to a man with greater seniority, leaving Speck without a spot. Disappointed, but unwilling to take Speck back in, Thornton handed him $25 and wished him well. He then drove off and left his brother-in-law to fend for himself.
In May, Speck managed to get a position aboard and iron ore ship on the Great Lakes, where he was stricken with appendicitis and hospitalized in Hancock, Michigan. When he returned to Chicago in mid-June, he was fired for being drunk and disorderly. He had been warned repeatedly about his drinking and violent behavior but he disregarded the threats. After that, he spent the next three weeks in cheap hotels, sleeping in the park and financing his liquor and his visits to prostitutes with whatever odd jobs he could come up with. On July 13, a depressed and angry Speck was drinking heavily in the Shipyard Inn. After a volatile combination of pills and liquor, he suddenly got the urge to “raise some hell”. He would later say that he remembered nothing after this point.
Speck left the bar with a hunting knife, a pocketknife and a borrowed .22 caliber pistol and walked over to one of the nearby student dormitories. For the past several weeks, the drifter had seen the women coming and going from the buildings, sunbathing in Luella Park and walking back and forth to their classes. He was familiar enough with their schedules to know that, at nearly 11:00 p.m., they would be home in bed.
A loud rapping came at the door of one of the townhouses and Corazon Amurao, who shared a second floor bedroom with two other young women, went to the door to answer it. She found a tall, lean stranger standing on the doorstep. He smelled of liquor and had a knife in one hand and a gun in the other. He slurred that he was not going to hurt her. “I’m only going to tie you up,” he said. “I need money to go to New Orleans.”
He shoved his way into the townhouse and ordered the three Filipino students, Valentina Paison, Merlita Gargullo and Corazon, into a bedroom at the back of the building, where Pamela Wilkening, Nina Schmale and Pat Matusek were getting ready for bed. Speck took the sheets from the beds and cut them into strips, which he used to bind the women by their wrists and ankles. At 11:30, a seventh nurse, Gloria Davy, returned home from a date and she was also imprisoned. Then, a half-hour later, Suzanne Farris and her friend, Mary Ann Jordan, came to the front door. Speck pulled them inside and led them into the back bedroom at gunpoint.
In the course of the hour, Speck had systematically tied and gagged each of the women. As author Richard Lindberg has stated: “How he accomplished this with minimal to no resistance is one of the enduring mysteries in the annals of Chicago crime.” Why did none of the women try to escape? Why did they not try and overpower Speck as he was tying another victim? Why did none of the women in the other townhouses hear anything that was taking place? No one knows and as Lindberg has noted — it remains a mystery.
By 3:30 a.m., Speck’s lust was finally spent. One by one, he had taken the eight young women out of the bedroom and had killed them. Only one of them, Gloria Davy, had been raped but all were dead — save for Cora Amurao, who had managed to roll under a bunk bed and cower there in fear and shock until Speck finally left. Apparently, in his frenzy, he had lost count of the women in the house. Amurao remained hidden, frozen in terror, until nearly 6:00. When she finally emerged from her hiding place, she climbed out of the apartment window and then perched on a ledge, began to scream. “My friends are all dead!” she cried. “I’m the only one alive! Oh God, I’m the only one alive!”
Her screams caught the attention of Judy Dykton, a student who lived across the street. She had gotten up early to study and was startled by the cries from outside. Snatching her robe, she ran over to find Cora shaking and crying on the window ledge. Judy entered the open door of the townhouse and stepped into the living room. She discovered the naked body of Gloria Davy, her hands tied behind her and a strip of cloth wrapped tightly around her throat. Her skin had turned cold and a dusty blue color. She was obviously dead. She turned and fled to the apartment of the housemother, Mrs. Bisone. “There’s trouble in 19!” she screamed.
The housemother woke up the other student nurses and ran from the house toward 2319. She brought Leona Bonczak with her, who entered the house. She first checked to see if Gloria showed any signs of life and then mounted the stairs and looked down the hall. In the bathroom, she found the body of Pat Matusek and then crept into the other bedrooms, where she discovered the rest of the students so drenched in blood that she was unable to recognize any of them, save for Nina Schmale. A pillow covered most of the girl’s face but she lay on her back, hands tied behind her, a cloth around her neck, legs spread apart — and a fatal knife wound to her heart.
Stunned, she went downstairs and numbly told Mrs. Bisone that everyone was dead. The housemother, shaking and sick, picked up the phone and called South Chicago Community Hospital and told them that all of her girls had been murdered. When the hospital asked her who had been killed, she was unable to tell them. The only words she uttered were “send help!”
Someone on the street managed to flag down police officer Daniel Kelly, a young patrolman who had only been on the job for 18 months. He radioed in that there was trouble and then entered the house. He was shocked to discover the body of Gloria Davy in the living room. Kelly had dated her sister some time back. Upset, he drew his gun, searched the house and found the other bodies. The townhouse looked like a charnel house and in places, the blood in the carpeting was so thick that it pooled over Kelly’s shoes. He ran outside to his car radio and called it in. Soon, Kelly heard the comforting sounds of approaching sirens beginning to fill the air.
The street outside filled with cops and people ran from door to door alerting their neighbors of the horror found in 2319. The first detective on the scene was Jack Wallenda, a big powerful man with a soft voice who was shocked by the utter brutality of the killings. He entered the house and viewed the bodies one by one.
He found Gloria first. She was nude, belly down on the couch and tied with double-knotted bed sheets. He noticed what appeared to be semen between her buttocks and found buttons from her blouse strewn down the stairs. The killer had apparently torn them off her as he pulled her to the living room. Also tossed on the floor was a man’s white t-shirt, size 38-40.
Wallenda then checked the upstairs bedroom and found the body of Pamela Wilkening. She had been gagged and stabbed through the heart. Suzanne Farris lay nearby in a pool of blood and a white nurse’s stocking had been twisted around her neck. The detective counted 18 stab wounds to her chest and neck. He studied Mary Ann Jordan next. She had been stabbed three times in the chest and once in the neck.
In the northwest bedroom, he found Nina Schmale with her nightgown pulled up to her breasts and her legs pulled apart. She had also been tied and stabbed and it looked as though her neck might be broken. Valentina Paison was found under a blue cover, lying face down. Her throat had been cut. Tossed carelessly on top of her was the body of Merlita Gargullo, who had been stabbed and strangled.
Wallenda walked out the door and to the right and saw the legs of Patricia Matusek protruding from the bathroom. She was lying on her back with her hands bound behind her. She had been strangled with a piece of the bed sheet, double knotted, and her nightgown had been dragged up over her breasts. Her white panties had been pulled down to expose her pubic hair. Blood-soaked towels were strewn all over the bathroom floor.
Wallenda’s hands were shaking as he left the townhouse. It was the worst crime scene that he had ever witnessed.
The police immediately went to work and within hours were on the trail of Richard Speck. Cora, although heavily sedated, had managed to give an excellent description of the killer and a gas station attendant who worked nearby remembered one of his managers talking about a guy of the same description who had been complaining about missing a ship and losing out on a job just a couple of days before. Police sketch artist Otis Rathel put together an uncanny likeness of Speck. Investigators took the sketch to the Maritime Union Hall and questioned the agent in charge. He remembered an irate seaman who lost out on a double booking — two guys sent for one job — and he fished the crumpled assignment sheet from the wastebasket. The sheet gave the name of Richard Speck.
State’s Attorney Daniel P. Ward would later call the manhunt for Speck the “finest bit of police work” he had ever seen. The Chicago Police, Sheriff’s deputies, the Coroner and a number of amateur investigators managed to neatly compile the case and detectives began tracking his movements.
After the murders, Speck moved from bar to bar, drinking himself into oblivion, not knowing that the police were on his trail. Detectives had convinced the agent at the Maritime Hall to call Speck’s last known telephone number, his sister’s, to tell him that he was needed to ship out. The agent connected with Gene Thornton, who agreed to try and track Speck down. He managed to find him at the Shipyard Inn and told him that the union hall had a job for him. Speck called the union hall and was told to come down for an assignment on a ship that Speck knew had shipped out several days before. Suspecting a trick, he told the agent that he was up north and it would take him at least an hour to get there. He never showed up.
Immediately, Speck went upstairs, packed his bags and called a cab. He waited in the tavern, playing pool, and three detectives came in looking for a tall blond man with a southern accent. The bartender was no help and Speck stayed quiet, listening and shooting pool just ten feet away from them. When the cab arrived, he refused to give the driver an address and told him to take him to his sister’s house, which he said was in a poor and slummy section of town. The cabbie drove north and again asked Speck for an address. Clueless, he pointed to a building that turned out to be part of the Cabrini Green housing project. He got out of the cab and watched the cabbie drive away.
Speck started walking and ended up on Dearborn Street at the Raleigh Hotel, a flophouse that had once been a luxury apartment building. He registered under the name of “John Stayton”, one of his friends in Texas. A desk clerk later recalled a drunken Speck and his “cracker” accent coming in with a prostitute and giving him the wrong room number. He didn’t want to wake his boss, so he let the couple go. Just before the elevator door closed, he heard the girl call him “Richard”. A half hour later, the girl came back downstairs and told the clerk that her “date” had a gun. This prompted a call to the police and two officers from the 18th District police station showed up at the hotel at 8:30 a.m. Speck, still drunk, awoke to find two cops standing over him. He had the gun tucked into the waistband of his pants and when asked why it had it, told the officers that it belonged to the prostitute. When asked what his name was, he told them that it was Richard Speck. They checked his wallet and found his seaman’s I.D. and passport but unfortunately, not all of the police had been notified of the identity of the student nurses’ killer yet. He was questioned for 15 minutes and the officers confiscated the gun but never reported it. When they left the hotel, they told the desk clerk that he was “harmless.”
Not realizing that Speck had narrowly escaped capture, the police searched the south side. They managed to track him from the Shipyard Inn to the cab company to Cabrini Green. But while they canvassed the housing project, Speck drank himself into another stupor. Later in the afternoon, he ran into some old friends who suggested that he hop a freight train with them and head out of town. Speck went back to the Raleigh and packed his bags and on his way out, told the manager that he was going to do some laundry. He never returned. Just 15 minutes after he walked out though, two detectives came in and flashed a photo of Speck in front of the manager. Her eyes widened. “It’s him,” she said. “It’s Richard, he just left!”
Oblivious, Speck then headed for the Starr Hotel, a rundown dive on West Madison Street that offered temporary refuge to winos and bums. The “rooms” were nothing more than windowless cubicles with concrete floors where losers could sleep off a drunk amidst the sounds of coughing and moaning and the smells of sweat, booze and vomit. The place was the last rung on the ladder for the dregs of humanity and Speck fit right in. He tossed his bags on a bed and went out to sell some of his belongings to raise money for another night of drinking. He picked up some wine at a local liquor store and several newspapers with his name and photo on splashed across them. Speck stumbled back to the Starr Hotel and finished off the entire bottle of wine. He then walked down the hall to the bathroom, smashed the wine bottle and then used the broken glass to cut his wrist and inner elbow. Blood splashed the wall and onto the floor and Speck wobbled down the corridor to his cubicle. He collapsed onto the bed, still bleeding badly and then called out to his neighbors for water and for help. They ignored him.
An anonymous call was made to the police but no patrol car was sent. Eventually, Speck was taken to Cook County Hospital. The ambulance drivers ignored Speck’s cries for water and missed the police bulletin on their dashboard that had the injured man’s photo on it. In the emergency room, Nurse Kathy O’Connor prepped Speck and first year resident Leroy Smith checked his wounds. He noticed something familiar about the man. He checked his arm, looking for a tattoo and saw it there, as he suspected, “Born to Raise Hell”. He compared a newspaper photo with the man and realized that he had the killer on his table.
Speck pleaded with the young man for water but Smith grabbed him by the back of the neck and squeezed it as hard as he could. “Did you give water to those nurses?” he demanded. He dropped Speck’s head back onto the gurney and called in a policeman who was guarding another patient down the hall. He told him that Richard Speck, the suspect in the murders, was there on the table. The stunned officer started making telephone calls and all hell broke loose.
Speck was in police custody a few hours later and William J. Martin, a young and hard-working state’s attorney was faced with putting together and trying the case. He based most of it on the sincere and compelling testimony of Corazon Amurao, who had to be persuaded to remain in the United States long enough to secure the conviction of the monster who had killed her friends. She was understandably unhinged from her ordeal and she wanted nothing more than to return to the Philippines to try and forget the horrific experience. Martin brought her mother and a cousin to Chicago for moral support and kept them in secret location away from the press. Her quiet testimony galvanized the courtroom and convinced a jury in Peoria (the defense had argued that Speck could not get a fair trial in Chicago) to convict him in just 49 minutes. Speck was given the death sentence for the murders.
He managed to avoid the death penalty though when the Supreme Court changed its ruling on capital punishment. He was re-sentenced to 50-100 years in prison but died on December 5, 1991 from a massive heart attack. His autopsy showed that he had an enlarged heart and occluded arteries, having blown up to 220 pounds at the time of his death. No one claimed his body and he was cremated. His ashes were disposed of in an undisclosed location.
But unfortunately, in 1996, Speck was back.
In May of that year, television journalist Bill Kurtis went behind the walls of Stateville prison and came back with a ”secret” videotape that showed a bizarre Richard Speck with women’s breasts — apparently from hormone treatments — wearing blue panties and having sex with another inmate. Segments of the video, which also showed sex and drug orgies, were shown on the program American Justice and plunged the Illinois Department of Corrections into a major scandal. The video had been shot in the middle 1980’s and viewers were as repulsed to see what had become of Speck as they were by his bloody crimes.