Born in Kirkwood, Illinois, on December 6, 1941, Speck was six years old when his family moved to Dallas, Texas. Over the next two decades, he would chalk up 37 arrests in Dallas, specializing in public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and burglary. At age 20, working part-time as a garbage man, he married 15-year-old Shirley Malone and fathered a child. In 1965, he was charged with assaulting a Dallas woman, holding a knife to her throat in a parking garage before neighbors arrived to chase him off. Sentenced to 490 days in jail, he was released early and handed over to state authorities as a parole violator.
Separated from his wife in March 1966, Speck followed the remnants of his family back to Monmouth, Illinois. A drug-dependent alcoholic, Speck was bitter toward his wife, expressing a desire to kill her, but he never found the time. Obsessed with sex, he divided his time between sleazy bars and sporadic work on ore barges plying the Great Lakes. Speck was ultimately prosecuted – and is known today – for the final spasm of violence that claimed eight lives in a single massacre, but evidence suggests that there were actually a dozen victims, murdered in a three-month period of 1966.
The first to die was Mary Pierce, a barmaid and divorcee who rejected Speck’s advances. First reported missing on the night of April 10, she was discovered three days later, nude and strangled, in a shed behind the tavern where she worked. On April 18, a 65-year-old woman was robbed and raped by a man matching Speck’s description, but the ore boats had carried him away before detectives sought to question him.
Hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy in May, Speck signed on with another barge on June 27, 1966. Dismissed from his job on July 2, at Indiana Harbor, Speck was in the neighborhood when three girls vanished at nearby Dunes Park, the same day. Police found their clothes in the car they had driven, assuming all three had stripped down to their swimsuits, but no trace of their bodies was ever discovered.
Speck surfaced in Chicago on July 10, dropping by the National Maritime Union hiring hall to seek passage on a vessel bound for New Orleans. Three nights later, a half-block from the union hall, he knocked on the door of Jeffrey Manor, a two-story townhouse occupied by student nurses from nearby South Chicago Community Hospital. High on drugs and reeking of alcohol, he brandished a pistol and knife when 23-year-old Corazon Amurao opened the door. “I’m not going to hurt you,” Speck said. “I’m only going to tie you up. I need your money to go to New Orleans.”
Moving through the house, he roused five other student nurses from their beds, herding all six into one room, where they were bound and lined up on the floor. Three more came home from dates over the course of an hour, leaving Speck with nine helpless captives on his hands. The possibilities aroused him, and he made his mind up to eliminate them all.
Speck untied 20-year-old Pamela Wilkening first, leading her into another room where she was stabbed in the chest, then strangled with a strip of sheet. He went back next for 20-year-old Mary Jordan and 21-year-old Suzanne Farris, guiding both women into a different bedroom. There, he stabbed Jordan three times – in the heart, neck and eye – before turning on Farris, stabbing her 18 times and strangling her lifeless body, shredding her underclothes with taking time for rape.
Nina Schmale, age 24, was next, ordered into another room where Speck told her to lie on the bed, afterward slashing her throat and strangling her to death. While he was thus engaged, the other student nurses wriggled under beds to hid themselves, but Speck would find them all… except for Corazon Amurao, huddled in a darkened corner, dumb-struck in her terror.
Valentine Pasion, 23, and Nerlita Gargullo, 22, were the next to die. Directed to an empty bedroom, Pasion was killed with one deep stab to the throat. Gargullo absorbed four wounds before she toppled across Pasion’s body, Speck scrambling after her to finish the job by manual strangulation.
Pausing to wash the blood off his hands, Speck returned for Patricia Matusek and carried her, still bound, into the bathroom. Placing her on the floor, he kicked her savagely in the stomach before squatting astride her body and strangling her to death, leaving her where she lay.
Losing count of his victims, Speck spent the next twenty minutes raping Gloria Davy, once pausing to ask, “Would you mind putting yours legs around my back?” When he was finished, Speck led the naked woman downstairs and assaulter her a second time, using some unknown object to mutilate her anus before he strangled her to death and left her lying on a couch.
When Speck was gone, Corazon Amurao made her way to the balcony and called down for help. The killer’s use of square knots suggested a seaman to police, and Amurao recalled Speck’s remark about New Orleans, together with a tattoo – “Born to Raise Hell” – on his left forearm. Hospitalized on July 17, after a bungled suicide attempt, Speck was recognized from the tattoo and police were summoned to make the arrest. Convicted of multiple murder in April 1967, Speck was sentenced to death a month later, his sentence overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional. In the wake of that decision, Speck was resentenced to consecutive life terms totaling more the 400 years.
Richard Speck died on December 5, 1991 of a massive heart attack, having served only 19 years of his sentence. When nobody claimed his body the prison cremated him. His ashes lie at an undisclosed location. In 1996, five years after his death, a video of him surfaced. In the video, he had female breasts and was having sex with a fellow inmate. In the video Speck spoke explicitly of his murders.