According to an Internet dictionary, a mass murderer is described as “a person who kills several or numerous victims in a single incident.” Slaughtering eight innocent student nurses at one time certainly fits this criteria. Who was the monster responsible for such a heinous crime? Find out in this installment of True Crime Corner.
Born on December 6, 1941 in Kirkwood, Illinois, Richard Speck was the second youngest child in his large household. His mother was religious, with stringent rules for her family. Speck was close to his father, and enjoyed spending quality time with him. Their time together provided a brief respite from his mother. It was a devastating blow to six-year-old Speck when his father suddenly died of a heart attack.
Following his father’s passing, his mother struggled to make ends meet as a widow with several children, but their situation improved when she remarried. However, the new union meant that the family would move relocate to Texas from Illinois. Speck’s stepfather was an abusive alcoholic, the opposite of his beloved biological father. It wasn’t long before he turned to alcohol and pills, which led to the start of his criminal career.
Speck married a young lady with whom he had a daughter. Family life did nothing to keep him out of trouble. Speck was in and out of jail throughout the course of their marriage. He continued his life of crime which included theft and assault, and had tattooed on his arm what everyone already knew, that he was “Born to Raise Hell.” His wife could only take so much of his wild ways, so she divorced Speck after less than four years of marriage. She went on to remarry, and the newly single man returned to Illinois to live with his sister.
It was during this time that it’s believed his crimes escalated in severity. He was suspected of far more serious offenses including rape and murder, but Speck somehow managed to be one step ahead of the authorities. In fact, he was never charged for any of these suspected cases.
Speck wanted to be remembered for something he did, and on July 13, 1966, he managed to do just that, securing his place in history. He forcibly entered the residence of a group of student nurses. Through unspeakable cruelty, the world would soon lose eight talented young women who were preparing to devote their lives to caring for others. Speck usually carried a knife with him, but on this occasion he was armed with a handgun, stolen from a woman he victimized earlier in the day.
In all the chaos, Speck wasn’t sure how many women he held hostage in the townhouse, as some returned home as his crime was underway. At first he told them he was only planning to rob them, as he needed money to go to New Orleans. He emptied their purses, then bound, beat and killed them. At least one nurse was raped. Speck didn’t realize that he left a survivor that would lead to his downfall. The young lady who answered his knock at the door managed to hide under a bed during the rampage. The poor woman was terrified, emerging from her hiding place hours after the assailant fled the scene, screaming out a window for help. She was able to give the authorities enough of a description for them to create a composite sketch, and she remembered a distinctive tattoo on his arm, “Born to Raise Hell.”
After the murders, Speck retreated to a hotel where he attempted suicide. It’s unclear whether he had a change of heart and sought help or if someone happened upon him and intervened. In any event, he found himself at a local hospital. News of the multiple murders made its way to the public, and one of Speck’s doctors became suspicious of his patient when the tattoo beneath his spilled blood appeared to match the description of the perpetrator. Speck was soon taken into custody.
Richard Speck was convicted of the murders of eight student nurses on April 15, 1967, after his claims that he couldn’t remember anything failed to sway the jury. The defense also tried to argue that Speck suffered from XYY Syndrome. It was thought that men with this condition have higher levels of testosterone, potentially making them more violent and aggressive. Perhaps this affliction could cause men to commit brutal crimes. However, tests determined that Speck did not suffer from this condition.
The surviving nurse was said to be an excellent witness, getting up close and personal to Speck to finger him as the attacker. The jury took less than an hour to find him guilty. He received a death sentence, to be carried out in the electric chair. However, his sentence would be commuted to essentially life after the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972. Although he was eligible for parole, he only applied for it once and was denied. Speck served less than 20 years for his crimes when a heart attack took his life just one day shy of his 50th birthday in 1991.
If you’re interested in a movie based on Speck, there is 2007’s Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck with Corin Nemec as the killer.
If you prefer to read a story rather than watch it, there is The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation by Dennis L. Breo and William J. Martin.