Richard Speck: His Murder of Eight Student Nurses in 1966 Shocked the Nation

On December 7th, 1941, the United States was rocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The “day that will live in infamy”, as Franklin Roosevelt described it, was preceded by an equally infamous date, for on December 6th, 1941, Richard Speck was born in Kirkwood, Illinois. It would take almost twenty five years for it to be clear to the nation the notoriety that this day truly deserved.

Speck’s father, a religious man who abhorred alcohol, died when Richard was six years old. His mother married a Texan, Carl Lindberg, who was a violent drunk with an arrest record. The family moved to Dallas, and Lindberg beat Speck repeatedly throughout his boyhood, as Speck failed in school and turned to a life on the streets. Speck spent over two and a half years in prison for crimes varying from theft to assault from 1963-1965. Married in the early Sixties, Speck would often rape his wife at knifepoint. During her divorce proceedings, she described Speck as violent and needing sex four or five times a day. The divorce was final in January of 1966 and Speck, facing more burglary and stabbing charges, moved back to Illinois, staying with family friends in Monmouth.

Speck had no intention of giving up his life of crime and promptly was arrested again for burglary and assault. He took off for Chicago to avoid his trial and was fired from a couple of jobs for being drunk, including one on an iron ore ship. Investigators looking into Speck discovered he was wanted in Monmouth for questioning in the murder of a bar maid and rape of a senior citizen. In addition, they linked him to the July 2nd disappearance of three girls in Indiana and the murders of four other females in Michigan. Authorities located the hotel room where Speck was staying, but he was not there.

On Sunday July 15th, 1966, patrolman Daniel Kelly was flagged down by a citizen who had noticed Corazon Amuaro, a young student nurse, screaming and sobbing in an apartment window uncontrollably. Kelly, only eighteen months on the job, entered the apartment and exited some time later, vomiting in the street. Inside he had found the bodies of eight young women, all student nurses, strewn about the premises. When Corazon was able to tell her story, she related how an armed man had come to the door, forced his way into the apartment and found seven students there. He made them empty their purses at gunpoint and bound their arms and legs with strips of material he made from their sheets. What Richard Speck was about to do would shock even the most hardened detectives and horrify the entire country.

Two other young nurses came home at this point and attempted to flee when they saw what was happening. Speck caught them and stabbed and strangled them to death. He then began a grim routine of going into the room where the other seven were tied up and bringing them one by one to other rooms where he raped, then murdered them with his knife or by strangling them. Corazon, realizing that the only way she could save herself was by hiding, wedged her body under a bunk bed and hoped against hope that Speck would not see her. After he had raped and strangled his last victim, he took whatever money he had stolen and left, having lost count of how many girls were in the room. Hours later, Corazon crept out in a state of shock and screamed for help.

Her description of the man, especially of a tattoo on one of his arms, helped lead police to the Maritime Union Hall, where an employee recognized the sketch artist’s work as Richard Speck. With nowhere to hide as an entire city closed in on him, Speck tried to kill himself, but changed his mind and wound up in Cook County Hospital. The doctor treating his injuries, Leroy Smith, saw the telltale tattoo and alerted a policeman. Speck was arrested without incident.

Speck’s trial lasted just twelve days. Found guilty on all counts, he was sentenced to death, but was saved from that fate by the Supreme Court’s abolishment of the death penalty in 1972. To assure that Speck would never see the light of day again, he was re-sentenced to over 400 years in prison. He died behind bars on December 5th, 1991, a day before his fiftieth birthday, of a massive heart attack. He was never charged in the other murders that he was thought to have committed in Indiana and Michigan. He showed no remorse for what he did, often bragging in prison about the killings.

Speck’s night of terror was followed on August, 1st by Charles Whitman killing 16 innocents from his perch in a tower at the University of Texas. The world must have seemed to be descending into madness. Corazon Amurao went on to become a critical care nurse in the Washington, D.C. area. She has a daughter, also a nurse, and a son. It was her courage, both during the ordeal itself and on the witness stand, which led to Speck’s capture and subsequent conviction. Chillingly, the tattoo on Richard Speck’s arm that Corazon remembered so vividly read “BORN TO RAISE HELL.”

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