Profile of Richard Speck, Serial Killer

Richard Speck
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The words "Born to Raise Hell" were tattooed on the arm of the tall, pocked-faced man with a southern drawl who entered a nursing students' dormitory on a warm July night in 1966. Once inside he committed a series of crimes that shocked America and sent Chicago authorities on a massive manhunt for a serial killer who they soon identified as Richard Speck. This is a profile of the man, his life, and his crimes, both during his life and after his death.

Childhood Years

Speck was born December 6, 1941, in Kirkwood, Illinois. When he was six, his father died. His mother remarried, and the family moved to Dallas, TX. Before marrying her new husband, she raised the family under strict religious rules including the abstinence of alcohol. After her marriage, her attitude changed. Her new husband had violent drunken episodes, often making young Richard the victim of his abuse. Speck grew up to become a poor student and juvenile delinquent prone to violent behavior.

Spousal Rape and Abuse

At age 20, Speck married 15-year-old Shirley Malone and fathered a child. Speck's violent nature extended into the marriage and he regularly abused his wife and her mother. The abuse included spousal rape at knifepoint, often several times a day. He worked as a part-time garbage man and petty thief but his criminal activity escalated, and in 1965 he held a woman at knifepoint and attempted to rob her. He was caught and sentenced to jail for 15 months. By 1966 his marriage was over.

A Walking Time Bomb

After prison Speck moved to his sister's home in Chicago to avoid being questioned by authorities for various crimes in which he was suspected of being involved. He tried to find work as a merchant seaman but spent most of his time hanging in bars drinking and bragging about past crimes. He moved in and out of sister's home, opting to rent rooms in sleazy hotels when possible. Speck, tall and unattractive, was a drug addict, alcoholic, and jobless, with a violent streak waiting to be unleashed.

Speck Meets the Chicago Police Department

On April 13, 1966, Mary Kay Pierce was found dead behind the bar where she worked. Speck was questioned by police about the murder but feigned illness, on promising to return to answer questions on April 19. When he didn't show, the police went to the Christy Hotel where he was living. Speck was gone, but police searched his room and found items from local burglaries including jewelry belonging to 65-year-old Mrs. Virgil Harris, who had been held at knifepoint, robbed, and raped that same month.​

On the Run

Speck, on the run, tried to get work on a barge and was registered at the National Maritime Union Hall. Directly across the street from the union hall was student housing for nursing students working at the South Chicago Community Hospital. On the evening of July 13, 1966, Speck had several drinks at a bar under the rooming house where he was staying. Around 10:30 p.m. he walked the 30-minute walk to the nurse's townhouse, entered through a screen door and rounded up the nurses inside.

The Crime

At first, Speck reassured the young women that all he wanted was money. Then with a gun and a knife, he scared the girls into submission and got them all into one bedroom. He cut strips of bed sheets and bound each of them and began removing one after another to other parts of the townhouse where he murdered them. Two nurses were murdered as they returned home and walked into the mayhem. The girls waiting their turn to die tried to hide under beds but Speck found them all but one.

The Victims

  • Pamela Wilkening: Gagged, stabbed through the heart.
  • Gloria Davy: Raped, sexually brutalized, strangled.
  • Suzanne Farris: Stabbed 18 times and strangled.
  • Mary Ann Jordan: Stabbed in the chest, neck, and eye.
  • Nina Schmale: Stabbed in her neck and suffocated.
  • Patricia Matusek: punched resulting in a ruptured liver and strangled.
  • Valentina Paison: Her throat was cut.
  • Merlita Gargullo: Stabbed and strangled.

The One Who Survived

Corazon Amurao slid under the bed and pushed herself tight against the wall. She heard Speck return to the room. Paralyzed with fear she heard him rape Gloria Davy on the bed above. He then left the room, and Cora knew she was next. She waited hours, fearing his return at any moment. The house was silent. Finally, in the early morning, she pulled herself from underneath the bed and climbed out the window, where she huddled in fear, crying until help came.

The Investigation

Cora Amurao provided investigators with a description of the killer. They knew he was tall, maybe six feet in height, blond, and had a deep southern accent. Speck's appearance and unique accent made it difficult for him to blend into a Chicago crowd. People who encountered him remembered him. This assisted investigators to eventually capturing him.

Speck Attempts Suicide

Speck found a low-rent hotel that had cell-like rooms for the patrons who were mostly drunks, drug addicts, or insane. When he discovered police knew his identity he decided to take his life by cutting his wrists and inner elbow with jagged glass. He was found and taken to the hospital. It was there that first-year-resident, Leroy Smith, recognized Speck and called the police.

The End of Richard Speck

Cora Amurao, dressed as a nurse, entered Speck's hospital room and identified him to police as the killer. He was arrested and stood trial for murdering the eight nurses. Speck was found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court ruled against capital punishment, and his sentence was changed to 50 to 100 years in prison.

Speck Dies

Speck, age 49, died from a heart attack in prison on December 5, 1991. When he died, he was fat, bloated, with ash-white pockmarked skin and hormone-injected breasts. No family members claimed his remains; he was cremated, and his ashes were thrown in an undisclosed place.

Beyond the Grave

In May 1996, a videotape sent to news anchor Bill Curtis showed Speck with female-like breasts having sex with a fellow prisoner. He could be seen doing what appeared to be cocaine, and in an interview-like discussion, he answered questions about the murders of the nurses. Speck said he felt nothing about murdering them and that it "was just not their night." His old bragging habits returned as he described prison life and added, "If they only knew how much fun I was having, they'd turn me loose."


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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "Profile of Richard Speck, Serial Killer." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, February 16). Profile of Richard Speck, Serial Killer. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Profile of Richard Speck, Serial Killer." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 6, 2021).