Eight Chicago nurses murdered, killer identified by tattoo seen by nurse who was hiding under bed
by David Lohr
On the Sunday morning of July 14, 1966, residents on South Chicago’s East 100th Street were suddenly awakened by a woman’s screams. As local residents ran outside, they were shocked to notice a young woman standing on the second story ledge of a small townhouse unit. According to George Carpozi’s 1967 book, The Chicago Nurse Murders, the young woman, Corazon Piezo Amurao, began shouting: "Help me! Help me! Everyone is dead … Oh God … he’s killed them all!" she cried out.
Just then, one of the onlookers noticed a Chicago police car turning onto the street and quickly flagged the patrolman down. Officer Daniel R. Kelly of the South District Station noticed the girl balancing dangerously on the edge of the apartment building and immediately pulled off to the side of the street and jumped out of his patrol car. "You mustn’t jump," he yelled. "Stay right there. I’ll come inside and help you."
As Kelly made his way through the apartment he made a startling discovery. Just to the left of the front door was the body of a nude woman sprawled out on a couch. Kelly immediately ran over to check the young girl's vitals, but it was too late. Her body was cold to his touch -- she had been dead for several hours. Uncertain what he was getting into, Kelly drew his service revolver and made his way up a narrow flight of stairs. Once at the top of the stairway, he immediately noticed a pair of feet sticking out of a doorway into the hall. As he made his way towards the doorway, he made another startling discovery. A half-nude young woman was lying on her back; slash marks were visible on her neck and breasts. The girl was obviously dead and so Kelly continued to make his way down the hall. Then, just a few feet from the second woman’s body, Kelly looked into a bedroom and discovered three more girls’ bodies strew about the room. Their wrists were bound and all three appeared to have had their throats slashed.
With each step he took, the scene unraveling before him was becoming more surreal. Kelly had had only been on the force for 18 months and had never witnessed such brutality, especially on such a scale. This was supposed to be a safe and quiet neighborhood and certainly not an area where one would expect to discover multiple murders. Temporarily clearing his mind of his atrocious discoveries, Kelly continued making his way through the second story.
Gun in hand, Kelly stepped into a second bedroom and made yet another gruesome discovery -- three more girls were lying dead and scattered about the room. The scene was eerily reminiscent of the last and no one appeared to be alive. Kelly spotted the screaming young girl on a ledge outside the window. He quickly ran to her aid and pulled her inside. She was hysterical and trembling uncontrollably. Several patrol cars were beginning to arrive outside, so Kelly yelled down and asked one of the officers to escort the young woman downstairs while he secured the scene.
Less than an hour after Officer Kelly discovered the scene at Jeffrey Manor, Commander Francis Flanagan, chief of Chicago homicide detectives, began interviewing the only surviving witness, 23-year-old Corazon Piezo Amurao. According to the book Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murder of Eight Student Nurses, by Dennis L. Breo and William J. Martin, the young woman’s voice trembled as she explained to Flanagan that she and the other girls shared the apartment together and they were nursing students at South Chicago Community Hospital. As she spoke, Flanagan did his best to comfort her and asked her to describe to him, as best she could, what happened to her friends.
Cora told Flanagan that the ordeal began the previous night when she heard a knock at the door. When she opened the door, she said she saw a young man in his mid-20s. She could not remember what color hair the man had, stating that it was either dark blonde or brown, but she did recall that it was cut short. She described him as weighing approximately 175 pounds and said that he was wearing a dark waist-length jacket and dark pants. In addition, she remembered the man had a tattoo on his arm, which read "Born to Raise Hell."
After opening the door, Cora said the man produced a gun and shoved her inside. Two of her roommates, 22-year-old Merlita Gargullo and 23-year-old Valentina Pasion, walked over to see what was going on and were taken off guard when the man pointed his gun at them and ordered all three girls to walk down the hall to a bedroom at the back of the house. Walking into the dark room, the man flicked on a light and discovered three other girls sleeping. The sudden light awoke the girls, 21-year-old Nina Jo Schmale, 24-year-old Pamela Wilkening, and 20-year-old Patricia Ann Matusek.
The armed man ordered all of the girls to grab their purses and give him all of their money. One by one, each girl got her purse and emptied out the contents. Suddenly, 19-year-old Gloria Jean Davy walked into the room. She had just gotten in from a date and was unaware of what was happening. The intruder quickly ordered her to join the others on the floor. He then yanked a sheet from one of the beds and began cutting it into strips. Afterwards, he restrained each of the girls and bound their arms and legs. Moments later, the scene was again interrupted when 21-year-old Suzanne Farris and 20-year-old Mary Ann Jordan walked in. The two girls had just gotten home and were immediately startled by the scene. They quickly turned and ran down the hallway. Based upon Cora’s statements and the evidence at the scene, it was apparent that the man quickly caught up to them and shoved them into another room. He then stabbed and strangled the women as they tried to fight back.
After killing Jordan and Farris, the man returned to the room with the other girls and grabbed Pamela Wilkening. He dragged the young girl back to the room where he had just killed the other two girls and stabbed her in the heart with a knife. After washing the blood from his hands, he went back and got Nina Schmale and led her down the hall to a bedroom. Once out of sight, he stabbed her in her neck and suffocated her with a pillow. Cora knew he would eventually come for her and began to squeeze herself under a bed.
When the killer returned, he grabbed Valentina Pasion and dragged her out of the room. Once out of sight, he stabbed her in the neck and began strangling her to death. He then returned for Merlita Gargullo. He lifted the young girl up off her feet and carried her off to meet the same fate as the others. A short while later, the man returned and grabbed Patricia Matusek. He shoved her into the bathroom and punched her so hard in the stomach that he ruptured her liver.
The killer apparently lost track of how many women were in the apartment and did not account for Cora hiding under the bed when he returned. Instead, he stripped down Gloria Davy and raped her. Afterwards, he strangled her, gathered up the money from the girls' purses and left the scene. Cora said that she remained under the bed for hours before she was finally able to gain the courage to climb out on the ledge and cry for help.
After recreating the events that took place, Flanagan immediately went to work on identifying the killer. Police sketch artist Otis Rathel put together a sketch of the suspect and within hours an employee of Maritime Union Hall recognized the man as a merchant seaman named Richard Speck. Now all investigators had to do was track him down.
According to Jack Altman and Marvin Ziporyn, authors of Born to Raise Hell, Richard Benjamin Speck was born December 6, 1941, in Kirkwood, Ill. The seventh of eight children, Speck’s father died when Speck was just 6 years old and his mother raised him. Eventually, Speck’s mother remarried and the family moved to Dallas, Tex. His new stepfather had problems with alcohol and soon began taking his anger out on Speck and his siblings. In retaliation, Speck dropped out of school and started hanging out with older boys.
Speck drank most of his adolescence away and little is known about his early years. In November 1962, 18-year-old Speck attempted to settle down and married Shirley Malone. Shortly thereafter the couple had a daughter, Robby Lynn. Speck was not ready to settle down and eventually reverted to his old ways.
During November of 1963, Speck was arrested and convicted for theft and check forgery. He was later sentenced to three years in prison. After serving a little over two years, Speck earned parole and was released on Jan. 2, 1965. He didn’t stay free long. He was arrested on Jan. 29 for aggravated assault and sentenced to 490 days in prison. After serving only six months, he was again released.
In January 1966, Shirley became tired of Speck's problems with the law and filed for divorce. Later that same year, Speck was arrested for burglary and assault. Nonetheless, he fled the area before he would go to trial and took a bus to Chicago. Once there he began working as a carpenter and spent the majority of his free time frequenting local taverns. During the spring of 1966, Speck began working on an iron-ore ship on Lake Michigan. He was fired after a few months later for drinking on the job.
When investigators looked over Speck’s criminal record, they discovered that he was wanted for questioning by Monmouth, Ill., investigators regarding two separate incidents. According to the reports, on April 13, 1966, Mary Kay Pierce, a barmaid at Frank’s Place, was found dead behind the tavern. She had been murdered three days earlier. Five days later, 65-year-old Virgil Harris was attacked and raped in her home. The assailant had cut up the victim’s housecoat and used the strips to tie her up. Speck was immediately flagged as a suspect in both crimes and later, during a search of Speck’s hotel room, investigators discovered items, which had been stolen from Mrs. Harris’s home, as well as items from other burglaries around town. Speck however was nowhere to be found. He had already fled the area.
As the investigation continued, Flanagan discovered that Indiana authorities also wanted to interview Speck in regard to the murder of three girls who had vanished on July 2, 1966, while Speck was working aboard a boat docked at the local harbor. The girls' purses and personal belongings were eventually discovered, but their bodies were never found. In addition to Indiana authorities, Michigan investigators wanted to interview Speck regarding the murder of four females whose ages spanned four generations — the victims were 7-years old, 19, 37, and 60 — each was murdered near Benton Harbor, while Speck’s ship was docked in the area.
By Saturday July 19, 1966, all of South Chicago was on the lookout for Richard Speck. With few places to hide, Speck decided to avoid arrest by committing suicide in his room at the Starr Hotel. After finishing off a fifth of wine, he smashed the bottle and used the broken glass to slit his wrists. Apparently Speck began to have second thoughts and moments later he called out for help. While no one answered his cry for help, someone did place an anonymous call to the police. Eventually an ambulance arrived and Speck was taken to Cook County Hospital.
As first-year resident Leroy Smith attended to Speck’s wounds, he suddenly realized that the man he was treating resembled the suspected nurse killer he had read about in the newspaper. He then checked the man’s arm, looking for the now infamous tattoo and almost immediately saw it there, "Born to Raise Hell." Smith quickly raced down the hall and called over a policeman who was guarding another patient. The officer, who was initially stunned by the resident’s accusation, started summoning other officers to the scene. Within minutes Richard Speck was arrested and taken into custody.
Speck’s trial began on Monday, April 3, 1967. The prosecution's team, made up of William Martin, George Murtaugh, Jim Zagel, and John Glenville, presented the case to the jury. Regardless of all the evidence they had against Speck, in the end Corazon Amurao’s testimony proved to be the most damming. On April 15, just 12 days after the trial began, Speck was found guilty of all eight murders. Following the jury’s announcement, Judge Herbert Paschen sentenced Speck to death.
In 1972, Speck was saved from his death sentence when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished capital punishment. In the wake of that decision, Speck was re-sentenced to a term of 400 to 1,200 years. On December 5, 1991, 49-year-old Richard Speck died of a massive heart attack after having served 19 years of his sentence. His body was never claimed, so prison authorities had his remains cremated; the ashes were later dumped at an undisclosed location.
In 1996, five years after Speck's death, television journalist Bill Kurtis uncovered a bizarre 1980s home video of Speck, which was shot in his prison cell at Statesville Correctional Institute. On the video, Speck is donning a pair of woman’s breasts -- apparently a result of hormone treatments -- wearing panties and having sex with another inmate. Some segments also showed Speck indulging in drugs and bragging of his crimes. The tape was later shown on the television program "American Justice," causing a major scandal within the Illinois Department of Corrections. Officials at the prison later claimed that Speck and two other inmates obtained the video camera from the prison's educational building.
Richard Speck was never officially charged in any of the other homicides and to this day those cases remain unsolved.