The hiring hall for merchant seamen on Chicago's Southeast Side was just down the street from a townhouse where nine student nurses lived. On the night of July 13, a drifter who had been looking for work on a Great Lakes freighter broke into their townhouse. His name was Richard Franklin Speck.
Armed with a knife and a revolver, he woke and hogtied the sleeping women and then methodically strangled and stabbed eight of them. The ninth woman was Filipino exchange student Corazon Amurao, who escaped death by hiding under a bed until Speck left.After dawn on July 14, Amurao made her way to a ledge outside a second-floor window. "They are all dead," she screamed. "My friends are all dead. Oh God, I'm the only one alive." Her description of the killer and fingerprints at the scene fueled a massive manhunt for the man responsible for the slaughter.
A 24-year-old high school dropout and drifter, Speck was born in Monmouth, Ill., but spent much of his youth in Texas. By the spring of 1966, he was wanted for questioning in connection with an attempted rape and murder in Monmouth, to which he had returned. He seemed destined to play the part of the fiendish loser, right down to his tattoos: "Born to Raise Hell" on his left forearm, "Love" and "Hate" on his knuckles.
As police scoured the nation, Speck spent the next three days hiding in Chicago flophouses and then slit his wrists. He was taken to Cook County Hospital, where a doctor spotted the tattoos and called authorities.
Speck never denied committing the murders, but claimed he blacked out after a binge of drinking and taking drugs and had no idea what he had done that night. In 1967, he was condemned to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the sentence. Speck spent the rest of his life in Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet. In a bizarre videotape made years later by fellow prisoners, he was asked why he had killed the young nurses. "It just wasn't their night," he said and then laughed. Speck died in December 1991 after a heart attack.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times