Skip to comments.The Speck murders: 40 years later
Posted on 07/09/2006 6:51:33 PM PDT by Graybeard58
Kathy Domzalski remembers waking to the screams of the survivor. Pat Waddington remembers how close she came to sharing the fate of the eight student nurses -- opting at only the last minute not to stay overnight with her friends in the neighboring town house.
And Peter McNamee still remembers the chill he got when he heard a sketchy report on the radio about the murder of some unidentified nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital, where his fiancee, Nina Jo Schmale, was finishing her schooling.
"I just felt cold blood run through me," McNamee said. "I don't know if they gave the address or the street, but just the fear ran through me."
The fear ran through all of Chicago.
Exactly 40 years ago this week, Richard Franklin Speck broke into a two-story town house in a quiet middle-class neighborhood on the Southeast Side and made nightmares come true.
It was a case that made headlines around the world, prompted an entire generation of Chicagoans to start double-checking the locks on their doors and plunged society into the modern era of the mass murderer and serial killer.
'An end of innocence'
"This was the first time that young women, literally asleep in their beds in a middle-class crime-free neighborhood, were stabbed and strangled to death for absolutely no reason," said William J. Martin, 69, the former Cook County assistant state's attorney who led the prosecution of Speck. "No prior animosity. No falling-out. No jilted love affair. No motive whatsoever for these homicides.
"It really was an end of innocence in American life."
And for many, it was only the beginning of decades of pain and sorrow.
To mark the 40th anniversary, the Chicago Sun-Times examined hundreds of pages of court records and transcripts, reviewed countless police and official documents and plumbed the memories of dozens of people touched by the case.
Many of the cops, lawyers and relatives of the victims are dead. Speck died in prison in 1991. But to those still around, the memories cut as sharp as a knife.
"I can remember like it was yesterday," said Jack Wilkening, 69. "When you have to go with your parents to the morgue to identify your younger sister, it is something that sticks with you forever."
The lone survivor among the women in the town house that night, the former Corazon Pieza Amurao, declined requests for an interview. She was the 23-year-old Filipino exchange nurse who hid under a bed and then gave police and prosecutors an eyewitness account that led to Speck's capture and imprisonment.
Chicago Daily News reporter M.W. Newman called the 4-foot-10 Amurao "a blend of steel and lace."
"Hey, without her identification we wouldn't have nothing," said Jack Wallenda, 80, who was the first homicide detective on the scene. "She was a petite little girl, you know. But what she went through, it's unbelievable."
To the world, they would be forever known as "the eight student nurses."
But to their families and friends, they were Pamela Lee Wilkening, 20; Mary Ann Jordan, 20; Suzanne Bridget Farris, 21; Nina Jo Schmale, 24; Patricia Ann Matusek, 22; Gloria Jean Davy, 22; Valentina P. Pasion, 23, and Merlita Ornedo Gargullo, 23.
All were working and studying nursing at the old South Chicago Community Hospital, which was about seven blocks from the beige and green town house in the 2300 block of East 100th Street that, like some others in the complex, the hospital used as a dormitory.
Amurao, Pasion and Gargullo were from the Philippines, pursuing graduate degrees in nursing as part of a foreign exchange program. The rest were finishing up their senior year of nursing school.
Davy was from Dyer, Ind. Schmale was from west suburban Wheaton. The other four were from the South Side or south suburbs.
'Ready to do a world of good'
Schmale was a devout Christian who saw nursing as her calling. Matusek enjoyed antiquing with her sister. Wilkening like to watch her older brother race cars. Pasion hoped to bring her family to the United States. Four were engaged. One had tacked a newspaper headline to a bulletin board in the town house, reading "Here Comes Tomorrow."
"They were about ready to do the world a world of good," Jack Wilkening said. "They were ready to go out and do what they had been taught to do and probably do a very good job at it."
It was Wednesday, July 13, 1966, a hot summer evening after a string of 90-degree days.
"Doctor Zhivago" was playing downtown. "Thunderball" was already in the neighborhood movie houses. Fifty-year-old Frank Sinatra had just announced he would marry 21-year-old Mia Farrow.
But the city was on edge as race riots raged through the West Side. "End the Violence!" a Chicago Daily News editorial implored.
Gloria Jean Davy was on a date with her fiance, Robert W. Stern. They had steak and champagne with Stern's mother to celebrate the older woman's release from the hospital.
Davy was considered "the sophisticated one" by her classmates because she had attended college before nursing school and was witty and outspoken.
'Talking and drinking and laughing'
Mary Ann Jordan, Suzanne Farris and Waddington got together to discuss Farris' upcoming wedding to Jordan's brother and to hash out how to deal with a problem they were having with one of their nursing school instructors.
They drove to a Burger King for Cokes and french fries.
"We were sitting and talking and drinking and laughing," Waddington remembers.
Jordan lived with her parents in the South Chicago neighborhood, but she was planning to stay with her friends in the town house on East 100th Street. Waddington lived in another town house in the complex, but she, too, was going to stay with her friends.
When they returned to the town houses, the three friends first went to Waddington's place to chat for an hour or so. Waddington is still mystified by what happened when it came time to go.
"All of a sudden, Suzy and Mary Ann got up and left," Waddington said. "It's like there was a cue, and I didn't respond to it. I was really standing in my doorway and going, 'Hhhmm.' ... And I didn't follow them.
"It was like I couldn't step across the threshold."
Earlier that evening, Merlita Gargullo had just said her prayers. Corazon Amurao was asleep in her top bunk after spending an evening washing her clothes and writing letters home to the Philippines.
About 11 p.m., they heard four knocks on their locked bedroom door.
Amurao opened it, and a stranger in black pushed it open, waving a gun. He forced Amurao and Gargullo into a larger bedroom down the hall, where Wilkening, Matusek and Pasion were sleeping.
'I'm not going to kill you'
Amurao, Gargullo and Pasion ran into a closet in the bedroom and held the door shut, but they came out after they heard one of the American women say, "He is not going to harm you."
When the three Filipino nurses came out, they saw that Schmale had apparently been roused from her bedroom and was now with the others.
"What do you want?" one of the young women asked.
"I want money. I'm going to New Orleans," the stranger answered.
They offered him money, and one by one, the gunman allowed them to get their purses so he could take the few dollars they had.
Outside, Davy had just returned home from her date. She and Stern sat in the car and sang along as the radio played one of their favorite songs, "You'll Never Walk Alone."
When it ended shortly after 11:30 p.m., Davy left the car, opened the door of the town house, waved to Stern and went inside.
Upstairs, she went to open the door of the large second-floor bedroom, but the intruder pulled it open. A startled Davy screamed, but the stranger jammed the gun at her and ordered her to sit down. He took a bedsheet and began cutting it into strips with a knife, hanging the strips around his neck.
Moving along the line of nurses seated on the floor, the stranger tied each woman's wrists and ankles.
"Why are you doing this?" Davy asked. "We are student nurses."
"Oh, you are a student nurse?" he asked with a smile.
He lifted Davy onto one of the beds in the room but left the other bound nurses sitting on the wooden floor.
"Don't be afraid, I'm not going to kill you," the gunman said at one point.
When he had finished tying the seven women, the stranger untied Wilkening's ankles and took her out of the bedroom.
About 20 minutes later -- around 12:30 a.m. -- Jordan and Farris returned to the town house from their bull session with Waddington a few doors away.
Jordan and Farris ran into the bedroom where the rest of the nurses were tied up. The stranger came in after them and ordered the two young women to follow him. He marched them out of the bedroom, a strip of bedsheet still hanging around his neck.
Amurao heard the sound of a scuffle outside the bedroom and then the sound of water running in the bathroom. The stranger returned to the large bedroom again, untied Schmale's ankles and took her from the room.
The bound nurses in the big bedroom scrambled on the floor to hide themselves behind or under the bunk beds while the stranger was out of the room. When he returned to the large bedroom, he easily found them and took them out, one by one.
Hiding under a bed, Amurao occasionally heard soft screams from the other rooms. When the stranger took Gargullo out, Amurao heard her friend cry out, "Masikit!" Tagalog for "It hurts!" Amurao later testified she always heard the sound of water running before the intruder returned to the big bedroom.
The last was Davy. The stranger raped her on the bed, as Amurao crouched in her hiding spot under a bed across the room, silently praying as the bedsprings creaked. The intruder took Davy from the room and continued his assault on a couch downstairs.
Now alone in the large bedroom, Amurao frantically crawled on her stomach to hide under another bed, one with a blanket hanging over the side. About 45 minutes after he had left the room, the stranger returned, dumped out the remaining coins from the women's purses and left.
'Things like that didn't happen'
Amurao stayed curled under the bed for more than 90 minutes until she heard an alarm clock go off, signaling it was 5 a.m. She began working to free her wrists, then untied her ankles just as a second alarm went off at 5:30 a.m.
She looked around the bedroom cautiously, then walked out and saw the trail of bodies. The 23-year-old student nurse went to her own bedroom, where the bodies of Wilkening, Farris and Jordan lay on the floor.
She climbed to her top bunk, opened a window and screamed, eventually pushing out the screen and climbing out to stand on a ledge overhanging the front door.
"Help! Help! Everyone is dead on the sampan but me," she screamed, in her panic using the Tagalog word for houseboat, the home of many Philippine islanders.
In a neighboring town house, Ellen Stannish was already up when the house phone rang, and someone on the other end reported there was a woman outside crying.
Stannish went out and saw one of her classmates walking with her arm around Amurao.
"They're all dead," Amurao was crying.
The screams woke up Domzalski, a student nurse in another town house.
"I believe it was six minutes to 6, to be precise," said Domzalski, 59, who now lives in Midlothian. "Nobody could believe or understand what had happened."
When they first heard all of the women were dead, Domzalski said she and other student nurses in neighboring town houses assumed a window air conditioner had leaked some toxic fumes. Others wondered if it was a gas leak.
"We tried to come up with a logical explanation if they were all dead," Domzalski said.
As they gathered outside in nurse's uniforms and pajamas, they could not believe when they heard it was murder.
"Everybody was shocked," said Leona Bonczek, 60, a classmate of the slain nurses who lived a few doors away. "Things like that didn't happen."
Waddington was one of the last to wake up. Since she was supposed to have spent the night with the slain nurses, her own roommates assumed she was also dead until one saw her in the hallway outside her bedroom.
"She just screamed, 'You're alive!' and ran away," Waddington said.
'What the hell happened?'
Detective Jack Wallenda had been to his share of crime scenes.
But the gruff but softhearted homicide detective had never seen anything like what confronted him in the town house.
First, he saw the body of a nude woman on a downstairs couch. Walking upstairs, he saw another body sprawled on the bathroom floor. In one bedroom, he saw three dead women. In another, he saw three more.
"I mean, it was one after another," Wallenda said. "You're wondering, 'What the hell happened?'"
Some looked familiar, especially the woman lying on the bathroom floor.
"Pat Matusek," said Wallenda, who lived nearby. "Her father used to own a tavern at 108th and Michigan. And I'd go in there once in a while with my father-in-law, you know, to buy some drinks. And, of course, I saw little Patty running around with her sister Betty Jo in the tavern, you know. I got to know her."
Others he recognized from South Chicago Community Hospital, where he frequently went to investigate cases as an Area 2 homicide detective.
"You get to know them on a personal basis," Wallenda said.
The women had all been stabbed or strangled -- some both. Farris had been stabbed 18 times and strangled with a white nurse's stocking.
Others had strips of bedsheet knotted around their necks. Matusek had been strangled and kicked in the abdomen. Gargullo was strangled so hard, her neck was dislocated. Pasion's throat had been slit.
'Bring back my daughter'
"There was so much blood on the floor, it had started to coagulate already," remembers Wallenda, 80, now retired but still living in the Roseland neighborhood.
McNamee was driving to his job at a silk-screen printing plant in west suburban Addison when he heard the initial reports on the radio.
He immediately turned around and drove back to the home where he lived with his parents, told his mother, called Schmale's parents and then drove to his fiancee's family's home. Inside, they stared at the walls until the call came a few hours later.
"The families were decimated. They were torn apart," said Schmale's brother Dr. John Schmale, now 68 and a physician in Downstate Mahomet. "The families were thinking about graduation and graduation parties and all this. This is not something any family anywhere dreams of happening."
Matusek's father, Joe, the beefy tavern owner, wept uncontrollably as his neighbors tried to comfort him. "Bring back my daughter," he sobbed.
Fear gripped the surviving nurses.
"Rumors were flying around: It was a former patient. It was a former boyfriend," Domzalski said. "No one knew why they were selected. We were part of the same group, so we felt threatened."
Then came the funerals.
"You had all these friends who died, and you had to choose which funerals to go to because some were an hour or two apart," Bonczek said. "If all your friends die at the same time, how do you pick?"
40 years ago this week, Richard Speck killed 8 student nurses on the Southeast Side and plunged society into a new era -- that of the mass murderer
They should have been cell mates.
A judge named Paschen was on the case from the begining,he came here (Peoria) when the trial was moved here.
But a little research revealed that Hardin was shot in El Paso. The Tombstone event involved another gunslinger.
Huh. And all this time I thought that title belonged to Jack the Ripper.
We were already somewhat numb when Bundy and Gacy arrived.
Wasn't he the perv with the man-boobs and panties? I'm surprised there were no "Save Speck" concerts from kook Left bands ... Or ... were there?
There were some horrible murders in Chicago during the 50's and 60's. I can still remember the names of children who were murder--the Grimes sisters, the Schultz brothers and Mary Ann Anderson.
I had to walk two blocks to elementary school by myself and I remember being afraid. You never knew who was luring around.
I'd love to know if that is true. I followed the case pretty closely and I have never heard that before.
I never saw a hint of meth in all the reporting.
I always thought these women were killed while sleeping. Why the hell didn't they fight the guy? Weird.
There are several books about Holmes, the last one, "DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY", by Erik Larson, is well worth reading. If you'd like a few other titles, just let me know.
And a few others, on both sides of the Atlantic; long before Speck was ever born. Newspaper hyperbole is nothing new and while Richard Speck was a monster, he didn't start anything.
Actually there is a significant difference between "mass murder" and "serial murder".
To the end of his days, Speck was proud of the murders and the notoriety they brought him. He never showed a scintilla of remorse.
"Kenneth Allen McDuff also got his date with the executioner commuted. He was later released and killed several more people. Texas executed him the second time, and we haven't slowed down, since."
Don't Mess With Texas!
I still can't believe I sent my daughter to University of Florida one year after that happened...
..but we thought we had snagged the safest dorm for her.
Found out, girls were still propping the outside door open at night!!(for guys)...in spite of what had happened.
She transferred to another Florida school the next year.....a very safe, very secure, very guarded Florida school.
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