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Richard Franklin Speck Trial: 1967

Trial Moved, Mistaken Identity?

Defendant: Richard Franklin Speck
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Gerald Getty, James Gramenos, and Jerome Wexler
Chief Prosecutor: William Martin
Judge: Herbert C. Paschen
Place: Peoria, Illinois
Dates of Trial: February 20-April 15, 1967
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death, later commuted to 8 life terms imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: Nothing like the testimony of Corazon Amurao had ever graced an American courtroom. Witnesses to murder are rare enough; witnesses to the kind of wholesale slaughter she described were unheard of. Richard Speck's killing spree sent shockwaves around the world.

At 6:00 A.M. on July 14, 1966, the early morning calm of Jeffrey Manor, a middle-class South Chicago, Illinois, suburb, was shattered by screaming. Neighbors tracked the disturbance to a two-story townhouse occupied by nurses who worked at the nearby community hospital. They found Corazon Amurao, a diminutive Filipino nurse, perched on a second-floor window ledge, in tears and hysterical. "My friends are all dead, all dead," she cried. "I am the only one alive." Investigation of the townhouse confirmed the grim truth. Someone had turned the place into an abattoir. Eight nurses lay dead—stabbed, strangled, and mutilated.

Amurao told detectives of an armed stranger, smelling strongly of alcohol, who had forced his way in the previous night, ostensibly looking for money. Then he began systematically killing everyone present. Only by hiding beneath a bed and remaining silent was she able to avoid the carnage. She described the killer as tall and blond, and having a "Born to raise hell" tattoo on one arm.

Because of the unusual knots used to tie the victims, police theorized that they were looking for someone with nautical connections. This led them to a nearby branch of the seaman's union. Mention of the killer's tattoo produced a name: Richard Speck, a 24-year-old sailor and habitual criminal, with a long record of drug abuse and drunken violence. A photo and description were circulated throughout the Chicago area.

In the early hours of July 17, a man who unsuccessfully attempted suicide was admitted to Cook County Hospital with slashed wrists. When doctors wiped away the blood, they saw the distinctive tattoo and called police.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972