In 1966 Richard Speck committed one of the more horrific crimes in modern history. On Wednesday July 13 Speck, brandishing a knife, showed up at the doorstep of a Chicago dormitory housing student nurses. He corraled the girls - eight of whom lived there, one of whom was visiting - into a room, tied them with nautical knots, and then began systematically raping and murdering them. He would take each girl from the room, lead her out, rape her and then stab or strangle her to death.
Only one woman survived; Cora Amurao hid underneath a bed and it seems that Speck lost count of how many women he had corralled. She sat under that bed until 6am, hearing the muffled screams of her friends as they were brutalized and killed. She was later able to identify Speck.
Speck was caught only after he attempted suicide four days later. On July 15th a man who had been drinking with Speck at a local bar recognized him from descriptions of what became known as the Chicago Student Nurse Massacre; he called the Chicago PD, who didn't bother responding. On the 17th Speck attempted suicide and was rushed to the hospital; the treating doctor saw Speck's "Born To Raise Hell" tattoo, described by Amurao, and had Speck arrested.
The trial was fairly quick. There was a truly dramatic moment when Amarao testified, and was asked to identify the man who had raped and killed her friends; the young woman stood, left the witness box, walked across the courtroom and put her finger almost directly in Speck's face and said "This is him."
The jury returned a guilty verdict and recommended the death penalty. In 1971 the US Supreme Court reversed the death penalty on the case, and Speck was sentenced to life in prison. He died in Stateville Prison in 1991. He gave one interview during that time, where he confessed to the crime.
"I had no feelings at all that night. They said there was blood all over the place. I can't remember. It felt like nothing... I'm sorry as hell. For those girls, and for their families, and for me. If I had to do it over again, it would be a simple house burglary."
That's just the beginning of Speck's story. It gets weirder.
What made Richard Speck? He had a bad life, raised by a drunken stepfather after his strict real father died when Speck was 6. The young boy had a lot of problems in school, exacerbated by the fact that his family seemed to bounce from bad neighborhood to new bad neighborhood annually. Speck was born in Illinois, but lived with the hated stepfather in the Dallas area. Speck soon began taking after the stepfather, and was a heavy drinker by 15. He got some random jobs but couldn't keep them down. He gravitated towards misdemeanors, getting into fights and robbing liquor stores.
Eventually Speck served some real time after being caught forging a check (a crime his stepfather specialized in). Whatever happened to Speck in the 16 months he served changed him; a week after coming home on parole he attacked a woman in a parking lot, using a 17 inch knife. He ran when she screamed. Later he was busted for robbing cartons of cigarettes from a liquor store and selling the out of the trunk of his car. Knowing he would be going away for a long time, Speck's sister drove him to the bus station so he could flee Texas.
He ended up in Illinois with his other sister, and continued fucking up there. He kept getting into violent bar altercations, and he began doing some home burglaries; one of his victims said he was very polite and had a Southern drawl. She said that even after he had raped her.
Speck's first kill was probably Mary Kay Pierce, a 32-year old barmaid who worked at Speck's favorite watering hole. She disappeared and her body was discovered a few days later; her liver ruptured after being punched in the stomach. The police went looking for Speck, but he had skipped town.
He had been living in Illinois, but now he returned to Chicago proper. There he started working as a Merchant Marine. He started getting jobs at the National Maritime Union hiring hall... which was down the block from the dorm where the nurses lived.
Something snapped in Speck in July of 66. He got hired on a boat, but when he arrived at the dock he found his place had been taken and the ship had sailed. He had no place to stay and no job. The morning of the murders he sat in his sister's car, angry about being sent to a job that didn't exist. They were parked across the street from the nurse dorm.
Speck took money from his sister and checked into a local hotel. He began drinking. He took 53-year old Ella Mae Hooper back to his room, where he proceeded to rape and rob her, taking her gun - which he would bring with him to the dorm.
He walked a mile and a half to the dorm. He got there at 11pm. The rest is horrible history.
After the trial Speck's defense raised a weird issue - they claimed that he was a 'super-male,' an owner of a double Y chromosome, which made him gentically predisposed to terrible violence. He couldn't help it, his genes made him do it. In fact Speck was acting out his natural male dominance over women.
Except it turned out that wasn't the case, and Speck's chromosomes were normal. And just in case the 'super-male' defense wasn't silly enough, a video emerged from Stateville prison showing truly bizarre things.
Half the tape is Speck talking with inmates about the killings, talking about how he never felt anything. The other half is hardcore sex, with Speck being anally penetrated. And it becomes clear from the tapes that Speck has breasts. He was attempting to become a woman.
All of a sudden Speck's crimes are thrown into a different perspective. His violence against women may not have been about male domination, it may have been about self-loathing. About fear of the female. About deep, bizarre confusion and repression.
That's what makes Speck's case so interesting in the world of Mad Men; in the episode that aired last night he serves as a catalyst for women to look at their own place in the world, but his crimes weren't just about a man being cruel to women - they were about something stranger and more primal. Speck's issues with women are vast - was he taking on his stepfather's criminal life to punish his mother? Did the fact that he suffered from impotence when hiring prostitutes impact his anger at and feeling of being subjugated by the vagina? In the prison tape he made, Speck says that he likes being fucked by guys and that he always liked it - was Speck actually a gay man who was unable to come to grips with the truth of his sexuality? Did that make women something to be hated, to be feared, but also to be envied? They were allowed to like being fucked, but he never was - at least until he started trying to become a woman.
In the tape Speck says "If they knew how much fun I was having in here, they'd have to turn me loose."