The Chicago Nursing Student Massacre

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Around 6am on the morning of July 14, 1966, a woman woke early and heard the cries of what she thought was a child. As she went to investigate, she saw a woman perched on the ledge of an upstairs window, screaming out, “Oh my God! They are all dead!”

The previous night, July 13,1966, nine student nurses living in a townhouse on the South Side of Chicago would be attacked by a madman & only one would survive. 

In the neighborhood of South Deering, located  on Chicago’s far South Side, sat a townhouse that acted as a dormitory for student nurses for South Chicago Community Hospital. Inside lived 22-year-old Gloria Davy, 20-year-old Mary Ann Jordan (though by this time, she had recently moved out), 21-year-old Suzanne Farris, 23-year-old Valentina Pasion, 20-year-old Patricia Matusek, 23-year-old Merlita Gargullo, 20-year-old Pamela Wilkening, 24-year-old Nina Schmale and 23-year-old Corazon/Cora Amurao. Valentina, Merlita & Cora were exchange students from the Philippines.

During the first two years, all the nursing students were required to live in the dorms attached to the hospital but in their third & final year, they were able to move into one of three townhomes that the hospital rented on East 100th Street. Because it was close quarters, most of the women became very close friends, sharing pranks and laughing between studying. At that time, nursing school could be described as a cross between a convent and boot camp; no jewelry, nail polish or makeup was permitted, uniforms had to be strictly starched & a student couldn’t be married or pregnant. 

Around 11pm that night, little did the girls know that a man armed with a knife & a gun would break in through a window & terrorize them. After entering through a first floor window, the man headed upstairs to where the three bedrooms were located. He knocked on the first door that belonged to Cora Amurao and her roommate. Cora had only been in the US for 3 months at the time. When Cora opened the door, she found a tall man standing there; he was dressed in black, his skin was pockmarked with acne scars & he pointed a gun at her.  He herded the two girls into the adjoining bedroom where four other students were awakened & then all six were ordered to a rear bedroom 

After he woke the second set of three girls, somehow, Cora, Merlita & Valentina managed to break away & hide in a closet. A short time later, Cora could hear the voice of one of the other nursing students urging them to come out. She told the three in hiding that the man wasn’t there to hurt anyone & only wanted money to get to New Orleans. When the three Filipena nurses emerged from the closet, they found the American girls sitting in a circle on the floor, the man pointing a gun at them. Cora would later say, “The American girls told us we  more or less had to trust him. Maybe if we were calm & quiet, he will be too. He has been talking to us all and he seems calm enough and that is a good sign.”

Initially they all believed he would just take money & leave though when the man took out a knife & began to cut a bedsheet into strips, they knew he had something far worse in mind. He used the strips of fabric to bind their hands behind their backs.

Who was this monster that unleashed his terror on these innocent, young girls? It was 24-year-old Richard Speck, a seaman who was known to be hot-tempered & had a history of petty crimes, drinking, drugs, rape & other violence that stretched back to his childhood. Richard Benjamin Speck was born in Kirkwood, IL in 1941 but moved to Monmouth, IL shortly after his birth; he was the seventh of eight children to parents Benjamin & Mary. Mary was very religious & didn’t allow alcohol in the house. He & his sister Carolyn were much younger than their four older sisters & two other brothers.

When Richard was only six, his father, who he was very close to, died of a heart attack at age 53. Three years after his father’s death, his mom remarried Carl Lindberg who was extremely different from his own father who had been very straight-laced. Carl was a traveling salesman from Texas who had a criminal record that ranged from forgery to several DUIs. Initially Richard and his sister Carolyn stayed in Illinois, living with their married sister Sarah Thornton. After Richard finished second grade, he & Carolyn joined his mom & Carl in rural Santo, TX. They bounced from house to house, moving to 10 different addresses in 12 years, living in many of the poorer neighborhoods of the city. 

Two years later, Richard’s oldest brother, Robert, died in a car accident at age 23. In the meantime, Richard was also dealing with his step-father, Carl, who was often drunk, verbally abusive or just absent. Richard was struggling in school; he refused to wear the glasses he needed for reading. He had to repeat eighth grade, partially because of his fear of speaking in class; he was terrified of people staring at him & refused to speak in class. By the time he made it to  ninth grade, he failed every subject & dropped out in January of 1958 after he turned 16. 

Richard had started drinking at age 12 & by the time he turned 15, he was getting drunk on a nearly daily basis. His first arrest happened when he was 13-years-old when he was found trespassing. Over the next 8 years, he would be arrested dozens of times for various misdemeanors. 

In 1961 when Richard would have been about 20, he met 15-year-old Shirley Malone at the TX state fair & only three weeks later, she was pregnant. The couple was married on January 19, 1962 & moved in with his sister Carolyn & her husband. By this time, Richard’s mom had separated from Carl & was also living there. Richard’s daughter, Robbie Lynn Speck was born on July 5, 1962 though Richard wasn’t there for her birth since he was busy serving a 22-day jail sentence after disturbing the peace while drunk. 

Having a wife & child certainly didn’t calm Richard down; he tattooed “born to raise hell” on his arm & would be arrested 41 times before age 24. His probation officer would say, “When Speck is drinking, he will fight or threaten anybody – as long as he has a knife or gun. When he’s sober or unarmed, he couldn’t face down a mouse.” 

Richard’s wife, Shirley indicated that she lived in constant fear; he would rape her at knifepoint & demand sex four to five times a day from her. 

In 1965, Richard attacked a woman in the parking lot of her apartment building with a 17 inch carving knife. She escaped & he was arrested & given a 16-month sentence. He was released after only 6 months due to an error. Fearing for her life, Shirley left Richard, took full custody of their daughter & filed for divorce. 

In March of 1966, Richard moved back to his boyhood hometown of Monmouth, IL. He was mostly drinking & bar hopping. On April 3, he broke into a 65-year-old woman’s house, blindfolded her, tied her up, raped her, ransacked her house & stole the $2.50 she had earned that night from babysitting. 

He was also being questioned for the murder of a 32-year-old bartender at a place Richard frequented; she was found dead on April 13th in an empty hog house behind the bar & had died from a blow to the abdomen that ruptured her liver. When police came back to question him further, they found he had left. On April 19, Richard moved on to Chicago to live with his sister & her husband. His brother-in–law suggested  he join the Merchant Marines as an apprentice seaman. He spent a short time working on ships in the Great Lakes though was kicked off after starting a fight with a ship’s officer only a couple months later in June. 

By this time, Richard was out-of-control; his anger & frustration boiling over. On July 12, he headed to East Chicago, IN where he thought he had a job on a ship. When he learned that the job had been given to someone else with more seniority, his anger only grew. He returned to Chicago & was dropped off near the National Maritime Union Hall on E. 100th Street so he could look into another job. The Union Hall was closed, so Richard ended up sleeping outside that night. Only a few blocks west of the union hall was 2319 E 100th, the townhome where the nursing students lived. Richard was seen near the townhouse more than once on July 12th & 13th. 

On July 13, 1966, Richard rented a room at the Shipyard Inn for the week, planning to wait for a job to become available. He spent his day drinking in the area, about a mile and a half from where the nursing students lived. During the day, he met 53-year-old Ella Mae Hooper, a woman who had been drinking at the same bar. He held her up at knifepoint, brought her back to his rented room; there he raped her and stole her mail-order .22 caliber Rohm pistol. He spent the rest of his day drinking & ended up pulling the stolen handgun on a man he had a small argument with. He left the bar & headed to E 100th Street. 

Around 11pm, armed with a hunting knife and pistol, he broke into the townhouse. He headed upstairs where the three bedrooms were located. He led the girls out, one by one, “like lambs to slaughter,” stabbing or strangling each to death. 

At 4’10” and less than a 100#, 23-year-old Cora was able to slide under one of the bunk beds as Richard had his  back turned. For nearly five hours, she stayed silent while he worked his way through each young girl. Cora said that none of her friends screamed as they were being taken out of the room, but she could later hear their muffled cries. As she stayed silent & in hiding, she knew that something bad was happening but she never imagined that her friends were being murdered.  

Little did Cora realize, in the midst of Richard’s rampage, her three other roommates arrived home. As 21 year-old Susan Farris & 20-year-old Mary Ann Jordan walked toward Suzanne’s room, they were stabbed to death in the upstairs hallway.Next 20-year-old Mary Ann Jordan met the exact same fate. Last to come home was 22-year-old Gloria Jean Davy who was dropped off by her boyfriend late that night.

Speck was so wrapped up in his murder frenzy that he lost count of the original six women that he had herded into the back bedroom. He never realized that he left an eye witness alive to identify the monster who killed each of her roommates. Cora remained hidden until the morning, not sure that Speck had left (he left around 3:30am). At 6am, the next morning, July 14, 1966, she untied herself, pushed a window screen out & began screaming, “They’re all dead! Help! Help! My friends are all dead! I’m the only one alive.” She said she screamed for about twenty minutes until someone heard her & in the meantime, she climbed out the two story window that sat ten feet off the ground. When the neighbor heard her cries & came over, stepping into the living room, she found Gloria Davy nude, her hands tied behind her by a cloth, a cloth also tied tightly around her neck.  

The neighbor went to the nearby townhouse of the house mother in charge of the student nurses. The house mother then woke the other student nurses & they all ran to see what was happening. By this time, Cora stood frozen & in shock outside the townhouse.

Cora begged the women not to go in the house, telling them the killer might still be there. They went in anyway & after finding Gloria strangled on the couch, they headed upstairs and found Pat Matusek in the bathroom. The other six students were found dead in the bedroom, covered in blood to the point they were unrecognizable except Nina (Nih Nah)  Schmale; a pillow covered most of her face. She laid on her back, her hands tied behind her back, her legs spread open. A knife wound was at her chest & she had been strangled, a tight cloth around her neck. From there, the police were called. The first responding officer recognized Gloria Davy, having dated her sister.

Pamela Wilkening was in the upstairs bedroom, gagged & stabbed through the heart. Suzanne Farris was lying face down in a pool of blood with white stockings tied around her neck; she had 18 stab wounds to her chest and neck. Maryanne Jordan, Suzanne’s close friend, was on her back, stabbed three times in the chest & once in the neck & eye. 

Police found Nina Schmale in the northwest bedroom with her nightgown pulled up, sheets tied around her neck & superficial, ritualistic looking stab wounds around her neck. Her neck appeared to be broken. Under a blue cover, they found Valentina Pasion face down, her throat cut, her voice box severed. Laying over Valentina’s body was Merlita Gargulla, found face up, stabbed and strangled.

When the officer walked through the door to his right, he could see the legs of Patricia Matusek coming out of the bathroom, she was on her back with her hands tied behind her, strangled with a piece of bedsheet, her nightgown was pulled up and her underwear was down. It appeared that she was kicked in the stomach &  bloody towels laid all over the bathroom floor. When the director of nursing was brought into the townhouse, she was only able to identify three of the eight murdered students.

Cora provided the police with a description of the blank-faced intruder that slaughtered her roommates and friends; she described him as 6’0” with blond hair and about 160# with a southern drawl.  For two days, a massive manhunt was underway, Chicago police trying to find the killer before he could strike again. Speck was found at Cook County Hospital after a failed suicide attempt. When he arrived at the hospital after slashing the inside of his elbow and right wrist, he gave the name “B. Brian.” The doctor tending to Speck thought he looked familiar after seeing his photo in the newspaper during his break. As the doctor removed the caked blood from his arm, he saw the distinctive, “born to raise hell” tattoo.  

Chicago residents & the rest of the country was horrified by the unfathomable massacre. There was no apparent reason for what Speck did & he showed absolutely no remorse. “It was truly the first random mass murder of the 20th century”, said William Martin, the assistant Cook County district attorney who prosecuted Speck. “It really was the end of an age of innocence. It changed everything. We all became much more conscious of our security. Eight nurses could be slaughtered in their beds for no reason by a stranger.”

John Schmale, a retired physician, whose sister Nih-Nah was killed that night, also speaks of lost innocence when he remembers that night. “This was not gang related like most of the violent crimes in Chicago today. These were girls within six weeks of graduating, members of a respected profession. They were basically kids, girls doing girlie things. This was innocence.” 

During his trial, not a single tear was shed by Speck. Martin said, “he was totally without contrition, he was totally without remorse.” Martin published a book in 1993 with Dennis Breo about the massacre, called “The Crime of the Century.” Of Speck, he said, “He had no redeeming characteristic whatsoever.” 

His icy demeanor helped fuel the national fascination with the case. Knowing what he did & the fact that he was so non-reactive and expressionless made him that much creepier. Martin commended Cora on her bravery during the trial when she had to point out Speck in the courtroom. She walked from the witness box to where Speck sat, her finger pointed directly at him & declared, “This is the man.” He said she was also very precise when recounting the horrors that happened  at 2319 E. 100th Street; this was key in convicting Speck though he had also left a trail of fingerprints throughout the townhouse. 

In 2016, 50 years after the murders, Cora was 73 & living in the Washington DC area, still working as an ICU nurse; despite the trauma she lived through, she is “a very happy person who enjoys life & laughs a lot.”  Martin said, “She still has nightmares about Speck. She personifies the triumph of good over evil.” In 2016, Cora had been married for 23 years, she has a son, a daughter & several grandchildren. She said that the night he terrorized her & her roommates, Speck took away part of her happiness.

By a panel of five psychiatrists and one general surgeon evaluated Speck & deemed him competent to stand trial & determined that he was not insane at the time of the murders. Initially Speck claimed that he had no recollection of the murders but he did confess the crime to a doctor at the Cook County Hospital. His first public confession was given to the Chicago Tribune in 1978. 

The trial began April 3, 1967 in Peoria, IL and on April 15, after only 49 minutes, the jury found Speck guilty and recommended the death penalty. However, on June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction but reversed the death sentence because more than 250 potential jurors were unconstitutionally excluded from his jury because they opposed to capital punishment. Speck was sent to Stateville Correctional Center to serve a 400 year sentence. He died of a heart attack at age 49 on December 5, 1991, one day before his 50th birthday.  No one showed up to claim his useless body so he was cremated & his ashes were scattered in an undisclosed location near Joliet, IL. 

While imprisoned, Speck regularly refused interview requests but there is a video that inmates at the Stateville Correctional Center made in 1988. Chicago news anchor Bill Kurtis was given the tape by an anonymous attorney. In the video, Speck has no shirt on & is sporting a full pair of breasts as a side effect from taking smuggled female hormones. He wore black silk underwear in the video. This was a strategic method he used  to not only stay alive in prison and avoid being attacked but also a way to score things he wanted. During the video he sat, snorting cocaine off a friend’s leg, and said, “If they only knew how much fun I was having, they’d have turned me loose!”  During the video, he freely admitted to the crime he commited, saying he was high at the time but would have “done it sober.” When he was asked, “how’d you feel after killing those ladies?” His response, “Like I always felt.. had no feelings. If you’re asking if I felt”  His response when he was asked why he murdered nine innocent women? “It just wasn’t their night.”

Disgusting & pathetic Richard Speck aside, it’s so important to remember and honor the eight innocent women who lost their lives that night in 1966. 

Nina Jo Schmale: Nigh Nah was 19 when she decided she wanted to be a nurse. She was a good student, well liked & was quiet but had a great sense of humor. She loved Elvis, cats & the color pink. Her brother and his wife established the Nina Jo Schmale Scholarship Fund at Wheaton College to honor her name. They hated the idea that when her name would be Googled, the name Richard Speck would come up. He wanted to reclaim the women’s names & their lives.

Patricia Ann Matusek: When Pat was only 14, she helped care for her 15 year old cousin who was dying. This experience caring for him drove her to want to be a nurse. Pat was often found laughing hysterically with her friends, always out in the neighborhood, playing with her friends. Pat lived in a building above a tavern that her father ran & the lower roof of the funeral home that attached to her building served as a perfect path to cut across to the building where her friend Arlene lived. She loved sledding, and helped her dad earn money for the Kiwanis Club by selling peanuts. She was sweet, assertive, funny & full of life. On the night of July 13, her friend Arlene dropped her off at the townhouse. Pat invited Arlene in for coffee but she was too hot & tired so she declined. As the girls said goodnight, it was the last time Arlene would ever see her friend.

Pamela Lee Wilkening: Pam was the quiet one in the townhouse; she was studious and decisive. During her rotation, a psychiatric patient punched her & caused her to suffer from a slight concussion, but undeterred, she picked herself up & came right back to work. She loved her brother, Jack & adored watching him race cars.

Mary Ann Jordan: Mary Anne grew up hearing stories of her Irish grandmother, Grace who was a high-ranking nurse at the University of Michigan. This inspired her to also be a nurse. She loved swimming, softball and ice skating. She was described as having a wicked sense of Irish humor. She always helped care for her youngest brother, Billy, who had Down syndrome. Their strong connection inspired her to want to specialize in pediatric nursing. At the time of her murder, Mary Anne no longer lived at the townhouse. She decided to stay the night because her brother was engaged to Suzanne Ferris & the two wanted to spend time chatting about the wedding. When the two arrived at the house at 12:15am & headed toward Suzanne’s room, they were met by Richard Speck, the last two to arrive at the house that night.

Suzanne Bridget Ferris: Suzie earned the nickname “Cooky” by her dad. She was described as pretty, perky and popular. She loved clothes & made her own since her family didn’t have a lot of money. She was very close with her family. She was engaged to Phil, Mary Ann Jordan’s sister. 

Valentina Pasion: In May of 1966 Valentina traveled to Chicago from the Philippines.  Her family called her Tina & she planned to work hard & earn money to send much of it back to her family. When Tina & the other two exchange students arrived, the American women threw them a welcome party & showed them around the city. Tina frequently wrote home to her family and loved to cook. 

Merlita Gargullo: Merlita grew up on the island of Mindoro where  bananas, rice & coconuts grow. She helped raise her eight younger siblings. She was described as quiet, shy, hardworking, efficient, pretty & blessed with a rich singing voice. Merlita traveled to Chicago with Cora who she met about a month earlier & the two were destined to be roommates in the townhouse. Much of the $350 a month she earned, she sent back to help her family & often wrote them letters. 

Gloria Jean Davy: Gloria was born at the hospital where she eventually studied nursing. She was independent, intelligent, headstrong, poised, creative & snippy when she didn’t like what you were doing (according to her sister). She started college at NIU and planned to study English until she ended up switching to nursing. Her grandmother’s house was so close to the townhouse that she often paid her little sister a dollar or two  to come over & help tidy the townhouse. The night of July 13, Gloria called her mom, as she did every night to inform her of her safe arrival. She had been dropped off at the townhouse by her boyfriend shortly after 11pm. Richard Speck was already upstairs. 

Cora Amurao Atienza, the survivor: Cora came from a small village in the Philippines; she arrived in Chicago on May 1, 1966. Like her fellow Filipina nurses, Cora worked hard & sent money home to her family. The evening of July 13, 1966 started like any other for Cora. She ate an early dinner with Merlita and Tina, took a nap, did some laundry & wrote letters to her family; she was feeling homesick. At 10:30pm she climbed to the top bunk in the room she shared with Merlita. An hour later, she was woken by four knocks on the bedroom door. She later testified that the knocking was done in a normal matter. 

One of the nursing students, Tammy Siouchoff, who was very close with the girls in the townhouse & lived in another house connected to the hospital had come over on the night of the murders. She rang the back doorbell, looking for bread, unaware that her friends were under attack. When Speck heard the doorbell, he ordered Cora and another girl downstairs, a gun at their back. They were guided to the front door & when they opened it & no one was there, he marched them back upstairs. Tammy is convinced, even to this day, that Cora recognized the difference from the front & back doorbell but led him the wrong way which saved Tammy’s life. She said grief will always be tangled in the youthful happiness of her time in nursing school.


  1. NBC News: How Richard Speck’s Rampage 50 Years Ago Changed a Nation
  2. ID Crimefeed: Born to Raise Hell: 5 Things To Know About Richard Speck & The Chicago Nurse Murders
  3. Wikipedia: Richard Speck
  4. ati: Richard Speck: The Serial Killer Who Slaughtered Eight Nursing Students In A Single Night
  5. YouTube: Serial Killer: Richard Speck – Full Documentary
  6. ABC 7: The Richard Speck massacre: 50 years later 
  7. New York Daily News: Eight nurses slain in Chicago dorm, on survives by hiding under bed as her friends get held hostage, raped, murdered
  8. Chicago Tribune: Rare photos, interview honor 8 nurses slain by Richard Speck in 1966

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