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Submission Synopsis

Beyond the Edge:
Richard Speck and the
Chicago Nursing Student Murders

by D. J. Herda

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Estimated at 85,000

Narrative Nonfiction

On a thick, sweltering summer's day in Chicago, one man was about to commit the most heinous act in the city's 150-year history...and one woman would live to tell about it.

A down-and-out drifter for much of his life, Richard Speck abused drugs and alcohol nearly as often as he did other people.  But when on one day in July he decided to burglarize a southside Chicago nurses' quarters, he put into motion a horrifying series of events that would leave an entire nation--and the whole world--reeling.

Born in downstate Kirkwood, Illinois, to a religious family, Richard Speck was the seventh of eight children.  His father died when he was six, and his mother married a man who drank frequently and beat the child often.  Speck suffered a head injury after falling from a tree near White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas, where he spent much of his adolescence and teenage years.

Throughout his youth, Speck was a poor student and an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, beginning his life of crime at a young age.  He was married briefly in a union marked by abuse and spousal rape, and he spent much of his married life in and out of prison, although he allegedly found time to father a child.  

In January 1966, only months before he visited a student nurses’ home in Chicago, he was arrested for burglary and stabbing, although he got away with raping 65-year-old Virgil Harris and beating Mary Kay Pierce to death; in both cases, he somehow managed to avoid in-depth interrogation.

But he could not avoid what was to happen on July 14, 1966, when Speck broke into a South Chicago townhouse and took as hostages nursing students Gloria Davy, Patricia Matusek, Nina Schmale, Pamela Wilkening, Suzanne Farris, Mary Ann Jordan, Merlita Gargullo, and Valentina Pasion.  Speck, who had originally planned to commit a routine burglary, was high on both alcohol and drugs, and his quickly evolving plans grew to become anything but routine.

Enraged when one of the girls being held hostage spit in his face, he began methodically beating, raping, and stabbing his victims to death.  A leading psychiatrist who interviewed Speck remarked that he had experienced the Madonna-whore complex: Gloria Davy reminded Speck of the wife who had divorced him six months before the killing spree.

After eluding the largest manhunt in the Second City’s history, Speck was arrested on suspicion of murder and held in Cook County Jail.  After a failed suicide attempt, police took him to Cook County Hospital at 12:30 AM on July 17.  There, he was first recognized by a 26-year-old resident physician who had seen Speck's "Born To Raise Hell" tattoo in a newspaper article following the murders.  He was confirmed the killer by Cora (Corazon) Amurao, a Filipino student nurse who had managed to escape Speck’s wrath by hiding beneath a bed while the murderer systematically tortured and executed the others one by one.

Speck, who was fond of various types of pills, did not notice Amurao and left the house in a drug-induced haze.  He said later that he had no recollection of the murders, and he was declared sane but sociopathic after being examined.  He died in prison after serving only 19 years of a life sentence.

D. J. Herda is a widely published author with more than 80 books and several hundred thousand articles, columns, scripts, and short stories to his credit.  He has worked as a book, magazine, and newspaper editor and served as an investigative reporter and an internationally syndicated columnist for more than 1,000 newspapers.  A native Chicagoan, Herda heard the breaking news of the Student Nurses Murders while working as an editor at The Elks Magazine

This dramatic and horrific tale is made to be brought to the Big Screen, and the author is currently working on a screenplay.

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