On a hot summer night in 1966, unemployed seaman Richard Speck broke into a Chicago townhouse and murdered eight nurses who lived there – but a ninth, Corazon Amurao, survived to testify against him.
I’ve known about the Speck case for several years, and it’s really quite a horrific yet bizarre story that made a great impact on the judicial system in Illinois. I was excited to get into a book that would cover it in depth, but I found myself startled and pleased with the amount of detail we get.
An important thing to know about this book is that the week before the crime and the murders themselves are covered in the first three or so hours of an eighteen hour audiobook. Thus plunged in so abruptly, we go on to follow Speck’s apprehension and how the case moves through the legal system. Speck is refreshingly discussed as only another aspect of the case as opposed to its central figure. Instead, the reader is given a front row seat view of everything that goes into trying a case of this magnitude in court.
The reason for this is that one of the co-authors of the book, William J Martin, was the chief prosecutor in this case, and is therefore intimately familiar with how the case played out over the course of the year or so that it took to finally sentence Speck. Through his eyes we get to know the slain nurses and their families, the various detectives and forensic experts who work the case, and Corazon Amurao, the sole survivor of the massacre. But we also learn the minutiae of how both prosecution and defense put their cases together, argue what’s admissible in court and not, select a jury, and put together a narrative to present.
As someone who is interested in the legal system, it was a fascinating look at how it works when all protocols are properly observed, especially as the prosecution was intent on only having to conduct the trial once. Others less interested in this aspect may find the read slow and lacking in sensationalism, however.