On June 15, 1966, I was living in a northern suburb of Chicago. The evening paper and the news channels were alive that night - and for days after - about a gruesome, horrible crime on Chicago's southwest side - the murders of 8 student nurses in their townhouse/dorm, the night before. Even in the age before 24/7 news and the internet, the murders by demented loner Richard Speck were news all summer, and later on for his trial. How had one man - armed with a knife - subdued and sexually tortured eight young women before murdering them, one by one? Dennis Breo, in his new book, "The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders that Shocked a Nation", gives a measured and non-sensational view of the crime, its victims, and the aftermath.
There certainly have been more than one "Crime of the Century" in the US in the 1900's. Two - Speck and the Leopold and Loeb Murders - happened in Chicago. What is it about my hometown that has given rise to such a high murder rate, both before and after Speck? Speck, as the author points out, was a volcano ready to go off in the hot, humid summer of 1966, where race riots were already happening in other areas of Chicago. But this crime was not of a racial nature; Richard Speck and his victims were white and Filipino. Speck was just a drifter - with a special, soft-spoken charm that was reassuring to his victims - who took advantage of the nearness of the victims to ease his frustration with the world around him that just didn't seem to give him a break. And what of the nine student nurses - one hid herself under a bed during the killing spree - who were picked out almost on a whim? Breo gives good biographies of these women and their families. The one nurse who saved herself is highlighted in the book. He also does a good job covering the trial and the legal tangle afterward.
I think Dennis Breo's book is very written in solid terms. Non-sensationalist, even. But maybe that's because as a 15 year old, I lived through that horrid summer and had heard the worst. A very good book.