William J. Martin, who led the prosecution of Richard Speck for the brutal rape and murder of eight young Chicago nurses, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 80 years old.
In 1966, Martin was the young Cook County prosecutor tasked with prosecuting what local press dubbed “The Crime of the Century.”
Martin told Chicago Tonight in July 2016 the gruesome murders changed the way Americans viewed crime itself.
“Up until then Americans were pretty well at ease with their own homes and many people didn’t even lock their doors,” Martin said. “There was no fear. … What distinguishes this crime is that it was the first in the 20th century where the killer picked his victims at random.”
It took less than an hour for a jury to find Speck guilty and sentence him to die. That sentence was commuted to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his original sentence. He died in 1991.
Martin is co-author of “The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation,” which offers a definitive account of the crime and tells of the incredible courage of the one nurse who survived the attack and confronted Speck in court.
Funeral services for Martin will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Giles Church in Oak Park.
Below, an excerpt from “The Crime of the Century.”
“Oh, my God, they are all dead!”
On July 14th, 1966, Richard Franklin Speck swept through a quiet Chicago townhouse like a summer tornado and stabbed, strangled, and killed eight young nurses in a violent sexual rampage. By morning, only one nurse, Corazon Amurao, had miraculously survived, and her scream of terror was heard around the world.
As the eight bodies were carried out of the small building, the coroner, who had seen the carnage up close, told a gathering crowd: “It is the crime of the century!”
Now, on the 50th anniversary of the murders, the prosecutor who put Speck in prison for life (William J. Martin) and the author and journalist who won an award for his coverage of the crime (Dennis L. Breo) have teamed up to re-create the blood-soaked night that opened a new chapter in the history of American crime: mass murder. Their riveting and richly documented account reveals fascinating behind-the-scenes descriptions of Speck, the young nurses, the relentless manhunt and massive investigation, and the bold legal moves and painstaking preparation for the trial that returned a death sentence for Speck.
Corazon Amurao, the nurse the killer left behind, confronted Speck at trial and told jurors, “This is the man!” Richard Speck was spared execution by Supreme Court rulings and here is the inside story of how he confessed to the murders in a sordid prison video made three years before his death of a heart attack in 1991. And here, in exclusive interviews and photos, is the life today of the nurse who survived the crime that murdered American innocence.
July 5, 2016: The brutal murder of eight young Chicago nurses in the summer of 1966 horrified the nation. Fifty years later, the lead prosecutor on the case that was instantly dubbed "The Crime of the Century" is here to tell us about it.