Thursday, July 14, 2011

The nurse who survived Richard Speck's 1966 murder rampage

THURSDAY, JULY 14, 2011


On this day, 45 years ago, Richard Speck committed one of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century.  Late in the evening of July 13, 1966, Speck broke into a Chicago townhouse that served as a dormitory for nurses who worked at the South Chicago Community Hospital.  He brutally raped and murdered eight women - two Filipino exchange nurses and six American nursing students.  One young exhange nurse, 23-year-old Corazon Pieza "Cora" Amurao of San Luis, Batangas in the Philippines, hid under one bed after another and survived the attack. 

It was Cora who had answered the knock on the door that night to a tall young man with pockmarks on his face and greasy slick-backed hair.  The first thing she noticed about him "was the strong smell of alcohol."  He was dressed in black and he pushed his way into the townhouse where the nightmare soon began.

Speck may have lost count or he may have been unaware that a ninth student nurse was sleeping over that night.  Cora remained hidden under that bed until almost 6 A.M.  She then climbed out of the bedroom window onto a ledge and screamed that her friends were all dead.  She later gave police and prosecutors an eyewitness account of the horror.  Her testimony led to the capture and imprisonment of Richard Speck.

In the early hours of July 17, 1966, Speck was taken to Cook County Hospital after attempting to commit suicide.  He was identified by Dr. Leroy Smith, a surgical resident physician who had read about the killer's "Born to Raise Hell" tattoo in the newspaper.  Police were summoned and Speck was arrested.

On April 15, 1967, Richard Speck was found guilty of eight counts of murder.  He died of a heart attack on December 5, 1991 in a hospital near the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois where he  had been imprisoned for 24 years.  His death came one day before his 50th birthday.

Much has been written about the sordid life of Richard Speck, but I couldn't help wondering what happened to the lone survivor of Speck's killing spree on that scorching summer night 45 years ago. Corazon Amurao is now 68 years old and has kept a low profile.  Although she can never forget the horror of that night, she has tried to live a normal life.

After the Speck terror, Corazon went home to the Philippines and worked as a nurse at Far Eastern University Hospital in Manila.  She also became a councillor in her hometown of San Luis, Batangas and married Alberto "Bert" Atienza, a Filipino lawyer and real estate broker.  The couple had two children who are now over 40 years old.  Corazon returned to the United States with her family and was employed as a nurse at Gerorgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.*

Below is 1969 photo of Corazon's wedding at San Luis Chapel.


The former Cora Amurao is a woman of integrity. She has steadfastly refused to accept any personal gain from the horrific crime other than $5.000 out of the $10,000 reward money she received from the South Chicago Community Hospital for her role in solving the case. 

Amurao has resisted the temptation to sell the rights to her story. She once issued the following statement:  "It is my desire to make clear that the memory of my dear colleagues is of such character that I do not want to have it tainted by the acceptance by me of money or any other personal benefit."

Five years ago, on the 40th anniversary of the murders, the Chicago Sun-Times, revisited the case.  The newspaper examined hundreds of page of court records and police documents and asked for the personal memories of those touched by the murders.  Corazon declined requests for an interview; however, Chicago Daily News reporter, M.W. Newman, described the 4 foot 10 inch woman as "a blend of steel and lace."  "Hey, without her identification, we wouldn't have nothing," remarked Jack Wallenda, the first homicide detective at the crime scene.  "She was a petite little girl, you know.  But what she went through, , it's unbelievable."

How appropriate that the name Corazon Amurao means "heart of love" in Spanish!


* Sources: Empire and Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History by Catherine Ceniza Choy; People magazine, "An Unfathomable Evil," Paula Chin, December 23, 1991


EDITORS NOTE - September 3, 2013 - I have added some additional information to this blog posting.  Below is another photo of Corazon Amurao Atienza.  I do not have the date when it was taken.





A more recent photo of Corazon appears on the blog chocoholic11  http://chocoholic11.tumblr.com.


This photo appears on http://chocoholic11.tumblr.com/page/6


EDITOR'S UPDATE - May 18, 2016 - I must make a correction to my 2011 blog posting on Corazon Amurao and the Richard Speck murders.  According to accounts in the Chicago Tribune, Speck broke into the townhouse through a window.  In an April 28, 2016 article in the Tribune, Rosemary Regina Sobol writes the following: "A lanky man in dark clothes, with slicked-back hair and marks on his face, was standing there with a small black revolver in his write hand.  He had pried open the screen of a first-floor window, reached inside for the back-door handle and slipped into the house."

If you are interested in some background on the eight murdered nurses and Cora, I recommend the article by Rosemary Regina Sobol.  It is entitled "Rare photos, interviews honor memory of 8 nurses slain by Richard Speck."  Here is the link: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/rare-photos-interviews-honor-memory-of-8-nurses-slain-by-richard-speck/ar-BBsuN6q


EDITOR'S UPDATE - August 3, 2017 - Corazon has a daughter named Abigail Atienza Phillips and a son named Christian Amaruo and six grandchildren.  She is now retired after working for many years as a critical care nurse in Washington, D.C.  According to an April 25, 2016 article in the Chicago Tribune by Rosemary Regina Sobol, Abigail followed in her mother's footsteps and became a nurse practitioner.  Christian is a certified public accountant. 

Corazon's current location is difficult to pin down.  She has lived in the Washington, D.C. area (Woodbridge, Virginia, Springfield Virginia, Alesandria Virginia).  She has a recent address listed in Houston, Texas.  However, according to the U.S. White Pages, she currently has a residence in Las Vegas, Nevada.  According to the Chicago Tribune article, "Corazon "became friends and learned to play penny-ante poker with the policemen and bodyguards who watched over her while she was in protective custody.  She still gets a kick out of playing poker at casinos in Nevada with her husband."


- Joanne

45 comments:

  1. I was 10 years old and staying at the beach with my family in July 1966, and I still vividly remember seeing the headline about Speck's brutal crime in the morning paper (right before my mother whisked it out of my view). I am glad that your interest is focused on the courage and integrity of Corazon Amurao. It's important to recognize that not everyone tries to profit from tragedy, that people are still cabable of noble actions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was a young giarl when the horribl crime to day i am norse. And think the word lost mybe a good norses And good woman
    A.chang

    ReplyDelete
  3. Where is she now?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By the looks of the photo? It looks like she lived a good life.

      Delete
  4. I did a people search on the Internet and found mention of a Corazon Amurao Atienza, 70, who resides in Woodbridge, Virginia, U.S.A. Woodbridge, Va. is located 32 kilometres (20 miles) south of Washington, D.C.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That's correct, she lives in Woodbridge with her daughter now. I know her daughter.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Her name fits her . What a beautiful person she is! My heart is broken. Oh my, to be so strong!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Richard speck was not the devil or any of the great things he fancied himself. He was a pathetic little nothing, with a deep, mindless & stupid evil.i had the chance to watch some of his antics in prison.he was gross, stupid and predictable.the 8 ladies big mistake on that fateful night, was believing that because they had humanity, he must have some too.there is a book called " the virgin spring" it pretty much sums up the Richard specks of this world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Richard Speck's autopsy revealed congenital defects in his brain, and he had family issues (his biological Dad died when he was 6 & his stepdad was a 25-yr prison veteran who drank and abused his stepchildren) that turned him into an alcoholic H.S.-dropout at age 16. I don't mean to apologize for him, but if you don't understand how much our environment shapes us, then we'll never learn anything from crimes like these.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. I remember reading, probably in Ziporyn's book, that Speck had fallen out of a tree as a boy, landing right on the noggin; and there is a literature about other murderers to whom this happened early in life (as far as environs, well, his siblings were there and they turned out fine).

      Delete
  8. I feel so sad for these lady's I wasn't born then not till 1977 but my heart goes out to them all.... Glad he is dead an hope he got what he deserved in death.....

    ReplyDelete
  9. I feel so sad for these lady's I wasn't born then not till 1977 but my heart goes out to them all.... Glad he is dead an hope he got what he deserved in death.....

    ReplyDelete
  10. She looks good. I'm happy she seems to be doing well. beautiful, strong, woman!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I was 12 and living in a small town about 80 miles south of Chicago when this happened. I was of course terrified until they caught Speck, and then I was enormously relieved. I followed the case as closely as I could, so I have many memories of it. While Speck's crimes certainly stood out so vividly, it was Corazon Amurao who I thought of more often. I remember being impressed with how she took care of herself during the attacks, and how she was able to give clear testimony during his trial. And now I am again impressed, this time in hearing how she continues to honor the memories of her friends. Thank you for sharing this information.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that she is a one of a kind truly beautiful person to care more about honoring the memories of her colleagues than finacially benfiting from the tragedy. Great article.

      Delete
  12. she did have an interview on the phil donahue show years ago

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have been fascinated by the Speck murders since 1976. It seems incomprehensible to me that these murders happened literally feet from other people sleeping. How horrified these nurses must have been. Ms. Amurao was indeed a strong individual. I hope she found peace in her life.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Watching this on Investigation ID. I remember this well. He was nearly as disgusting in jail as out. But enough about that POS.

    I'm glad to see she married, had children, and a good life - the best revenge.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Watching this on Investigation ID. I remember this well. He was nearly as disgusting in jail as out. But enough about that POS.

    I'm glad to see she married, had children, and a good life - the best revenge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like your comment god bless you Paulie I just got finish watching it on TV myself

      Delete
  16. Just wondering if you know anything more recent about Corazon Amurao's whereabouts, if she is still in Chicago, and how she is doing. (My wife is a Filipina, so she is interested also).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will update this site if any new information regarding Corazon Amuraon become available.

      Delete
  17. So glad she was able to use her training and knowledge after such a horrible incident. I cannot imagine the post tramatic stress she has dealt with (by both living through this and being a nurse). I hope she gets many more years to be with her loved ones.

    ReplyDelete
  18. God bless her. She was, and continues to be, a shining example of heart,soul and integrity. How wonderful that she keeps the memories of her friends alive.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I remember I was 11 years old and me and my parents and sisters and brother watch that on the news that horrific crime stay with me forever as I got older and moved on with my life and had kids I used tell my kids about that day my heart bleeds for that lady name corazon amurao may God bless her and her family for the things she did how brave she was too hide under that bed I like to wish u and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving and to the nurses we lost that day may they all rest in peace

    ReplyDelete
  20. You never really know how you would react when in an absolute horrific position that all of those young remarkable women were in. Cora is a shining example of courage, pure steel and grace. I am humbled by her integrity to not profit, but to keep honoring her friends. I am not sure how she got through it, especially the post traumatic episodes that she must've had after and for years to come. But she, Cora is a true Hero and she had the best revenge by continuing to live with such grace and humanity.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I was 10 years old when this horror took place. I remember it well. I live in new york and to this day this always will stand out as one of the worst tragedies against women ever. That SOB should have been executed. Thank you Cora for your strength and grace . It should teach us all to be better people. God bless you

    ReplyDelete
  22. I remember this horrific crime from when I was a kid. I have often thought of this lady and I am in awe of her bravery in getting Speck caught. I am glad her life seems to have turned out well, as I had always hoped that it had,

    ReplyDelete
  23. I was 8 and remember my dad telling me about this. I'm from the UP of Michigan and he was in our area just prior to this

    ReplyDelete
  24. I was 13 when this happened. I lived far away in San Francisco, but it was one of the most shocking events -- forever etched in my mind. Corazon was quite a hero, and she has handled her life with such grace, and love. Quite a woman. I was away for the holiday but this came on ID this morning. I've seen his antics online in prison, and he is a pathetic, lost soul. The opposite of Corazon.....

    ReplyDelete
  25. I WAS 9 AND LIVED 90 MILES WEST OF CHICAGO AND REMEMBER THE MAN HUNT AND MY MOM WAS SO AFRAID. THE THING THAT REALLY STICKS IN MY MIND WAS THE LIFE MAGAZINE ARTICLE WITH A BLOOD STAINED WHITE NURSES CAP LIKE THEY USE TO WEAR, I BELIEVE ON THE FRONT COVER OF LIFE MAGAZINE. I CAN'T IMAGINE WHAT SHE HAS HAD TO DEAL WITH IN LIFE SINCE THIS HORRIFIC CRIME. THANKYOU FOR THE INFORMATION ON HER. LIKE THE OTHERS I HAVE WONDERED ALOT ABOUT HER OVER THE LAST 49 YEARS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also realized it is the anniversary date of Speck dying.

      Delete
  26. How is it that Richard Speck committed these crimes, had an eye witness who pointed him out, was found guilty, yet was allowed to live out his life in prison? There are people (some probably innocent) who have been executed for crimes less heinous, and I cannot understand what kind of system we have that allows this to happen. What kind of system preserves the culprit of such a crime and yet kills people who did far less?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the defense later pointed out that the jury selection was biased by excluding certain people. Something like that.
      I think this evil man lived a horrible life in jail. BTW how come this jail allowed all these awful activities? Is it still going on. It is hell then this man has to live. However I do believe he should have been executed so that the families do not have to relive year after after going to parole hearing blocking his release. Sometimes I wonder how justice in USA.

      Delete
    2. Very unfortunately, the SCOTUS did away with the death penalty, after he was sentenced to a well-deserved death.

      Delete
  27. I was 9 or 10 years old when Speck committed these crimes. At the time of these murders, I was going to a hospital with my mother while she did volunteer work. I would sit in the lobby, roam around the hospital or sit outside & watch the student nurses go in & out of the nursing school next door to the hospital. They looked so pretty in their white uniforms. They made me want to be a nurse. Then one day as my mom and I stood at the bus stop I noticed a newspaper box. The one paper that's in the front had the headline of Richard Speck and the nurses that he murdered. I didn't want to be a nurse anymore. What he did affected a nine year old to that degree. I have always wanted to ask him why? how? Not the details how, but the mental how, the what kind of heart how. I think he hated himself for what he did. That's why he allowed himself to be subjected to such humiliation & degradation while in prison. Oh he may have laughed for the cameras and made it seem like he was living the "life" behind bars, but I don't think that was the case. He was miserable, in more ways than one. And he had every right to be!

    ReplyDelete
  28. I just watched A Crime to Remember on the ID channel. i don't remember this case which was so sad and brutal. Thank the Lord the surviving nurse Cora was able to move on enjoying a good life.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I happen to come across this article about Corazon. When she came back to the Philippines my mother happen to be friends with this amazing and strong woman. Corazon agreed to be my older sisters God Mother when she was born back in 69.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I was 9 when this happened. Stayed all weekend at my grandparents house which was nice watching TV and sleeping on their small couch. The news came on and the pain hurt so bad in my heart for everyone and her. I was afraid to sleep for several years after that knowing that it could happen to anyone but why? To this day, she is valiant and my heart continues to go out to her and how she chose to do what she had to do. God Bless her, her losses and her realizing she forced/made a future. Smile through God's good Graces.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Your information is incorrect. Speck entered the townhouse by popping out a window screen, and then reaching inside and unlocking the door. The door that Cora answered was her bedroom door. When she opened it, he was standing there with a gun. He then ordered her and her roommate to another bedroom where four of the victims were sleeping. The remaining three victims had been out for the night and came home later.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The account of the Speck murders on Biography.com reads: "When 23-year-old Corazon Amurao opened the front door to Speck's knock, he forced his way in at gunpoint. Speck then rounded the nurses up and ordered them to empty their purses, before tying them all up. He proceeded to brutalize them in the most horrific fashion over the following few hours."

      However, an account in a Chicago Tribune piece by Bob Secter reads: "The hiring hall for merchant seamen on Chicago's Southeast Side was just down the street from a townhouse where nine student nurses lived. On the night of July 13, a drifter who had been looking for work on a Great Lakes freighter broke into their townhouse. His name was Richard Franklin Speck." Several other sources say that Speck broke into the townhouse. Therefore, I believe you are right. Thank you for the correction.

      Delete
  32. Not a comment but question for Joanne, the author of this blog. I'm curious to learn if Corazon still lives in Woodbridge, VA as of this writing. In your research, do you have details of the hospital she worked at in the Philippines before coming to over to Chicago as a student nurse?

    ReplyDelete
  33. Prior to her arrival in Chicago, Corazon studied nursing at Far Eastern University, a private, non-sectarian university in Manilla, Philipinnes. See update at the end of my article for her current residence.

    ReplyDelete