Content warning: This post mentions the name of a serial killer and shares depictions of death
In the mid-1960s, at the age of 9, I found my career at Lillian’s Beauty Parlor in my small Ohio hometown. My mom and her friend, Jean Bonecutter (that was really her name), had “hair appointments” every Saturday morning at Lillian’s.
Lillian’s was irresistible to me. I should probably lie and say it was the female camaraderie that drew me in. Nope, the attraction for my 9-year-old self was that Lillian subscribed to True Detective magazine, and Lillian’s was directly across the tiny street from the local headstone store. To everyone’s surprise, I always jumped at the chance to go with my mom to Lillian’s on Saturday. Clearly, no one was paying attention (a constant theme in my childhood).
I looked for new headstones every Saturday, wondering who had died and how old they were; I loved making up stories about the dead people. As if that isn’t creepy enough for a 9-year old to do, one Saturday in 1966, as I approached my 10th birthday, I picked up the newest issue of True Detective and started my career.
Inside was a long article on Richard Speck. (If you are opposed to naming notorious killers in text, stop reading here.) This article had such an impact on me—I even remember what I was wearing (another theme in my life, pink and green floral pedal pushers with a reversible matching top); the chair I was curled up in (pea-green plastic that is popular again as mid-century kitsch); and the sights/sounds/smells of Lillian’s (light flooding in the front window, women’s laughter, and cigarette smoke, perm lotions, and Aqua Net hair spray in the air).
The article had pictures of Speck being led to jail after being arrested for murdering eight female student nurses in Chicago, and there were pictures from the crime scene. To this day, I don’t know if it was the story, the pictures, or the seemingly inexplicable randomness of this mass murder that drew me in. I know that in my 9-year-old, slightly precocious brain, I wanted to figure out why someone would do something like this and how it happened. I read the article so many times I could accurately recite it (to anyone who would listen, which was no one).
I recall how I felt when I read the account of the one nursing student who rolled under a bed when Speck wasn’t looking and survived the killing spree. She turned out to be a surviving eyewitness/victim who identified Speck during his trial; he was quickly convicted and sentenced to death.
Another child might have been repulsed by what they read—and I may regret admitting this—but I was, and continue to be, really intrigued by the mystery of why people do what they do.