Richard Speck by Dwight Okita


I grew up on the east side of Chicago – no, not in the lake. That’s what my parents called it anyway: the “East Side”. What I DO know for sure is that we lived exactly one block from where Richard Speck killed the eight nurses. You remember, Richard, don’t you? The guy who stopped off one night and killed eight nurses, one by one. Some of them were Filipino.

I used to play in the playground behind that apartment complex. I think I was in second grade. I remember going to the park that day and seeing all these people on the lawn in front of the apartment and police cars everywhere. I think I was too shy to ask anyone what was going on, so I went to the park behind the building and played on the swings. That night, my parents told me what happened, there were pictures of the bodies on the news. “He could’ve stopped at ANY house,” they said.

I always think about that one Filipino nurse who escaped. She hid under the bed. See, that’s what I would do. She wanted to save ALL of them. “There are nine of us, we can take him!” she said. But they were too afraid, so she crawled under the bed-and she lived. I LOVE that – when people trust their instincts.

Anyway, I don’t think I could ever kill anything–let alone eight people. Well, once I killed a parakeet–accidentally. I had a pet bird named Cisco. I wanted to trap it between the storm door and the wood door. I thought it’d look pretty flying there behind the glass. Like a little zoo I could show off to my friends. But when I shut the wood door, Cisco tried to fly out, and he got smashed. Red blood trickled down the door jam. Well, we got another parakeet. But this one my mother killed accidentally. She got tired of changing the newspaper in the bird’s cage, so she got this bright idea to use the vacuum cleaner to clean the cage.


It’s not what you’re thinking. The bird didn’t get sucked up. Actually I think it died of a heart attack. All that noise! We found him on the bottom of the cage upside down, his little feet in the air like a cartoon. So I guess I come from a long line of bird killers.

I haven’t thought about Speck for about twenty years. Well, last week I had this creepy dream that Speck came to my apartment and somehow thought that I was the nurse that got away!


In the dream I’m sleeping on my futon, and suddenly I get this distinct feeling that someone’s standing over me, watching me sleep. I open my eyes in the half dark and there’s this man–just standing there. I’m terrified, but I don’t scream. I pretend to be totally calm. “Can I help you?” I ask.

“I didn’t forget you,” he says.

“Do I know you?”

“The name’s Richard,” he says. “Call me Richie. You were my one mistake. You hid under the bed, but you won’t hide under the bed this time.” And he’s right. I’M SLEEPING ON A FUTON!! (PAUSE) And that’s when it hits me: Richard Speck! Of course.

“I think you have the wrong apartment,” I say. “But there IS a nurse who lives in apartment 211, right down the hall-”

“I’ve come back to correct my mistake,” he says.

“Richard, you’ve got the wrong person! For one thing, I’m Chinese American, not Filipino. There IS a difference. For another, I’m not a nurse. I don’t even have insurance!”

“Look, you fooled me once. You’re not gonna fool me again.” And before I know it, I hear the click of a pocketknife, and he starts slashing at me, like I’m a painting at a bad art auction. But wherever he cuts me – bird seed pours out instead of blood. I open my mouth to scream and parakeets fly out, hummingbirds, toucans…feathers fill my apartment.


That’s when I wake up.


Pretty weird, huh?

Sometimes at night, I walk through the hallway of my building. You might think I’m tempting fate, but the truth is I just want to feel free to walk wherever I want, whenever I want. I don’t want to be one of these paranoid urban dwellers with 22 locks on their doors – 3 is plenty. It’s kind of nice when you walk through the hallway. You hear TV shows, people leaving messages on answering machines, sometimes a typewriter late at night. When I walk past the doors, it reminds me of tuning in a radio station and you hear bits and pieces of things, but never the whole thing.

Those women he killed, they weren’t just nurses, you know – they were Asian Americans. Most people don’t think about that, but I do. Last May, for Asian American Heritage Month, I made a toast to the nurse that got away – to her courage, her wisdom, and her survival.

I think when Speck comes back in his next life, he’ll come back as something harmless. Something gentle. Maybe a parakeet.


I can hardly wait.