"Supermale" in Blue Panties:
The Woman-Murderer Self-Womanized
In 1966, a twenty-four-year-old sailor named Richard Speck committed
one of the most shocking crimes in American history. Intruding
into a dormitory of female student nurses, he tied up nine women,
and then systematically murdered eight of them. The one survivor
hid under a bed, and Speck missed her during his homicidal rampage.
She described his appearance to police, including the eerily prescient
tattoo on his arm that read "Born To Raise Hell."
aftermath of the slayings, a widely publicized "fact"
about Richard Speck was believed to explain, at least partially,
his extraordinary aggressiveness. It was said that he was a "supermale,"
that is, a man with an extra Y-chromosome.
look at Speck's history seemed to support the conclusion that
too much masculinity was his flaw. He was a tall, lanky, heavily
tattooed man given to drinking, fighting, and whoring. He had
always worked at traditional men's jobs like construction and
seafaring -- when he wasn't getting his money through theft.
crimes were trumpeted as evidence for biological determinism.
As Stephen Jay Gould writes, "The naïvely determinist
argument had little going for it beyond the following: Males tend
to be more aggressive than females; this may be genetic. If genetic,
it must reside on the Y chromosome; anyone possessing two Y chromosomes
has a double dose of aggressiveness and might incline to violence
his slayings of eight women were man's "normal" or "natural"
dominance over females carried to a destructive extreme. Or so
turned out, the original finding of the murderer as a "supermale"
was in error. Speck was a genetically normal XY male.
Speck shocked the public yet again -- three years after his own
death in prison of a heart attack -- when a videotape made by
the imprisoned Speck and fellow inmates surfaced.
alternates between talk show and hard-core pornography--Speck
being the receptive partner in anal intercourse). During the talk
show segments, a cellmate plays interviewer to Speck's celebrity
guest. The general atmosphere is one of conviviality and camaraderie.
you got the blue panties on?" his buddy asks.
Then, the ugly, pockmarked Speck unzips his paint-splattered uniform
-- his prison job had been painting walls -- to display fully
developed breasts along with the aforementioned women's underpants.
who murdered women had turned himself into a fun-house mirror
image of the sex he slaughtered. Speck's appearance on film was
so gender-ambiguous that TV stations seemed unsure of whether
he was a man or a woman. In part of the tape, his breasts are
shown, as the chest of a male normally would be on American television;
in another, the camera distorts the chest area as it would for
a topless female.
opinion, Speck's feminization, together with a more nuanced examination
of his life history, gives us new insight into the motives behind
his gender-biased atrocities. This insight was unconscious since
sociopaths are not a group given to introspection.
To a man
like Speck, women may appear to be the powerful sex. After all,
in the usual heterosexual procedure, the man approaches the woman
rather than the other way around and, quite often, his overtures
are rebuffed. If the man has been courteous, the woman is somewhat
embarrassed -- and flattered; the rejected man is left with entirely
negative feelings. The special vulnerability of the person who
initiates sexual relationships is obscured by our custom of referring
to the initiator as the "aggressor" with the word's
connotations of power and conquest. However, the position of the
person who makes the overtures could also be seen as, and more
importantly, felt as, that of "supplicant."
may pay for women's company -- as Speck often did -- but especially
if his income is low and uncertain -- as Speck's was -- he resents
having to do so.
more, he may feel disadvantaged in the sex act itself. Speck often
gave up "his turn" during "gang-bangs" of
prostitutes because he was impotent. He probably felt incontrovertibly
exposed by his limp penis and, in his humiliation, envied the
ability of the female to feign sexual interest.
add that I do not share Camille Paglia's belief that women are
in fact the more powerful sex. Rather, I think it may seem that
way "from the outside looking in." Men who are both
unimaginative and insensitive, and, as a result, oblivious to
the realities that warp women's lives -- i. e., unwanted pregnancy,
the Double Standard, rape, discrimination -- sometimes envy their
position as the courted sex.
of women's supposed power may turn to hatred and that hatred to
macho violence. In the case of Richard Speck, I believe that envy
deepened into a hatred, which became, quite literally, murderous.
envy of women's beauty does not always turn into machismo. It
may find an outlet in the benign, even constructive, form of imitation
people who are genetically members of one sex seek to take on
the apparel or physical characteristics of the other are, of course,
many, and varying. In view of the lamentable tendency of parts
of the media to sensationalize transgenderism and play up cases
of transgendered criminals, it must be emphasized that Speck had
almost nothing in common with the vast majority of cross-dressers
and differently gendered people.
it was only after Speck was effectively cut off from macho violence
against women that he chose the innocuous path of imitating them.
women, combined with his inability as a prisoner to harm them,
might explain Speck's assumption of female characteristics but
not his decision to display them in front of a camera.
this very strange video made?
to Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune,
A transcript of the tape reveals that it seems to have been made
as a sort of payment from Speck to the prisoners behind the video
camera, men he refers to as "my two rides." The vague
idea that filters through the two-hour disjointed conversation
interrupted by bouts of sex is that, somehow, the men will sell
the tape or write a book from it so that, in Speck's words, "they
don't ever have to come back again."
statement deserves examination. It is inconsistent with the general
tenor of the tape that depicts prison life as one big party. As
Speck comments, "If they knew how much fun I was having in
here, they'd have to turn me loose." But the hope that his
brother prisoners cherish, that of getting out and staying out,
gives the lie to Speck's boast of satisfaction.
the happy-go-lucky video reflects little of what prison life is
really like. Which brings us to the following question: why did
Speck wish to appear satisfied with his lot? As a sociopath, Speck
found joy in other people's misery--and he knew that nothing would
gall the public more than convincing them that he was happy. Concomitantly
with this desire was one of besting the female sex at what he
believed was their own game.
you like getting fucked by men, Richard?" Speck is asked.
"Absolutely," he replies.
"Have you always liked it?"
had lived as a gay man in the outside world, his unprepossessing
looks and repulsive character would have made him a loser with
other men -- as he had been with women. In the odd environment
of prison, Speck, in effect, told the world, a grotesque man who
agreeably played the woman was the belle of the ball. For Richard
Speck, murdering females was not enough. By making this video,
he finally and decisively upstaged -- and, at least in his own
mind, out-womaned -- women.