Jack G. Wallenda

Anticipating an insanity defense, Jack G. Wallenda helped compile an exhaustive background on Richard Speck. Speck was convicted in the 1966 slayings of eight student nurses in Chicago. (Tribune)

Jack G. Wallenda

Key detective in Speck murders

Jack G. Wallenda, 83, a Chicago homicide detective who played a leading role in the case that resulted in the capture and prosecution of mass murderer Richard Speck, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at his home in Chicago.

Working the midnight shift, Wallenda took the biggest call of his career early on July 14, 1966. Eight student nurses had been murdered in a Chicago town house. A seasoned street cop, Wallenda quickly set about protecting the crime scene.

He took part in the massive manhunt that led to Speck's arrest and helped compile an exhaustive background on the killer, in anticipation of a possible insanity defense.

Wallenda was also part of a small detail of detectives who watched over the case's key witness, Corazon Amurao, who had hidden in the town house and survived Speck's rampage.

To ward off the curious, detectives stayed in an apartment next to Amurao's throughout Speck's sensational 1967 trial. Speck was found guilty and spent the rest of his life in prison. He died in 1991.

Wallenda was born in 1926 in Chicago and served with the Army in the Philippines.

In the 1950s, he joined the police force and in the late 1960s worked briefly as an investigator with the state's attorney's office. He also was chief investigator in the Illinois attorney general's office and later was executive director of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

-- times staff and wire reports news.obits@latimes.com