The Shot Seen Round the World

By the age of 40, an old saying goes, every man has the face he deserves. The foppish puss of a porcine Richard Speck decorated newspapers across America two weeks ago. A day before his 50th birthday, the mass murderer died of a heart attack in Joliet, where he’d been sentenced to spend the next four centuries in prison.

Aside from the occasional mug shots prison authorities insisted on, Speck’s face was rarely photographed. The public knew the Speck snapped after his 1966 arrest for the murder of eight student nurses–a jug-eared, acne-pitted creep. A few hours after Speck died in Silver Cross Hospital, Stateville’s warden Salvador Godinez held a press conference in his office. He spread his pictures of Speck out on his desk–some of them decades old, the most recent taken in 1989, but all of them mug shots. You have anything else? the photographers asked him. As a matter of fact the warden did, and he fished it out of a drawer. This picture was four weeks old, and it showed a Speck in the paint-splattered jacket of his prison trade, a heavy-lidded Speck with a broad, fleshy face, a big gut, and bangs. Speck in middle age, debauched.

Someone named Lloyd De Grane shot this one, the warden remembers announcing. “I said, “Get ahold of this De Grane guy. He took a bunch of photos.’ Nobody paid much attention.” No one got hold of De Grane, and what would have been the point in that? After all, the warden didn’t object when one photographer after another stepped forward and shot a copy of De Grane’s print as it lay there on the table. The picture, if not the name of the person who took it, was headed for the living rooms of America.

De Grane, a frequent Reader contributor, has spent two years photographing inside Stateville. A grant from the Illinois Arts Council supports the project, which he hopes will lead to a Chicago Historical Society exhibition on a century of prison life in Illinois, and to another book. The University of Illinois Press just published his first one, Tuned In, an album of a nation hooked on television.

In addition to his shots of daily life at Stateville, De Grane has taken occasional portraits and given them to the inmates. “I happened to get lucky,” De Grane told us, “and Richard Speck agreed to be photographed. He said, ‘I’ve seen you around here. I heard you’re a straight dude. So let’s do it.'”

De Grane took some pictures, Speck signed the usual waiver, and three weeks later De Grane handed Godinez a print of Speck. “He was really surprised that I’d gotten that photograph,” said De Grane. “Speck hadn’t allowed anyone to take his photograph in 25 years. Instead of giving it back he said, ‘I’d better hold onto this myself. If this gets out, it would be too disturbing for the public to see.’ I don’t think he wanted people to see that Speck wasn’t in chains locked in a closet.”

“I’ve known Richard as well as anyone over the years,” Godinez told us. He knew Speck didn’t like attention. And Speck had come to him steamed. A Channel Seven crew doing a story on prison overcrowding had just shot footage of Speck that Speck resented. And even though Speck had allowed De Grane to take his picture, now he wished he hadn’t.

“I’ve got an irate inmate,” Godinez says he told De Grane. “I have to respect what he’s telling me.” De Grane routinely cleared each portrait with Stateville’s warden (either Godinez or a predecessor) before giving it to the inmate; occasionally the warden would veto a shot because gang signs were being flashed in the background. Even though Godinez kept the Speck portrait, De Grane expected the warden to pass it along to Speck or, if he really found it so disturbing, to tear it up.

“I did neither,” says Godinez. He confiscated it. “I thought by taking the photograph I was acting in the best interests of the inmate.” He stashed it in his desk.

Did you tell De Grane the picture would disturb the public? we asked Godinez.

“Quite possibly that’s what I may have said,” Godinez acknowledged.

A week later Speck died, and De Grane’s picture was deemed not so disturbing after all.

De Grane’s mother called to tell him about Speck, and De Grane called Springfield. “Out of courtesy,” says De Grane, he informed Nic Howell, public-information officer for the Department of Corrections, that he happened to possess some brand-new pictures of Richard Speck and he wanted to try to sell them. “Go for it,” said Howell. De Grane remembers, “He said Reuters had just called him, and the Associated Press, and a couple of TV stations in Chicago. His phone was just buzzing off the hook.”

Jose More, chief photographer at the Tribune, offered to buy exclusive local rights to De Grane’s pictures for $250 a print. And More told De Grane that the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain also wanted a print. Could he pass along De Grane’s phone number? Sure, said De Grane.

He was downstairs in his darkroom when he heard his wife shouting, “Lloyd, your picture’s on TV!” Susan De Grane had just tuned in the evening news on Channel Seven and for an instant had seen Richard Speck, her husband’s Richard Speck, staring at her from the screen. De Grane called the Tribune, the only shop in town entitled to use that picture. Turned out the deal was off. The uncredited picture had become public property. Call the AP, said the night photo editor. They’re the ones who put your photo on the wire.

“So I called them,” said De Grane, “and one of their photographers had just shot it during the news conference.” He marveled, “This guy had my photograph and he held it up for everybody and his brother to copy without asking my permission! It was a private circumstance that wasn’t supposed to be made public. And it was–just because it was a convenient thing to do.”

How much money do you think you lost? we asked De Grane. “Around a grand or so,” he said. “[The picture’s] out there, and I have no idea who’s using it.” That isn’t entirely true. He saw his picture in the Tribune and on two Chicago TV stations (the Sun-Times used it too). And he saw it on Saturday Night Live.

“I don’t even feel that bad about it,” said De Grane. “I really wasn’t looking forward to profiting off a mass murderer’s exploits.” But he was bothered enough to fax Nic Howell an invoice asking $1,050 for “unauthorized distribution and unlimited usage” of the photo.

Should he get the money? we asked Godinez, a specialist in right and wrong. “Definitely not,” the warden said. “He didn’t enter this prison to make money off anything. If he should get that thousand dollars, I think it should go to the victims, and I feel very strong about that. You know, I could make a lot of money with the conversations Speck had with me and the letters he wrote me. But that’s the farthest thing from my mind.”

Sue us, says Nic Howell.

“I’m certainly not going to put my signature on a voucher for that photo,” Howell explains. “If Mr. De Grane intends to take legal action, he could potentially recoup that. But I don’t feel the department is obligated to repay him for that photo.”

FineLine Hits Bottom

Barry Bingham Jr. was explaining why he shut down FineLine, the newsletter he conceived so working journalists could read and write about the hard ethical issues of their profession.

Turned out working journalists didn’t want to write about those hard issues, said Bingham. They were also losing interest in reading about them.

“I used to go to newspaper editors’ meetings and run into people I knew quite well, and over drinks they’d tell me some hair-curling stories,” Bingham said. “And I’d say, ‘Why don’t you write that for FineLine?’ And they’d say almost to a man, ‘Oh, no, I’d rather not do that.'”

Bingham had advertised in Editor & Publisher that he’d pay $500 a story. He expected copy to pour in, but it didn’t. “It never got anywhere close,” he told us. “I thought we’d have to block off the transom. We got a lot of submissions, but most of it was from people with extremely limited journalism experience. Most of the ethical issues they were addressing were quite insignificant. And thirdly, they couldn’t write.”

Casting about for something worthy to do with his life, Bingham founded FineLine in 1989. He’d been publisher of the Louisville Times and Courier-Journal since 1971, but squabbling between Bingham and his two sisters over the various family properties reached such a pitch (three recent books describe the bleak details) that their father, the late Barry Bingham Sr., liquidated everything. Barry Jr. found himself with $24 million and nothing to do.

His vision was that every newspaper would order FineLine, every reporter and editor would study it and many would contribute, and journalism would ascend to a new level of ethical insight.

The insight turned out to be largely academic. “The last blow,” said Bingham, “was when we started looking at renewal rates. Among newspaper subscribers, it went down from 80 percent to about 35 percent.” If FineLine was destined for fewer newsrooms, fewer working journalists would see it, and “the limited market we were drawing on for articles was going to get even smaller. The irony is that among colleges and universities, it was still up there near 80 percent. Either there’s no recession there or it’s more useful to schools.”

FineLine never came close to breaking even, not when 220 subscribers were each paying $221 a year, nor when 850 subscribers were paying $49. The extraordinary 75 percent price cut gave Bingham greater penetration of journalism’s common conscience in exchange for higher costs and lower revenues. “If I were a bean counter,” he said, “I would say that was a mistake.”

Then the recession hit. “I used to call everyone who didn’t renew,” he said, “and almost to a person I was told, ‘We were told not to subscribe to anything this year.’ Someone even said he wasn’t allowed to subscribe to Editor & Publisher.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Younker.