William J. Martin, 80, of Riverside, formerly a longtime resident of Oak Park, died on July 7, 2017 at Elmhurst Hospital after a long battle with cancer.
Born on Aug. 19, 1936, he graduated from St. Giles School, Fenwick High School, Loyola University and Loyola School of Law, and became the attorney who successfully prosecuted Richard Speck, convicted of the 1966 murders of eight student nurses in Chicago, often referred to as the “Crime of the Century.”
“By virtue of a series of circumstances,” Mr. Martin wrote last June in a column for the Landmark’s sister paper, Wednesday Journal, “I was assigned to be his chief prosecutor. I was given tremendous support by the entire State’s Attorney’s Office. After a two-month trial in Peoria, he was sentenced to death by a jury after 49 minutes of deliberation. He escaped the electric chair because the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 41 cases simultaneously on the basis that the juries had been unconstitutionally selected. Resentenced to 1,200 years, Speck served his time at Stateville near Joliet.”
Mr. Martin wrote a book titled Crime of the Century and in 2016 published an updated edition for the 50th anniversary.
“Speck died of a heart attack on Dec. 6, 1991,” Mr. Martin told Wednesday Journal, “one day before his 50th birthday. I believed a wholly factual book should be written about all aspects of the case to create an accurate record of this innocence-shattering crime. Dennis Breo, an award-winning AMA correspondent and I worked closely to write the first edition of Crime of the Century in 1993.
“Several critical events have come to light since the book was published and we decided to update the text as the murders were reaching their 50th anniversary. We discovered much more valuable information than we expected.
“By committing the first random mass murder in 20th-century America, Richard Speck opened the floodgates to a tragic phenomenon that haunts us today. The objective of the updated Crime of the Century is to inform the reader with a totally accurate portrait of Speck, his crimes, his trial and its aftermath, 1966 to 2016.
“The victims can never be forgotten. Eight young women who had dedicated their lives to helping others were murdered 50 years ago. They deserve a long overdue memorial. Their classmates and many others are working toward that end. We hope Crime of the Century furthers this exceptionally worthy cause.”
Mr. Martin lived in Oak Park, almost without interruption, from 1948 to 2008. At Fenwick High School, he was editor of The Wick. At Loyola law school, he founded and was editor of the Loyola Law Times, a Journal of Opinion. In 2008 he moved to Riverside.
He was also an avid amateur hockey player.
Mr. Martin was the father of the Honorable Marc W. Martin, Patrick S. Martin, Colleen J. Martin, Victoria M. Silber, Douglas J. Martin and Kelly B. McGinnis; the grandfather of Breanna and Marc Liam Martin, Owen and James Woo, Logan, Kelin, Riley and Lizzy Silber.
Visitation is Tuesday, July 11 from 3 to 9 p.m. at Salerno’s Galewood Chapels, Sciaraffa Funeral Directors, 1857 N. Harlem Ave., Chicago. A funeral Mass will be celebrated on Wednesday, July 12 at St. Giles Church, 1045 N. Columbian Ave., Oak Park at 10 a.m. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Place, Chicago, 60632 in the names of his children or grandchildren.