October 29, 2022 | Last updated May 3, 2023

A Brush with Infamy

The staff at History Nebraska, including staff at the Ford Center, have spent the last year or so talking a lot about “curiosity”.  We’ve had workshops and discussions about why people are curious, what they are curious about, how to increase and nurture our own curiosity to make our jobs easier and our output better.  One of the discussions was on topics that people are universally curious about.  These include things like: themselves (people everywhere are curious about themselves!), things we don’t talk about in polite society (think death, sex and money), food, babies, unattainable things, and as this blog post will highlight, the odd, strange, and morbid.  A couple of weeks back, the popular True Crime/Comedy podcast “My Favorite Murder” came to Omaha for a live show.  That sparked our curiosity about a painting that was treated at the Ford Center several years ago.  It was brought in by a man named Dave Sample, who gave us permission to share the story behind his unusual painting.  

Before treatment photo of painting with cartoon dog, fence, doghouse, signed by Richard Speck  after treatment photo of painting of cartoon dog, with fence, doghouse, signed by Richard Speck

Before (left) and After (right) Treatment photos of painting by Richard Speck.

The painting above looks innocent enough.  A happy little puppy frolicking in the a yard with a cheery blue sky above.  What could be odd or strange about that?  Well, the man who painted it was none other than notorious murderer Richard Speck!  What was a killer doing painting puppies for children?!  I won’t go into the gruesome details of the crimes committed by Speck, whose story can be found anywhere on the internet, but he was responsible for the deaths of eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966.  Because of the media frenzy around the case, it was decided that Speck could not receive a fair trial if it remained in Chicago.  Therefore, the trial was moved 150 miles southwest to Peoria, IL.  And that’s where we meet Dave’s father, Jerry Sample.

black and white photo of Jerry Sample in police uniform

Official police portrait of Jerry Sample, c. 1960s.

According to Dave, his father was a Peoria County deputy in charge of running the county jail at the time.  While Speck was on trial, Jerry provided him with painting supplies to help pass the time.  In all, Speck painted four pictures for the Sample family, the painting above for five-year-old Dave, one for each of Dave’s two brothers and one for their mother, which he describes as “more of an abstract theme”.  The paintings for all the boys “were of the dog variety”.  Dave’s painting and the one painting for his brother Jerry are currently hanging in Dave’s wife’s office.  She is a criminologist at UNO and he thought they would make interesting conversation pieces for her students and visitors to her office.  He is certainly right!  

painting of cartoon dog and turtle on the road, signed by Richard Speck

Painting by Richard Speck for Dave’s brother, Jerry.

Thank you to Dave Sample for his help in this blog post and sharing this curious story with us!

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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