In 1960, three housewives from Chicago never make it out of Starved Rock State Park alive and police in Illinois quickly realize a piece of nature itself is the murder weapon. The investigation zeros in on a predator who was hiding in plain sight.
- Chicago Tribune: “Timeline: The March 1960 Starved Rock murders and convicted killer Chester Weger’s release from prison,” by Christy Gutowski and Kori Rumore
- ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS INTERNET INMATE STATUS, C01114 – Weger, Chester
- Daily Illini: “Three Chicago Women Die After Attack in State Park”
- LIFE: “Ghostly Images of A Ghastly Murder”
- Daily Illini: “Starved Rock Ex-Dish Washer Admits March Triple-Slaying”
- Chicago Tribune: “Full Confession of Killer,” no author, and “How 3 Victims Battled to Stay Alive,” by Sandy Smith & Thomas Powers
- Chicago Tribune: “Jurors indict starved rock triple slayer”
- Chicago Tribune: “Claim killer of 3 had aid”
- Chicago Tribune: “Threats Made Him Confess, Weger Claims,” by Sandy Smith
- Chicago Tribune: “Weger Claims Threat Forced His Confession,” by Sandy Smith
- Daily Illini: “State Probes Starved Rock Killing In Effort To Send Weger to Chair”
- LIFE: “The Case of the Overlooked Clues”
- Daily Illini: “Witnesses Deny Weger Threatened When He Confessed Triple Slaying”
- Chicago Tribune: “Weger Tells Jury: I Didn’t Kill 3 Women,” by Sandy Smith
- Daily Illini: “Weger Claims Deputy Sheriff Forced Criminal Confession”
- Daily Illini: “Weger Defense Rests”
- Daily Illini: “Weger Verdict Delayed”
- Chicago Tribune: “Jury fixes penalty in state park killing,” by Sandy Smith
- Chicago Tribune: “Jail won’t hold me: Weger,” by Sandy Smith
- Daily Illini: “Weger Lawyer To Seek New Trial, Claims 1st Hearing Was Prejudiced”
- Chicago Tribune: “Weger, Poker Faced, Hears Life Sentence,” by Sandy Smith
- Daily Illini: “Chester Weger Moves to Joliet To Serve Term”
- Justia, The PEOPLE v. Weger, Supreme Court of Illinois
- Chicago Tribune: “Court drops rape charges against Weger”
- Chicago Tribune: “Drop effort to get death sentence for Rocky Weger,” by Thomas Powers
- Chicago Tribune: “Weger Pictures Himself as Hero in Writing Jail Autobiography,” by Thomas Powers
- Chicago Tribune: “Evidence in ’60 killing tainted,” by Karen Mellen
- The Pantagraph: “Governor denies request of man convicted in Starved Rock murder,” by Greg Stanmar
- Chicago Tribune: “Inmate convicted in 1960 Starved Rock slayings makes plea for parole,” by Christy Gutowski
- Chicago Tribune: “Starved Rock killer Chester Weger, convicted in an infamous 1960 murder case, is granted parole,” by Christy Gutowski
- Chicago Tribune: “Starved Rock killer falls one vote short of parole after nearly 60 years in prison,” by Christy Gutowski
- “The Starved Rock Murders Illinois History and Horror” by American Hauntings
- Chicago Tribune: “Man Convicted of Infamous 1960 Starved Rock Killing Is Just Days Away From Getting Out of Prison” by Christy Gutowski
- The News Tribune: “Starved Rock Murderer Chester Weger Released From Prison” By NewsTribune staff
- The Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Chester Weger Still Maintains His Innocence In The 1960 Beating Deaths of 3 Women in Illinois Park” by Christy Gutowski
- “The Starved Rock Murders” Documentary by Hunter James Cox
- CBS2: “Charlie De Mar, Convicted ‘Starved Rock Killer’ Chester Weger Released From Prison”
- Starved Rock State Park Information
Hi park enthusiasts…
I’m your host Delia D’Ambra and today’s case is one that I think is a true testament to understanding just how massive an undertaking it is to investigate a triple murder and how tricky a case is when the actual murder weapon IS A PIECE OF NATURE.
The story takes place in Starved Rock State Park in Illinois…
The park is home to 13 miles of trails that loop along the Illinois River. It gets its unique name from a Native American Legend that dates back to the 1760’s.
The legend details the history of a bitter battle for power between two indigenous tribes that resulted in one tribe taking refuge on a massive rock inside of the park.
The story goes, that while the group was cornered by their enemies for several days without access to food or water. They all starved to death.
And thus, Starved Rock State Park got its name.
The park is heralded as one of Illinois’ most beautiful destinations. Its big attractions are 18 canyons that feature vertical rock walls, sandstone bluffs, and access to waterfalls.
These sights are just as enchanting during the winter months because everything, including the waterfalls, freezes over and the canyons turn into spectacular ice caves.
In March of 1960, a violent killer wielding a frozen log as a weapon cornered three middle-aged women near one of these ice caves inside the park and left a bloody trail of clues that led police straight to him.
But as recently as 2019, many are questioning if the case elicited a false confession…and a ruthless predator got away with a horrific crime.
This is Park Predators.
*Rotary phone dialing*
On Monday, March 14th, 1960 George Oetting dialed the telephone number for his wife Lillian’s room inside Starved Rock Lodge in Ogelsby, Illinois.
It had only been a few hours since 50-year-old Lillian, left their home in Riverside, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago and made the hour and a half or so drive to the park.
The mother of two was on a four-day vacation with two of her friends, 47-year-old Frances Murphy, and 50-year-old Mildred Linquist. George was eager to hear how the women’s road trip had gone and if they were settling in well for their stay.
This was Lillian and the women’s first trip together after what was said to be a hard and trying winter. A few months before, George had suffered a heart attack and every day since Lillian had been caring for him at home on top of balancing all of her other social activities in Riverside. She was due for a fun getaway with her girlfriends.
According to Life Magazine, all three women were very close and all had their hands full serving on education boards together and participating in garden and reading clubs. All three families actively attended a presbyterian church outside of Chicago where they’d raised their adult children and grandchildren.
*Rotary phone ringing*
When George dialed his wife’s room the phone rang and rang, but no one picked up.
According to the Chicago-Tribune, the women’s plan was to spend Monday, March 14th, their first day of vacation, walking the trails in Starved Rock State Park.
At the time, George was a high-ranking supervisor for Illinois Bell Telephone company and he liked to make sure he and Lillian stayed in touch when they were a part. Especially since he’d just had a heart attack.
According to The Daily Illini Frances’ husband, R.W. Murphy, was a lawyer and vice president for a worldwide automotive parts supplier in Chicago called the Borg-Warner Corporation.
Mildred’s husband was the vice president for a large bank in the city.
According to The Chicago Tribune, there was no question that the women had the necessary funds and supplies for their four-day getaway.
After Lillian didn’t pick up on Monday afternoon, George figured that the women had probably just stayed longer in the park than they’d planned and he’d try calling again in the morning.
George had no way of knowing, neither he nor the other women’s husbands would ever see their wives alive again.
The next morning, Tuesday, March 15th, George called the phone number for his wife’s room at the lodge, and once again no one picked up.
When he phoned the front desk, lodge staff told him they hadn’t seen Lillian or the other two women but would send someone up to Lillian’s room to leave a note for her to call him.
According to The Chicago Tribune, a bell boy for the lodge went up to the room with a card to hang on the doorknob. It’s unclear from reports what exactly the message on the paper hanger said but it was something to the effect of you have a message downstairs and George has been calling.
The fact that George couldn’t get a hold of any of Lillian concerned him. So, he decided to call the other husbands and bring them in the loop to if they’d spoken with their wives. The men revealed to George that they hadn’t heard from their wives either since the trio left Chicago.
At that point, the men decided each of them would call the lodge back the following morning.
Their concerns for their wives only grew stronger throughout Tuesday night when they tuned into local weather reports in Chicago. The forecast predicted a blinding snowstorm was going to descend on Starved Rock State Park Tuesday night.
On Wednesday morning, March 16th, after the snowstorm hit, Frances’s husband called the lodge to check on the women but once again, none of the staff reported having seen them coming or going from their rooms.
The hotel’s workers got into the women’s quarters and found that none of their beds appeared to have been slept in. The sheets and linens were all freshly made, none of the towels had been used and none of their luggage had been unpacked.
All of those things were signs that the three women had never stayed the first night in their rooms.
On top of that, staff went outside and checked the lodge’s parking lot and found France’s station wagon parked in a spot. It was the vehicle that the women had all ridden in for the trip.
According to Steve Stout’s reporting, the car was covered in snow, almost like it hadn’t been moved in days.
At that point the women’s husbands agreed, after two days of not hearing from their wives, it was time to alert the local police.
According to The Daily Illini, mid-day on Wednesday, the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office and the Illinois State Police organized a few search parties to start walking in Starved Rock State Park.
*Boots crunching in snow*
One group, which was made up of young men from a nearby youth camp set out on the snow-covered trails and rocky terrain to try and find the women.
The weather conditions had deteriorated over the past two days, so the searchers were having to plod over very narrow snow-covered trails with sheets of ice and slippery rocks hidden underneath.
Shortly after launching the search, the group of young men from the youth camp found all three women. They were dead. Their bodies tucked a little ways into a cave in an area of the park known as Saint Louis Canyon about a half-mile away from Starved Rock Lodge.
According to The Daily Illini, the scene was gruesome. The victims had their skulls bashed in with some sort of large object and there were trails of blood found on the ground and in the snow around their bodies.
They were each lying sprawled out, face up on the floor of the cave. Mildred and Lillian’s hands and feet were bound with twine and Frances appeared to have been bound the same way, except the twine around her ankles, was undone. Indicating, at some point, she might have had the chance to run away.
Nearby, searchers found their purses, a broken camera, and a pair of binoculars with traces of blood on them.
Immediately, the Illinois State Police were called in and responded to the crime scene.
Chief William Morris, told reporters that he believed it would have been very difficult for one person to overtake all three women, who’d clearly put up a fight. He said based on his initial observation of the crime scene, it was possible whoever had killed the women might have been part of a gang.
The state attorney for the region, a man named Harland Warren, agreed and told news reporters that he was convinced, based on the brutal nature of the murders, that more than one person had attacked the women. He did say though that if it was one person, it was likely a man who was strong enough to overpower three victims at once.
And just as a note here, Mildred, Lillian, and Frances were not frail women by any means. They were middle-aged, average height, maybe even on the taller side…and would have been capable of fighting off an attacker if they needed to.
Immediately after their bodies were found, Chief William Morris called investigators from the Illinois Bureau of Investigations to help search the cave for clues and figure out if any of the victims’ had been sexually assaulted.
Elements at the crime scene and the position of the victims’ bodies strongly indicated sexual assaults had occurred.
According to Life Magazine’s reporting, Mildred and Lillian had their pants and underwear removed. Their clothing had been torn in several places and the killer had placed their winter coats between their legs. One of the victims also had a tuft of short hair clutched in her hand.
Officers removed all three bodies and transported them to the nearby town of Ottawa for autopsies. As I was researching the case though, it appears the medical examiner never ruled on whether any of the victims were sexually assaulted. That detail is not mentioned anywhere in reporting, only that it was suspected of happening.
The best I can guess, and so does author Steve Stout, who wrote a book on this case called The Starved Rock Murders, is that technology at the time was not advanced enough or police just did not investigate the evidence enough to prove this one way or the other
One thing that was clear though, was that the killer had used something large, like a club of some sort, to inflict their head injuries.
Investigators fanned out around the cave and began looking for a potential murder weapon.
Finding any further clues was challenging though. Between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, eight inches of snow had fallen in the park and a lot of the area near the cave had been covered up.
One method investigators used to scour the trail and turn up the snow were brooms. Like, actual straw brooms you’d store in your house.
Police officers combed through snowdrifts sweeping back and forth trying to uncover any additional items they believed could be related to the crime.
In addition to that, astonishingly, investigators also used flamethrowers to melt snow at the crime scene. THIS absolutely blew my mind when I heard it announced in an archive news report featured in a documentary about the case.
Using FLAME THROWERS to melt the snow around a brutal triple murder scene seems like the worst possible thing you could do to protect evidence, but that’s exactly what police did in 1960.
In the documentary by Hunter Cox, archive news footage literally shows police holding open flamethrowers over the parts of the crime scene to melt the snowdrifts and dig up anything underneath.
I feel like this is exactly what crime scene tech classes nowadays would tell you NOT TO DO, but again, this is 1960 and no one back then was really thinking about crime scene preservation or DNA or anything like that.
In one news report the anchor says that after burning up one section of snow, investigators found a small piece of aluminum foil which they concluded was the wrapping to a roll of film. The film itself though was no longer intact…likely meaning it had been burned away.
THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO SCREAM…Because it was documented that a camera was found at the crime scene. That roll of film that was burned up could have been a huge clue!
Anyway, after a few hours of blow torching snow away, deputies located a three-foot tree limb buried beneath fresh snow that was frozen solid and had dried blood caved on one end. They also found a long icicle from the cave that appeared to have blood on the tip of it.
Investigators considered both items as potential murder weapons.
Another challenge the state police were faced with was the fact that blood evidence in the cave seemed to indicate that the location was not the spot where the women were initially attacked.
According to The Chicago Tribune’s reporting, there was some blood found inside the cave and on the walls, but not a lot. Not the amount of blood you’d expect to see if the cave was the site where the women had been bludgeoned to death.
The lack of blood in the cave told the state police that the killer may have murdered the women in a clearing somewhere else in the woods ..left them there…and possibly returned and dragged their bodies into the cave to prevent someone else from finding them.
Feeling the pressure mounting to find a suspect, police investigators backtracked the women’s last known movements and they established a few helpful facts.
Records from the lodge and eyewitness interviews with staff confirmed that right before lunchtime on Monday, March 14th, the three victims had checked into the lodge and eaten lunch together. Then shortly after 1:00 pm they were seen dressed appropriately for a hike and leaving the lodge.
That was the last known sighting of them before being found two days later.
The horrific and sensational nature of the crime sent people in the immediate area into a panic. There was palpable fear that a killer was on the loose in the park.
Because of this, state police’s search for a suspect was ramped up, even more, to not only find the perpetrator but help calm people’s hysteria.
LaSalle County deputies set up roadblocks in and around the lodge and all streets leading to Starved Rock State Park. They stopped everyone and asked them to be on the lookout for people, most likely a man, who may have a scratched face or injuries consistent with having been in a tussle or fight.
Authorities right away focused heavily on the Starved Rock Lodge. On the Thursday and Friday after the murders…detectives rounded up everyone who worked there and park rangers from the area and asked them to take polygraphs.
According to news reports, everyone did and they all passed.
But one worker told the police a strange and interesting story.
This witness said that after the women vanished, a 21-year-old man named Chester Otto Weger who was a dishwasher for the lodge had shown up to work on March 15th with some scratches on his face that appeared to be fresh.
This information obviously got the police’s attention, so they went to interview Chester.
According to news reports, Chester told the police that he had accidentally cut himself shaving and that’s why he had a noticeable gash on his chin. He told the police that during the timeframe of the murders he was in the basement of the lodge stoking a coal furnace and writing letters.
Authorities had no reason to believe at that point that Chester was lying. They didn’t love his answers but they had no proof he was involved, only suspicion.
According to LIFE Magazine, something that fueled their suspicion was a large dark stain they noticed on Chester’s leather jacket. They thought to themselves, it looked a whole lot like blood.
They asked Chester for the jacket and he gave it to them. Investigators sent it off for testing to a state lab and a few days later, the lab determined the blood was NOT human. It had come from an animal.
Detectives at the time completely stopped looking at Chester as a suspect and moved on with their investigation.
State police decided to cool it with the interviews and polygraphs for a bit and instead turned to the physical evidence they’d collected from the crime scene.
One item that investigators knew was going to be important was the film inside Lillian’s camera that was left severely dented and partially buried in the snow. The strap on the device was completely broken, which made authorities believe it had been ripped away from her and the strap snapped in the process.
According to Steve Stout’s reporting, Lillian’s camera was an Argus C3 which at the time was known to take good quality pictures. Every time you took a photo on that particular device, you had to manually wind a knob on the top of the camera to advance the film roll to the next available frame.
*Camera snapping & dial turning*
Oftentimes, if you didn’t twist the knob all the way, frames of film would overlap on one another. This would result in what authorities eventually referred to as a triple exposure.
When officers processed the film from Lillian’s camera they saw that the women had taken several pictures throughout their hike. Most of the images showed them bundled up posing in front of overlooks and huge rocks or waterfalls.
Authorities realized that the last picture on the roll was a triple exposure, meaning Lillian didn’t twist the knob on the top of the camera all the way before snapping the photo. The picture showed Frances and Mildred standing in front of a frozen waterfall with lots of snow piled around them and trees in the background.
That image was overlaid onto another frame of film, so it looked kind of ghostly and unnatural.
Investigators knew that the location where the women were standing was just steps away from the cave where their bodies were found…so, most likely, Lillian had snapped the picture right before their assailant or assailants had struck.
What both the state police and the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office thought was interesting about the triple exposure was they believed you could see the outline of a man’s face in a shadow between the rockface of Saint Louis Canyon and a tree trunk behind where Mildred was standing.
Detectives spent hours and even days analyzing the photo, trying to figure out if in fact the women had inadvertently taken a picture of their own killer who was lying in wait. Some investigators were convinced you could see this stranger hiding in the shadows…others just thought the ghostly image was an accidental result of the triple exposure.
According to Steve Stout’s reporting, in the end, authorities ruled out the theory that the women had photographed their killer, BUT that didn’t stop publications at the time from running full steam ahead with that angle of the story.
LIFE magazine published a several-page article that detailed how it was possible the women had captured a haunting glimpse of their killer just moments before being brutally murdered.
Two other clues that seemed like they had strong potential for police to follow were a case for a set of keys found on the trail leading to the cave…and a reported sighting of a grey station wagon seen in the area where the women entered the park, shortly before they were suspected of being killed.
But with little other information to go on about those two things, the leads fizzled out.
March dragged on and the families of the victims grew increasingly upset that police had no suspects in the case.
According to archive news footage in Hunter Cox’s documentary on this case, a man named Virgil Peterson, who worked for the Chicago Crime Commission and was close friends with all three victims’ families, criticized the LaSalle County Sheriff’s office for not organizing a search sooner for the women.
He told reporters it was outrageous that two days had passed with no sign of the women before any effort was made to find them. He said that when multiple attempts by the victims’ husbands on Monday and Tuesday went unanswered that should have been a red flag to everyone that something horrible had happened.
He also criticized the fact that there was no protection or police presence in the park to help prevent a crime like this from happening.
With tensions growing and the desperate need for more information, the companies that employed the three women’s husbands banded together and offered up a $30,000 reward for information in the case.
According to Steve Stout’s reporting, at the end of March, the state attorney Harland Warren, state police chief William Morris, and the LaSalle County Sheriff’s office asked the state of Illinois for more money to fund the investigation.
That request was denied.
By that point, law enforcement had been working the case for more than two weeks and detectives had followed up on 2,100 leads and interviewed 254 people and STILL had nothing to show for it.
According to Hunter Cox’s documentary on the case, the total man-hours put into solving the murders up until that point was totaling close to 22,000 hours. The mounting bill the government had already expended to pay for those efforts was close to $65,000.
So, with funds drying up, the case continued to grow colder as spring of 1960 turned into summer.
In July, a really interesting thing happened that you almost never see in homicide investigations. The state attorney, Harland Warren, decided he was going to launch his own personal investigation into the case. Which is definitely controversial…even by today’s standards.
State’s attorneys are essentially like district attorneys. Typically, they are not the detectives or investigators who try and solve crimes. They are the legal officers in charge of assessing what police bring to the court and figuring out if a case can go to trial. They file charges against a suspect on behalf of the state and see to it that a case is prosecuted.
They are not supposed to play the role of detective themself.
But in this case, Harland did exactly that and he ruffled a few feathers in the process.
Particularly with the Illinois State Police. According to Steve Stout’s reporting, not long after launching his personal investigation, which was Harland’s pretty clear way of saying he didn’t think the state police were doing a good enough job, someone threw a rock through his window at his home.
So, it was clear that not only were law enforcement investigators not making ANY progress finding a killer…they were now in an escalating battle of egos with the state attorney who was criticizing their lack of progress.
Harland called for all the evidence in the case to be returned to his office in Ottawa, the LaSalle County seat, and for weeks he and two deputies reviewed all the pictures and items from the investigation.
Among the broken camera, the frozen tree limb, the broken binoculars, and all the bloody clothing taken from the crime scene, there was one thing the group identified that was not an item the women already had with them when they entered the park.
The twine which was found on their hands and feet and in the snow, had no reason to be at the crime scene unless it was something the killer had brought with them to restrain the victims.
So, Harland asked the question anyone would be asking, which was, where did the twine come from?
In September of 1960, he and the two deputies who were helping him refocused their investigation on the Starved Rock Lodge. When they spoke with the lodge manager, he told them there was a ball of twine stored in the kitchen’s pantry. The cooks would sometimes use it to tie up large chunks of meat before putting them in the freezer.
When investigators got a hold of the twine and compared it to the string found on the women’s bodies, they confirmed it was a match. That’s also when they realized there was one lodge employee they’d previously spoken with who would have had access to the twine whenever he wanted.
And that person was Chester Weger.
Investigators zeroed in on Chester and again brought him in for questioning. They’d learned that not long after the murders Chester had quit his job at the lodge and began working as a house painter for a family member.
This time police asked him to take not one, not two, but FOUR polygraph tests. According to news reports at the time, Chester failed all of them.
Three days later, on September 26th, the police had Chester take FOUR more lie detector tests. This time with a new administrator who was from an outside firm that specialized in conducting polygraphs.
And when the expert with that company reviewed Chester’s test results, he concluded that Chester was the killer everyone has been looking for…
Despite police in Illinois making Chester Weger take eight polygraph tests, which they said he failed, they didn’t have any other evidence to keep him in custody.
Polygraphs are not something you can use in court or as probable cause to arrest someone, so the investigators had no other choice but to let Chester walk.
For the entire month of October 1960, police kept Chester under 24 hours surveillance watching his every move as he went to and from work and lived with his wife Joann and their two small children.
Officers followed him everywhere. They felt on many occasions that the former marine was toying with them. Leading them into the woods on unplanned hunting trips and making officers chase him through bars as he ran in circles between alleyways and buildings.
While they surveilled him, they also began researching other violent crimes in the area that he could potentially be linked to.
Authorities discovered that roughly six months prior to the murders in Starved Rock State Park, two high school seniors on a date in nearby Matthiessen State Park had been robbed at gunpoint while getting into their car.
In that case, the boy and girl reported to authorities that they were tied up by a man who was wielding a rifle in the woods and had been hiding in the shadows of a trailhead parking lot. The assailant robbed the young man and sexually assaulted the young woman. Steve Stout reported that when the victims first went to LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office to report their attack in Fall of 1959, deputies did not believe them and dismissed their story as made up.
Well, fast forward to the fall of 1960 and authorities revisited those two victims and showed them a stack of pictures of various men, that included a photo of Chester Weger.
Reportedly, the female victim screamed at the sight of Chester’s picture and identified him as the man who had sexually assaulted her and robbed her boyfriend.
Immediately after that, on November 16th, 1960 police used the woman’s positive ID of Chester as a means to arrest him for the sexual assault and robbery. That arrest was the authorities’ way of at least getting Chester into custody while they continued to investigate how he might be connected to Lillian, Frances, and Midred’s murders.
According to the Starved Rock Murders Documentary, the night police brought Chester in for questioning about the 1959 assault and robbery he ended up confessing to the triple murder of the housewives in Starved Rock State Park.
BUT his confession only came after hours of intense questioning by police who reportedly at one point suggested that Chester’s wife would cheat on him when he went to prison for the rape and robbery.
While questioning him into the wee hours of the morning, police allowed Chester’s parents, wife and kids, two court reporters, a medical doctor, and several other non-law enforcement people to come into the interrogation room.
According to the documentary, after being pressed for hours about where he’d been on March 14th and what he’d done, Chester began sobbing uncontrollably and sighed…and uttered quote— “All right. I did it” — end quote.
The next day, Chester volunteered to take the state police to Saint Louis Canyon and walk them through how he committed the crime.
Eager to show the public that they had a prime suspect in the case, the state police alerted roughly 20 newspaper and radio reporters that Chester was going to be doing a reenactment of the murders and the publications were welcome to join.
With a crowd of journalists and police following him, Chester sobbed and whispered while he walked everyone through how he committed the murders.
He said that on the day Lillian, Frances, and Mildred were in the park he’d been on a mission to rob someone. When he saw the trio of women near Saint Louis Canyon, he attempted to snatch one of their purses.
When he grabbed what he thought was a purse strap on Frances Murphy’s shoulder, it broke and he realized it was the strap to a camera.
At that point, the women were frightened and Chester was afraid that he would get caught. So, he begged the women to go further into the canyon and give him time to escape. He said the women were shaken up and agreed. The trio quickly walked away from him in the direction of rock formations deeper into the canyon.
After that, Chester said he decided to continue stalking the women because he was determined to rob them. He said near the end of the canyon, next to a cave he jumped out of the woods and threatened them with a large tree limb and herded them into the cavern. He said he then tied them up with some twine he’d stolen from the kitchen at the Starved Rock Lodge.
He said he originally planned to leave them in the cave, but as he was leaving, Frances broke free of her bindings and ran after him holding a pair of binoculars. He said she attempted to strike him on the back of the head with the binoculars but they broke. During the tussle, Chester said he picked up the tree limb he’d used to corral the women and struck Frances on the back of her neck.
He then dragged her body back to the mouth of the cave, where Mildred and Lillian were and found that they had been able to stand upright, despite their bindings. He said they too came after him and began trying to claw at his face.
He said at that point, he realized the situation was out of his control and he could not leave any of them alive.
He told reporters and police that all three victims begged for their lives as he beat them to death with the frozen tree limb. He said after the attack, he checked all their pulses to ensure that they were dead.
After killing the women, Chester said he dragged their bodies further into the cave to conceal them from a red and white airplane he’d seen flying above the park. Police later followed up on that detail and confirmed that a pilot flying a red and white airplane out of nearby Ottawa Airport had been cruising over Saint Louis Canyon on the afternoon of March 14th.
Chester continued to show reporters and police his reenactment of the crime and said before leaving the area, he partially undressed Mildred and Lillian to make the scene appear as if a sexual predator had committed the murders.
He then washed his hands with a scoop of snow and high-tailed it back to Starved Rock lodge to be on time for his dishwashing shift at five o’clock.
The Chicago Tribune pointed out in an article published after Chester’s confession, that none of the three victims’ expensive jewelry, rings, or purses had been taken after they were murdered.
When police asked Chester to explain why he hadn’t robbed the women of those items, if robbery was his sole motive, he didn’t directly answer the question. He only replied saying quote — “It all started with robbery but I don’t know what I needed the money for.” — end quote.
On November 18th, a grand jury on LaSalle County indicted Chester for three counts of first-degree murder and eight other felonies related to the 1959 sexual assault and robbery of the high school couple in Matthiessen State Park. Some of his other felonies were for a purse snatching in another state park and molesting a woman and her children.
By the time Chester went to trial in February 1961, his public defender claimed that his confession and his reenactment in the park was all coerced.
This first trial was only for the murder of Lillian Oetting.
Chester’s lawyer maintained that his client was innocent and that police had bungled the investigation from the start. He claimed the state was prejudiced against Chester throughout much of 1960 and prosecutors had no credible physical evidence tying him to the crime.
According to news reports, the prosecution successfully won a motion to allow Chester’s confession as evidence despite the defense trying multiple times to get it thrown out.
According to an article in The Daily Illini, Chester’s lawyers scored one major victory at trial when the judge approved their motion requesting that the jurors not be allowed to see all of the crime scene photos. Most notably, images of the three women’s bodies and their gruesome injuries.
During the trial, the judge only allowed prosecutors to show the jury one photo of the victims in the cave. The defense claimed that the photos in their totality were quote — “inflammatory and would prejudice the jury against the defendant–” end quote.
It was hard for Chester and his lawyer to combat the state’s case though, in terms of forensic evidence.
The two deputies who’d helped former state attorney Harland Warren build the case against Chester had been able to prove something VERY important about the twine used to bind the victims…
With the help of a manufacturer, LaSalle County deputies were able to prove that the twine from the Starved Rock lodge’s kitchen was an exact match to the twine used to bind the victims.
The material used to make the twine was reportedly a type of string that was rarely made and had a distinct 20-strand weave pattern.
There was no denying the twine from the kitchen was used on the victims’ bodies.
On top of that strong forensic evidence, prosecutors also had damning evidence about Chester’s leather jacket.
They admitted that the state lab back in Spring of 1960 had made an error in identifying the bloodstain on the jacket as only belonging to an animal.
Before trial, investigators had sent the jacket to the FBI’s lab in Washington and the results that came back concluded the stain on the jacket COULD BE human blood but the FBI’s experts couldn’t rule out animal blood for sure due to the tanning process used to make the leather. The FBI agent who testified at trial said it appeared someone had tried very hard to wash the stain to remove whatever blood had soaked into it.
According to The Chicago Tribune, Chester’s attorney put his client on the stand to defend himself against the charges. For three hours, the state attorney grilled Chester but he maintained his innocence and claimed the deputies from LaSalle county threatened him into confessing to something he didn’t do.
After five long weeks of trial, both sides rested their cases and jurors deliberated for nearly ten hours.
According to The Daily Illini, on Friday, March 3rd, 1961, the jury found Chester guilty of Lillian Oetting’s murder and sentenced him to life in prison. According to Illinois law at the time, Chester was eligible for parole after serving 20 years of that sentence.
Chester and his attorney appealed the conviction and asked for a new trial. What was interesting in their appeal was a juror from the first trial actually co-signed the affidavit and suggested that LaSalle County Deputies pressured the jury into finding Chester guilty. The juror was willing to testify that rules of trial procedure were violated in Chester’s first go-around in court.
Meanwhile, the state announced it intended to try Chester for Frances and Mildred’s murders as well.
According to Justia US Law, in 1962 the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and did not grant Chester a new trial.
A year later, in February 1963 LaSalle County was forced to drop all charges against Chester for the 1959 rape and robbery in Matthiessen State Park. The speedy trial clock to prosecute him for those crimes had run out and by law he could not be tried for those crimes.
In April of that year, a new state attorney in LaSalle County dropped the remaining murder indictments against Chester for France and Mildred’s murders. He told the Chicago Tribune that he’d made the decision because there was reluctance from the Illinois state legislature to impose the death penalty.
Basically, if Chester had been convicted of Frances and Mildred’s murders…he would have received the same life sentence that he had for Lillian’s murder. Those sentences would be served concurrently. Meaning he would still have been able to apply for parole after serving only 20 years.
Because the state attorney could not guarantee a jury would put Chester to death, he just bailed entirely on taking the remaining murder cases to trial.
He told news reporters that despite this, he vowed to make sure that Chester would NEVER be released on parole.
That same year, Chester penned a 48-page memoir in prison and gave it to The Chicago Tribune. In it, he claimed he was framed for the Starved Rock murders and went into detail about how authorities coerced him every step of the way.
When reporters asked Chester about some of his previous convictions for rape and theft prior to 1960, he claimed in those incidents police had gotten him to falsely confess as well.
For decades, every time Chester applied for parole, the state of Illinois denied his request.
The next update in the case wouldn’t come until 43 years after his conviction, in 2004.
According to Karen Mellen’s reporting for The Chicago Tribune, in 2004 Chester Weger’s post-conviction attorneys attempted to have new DNA testing done on items of evidence in the case.
They hoped advancements in DNA technology would prove that the blood on Chester’s jacket and the hairs found clutched in one of the victims’ hands would not tie him to the murders.
Unfortunately for Chester, in the 43 years that had passed, LaSalle county had allowed school groups, civic clubs, and journalists to handle and examine key pieces of evidence in the case while it was in storage.
A lot of items had been intermingled with one another and completely tainted.
Chester’s friends and family who had always believed he was innocent were disappointed when the judge ruled against having DNA testing done in the case due to contaminated evidence.
Descendents of Lillian, Mildred, and Frances were relieved to know they wouldn’t have to relive any more legal proceedings related to the case.
In 2007, 2016 and 2018 Chester again applied for parole and was denied.
According to The Chicago Tribune in each of his filings for clemency, Chester maintained his innocence.
When asked if he would be willing to admit to having remorse for the crime he was convicted of in exchange for his freedom Chester said quote— “I’ll stay in prison the rest of my life to prove my innocence before I’ll make any deal with any of you crooked people.” — end quote.
According to the Tribune, in November 2019, 58 years after his conviction, the state of Illinois granted Chester’s 24th request for parole.
In February of 2020, at the age of 80, he was released from prison, complaining of arthritis…
To this day, Chester claims he did not murder the three housewives from Chicago in Saint Louis Canyon. He believes another perpetrator got away with the perfect crime.
Most people do not believe his claim, but folks from LaSalle County who spoke to Hunter Cox for his documentary stated that they believe Chester had an accomplice.
Some people even suggested that the owner of Starved Rock Lodge’s son helped commit the murders. According to these people, the lodge owner’s son was close friends with Chester and right after the murders he was sent away to Europe.
According to the documentary, the lodge owner’s son was questioned several times in the months after the murders and eventually cleared of all suspicion.
Something that stuck out to me after researching this story…was a detail Steve Stout mentioned in his book, The Starved Rock Murders.
Steve has done extensive research on this case and strongly believes Chester Weger is guilty.
While combing through records and witness transcripts, Steve discovered that during first few days of the murder investigation, the authorities held daily press briefings in the great hall of the Starved Rock Lodge.
Dozens of newspaper, television and radio reporters would attend those gatherings along with a lot of police officers involved in the case.
Steve realized that one of the people documented as serving coffee and food to the reporters and police during those meetings was Chester Weger.
It’s a remarkable detail, one that just goes to show you, whether walking you’re in the woods or sitting in the comfort of a lodge, a predator can be right under your nose.
Pouring you a warm drink…all the while, getting away with murder.
Park Predators is an audiochuck Original Podcast.
Research and writing by Delia D’Ambra with writing assistance from executive producer Ashley Flowers.
Sound design by David Flowers.
You can find all of the source material for this episode on our website, Parkpredators.com.
So what do you think, Chuck? Do you approve? *howl*