The Murders At Starved Rock Explained

Northern Illinois' Starved Rock State Park is a popular attraction — a refuge of bluffs, cliffs, and even a couple of small waterfalls in a state known for otherwise being largely flat farmland. As the park explains on its website, its name is taken from a purported battle between two local Native American tribes. Surrounded by their enemies, the Illinois tribe sought refuge atop a bluff and, according to legend, waited there until they starved to death, giving the park its name.

In March 1960, the park was again the scene of violence. Three middle-aged women, tourists from nearby Chicago, were brutally murdered and possibly sexually assaulted in one of the park's canyons, The Daily Beast reports. Authorities quickly identified a local ruffian named Chester Weger as their man, and he promptly confessed and was locked away for life. However, in the decades since, Weger has steadfastly maintained his innocence and insisted that he was railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor and law enforcement apparatus. He has since been paroled, but he spent almost six decades in prison for a crime he says he did not commit (via The Boston Globe).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Lillian Oetting, Mildred Lindquist, and Frances Murphy were murdered at Starved Rock

Lillian Oetting, Mildred Lindquist, and Frances Murphy — identified by The Daily Illini as wives of prominent Chicago-area businessmen — took a trip to the park in the spring of 1960. On March 14, they checked into their accommodations, then set out on a hike through the St. Louis Canyon, one of the popular trails in the park (per the Chicago Tribune). They were never seen alive again.

Two days later, their bodies were discovered lying face up in a small cave inside the canyon. Their heads had been bashed in, likely by a frozen log that was found nearby covered in blood. Further, a pair of binoculars and a camera belonging to the women might also have been used as weapons. Two of the women were nude from the waist down, and all three women showed signs of sexual assault. Their hands were bound with twine.

Police identify Chester Weger as the culprit

Police began their investigation by interviewing employees of the park's hotel and other facilities. One such employee was a 21-year-old dishwasher named Chester Weger, who actually served investigators coffee and food even as they were determining whether or not he or any of his colleagues could be suspects (per Chicago Tribune). As it turns out, authorities did indeed turn their attention to Weger after other employees began reporting that he was seen at work around the time of the murders with bruises and scratches on his face.

The circumstantial evidence against Weger began piling up. The string that was used to bind the women matched the string that was found in the kitchen where Weger worked. Further, Weger had a reputation around town and was even accused of raping a little girl when he was 12; he was also accused of sexual assault in 1959. Similarly, another sexual assault had occurred a few months earlier in which the teenage victim was bound with twine, and her description of her assailant matched Weger.

Soon enough, Weger confessed and later recreated the murders at the site for a gaggle of cameras and reporters, according to a follow-up report in The Daily Illini. He was convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison.

Did Chester Weger really commit the Starved Rock Murders?

Chester Weger would go on to spend the next six decades of his life steadfastly maintaining his innocence, insisting he was railroaded by an overzealous law enforcement apparatus keen to wrap up the case of the murdered women as quickly as possible, according to The Daily Beast. As to his confession and reenactment of the crime, he testified that prosecutors told him that confessing was the only way to avoid the electric chair, according to Chicago Tribune.

There were other holes in the prosecution's case as well. How could a small-statured man like Weger overpower three women, particularly when he was unarmed? Further, though Weger confessed to murdering the women in a robbery gone awry, no valuables were taken, and hair found in the victims' hands was never conclusively determined to belong to Weger. However, Weger also noted that he'd seen a red and white plane flying overhead on the day of the murders. Indeed, such a plane was in the skies over Starved Rock that day, and only someone who had been at the scene of the crime would have been able to see it, according to The Daily Beast.

Weger was paroled in 2020 and is now a free, if aged, man (via The Boston Globe).