by T. C. Mayfield, The Chicago Times
October 28, 2021
OTTAWA, IL – Chester Otto Weger, 82, who was released from prison last year after nearly 60 years since being found guilty for the slaying of one of three suburban Chicago women has won court approval for DNA testing of evidence discovered at the crime scene.
A LaSalle County judge ruled Tuesday that cigarette butts, hair, and string found at the crime scene at Starved Rock State Park can be tested. According to Weger’s lawyer, DNA testing on hairs found on the victims could rule out his client as the murderer.
In March 1960, Frances Murphy, 47, Mildred Lindquist, 47, and Lillian Oetting, 50, took a four-day trip to Starved Rock State Park located in LaSalle County, Illinois along the banks of the Illinois River. All three women were married to prominent Chicago businessmen and lived in Riverside, a Chicago suburb 90 miles northeast of the park.
After checking into the Starved Rock Lodge on March 14, the three women went on an afternoon hike through St. Louis Canyon, but never returned. Their disappearances went unnoticed until March 16, when Frances Murphy’s husband called the lodge to inquire about his wife. Police organized a search of the park, which resulted in the discovery of the women’s bodies, bound with twine and partially undressed, inside a canyon cave. All three women suffered severe head trauma, and it was determined that a blood-stained tree limb found nearby was used to bludgeon them to death.
Weger, a dishwasher at the Starved Rock Lodge, was interviewed by Illinois State Police following the discovery. Several lodge employees told investigators that Weger showed up to work the day after the women went missing with scratches on his face. Weger was interrogated in the weeks following the murders and he passed three lie detector tests. However, because of Weger’s previous run-ins with the law, investigators continued to pursue him. Weger matched the description of an assailant who had bound a teenage girl with twine and raped her months earlier at nearby Matthiessen State Park and was later identified by the victim in a photo line-up. The twine used to bind the murder victims was the same as that discovered in the lodge’s kitchen, and he failed another lie detector test in September. As a result, investigators placed him under constant surveillance.
On November 16, the LaSalle County State’s Attorney ordered Weger arrested and brought in for further questioning. Weger confessed to the murders the next day after a lengthy interrogation and led police in a reenactment at the crime scene. Weger later recanted his confession, claiming it was made under duress after being threatened by interrogators.
A grand jury indicted Weger for all three murders, as well as the rape and robbery at Matthiessen State Park, but the state chose only to prosecute him for the murder of Lillian Oetting.
On February 13, 1961, Weger’s trial began. Weger’s defense relied on the claim that investigators were relentless in extracting a confession and that he was told that if he didn’t, they would convict him on circumstantial evidence and send him to the electric chair. Weger claimed he was washing dishes at the time of the murders before going to the lodge’s basement, and explained the scratches on his face in the days following the murders were caused by shaving. The FBI’s analysis of bloodstains found on Weger’s leather jacket was inconclusive as to whether they were human or animal.
On March 3, 1961, the jury returned a guilty verdict and sentenced Weger to life in prison, rejecting the state’s request for the death penalty. Weger was sentenced on April 3 and began serving his time at the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet. His attorney filed an appeal, which was heard by the Illinois Supreme Court, but the verdict was upheld in September 1962.
On November 21, 2019, the same board voted 9–4 to release Weger from prison after nearly 59 years and was transferred to a Chicago mission that assists parolees in rehabilitation. Weger was released on February 21, 2020, after a 90-day delay while the Illinois Attorney General sought an evaluation under the state’s Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act.