By Bill Miston
UTICA (WREX) - Fifty years ago, today, three women were murdered at Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County. A man was charged and convicted—but that hasn't stopped the speculation about what really happened, so long ago.
On March 14, 1960, Mildred Lindquist, Frances Murphy and Lillian Oetting, from Riverside, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, took a vacation to Starved Rock. The trip was to relax and spend some time outdoors.
Two days later, the three women were found beaten to death, apparently in a robbery, gone badly.
Local author and historian Steve Stout says that the murders rocked not only the small communities of LaSalle County, but the nation.
"It was the O. J. [Simpson] case of its day. I mean, Time magazine did stories on it. So did LIFE. Every newspaper in the country ran something on it, all during the long summer of 1960," said Stout.
The case then went cold, until later that November. There was finally a suspect in the murders. The suspect's name was Chester Weger. He worked as a dishwasher in the park's lodge. Reports from the time say that all the evidence pointed to Weger as the killer.
Weger confessed to the crime, but would later recant, saying he was coerced. He was eventually tried and convicted and Stout believes they caught the right man.
"There's a lot of unanswered questions, but every answer to the unanswered questions does not prove Weger is innocent," said Stout.
Many believe that Weger was rightfully convicted. But some have doubts—not only about the handling of the case, but of Weger's guilt.
Bob Petre is a member of the Committee to Free Chester Weger. He says Weger is innocent—that he was coerced and that DNA evidence can prove his innocence.
"Nobody wants to change the story line on it. The story line is set in stone. Nobody's going to admit that an innocent man had gotten framed for the Starved Rock murders," said Petre.
But that evidence hasn't been admitted. The evidence collected from the victims and Weger has since been cross contaminated. Some say the guidelines for evidence collection today are a direct result of the Starved Rock murder case.
Today, theories about the crime still abound and still affect those who grew up living with the story.
"It's still in the area, the history of it. And I think people that were here, that lived it, of course it's still in the minds of those people," said Rick Coleman, a Utica, Illinois native. Utica lies just north of the state park.
Weger is currently serving a term of life in prison and has been up for parole, but denied every time.
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