Three women were found dead near the mouth of a cave in Starved Rock State Park, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. Their bodies were on the floor of the cave in a towering sandstone canyon. They were all housewives without any enemies.
March 17, 1960 Ottawa, Illinois
They were raped, and then their heads were battered. Their bodies were beaten and bruised. Two of them were nude from the waist down the third still wore a girdle. One of them was missing a finger.
A blood-stained tree limb and a red cord were recovered as possible clues. Pieces of the cord were found around the wrists of two of the women. Police suspected two of them were bound, while the third one was being attacked. The branch was found about six feet from the mouth of the cave in St. Louis Canyon, a box canyon with sheer 150 feet walls.
State troopers picked up two men on an anonymous tip on March 16, but released them. Authorities were combing the area speaking to homeowners and motel owners in hopes of finding a lead. A snowstorm swept through Monday evening obliterating footsteps, which made the investigation difficult.
The women were wives of Chicago executives and lived in the suburb of Riverside.
Franches Murphy 47, was married to R. W. Murphy vice-president and general counsel for Borg-Warner Corp. Mildred Lindquist, 50, ws wife of Robert Lindquist, vice-president of the Harris Trust and Savings Bank and Lillian Oetting, 50, wife of George H. Oetting, general supervisor of internal audits for the Illinois Bell Telephone co.
The three women checked into a resort on Monday for a few days of hiking along the trails which make up the 1,435 acre park along the Illinois River.
On Wednesday, Mr. Murphy phoned to check on his wife, and this is when it became apparent they were missing. A search party was organized and a group of boys from a state correctional camp discovered the "gory scene" after trudging through snow.
The police believed the women were killed outside the cave, and then the bodies were dragged into the cave to conceal them. All three were positioned face up with two of them side by side, and the third, four feet away.
The three women were each at least 5'6" tall and athletic, leading police to believe there had more than one assailant.
Further investigation of the crime scene, indicated the women were beaten around the head, and probably raped while they were dying or dead.
Evidence was found the women were trailed by the killer or killers over a tortuous footpath, winding between trees, over boulders and up an down hill to the east end of St. Louis Canyon. Once the women came to the sheer-walled canyon they were in effect trapped.
By the end of the month countless leads were followed, all which lead to interrogations, but thus far all the efforts proved fruitless.
The only viable clue so far was the hopes that the film inside a camera at the crime scene could be developed with hopes of identifying the murderer.
At the end of April, six weeks after the crime, a particle of chrome metal was turned up by the Michigan State police crime laboratory while examining an overshoe worn by one of the three women. Could it be a weapon used against them?
The weeks slipped and in May the only slim clue police had was three small particles of red orion mixed with wool discovered in the cave where the victims were killed.
Summer came and went, and in October 1960, a note found back in March inside the cave where the crime was committed came to light. It had been torn in many pieces, but police pieced it together. The author was a 22-year-old dishwasher named Chester "Rocky" Otto Weger who failed a series of "lie tests." He was a woodsman who fished and hunted near the park most of his life.
The letter was addressed to a girl in the women's branch of the Marine Corps. He admitted to writing the letter after state police with the aid of military intelligence officers retrieved a second letter he sent to his girlfriend. The letters were compared and found to be identical.
He had a record of assaults on women and worked in the kitchen of the Starved Rock Lodge. He was there on March 14 when the women arrived for their 4-day holiday.
He eventually confessed to the murders, but said his motive was robbery and that he disarrayed the women's clothing to make police think the crime was motivated by sex.
The twine used to bind the victims was the same he used to fasten his apron for kitchen chores. In the first stage of the murder investigation he passed some lie detector tests, but he had conflicting stories of how he suffered cuts on his face the day the women were killed. He said he cut himself while shaving but then said it was cat who scratched him.
By November, the blonde-haired father of two was charged with 11 crimes, including the murder of the women. He was also charged with raping a 17-year-old girl, and beating her boyfriend back on September 13, 1959.
Weger told police he met the three women while he was out on an afternoon break from his busboy job in the park lodge. They had left the canyon when he accosted them, with plans only to rob them. He described the murder as a "robbery that got out of hand." He dragged two of the women to a tree and tied them there. Mrs Murphy fought back and he hit her with a tree branch and then beat the other two women.
The pathologist determined previously that none of the women had been raped.
The cord he used to tie them was the same he used in the kitchen. He quit his job a few days after the murders.
He told police, Mrs. Murphy regained consciousness and he hit her again with the branch. He carried all three into the cave because he heard a plane overhead and wanted to get them out of sight.
After laying their bodies out he searched their purses, but didn't take any of their jewelry. He returned to work as if nothing had happened.
The sheriff said Weger had a record of sex offenses and was charged with rape at the age of 14.
Weger took authorities back to the cave and reenacted the scene. Police said he showed, "no remorse and a complete lack of emotion" when he described the event.
When arrested Weger worked as a painter in the nearby town of La Salle.
In the following days a number of unsolved crimes in Cook County were looked at again with regards to the perpetrator being Chester Weger. They verified he was serving with the Marines when the Chicago crimes were committed.
By this time Weger recanted his confession of killing the women in Starved Rock. His attorney said he was in a pool hall at the time of the murders.
In February 2021, Weger went to trial and claimed he was threatened into confessing by being told they would send him to the electric chair with just circumstantial evidence.
On March 3, 1961 he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, but only for the murder of Lillian Oetting. Later in the month the defense claimed that court bailiffs mishandled the jury that convicted Weger. The prosecutor denied it.
In March of 1963 the state attorney dropped the two remaining murders charges and one for rape. He based this decision because he believed it unlikely that a death sentence could be obtained.
In February 1968, Rebella Jo Weger, 27 was granted a divorce from Chester Weger who was serving his time at Joliet State Prison, on the grounds he was convicted of a felony. She was granted custody of their two children.
In 1977, the U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear Weger's case thus bringing to end the multiple appeals brought by the convict for the last 16 years.
Chester Weger was in the custody of the Dixon Minimum Security Prison by 1989. Harland Warren the state attorney who prosecuted the case wrote a book, "The Starved Rock Murders." He was interviewed for a two-part series to be aired by a Chicago TV station.
Another decade passed and in 1999, Weger now 60, was denied parole.
In 2009, Chester who was then an inmate at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling was denied parole once again. He was Illinois' second longest-serving inmate.
It wasn't until November, 2019 that the Illinois Prisoner Review Board granted him parole. Weger, now 80, said, "I'm happy just to get out."
Ironically in August 2021, Chester Weger petitioned the La Salle County Circuit Court for a no-contact order against Brooke VanCoppenolle of Minonk. The 82-year-old said the woman stalked him repeatedly in the last year.
She first made contact with him while he was staying at Chicago ministry after his release. She told him she had been a home-health nurse to one of the news reporters who was present at the scene of the murder. Later this was found to be untrue. She continued to try to contact him even after he as admitted to VA hospital in January.
Hospital staff met just to discuss the repeated attempts by VanCoppenolle to be connected to the phone in his room so she could speak to him.
After her third attempt to reach him in person at his home in La Salle is when he went to the courts for help.
VanCoppenolle acted as her own lawyer and told the judge she cultivated an interest in the 1960 murder case which was the reason she sought Weger out after his release. She said she only wanted to help him.
The order was extended for two years.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer