A hair found on the glove of a woman brutally beaten to death in 1960 Illinois does not match that of the man convicted of her murder. Chester Weger, who was paroled in 2020 after serving nearly 60 years in prison for killing Frances Murphy, 47, along with her two friends Lillian Oetting, 50, and Mildred Lindquist, 50, has never stopped declaring his innocence. Weger and his defense attorney Andy Hale see the DNA findings, which Hale shared with Rolling Stone before they were made public during a court hearing on Monday, as enough evidence to vacate his conviction. Hale plans to present the DNA findings, along with other evidence he says exonerates Weger, to the state’s attorney in the coming days and hopes Weger will see his conviction overturned within his lifetime. “It’s wonderful,” Weger tells Rolling Stone. “I knew it would be coming some day.” Weger is 83 now, and a man of few words and several health ailments, but he maintains that he wants his reputation to be cleared before he dies. “I’m innocent,” he says. “I was innocent. I wanna be vacated.”
In 1960, before Weger’s attorney Hale was even born, the Starved Rock murders were a major news event in the Chicago area. In March of that year, the three women left their husbands at home in suburban Riverside and went on a girls’ getaway to the picturesque Starved Rock State Park, less than 100 miles southwest of the city. Days later, they were found bludgeoned to death, their wrists bound and their bodies laid out in the mouth of a cave.
Several months later, investigators turned their attention to Weger, a dishwasher in the kitchen of the lodge where the women had been staying, after the state’s attorney at the time found twine in the kitchen similar to twine that had been used to bind the women’s wrists. Weger professed his innocence for weeks but after an interrogation, pre-dating Miranda warnings and lasting over 24 hours, he signed a confession saying he had killed the three women in a robbery gone wrong. He quickly recanted, and claimed police had threatened his life and that the confessions was coerced. Still, Weger was convicted of the murders of Murphy, Oetting, and Lindquist, based largely on the confession.
Since then, Weger was denied parole 23 times, in part because he refused to show remorse for the crimes and instead continued to claim he was innocent. In February 2020, he was finally released on parole, just in time for the pandemic lockdown to begin. He now lives in La Salle, Illinois, with his sister and brother-in-law.
Over the years, several theories have proliferated about how Weger could be innocent — or how he must have been guilty. In a 2021 HBO documentary on the case, The Murders at Starved Rock, the son of one of the prosecutors says there’s a divide among people who live in the area over whether they believe Weger did it or not. Pointing towards his guilt is evidence like the fact that he said in his confession that he saw a red and white plane fly overhead after he killed the women, a flight that was confirmed to have happened. A jacket of his had human blood spatters on it, too. Pointing towards Weger’s innocence is an overhead phone call between two men talking about “the murders” and a pair of bloody overalls that a third party needed to dispose of. There have been deathbed confessions and potential mob tie-ins. Plus, there’s the debate over whether one 21-year-old could had subdued and bludgeoned to death three women, all while he was on break, then returned to finish his work shift, a claim Weger immediately recanted.
Weger’s team made a run at DNA testing evidence once before in 2004, but withdrew the motion after the evidence was shown to have been improperly stored and potentially corrupted. Hale argued that testing technology continued to advance since then, however, and that enough of the evidence was well-maintained, that they should give it another try. “They represented it to me like it was just a complete mess,” he says, referring to prosecutors. “You couldn’t make heads or tails of anything. I mean, it was just absolutely false. There are glass [microscope] slides, things labeled, everything in envelopes.”
The hair wasn’t the totality of DNA testing Weger and Hale had hoped for. Last November, according to court records, a judge approved Hale’s request to DNA test eight pieces of evidence from the crime scene including hairs found on the women’s hands and the floor of the cave, twine, and cigarette butts. All but one were not testable, according to the report from the Virginia testing company Bode Technology. The only testable bit of evidence was a hair found on the left index finger of Murphy’s glove, the same hand where authorities said her fingertip had been cut off and never recovered. “Chester Weger is excluded as a possible contributor of the DNA profile obtained from sample,” the report states.
Hale hopes it will still be enough, and plans to make his case directly to the state’s attorney in the coming days. (Rolling Stone has reached out to the Will County State’s Attorney for comment and will update if they respond.) After that, he hopes to get permission to compare the DNA from the hair to the CODIS database to see if it matches a previous offender, possibly indicating a different suspect in the murders. “In my mind, his hair not being Chester Weger’s, combined with everything else that I’ve learned, is the final piece of the puzzle,” he says. “In my mind, conclusively, he had nothing to do with these murders.”