The man who has been behind bars for the past 59 years after being convicted of the March 1960 murders of three Riverside women in Starved Rock State Park was granted parole by the Illinois Prison Review Board on Nov. 21.
Chester Weger, 80, who has claimed his confession to the murders was coerced and has steadfastly maintained his innocence during nearly six decades in prison, had been denied parole 23 consecutive times. Prison Review Board members voted 9-4 to grant Weger conditional freedom.
That doesn’t mean Weger will be released immediately. According to the Chicago Tribune, his release will be delayed by at least 90 days after a request by the Illinois Attorney General.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that a halfway house on Chicago’s West Side has agreed to take in Weger. Conditions of Weger’s parole still need to be determined, the Sun-Times reported.
Weger was convicted in 1961 of killing 50-year-old Mildred Lindquist, 47-year-old Frances Murphy and 50-year-old Lillian Oetting while the three were hiking through St. Louis Canyon in the popular state park about 80 miles southwest of Riverside.
On March 16, 1960, two days after leaving their hotel for the hike, the women were found bludgeoned to death in a cave, their bodies bound and partially nude. A blood-stained tree limb was reportedly found nearby.
Weger was a 21-year-old dishwasher at the hotel the women were staying at, according to news reports of the time. Weger was a prime suspect almost immediately, but he wasn’t charged until eight months later.
According to Prison Review Board records, during those eight months, investigators interviewed Weger repeatedly, sometimes for up to 12 hours. They also administered lie-detector tests, which Weger reportedly passed, and finally followed him 24 hours a day for four weeks until he confessed at 2 a.m. on Nov. 17, 1960 after eight hours of questioning.
He told reporters and, later, jurors that he’d been scared into confessing by investigators who told him he faced the electric chair unless he confessed.
Prison Review Board records also indicate that Weger in 1959 previously had been arrested for and charged with robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and rape. He was not convicted of those charges.
Weger, reportedly the longest-serving inmate in the Illinois Department of Corrections system, maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, telling a Tribune reporter in 2016, “I’ll stay in prison the rest of my life to prove my innocence before I’ll make any deal with any of you crooked people.”
The Prison Review Board routinely brushed aside Weger’s requests for parole, but as the case’s jurors and prosecutors began dying, resistance softened. But, on two consecutive occasions, in 2017 and 2018, the Prison Review Board members deadlocked at 7-7, leaving Weger just a vote short of winning his parole.