CHICAGO (CBS) — One of the state’s longest-serving inmates was granted parole on Thursday.
Chester Weger, 80, is serving a life sentence for the March 1960 murders of three Riverside women at Starved Rock State Park.
“It was considered one of the crimes of the century in March of 1960 when these three women go down to the pride of the Illinois State Park system and are murdered,” said CBS 2’s John Drummond.
The Illinois prisoner review board today voted 9-4 to grant him parole.
As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reported Thursday, all 24 of Weger’s previous requests have been denied since 1972. He is serving his sentence at Pinckneyville Correctional Center.
“He’s always contended that he was innocent,” Drummond said.
LaSalle County Prosecutor Karen Donnelley told the board that she opposed Weger’s release. Weger’s sister and his attorney spoke on his behalf. A granddaughter of one of Weger’s victims urged the board to deny parole.
CBS 2’s Drummond interviewed Weger over the years, including in 2010. Weger at that point denied killing the women.
“I’ve denied it all the time I’ve been locked up. I never killed them,” he said.
Drummond asked Weger, “Why not show some remorse – say you did it even if you didn’t and get out?”
Weger replied: “Why should I feel remorse then if I never killed them? I mean, I feel sorry for the people being dead, but I’m not going to admit that I done something I never done.”
Watch John Drummond’s 2010 Interview With Chester Weger
But in 1960, the headlines screamed: “Triple Killer Tells All,” and “Starved Rock Confession.”
Weger, then 21, told police he had murdered three middle-aged women from the Chicago suburbs, eight months after their badly beaten bodies were found at the Starved Rock State Park.
Weger was called the Starved Rock Killer. He was convicted of murdering Lillian Oetting at the state park. He also allegedly killed Oetting’s two companions, Mildred Lindquist and Frances Murphy, but was not tried for those murders after he was sentenced to life in prison.
The three women were found, partially nude, and bludgeoned to death in St. Louis Canyon. Media called it “the canyon of death” and the killings set off a national media frenzy.
Weger later insisted he had been coerced into making the confession — threatened, he told Drummond, by the sheriff.
Drummond said Weger said the sheriff told him, “‘You’re going to ride the thunderbolt, Chester!’ meaning he’s going to get the electric chair.”
Prosecutors argued they had evidence tying to Weger to the murders – the same twine used to tie up the victims was found at the Starved Rock lodge where he worked as a dishwasher.
And Weger took officers and the news media to the area where the bodies were found, and described the crime.
At previous hearings, families of the victims pleaded with parole board to keep Weger in prison.
“The loss of my mother was the worst event in my life, and will continue to be until I die,” Lillian Oetting’s son, Dr. George Oetting, said at a 2005 clemency hearing. “This is why the proposed executive clemency action is such an affront to me.
For nearly 60 years, Chester Weger called several penitentiaries home.
“He’d been in Stateville, he’d been in Menard, he’d been to Mount Sterling,” Drummond said.
In the 2010 interview, Weger told Drummond he spent his days doing “a lot of reading. I read the Bible a lot, and watch TV. I was a bitter human for years. But I got over it, you know?”
Biding his time – until now.
“The fact that he turned 80 last year is sort of a magic number as far as the board was concerned: ‘Here’s a man, 80, he can’t do much harm. He’s an old man,’” Drummond said.
Weger won’t be released for at least 90 days. The Illinois Attorney General wants him evaluated to see if he is a sexually violent person, which could impact where he stays once he is released from prison.