CHICAGO (CBS) — Nearly 60 years since the murders of three women at Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County, convicted killer Chester Weger is out of prison.
Weger, 80, was released from Pinckneyville Correctional Center in far southern Illinois on Friday, after he was granted parole last fall, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections. He will come to St. Leonard’s Ministries, a Chicago rehabilitation center, until he is back on his feet.
He has been serving time for the vast majority of his life for the murders of Mildred Linquist, 50; Lillian Oetting, 50; and Frances Murphy, 47 – who were visiting the state park from suburban Riverside on March 14, 1960 to hike and birdwatch.
To this day, Weger – the man long known as the Starved Rock Killer – has maintained his innocence.
“They ruined my life,” Weger said shortly after he walked out of prison Friday morning. “They made millions of dollars off of me off of publicity by keeping me locked up 60 years for something I never done.”
Weger said he was looking forward to living the rest of his life with his family.
“It’s wonderful, just to be able to be out, and be with my friends again, my relatives,” he said.
Weger’s attorney, Celeste Stack, said it was a very emotional moment for Weger and his family as he walked out of Pinckneyville.
“Everybody had tears in their eyes, and of course he hugged his sister Mary, and his nieces Carrie and Anita, and his brother-in-law Ron came out and they shook hands,” she said. “I don’t think even Chester believed it until he stepped outside in this cold sunshine this morning.”
CBS 2’s John Drummond interviewed Weger at least four times over many years. Each time, Weger said he did not commit the murders and was coerced into confessing.
Watch John Drummond’s 1981 Interview With Chester Weger
“I’ve been here almost 21 years, and it hurt me when I first came here, but I’m past that stage. I’ve spent the best years of my life here, and right now, by keeping me in the penitentiary, they’re doing nothing to me,” Weger, then 42, told Drummond.
In another interview 29 years later, 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
De Mar talked with Drummond about the case Thursday evening.
“I think it was inevitable that he would be released,” Drummond said.
Drummond’s weathered notepad and sharp memory provide context into the complex character of Weger, now almost 81.
The murders made national headlines at the time.
The murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks by University of Chicago student Nathan Leopold and his friend Richard Loeb in 1924 had once been deemed the crime of the century. But 36 years later, the Starved Rock murders took on that label for the entire state of Illinois – predating the Richard Speck murders by six years and the arrest of John Wayne Gacy by 18 years.
“He claims he’s innocent and that he had nothing to do with the murder of those three women,” Drummond said.
Weger worked as dishwasher at Starved Rock, and said he was forced to confess to the killings.
“The deputy already had a confession already drawn up, and he threatened me with a pistol. He told me, he says, ‘You either sign the confession, or I’ll kill you and say that you try to escape,” Weger said in a 1981 interview.
LaSalle County Deputy Sheriff Bill Dummett, who has since passed away, told Drummond in 1981 that Weger’s story was not true.
“He was never threatened. The only reason Chester confessed – we brought his mother and father in to visit him that night, and after his mother told him to tell the truth, that is when Chester confessed,” Dummett said.
Dummett added that he thought Weger had brainwashed himself into believing he was innoncent.
“I believe after all these years, he really believes that he didn’t do it,” he said.
Further, with his confession, there was evidence – such as the rope used to tie the women up, which matched the twine used in the kitchen where Weger worked.
He even took reporters to the spot of the murders and described what happened.
“He’s older now, and you feel, ‘Geez, give this guy a break!’” Drummond said. “I can see why the Parole Board did just that.”
Weger was granted parole last fall despite pleas over the years from the victims’ families to keep him locked up.
“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.”
But now, Weger will live out his remaining days a free man.
“It did come, now, full circle,” Drummond said. “He’s finally out.”
There is no timeframe for how long residents can stay at St. Leonard’s, and that will be the case for Weger as well. Some people take longer than others, and for a man who hasn’t had his freedom in 60 years, he will certainly need some adjusting.
We spoke with the executive director at St. Leonard’s, who said Weger applied for their program – adding that there are very few circumstances where they will turn someone away.