LaSalle County, Illinois’ Starved Rock State Park is called after a violent incident involving two warring Native American tribes and on March 14, 1960, it endlessly cemented its connection to brutality when three girls—50-year-old Lillian Oetting, 50-year-old Mildred Lindquist, and 47-year-old Frances Murphy—had been murdered in its St. Louis Canyon. Out for a hike that wintery day whereas vacationing with out their husbands, the trio had been certain, probably sexually assaulted, and bludgeoned to dying with a mixture of an enormous log, a pair of their binoculars, and their digicam, after which they had been dragged into a close-by cave the place they had been organized side-by-side with their legs splayed. The savagery was extreme, and the crime rapidly prompted intense media scrutiny and calls for for justice.
That was seemingly attained by the arrest, confession, and conviction of Chester Weger, who obtained life behind bars courtesy of state’s lawyer Harland Warren and prosecutor Anthony Raccuglia. The Murders at Starved Rock, nevertheless, just isn’t about an open-and-shut case however, relatively, a couple of thriller that continues to hang-out LaSalle and, particularly, Raccuglia’s son David, a former hairdresser who grew up because the son of a neighborhood celeb, and who as an grownup got here to imagine that maybe Weger wasn’t the person accountable for this atrocity. Government produced by Mark Wahlberg, director Jody McVeigh-Schultz’s three-part HBO docuseries (Dec. 14) is a portrait of Raccuglia’s private investigation right into a bloodbath that’s left not solely his hometown divided, however himself—a aspect that lends this true-crime effort a novel twist, even when it by no means plumbs these depths fairly as deeply as one would possibly hope.
The Murders at Starved Rock begins by laying out the case in opposition to Weger, who regarded like “the epitome of unhealthy boy ’50s youth,” and who on the time of the homicides was working as a dishwasher on the Starved Rock lodge. Whereas cops initially hit a brick wall, their fortunes took a flip when Warren found that the string used to bind the victims was equivalent to string discovered within the lodge’s kitchen. This prompted regulation enforcement to provide Weger a second polygraph take a look at, which he failed miserably. On the similar time, Warren and firm realized that their suspect had been accused of raping an 8-year-old lady when he was 12. Extra troubling nonetheless, a current sexual assault had taken place in September 1959, and that sufferer and her boyfriend recognized Weger because the perpetrator. Together with Weger’s scratched-up face, this circumstantial proof made Weger seem like the potential fiend, and in keeping with creator Steve Stout, when confronted with it, Weger’s mom advised her son to inform the reality, and he did, identical to in “an previous Cagney film.”
Chester claimed that the triple homicide was a theft gone awry, however in The Murders at Starved Rock, David lays out the assorted holes in his mea culpa, corresponding to the truth that no valuables had been taken, that nobody ever proved his hair matched the strands discovered within the victims’ arms, and that one unarmed man would have had a tough time each convincing girls to do as he stated, after which dragging them up an embankment to their last resting place. Nonetheless, his confession persuaded a jury, particularly since a part of it included his assertion that he’d moved the corpses as a result of he’d spied a red-and-white aircraft flying overhead—one thing that was verified, and thus solely knowable by a person who’d been on the scene.
David grew up with Weger as his private boogeyman, and along with his dad because the admirable crusader who put the monster away. In maturity, although, he grew to become obsessive about prying into his father’s investigation by way of his personal documentary. He finally grew to become satisfied that Weger may be the sufferer of felony justice malfeasance, attributable to allegations—many made by Weger to David in a 2006 jail sit-down—that Weger’s confession had been bodily coerced by a grimy cop, and that Weger had a brand new alibi for his whereabouts on the day in query. Regardless of being repeatedly denied parole, Weger pressed onward with new attorneys, with David more and more sympathetic to his trigger, whilst many considered his personal motives with a cautious eye—chief amongst them, in fact, being his father, who participated in David’s movie however remained steadfast that he’d gotten the correct man.
David’s personal difficult function in The Murders at Starved Rock is its most intriguing side, though director Schultz doesn’t fairly push David laborious sufficient as regards to why he grew to become so decided to undo his father’s best triumph; the messy intersection between David’s altruism and familial dynamics isn’t fully untangled. Nonetheless, David, and the docuseries, are upfront about his ties to this story, in addition to his doubts, which started to mount as soon as Weger—on his twenty fourth attempt—was lastly granted parole in 2019, and launched from jail in 2020. That was met with pleasure by Weger’s clan, if far much less enthusiasm from the kin of the slain, and to David, it proved merely one other chapter of a long-running saga whose central query he couldn’t completely reply.
“That was met with pleasure by Weger’s clan, if far much less enthusiasm from the kin of the slain, and to David, it proved merely one other chapter of a long-running saga whose central query he couldn’t completely reply.”
There’s no definitive conclusion to The Murders at Starved Rock, which ends with the cliffhanger revelation that DNA assessments are nonetheless being carried out on key genetic materials (hairs discovered within the victims’ arms, and blood on Weger’s buckskin jacket). Contemplating that these samples have been contaminated by careless dealing with, nevertheless, even these scientific experiences are unlikely to supply an authoritative clarification for what happened in 1960. David’s discovery that, opposite to his claims, Weger was in all chance not overwhelmed when he confessed, and that he additionally in all probability wasn’t getting a haircut in the course of the murders (as he later asserted), additional alters his perspective on the person’s alleged innocence, as does his recognition that a few of those that assist Weger are untrustworthy conspiracy theorists. That Weger might need accomplished it, or at the least conspired with two different acquaintances, stays a definite chance.
Consequently, The Murders at Starved Rock is a considerably incomplete story, which is extra irritating than its conventional non-fiction kind, right here elevated by David’s prior documentary footage and his candid first-person tour-guide presence. What it has to say in regards to the unattainability of fact, particularly after time has tattered reminiscences and brought the lives of those that had been closest to it, is acquainted—albeit nonetheless intriguing.