In March 1960, Illinois Starved Rock State Park became the site of the brutal murder and possible sexual assault of three middle-aged women who were visiting the park from nearby Chicago. Authorities quickly identified Chester Weger as the primary suspect, and he promptly confessed and was locked away for life. However, in the decades since, Weger has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Weger was paroled in 2020 after spending almost six decades in prison. Now, Weger is seeking to use DNA evidence to clear his name. His defense attorneys Andy Hale and Celeste Stack join Jonathan Amarilio and Trisha Rich to discuss the background and most recent revelations in Weger’s case and make the argument for Weger’s innocence.
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Jonathan Amarilio: Hello everyone. Welcome to CBA’s At The Bar podcast where we have unscripted conversations with our guests about legal news, topics, stories and whatever else strikes our fancy. I’m your host, Jon Amarilio of Taft Law and joining me is co-host today is Trisha Rich of Holland & Knight. Hi Trish!
Trisha Rich: Hey John! How you doing?
Jonathan Amarilio: I am well and we are back to your favorite genre today. True crime specifically the Starved Rock Murders. Our audience members may already be familiar with the case either through 60 years of newspaper headlines or HBO’s recent documentary on the subject entitled, the Murders of Starved Rock, but for those who don’t know the basic historical facts and accusations, they go something like this.
In March 1960, three women; Frances Murphy, Mildred Lindquist and Lillian Oetting took a trip together to Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County, Illinois. A popular tourist and hiking location about 100 miles southwest of the city. After checking into the Starved Rock Lodge, they disappeared for several days after leaving on a hike. Their bodies were found during a subsequent police search inside a small cave in the canyon, one of the most frequented locations in the park. The victims were bound with twine; their legs spread; their undergarments torn away from their bodies. All three women were brutally beaten to death.
Chester Weger, a dishwasher at the lodge where the victims were staying, was eventually arrested for their murders. Several employees at the lodge told police that Weger had come to work the day after the women disappeared with numerous scratches on his face. The twine used to bind the victims, matched twine used in the lodge’s kitchen where Weger worked. Weger’s description matched that of an assailant who bound a teenage girl with twine and raped her at another nearby State Park months earlier and he was later identified as the rapist in a police lineup, the validity of which was rather problematic as I’m sure we’ll discuss.
In November 1960, after a lengthy interrogation, Weger confessed to the murders and led police and reporters through a detailed reenactment of the killings at the actual crime scene, although he recanted his confession almost immediately thereafter. Other evidence of his guilt included a Buckskin jacket that was said to have untested human blood on it. A statement in his confession that he hid the bodies in the cave because he saw a red plane flying overhead and didn’t want to be seen. Such a plane was later confirmed to be flying over the park on the day of the killings and an unprosecuted accusation made against Weger years earlier that he had raped an 8-year-old girl when he was 12 years old.
And yet from the day of his arrest and over the course of the last 62 years, Weger’s guilt or innocence has been the topic of sharp and even bitter debate dividing the community where the murders took place to this day. Weger was paroled in 2020, the longest serving prison inmate in Illinois and since then there have been new developments in the case which some believe shed light on whether the right man was convicted of this heinous crime so many years ago. Joining us to discuss the case those new developments and more are Chester Weger’s defense attorneys, Andy Hale and Celeste Stack of Hale & Monico here in Chicago. Andy, Celeste thank you for joining us and welcome to At The Bar.
Andy M. Hale: Good morning. Thanks for having us.
Celeste Stack: Thank you.
Jonathan Amarilio: So, before we get to the new developments in the case that I teased in the intro there, I want our audience to have an understanding of the case against Chester through your eyes. I laid out the basic facts of the case against him in the intro there and I’d like to discuss at least some of those elements with you because I know that most, if not, all of them are contested to this day, but let’s start with the big one. The one that the jurors in the 1961 trial ultimately found was dispositive for their guilty conviction – that’s Chester’s confession. You believe that was a false, a coerced confession, right?
Andy M. Hale: Yes, it was. It was a false confession. Yes.
Celeste Stack: Exactly.
Jonathan Amarilio: What makes you say that?
Andy M. Hale: Well, how much time do you have? We have an hour?
Jonathan Amarilio: We have an hour.
Andy M. Hale: So, let me break it down in a couple points. First of all, it’s a confession-only case for one. So, there’s no physical evidence corroborating his guilt, so that’s the first red flag. Second red flag is if you look at the factors, from the Innocence Project and others that lead to false confessions, they’re all present here. I think the biggest one typically is threats of death or serious bodily harm. You see that a lot in false confession cases. Here Chester Weger was threatened repeatedly with an electric chair if he didn’t confess. They surveilled him 24/7 for a whole month before he confessed. I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s outrageous and third if you look at the confession and I’m giving you a very-very short summary.
If you look at the confession, it’s absolutely ridiculous what he says, he’s on his break at work. He’s going to rob these three ladies that are staying at the lodge and then there’s a little altercation. The lady’s attack him and then he kills one and then he has got to kill all three and then he’s got a for some reason drag them into a cave I mean, I could go on and on that confession itself is absolutely ridiculous, makes no sense. There’s nothing about the confession, that’s legit. And Celeste, you can add to that whatever I left out.
Celeste Stack: Yes. Andy is right. But what I want to say briefly about the confessions is around 1991 as a prosecutor, I was interested in DNA and that led quickly to me investigating for the next 20 some years as a prosecutor claims of wrongful conviction. I fought a lot for him and there were definitely legitimate cases in there and I looked at a lot of confessions. These confessions are outrageous. If you look at them, you will see so many, I don’t knows, so many leading and as Andy pointed out, it doesn’t make sense. Chester just turned 21, he’s a country boy, 5’8”, 130 pounds; had been working there for years, no problems. The crimes you mentioned in introduction were thrown together. They had been dismissed, discarded and they brought him in and violated every constitutional right, but the confessions were ridiculous and Chester obviously not knowing what he was talking about and there’s much more that ties in the other “state evidence.”
Jonathan Amarilio: I wanted to get to some of the other physical evidence that I mentioned in my intro, but let’s stay with the confession for just one moment. It’s my understanding that it was obtained from a police officer, is it Bill Drummond? I think that’s how you pronounce his name?
Andy M. Hale: Dummett.
Jonathan Amarilio: Dummett, who had known credibility problems, right? Even the prosecution admitted that this guy had a questionable reputation, is that right?
Andy M. Hale: Yes. Correct. And he gets impeached at trial. Chester testifies that driving back from Chicago after the polygraph that he allegedly failed that Bill Dummett threatened him with riding the Thunderbolt – you’re going to get the electric chair. Dummett then was called to the stand and Dummett denies that. Okay, but then what stunning is, another guy in the car, assistant State’s Attorney Craig Armstrong says, yeah, Dummett threatened him, Chester Weger several times. I was astonished at that. That just tells you everything right there and let me just go back as I think what gets lost in the shuffle is and when I reread the trial transcript recently, like this is in the record clear as day.
They literally surveilled Chester Weger 24/7 for a month, think of the duress and stress. This is after the threats of death, a team of eight officers, surveilling him, following him everywhere for a month. The stuff they did back then, it’s just — if it happened today, it’s so outlandish, but the threats of death Dummett had a bad reputation and in fact, if you look at Donna Kelley, Chester’s prior assistant public defender, she filed a Petition for Clemency back in 2004. She got Affidavits from a couple other LaSalle County lawyers who gave examples of misconduct by Dummett in other cases, where like I’ll give you one. A guy was arrested and he claimed that Dummett showed him autopsy like graphic photos, crime scene photos to get him to confess. Dummett denied it. They got a search warrant of Dummett’s desk. They pry it open and what’s in there? All the photos that Dummett denied existed. It’s just shocking.
Celeste Stack: I think the best indicator of Dummett’s character is that after the conviction, the murder weapons, which is disappeared from evidence were taken as souvenirs. Dummett had the branch that was allegedly used to beat the women and had it select and displayed it on his fireplace mantel for 30 years in his home. Talk about disrespectful and shocking. That was Dummett.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. That’s a creepy weirdo thing to do. What is the distance between the lodge where Chester worked in the kitchen and the cave where the women were found?
Andy M. Hale: That’s a good question. I want to say and Celeste, correct me if I’m wrong. I want to say it’s between one and two miles.
Trisha Rich: Okay. And our window of time is two hours?
Andy M. Hale: Basically, yes.
Trisha Rich: The confession would require that Chester left work on his lunchbreak, travels one to two miles, tried to rob this woman that did not work, the group decided to go their separate ways, Chester, who you mentioned is 130 pounds and who I understand all of the women exceeded that, where there are three of them and one of him. He then found a branch and then beat them to death one by one while apparently the other one stood there, dragged them into a cave, cut off somebody’s finger with a knife that he did not use for the murder which is really a perplexing fact to me, traveled back another mile or two, cleaned up, right? Because he would have had to keep — he showed back up to work with no blood, went back another mile or two and went back to work, is that generally?
Andy M. Hale: Yeah. That’s a pretty good summary of it. There’s so many things in that but first of all, the whole concept of robbing people on your break that you know are staying at the lodge, probably, right? That you’re going to maybe run into again when you’re working in the kitchen. That’s a ridiculous sense and then secondly, you’ve got to then kill them, okay, which is just doesn’t make any sense and then here’s the part that I always felt, I never believed it was a random act like Chester Weger or anybody else like a random person in the woods stumbled upon these women. That never made any sense to me. I always felt it wreaked more of premeditation.
Chester Weger then, Saint Louis Canyons the most popular park in the park. It’s so beautiful, the waterfall, you’re going to — why do you have to drag the ladies up into that cave? It doesn’t help him at all. That doesn’t do anything for Chester Weger. Why does he have to stage the bodies, pull their pants down, pull their clothes up, that doesn’t help Chester Weger at all. It’s a staged crime scene that doesn’t do anything for him. All that is going to take an enormous amount of time where he could get caught, somebody could see him and then tell me another case where somebody slaughtered three people in a gruesome bloody crime scene and then goes back to their job? Really?
Even Tony Raccuglia if you watched the 2010 Illinois Continuing Legal Education DVD about the Starved Rock Case, go back and if you can find a copy, I’ve got one. Tony Raccuglia, the former prosecutor himself said, the confession was ridiculous. There’s a stunning point where he says, “It is ickle presentation,” he says to his partner Bill Richardson, he said, “Bill, this makes no sense. It couldn’t happen this way,” and Richardson says to him, “What are you going to do about it?” and he says, “Nothing. I’m just going to –” that’s the story. No! That’s not the story. A state attorney’s job is to seek justice. If you don’t think it makes any sense, investigate. Investigate. He’s like these are the cards I was dealt. No, you’re not dealt cards that you have to play. Maybe the police want you to prosecute but you don’t have to. State attorney’s job is to seek justice so — my gosh!
Trisha Rich: Yeah. Well, I have to plug one thing here and that’s that the rules of professional conduct. For the rest of us lawyers who are prosecutors, we have obligations to our clients but you’re absolutely right that under the rules the prosecutor’s, obligations are only to seek justice and not to chase convictions.
Andy M. Hale: Correct.
Celeste Stack: And I looked a lot of that what actually was enforced in 1960, 1961, we still had the constitution, fourth amendment, fifth amendment. That’s why Miranda and Brady happened because they weren’t being honored and those decisions enforce it because it wasn’t being enforced or honored but the other thing is you’re absolutely right. It’s a good point. There were always rules of professional conduct and it was always proper to say the least that unconstitutional, unethical, et cetera to put in false evidence but I will say this, those poor women, they were beaten so severely. One of them was almost decapitated with the old branch that was lying on the ground. The whole thing is ridiculous.
Jonathan Amarilio: Let’s talk a little bit more about that evidence. There are some things that do stand out. What do you guys make of the cuts on Chester’s face?
Andy M. Hale: I don’t buy the cuts on the face. That’s another fallacy in my mind because, yes, they brought in several people at trial to say they saw cuts on his face. They brought in those witnesses all those people got interviewed. Just to put this in context; the women are murdered in mid-March, okay?
Chester Weger passes six polygraphs in the first couple of months, all administered by the Illinois State Police. Then later in the fall, Harland Warren decides to take over the investigation for the Illinois State Police and he brings Chester to a polygraph for – he does his own secret polygraph in Chicago, which Chester allegedly fails and then they interviewed people in September and October trying to get dirt on Chester Weger and they’re interviewing people. They’re asking people about scratches. Here’s my main point on that, Chester is interviewed three times in the first several weeks after the murders by the Illinois State Police. Three separate times, there’s a report about this. They talk to him, they get his jacket, they asked him his whereabouts, just like they’re interviewing everybody else. There is nothing in this two-page document about Chester having scratches, his appearance looking suspicious or unusual, nothing about it at all and in fact there’s a lot of reports that were — it was pre Brady, but I’ve seen lots of reports of interviews of lodge employees who said, “No, I didn’t see any scratches, I never heard anything about scratches”, the scratches was a fiction.
Jonathan Amarilio: What about the blood on the jacket?
Andy M. Hale: The blood on the jacket actually is in my column because these three women got beaten to death with a blunt object, blood would be everywhere. What the FBI witness said at trial was — and I’m using the word minute, that’s right out of the transcripts, minute spots of blood. The size of a pin point. Are you kidding me? You’re going to use that jacket and you’re going to beat these three women with a blunt object, it wasn’t a tree branch. My forensic pathologist said it’s likely a tire iron or a steel pipe, a baseball bat, there’d be blood everywhere so the jacket just proves that he could have been wearing that jacket when he committed the crime. Celeste, you want to add anything to that?
Celeste Stack: Yeah, he’s supposedly carried these three women using a fireman’s carry while wearing the jacket into the cave. I’ve seen those crime scenes in the photos. His jacket pictured the body, their poor broken skulls hanging over his back, it would have been drenched in blood. When we look physically, when Andy and I, with Microtrace finally got to see the evidence, those were pin point. Honestly, I could barely see them and they’re just in one section on the arm of — is it the right sleeve? But in any event, you would expect the back of his jacket, he would have been — his coat would have been drenched in blood, his clothing would have been drenched in blood. We’ve seen the jeans and there’s nothing there and Andy, what do you think about the point that the Illinois State Police already looked at the jacket and he returned it by the time that the FBI got it and found tiny, tiny specks on the sleeve. Have you confirmed that?
Andy M. Hale: That interview reporting, I mentioned a minute ago, where the Illinois State Police interviewed Chester Weger in March and April several times, they take his jacket and they said they’re going to submit it to the lab. I’ve never seen any lab reports about what happened. Obviously, nothing incriminating or nothing was used at trial regarding it. It’s not the jacket only came up in October and November. They had the jacket back in March and April and nothing–
Celeste Stack: And they gave it back.
Andy M. Hale: And they gave it back and then I can’t stress this enough. We probably don’t have enough time to get into this on this podcast here, but there’s this issue and maybe we can’t talk about it about these two brothers that are overheard by a telephone operator talking about bloody overalls, the kids got to get rid of the bloody overalls, there are these two brothers who are linked to this crime for sure and somehow they fall by the wayside in late August early September and now Harland Warren takes over the investigation from the Illinois State Police in a secret way and he gets stab in hess as his right-hand men and they now embark on this case to solve the case and now Chester is brought for another polygraph, they’re talking to people about scratches, they’re trying to make a case against him.
There’s so much and even the twine you talked about the twine at the outset, this is one that makes me want to scream. It has been a lie told over the years that the twine matched the lodge, it did not. It did not. At the crime scene, there were two types of twine, 20-strand and 10-strand. 20-strand was absolute common twine you could get anywhere. Even at trial, they couldn’t say that twine from the crime scene came from the lodge and more importantly, the lodge did not have any 10-ply twine. None.
They went to Chester’s house. What did they find? Twelve-ply twine. There was no 12-ply twine at the crime scene. Harland Warren lied when he said there was this twine strung together 20 and 12 for 32 total strands. That is a lie. It was 20 and 10. It is simply false. And I talk about this case in front of them. I was at the La Salle Rotary Club. The Peru Rotary Club. I always get this question. All the twine matched? No, the twine did not match. It was not. The twine was so exculpatory, but this tale has been told over the years and I’ve got a document. Go to my podcast website andyhalepodcast.com. I wrote like a six-page article called ‘The Tale of The Twine’. You can read about all the twine evidence in detail and I attach all the exhibits. I urge you to go read ‘The Tale of The Twine’.
Jonathan Amarilio: We have to take a quick break. But before we do that, I just want to ask about one more piece of evidence. What about the rape in the nearby state park of the teenage girl a few months before the killings?
Andy M. Hale: A couple of things on that. Chester denies that. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Let’s say for sake of argument it is true. Okay. It is not factually relevant to this case because these women were not raped. There was no evidence of a sexual assault or rape. No CNN, no injuries to their vaginas.
Jonathan Amarilio: Their underwear was torn away and their legs were spread, right?
Andy M. Hale: Yeah. Because it’s a staged crime scene. If you’d have told me that Chester Weger, when he was 12 years old, 15 years old, batched the girls head in with a brick, beat her with a baseball bat, something like that, you may have some relevance. The fact that there may or may not have been a rape is not relevant to this crime scene. It’s not what happened to these ladies. It’s just been used over the years to say, “Hey, Chester is a bad guy. He’s got this prior past, blah, blah blah, dirty him up. Don’t feel sorry for him.”
Celeste Stack: He’s the bogeyman.
Andy M. Hale: Yeah. That’s another dirty tail attempt to make him look like a bad guy.
Jonathan Amarilio: That’s probably a good place for us to take a break. We’ll be right back.
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Jonathan Amarilio: And we’re back. Andy, Celeste, there have been some very interesting developments over the last few years in this case surrounding DNA testing. Can you tell us about those?
Andy M. Hale: Yeah. I always view this case. Any case that I work on, in a post-conviction setting or I’ve defended. I’ve defended numerous alleged wrongful convictions for the City of Chicago. I always start with the forensics. You’re never going to prove your case with what he said, she said. I’m never going to prove this case. Oh, Chester denies it. Of course, he denies it. I always wanted to look at the forensics. One of the things Celeste and I did, we asked to see the physical evidence. I will point out that the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, who’d been appointed as a special prosecutor, opposed that. They did not want me to look at the evidence, which I thought was pretty interesting. We had to go to court. The judge said, no, they can look at it. He was represented to me that the evidence was all garbage, a mess. You could make heads or tails, but no. It was absolutely amazing. Glass slides, organized, envelopes, everything labeled.
We found things that we thought could be tested. Hairs found on the victims, twine found on the victims, cigarette butts that were found at the scene. We took all those things and we submitted those for nuclear DNA testing. Unfortunately, due to the age of the evidence and the condition of the evidence, there was only one piece of all that evidence that we could get a nuclear DNA profile for. It was a hair found on the glove of Mrs. Murphy, the finger of which she had her fingertip cut off. That nuclear profile excluded Chester Weger. That’s a hair of some other male. We don’t know who. We now want to submit that hair into the CODIS database to see if we can get a hit. We haven’t done that yet. That’s going to happen soon. And that hair was significant because back in the day, there was another hair found on that same finger of Mrs. Murphy that the state submitted to the Washington University Medical School and they found — all they could say at the time was it was dissimilar to Chester Weger. But my point is, it was a hair that the state fought was so significant, they sent it to be tested, just like the one we sent to be tested. In my opinion, that hair that’s found on Ms. Murphy, on her finger, it’s not Chester Weger exonerates him alone, alone, but combined with everything else we have, there’s a clear cut case. This is not Chester Weger.
Trisha Rich: I assume the blood that was on the jacket is not testable?
Andy M. Hale: The blood on the jacket is unclear. The problem with the jacket was it was commingled with the women’s clothing. There’s a chance it could be contaminated. Unlike hairs, where if I had a hair right now in my finger and we all touched it, we just washed the hair off and test it, there’s no contamination issue. The jacket wasn’t that way. The jacket has been contaminated because of the way it was stored.
Celeste Stack: Which is just outrageous. I’m sorry, but this is where I get really angry that they commingled that. Invest in another plastic bag for crying out loud.
Andy M. Hale: Right. We tried to test. It’s not like I just took one hair and submitted it to the lab. We submitted eight categories of things, hoping to get nuclear profiles for everything. Again, only because of the age and the condition, we could only get it for this hair on Mrs. Murphy’s glove, but it was a significant result. It was a significant piece of evidence that we are going to use. It’s the cornerstone of our argument why Chester Weger is innocent.
Trisha Rich: By the way, they never found this finger, right?
Andy M. Hale: No. I wonder where that missing fingertip is. Good question. In all these true crime cases I work in, and I do a lot of work, like I said, for the City of Chicago, where it’s like a true crime case, there’s always something that might look small, but it’s actually huge. When I saw in the autopsy report that Mrs. Murphy is missing the tip of her finger and I saw handwritten notes from the crime scene people, no explanation for missing fingertip. And it says in the autopsy, apparently post mortem. I was like, “What the heck is this?” That to me, and we’re going to talk about this, that to me is more like a mob thing more than anything, cutting off that little fingertip.
Celeste Stack: One other thing on the evidence is you must understand that the clothing of Mrs. Murphy, another thing she had been defecated and urinated on. We were very hopeful that those biological fluids would be filled with DNA after 60 years. Very excited to find Mrs. Murphy’s clothing. It’s gone. All the murder weapons, gone, disappeared, no explanation. Case files. Andy has done an amazing job putting together so much from the little we have, because the defense immediately filed motions for discovery to produce and impound physical evidence. First day appeared and all denied one of the reasons they were denied because they might contain exculpatory evidence and that was all perfectly legal in 1960s to withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense and the state here admitted in a written pleading that they withheld it.
What really gets me going is that they destroyed the most important evidence and they commingled his jacket. Today, that’s a class four felony in Illinois for police prosecutors to do that.
Andy M. Hale: It’s incredible when you think about it, that it wasn’t that long ago. 1960 was not that long ago that it was pre-Brady. I made to think that you could have a trial where somebody had evidence, “Oh, all these witnesses saw somebody else do it. We’ve got a hair that doesn’t match Chester Weger. Oh, we’ve got something else.” Who knows what else they have that you wouldn’t have to turn it over? You would have thought that would have been something from a 100 years ago. That’s so archaic. How can that be? That was just 1964. Unbelievable.
Trisha Rich: I got to tell you, when I started researching, I didn’t grow up in Illinois, so I didn’t have a lot of background on this. If you grew up here, you probably sort of knew about this growing up.
Jonathan Amarilio: Trisha’s from Michigan, as our entire audience knows.
Andy M. Hale: Oh really? What part?
Jonathan Amarilio: We’re not doing that game. We’re not doing the mitten game. Come on, let’s keep going.
Trisha Rich: But the interesting thing was when I started researching this and I don’t work in criminal law at all, but it was the first time I conceptualized a point in time that was pre-Brady when I was reading this, and I think I heard maybe on your podcast first or in one of the magazines. Well, of course, there wasn’t Brady or Miranda. And I was like, “Wait, what?” They didn’t have to give — that’s how old this case is. Frankly, how long this guy has been sitting in prison for a crime that it looks like he did not commit. That is just a really remarkable fact.
Jonathan Amarilio: I know. Stunning.
Celeste Stack: It’s a horrible case all the way around. I always think about what those poor women suffered. And then Chester, he was young, he was in love, he had two little babies in his entire life. Can you imagine what he went through?
Trisha Rich: I can’t. His whole life has been sitting in prison. His whole life.
Andy M. Hale: Can I talk about that if not Chester Weger? Who?
Trisha Rich: Yes, of course.
Jonathan Amarilio: Sure. Let’s go there.
Andy M. Hale: I have developed — Celeste, we’ve developed powerful, powerful evidence that this was a mob hit. Let me start with I had two different people reach out to me separately. I had a woman reach out to me, Facebook Messenger and said she had been scrolling through something to watch on TV. She saw a trailer for the Starved Rock murder. She didn’t watch it and all these memories flooded back to her. You can actually listen to my first phone call with this woman on my podcast, the Starved Rock Murders with Andy Hale. It’s a bonus episode. I recorded the call, not knowing what she was going to say to me. I just recorded that call.
She said her grandfather was dying of cancer and told her he was in the mafia. She knew that she worked for him running packages and stuff. There’s one of the husbands wanted his wife killed and her grandfather was the guy that picked out the five or six men that went down there and committed the murder. She told me this. Two days later, I hopped on a plane and I flew out of state to go see her face to face and I met her and I took a court reported statement from her. I got to tell you, I got goosebumps right now. She cried. Her body was shaking. She told me her name. She told me her grandfather’s name. She told me where they live. She told me all the details. I’ve got all that. I’m going to give all that to the Will County State’s Attorney.
Trisha Rich: Before you move on to the next person, I want to just pause on this because I did listen to this episode.
Andy M. Hale: I’m not done with her. I’m not done with her. Go ahead.
Trisha Rich: From your podcast and it’s remarkable because she is so emotional. You can tell us the first time you talk because, you’re over and over again. Like, I’ve been looking for you. I just sent 5,000 letters because I knew you’d be out there.
Andy M. Hale: I said it. I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve been waiting for you.
Trisha Rich: And she is like, clearly somebody who is — it’s just like this verbal — like a mittens where she’s so glad that she can finally get this off her chest to somebody who’s taking her seriously. I think that really comes through on that episode.
Andy M. Hale: There’s a lot of corroboration for that. When she told me this, I said to her, I said, “Did you tell anybody else this over the years?” She talks about going to police departments and reporting that she was 16 years old. But she said, I worked at a law firm back 20 years ago. I told those lawyers about it. You know what, I just went out about a week ago. I took a court reported statement under oath from a lawyer she used to work with. The guy is a 1973 graduate of Northwestern Law School, still practicing law, smart, honest, credible guy. He said, “Yeah, yeah, I remember her. She was an amazing legal intern. She told me the story. I absolutely remember it.”
My point is, she’s not making it up today out of any convenience. She is credible and honest, but it doesn’t end there. Here’s the part that corroborates. I had the other guy reach out to me separately who said he was friends with a guy named Smokey Rona, who was a known hoodlum in the Illinois Valley area. Smokey Rona told him one of the husbands wanted his wife killed. The mob was involved. He worked with the mob. He was the local guy, boots on the ground. Mob guys came down and did the murder. It fits consistently. Here’s another one that I think is even maybe the most powerful.
I found that memo where a telephone operator on March 21, a week after the murders, overhears two people talking on the phone. One says, “Hey, you know that kid?” They had a big write upon the murders in tonight’s paper. The kid still got the bloody overalls in the trunk of the car. He’s getting nervous on what to do with them. The other guy says, “Tell him to get rid of them, burn them.” Let’s pause there. These guys know who that person is. They’re in on this in some way. They know about this. What happens is the police traced the call. It’s coming from a bar in Aurora owned by a guy named Glenn Palmetier, and it calls traced to his brother William in Peru, Illinois. These guys are in on this. This hasn’t been made public yet.
Jonathan Amarilio: Andy, real quick, where’s for our audience, Peru, Illinois the relevance of its location is?
Andy M. Hale: Peru, Illinois is right next to Starved Rock. LaSalle-Peru is right by Starved Rock. He’s a local guy. You got a brother in Aurora calling a brother in Peru near Starved Rock. They’re talking about these bloody overalls in the trunk of a car. These guys deny having this conversation. I’m working on some stuff now. I can’t disclose all of it yet because I haven’t made it public, but I’ve made some significant progress in following up on this lead. This is consistent with what I’ve said all along. It’s a case of premeditation. Several people are involved. It’s going to be when I disclose all this evidence, it’s going to be consistent with the mob angle. It’s going to be consistent with the husband one and his wife killed. That evidence from all these different sources and then you’ve got the missing fingertip.
By the way, if you listen to that phone call with the woman who reached out to me and I don’t know if she said this in my call or when I took her statement, she said, my grandfather said the husband was mad. He was so mad at his wife. She says, I don’t know what the wife did, but the husband wanted her to pay, and it was vengeance. Well, you know what? That’s what this crime scene was. It was vengeance. These women were beaten. Mrs. Murphy has got a missing fingertip and she’s got soiled clothing and Chester Weger is asked in his interrogation and I’m using the polite words, did you defecate on any of the women? Did you urinate on any of the women? They don’t ask him that. I’ve seen dozens and dozens and dozens of interrogations. I’ve never seen that asked. You don’t ask that unless there’s a basis to ask it. They ask, did you kick any of them in the crotch? Because Mrs. Murphy has a vaginal bruise. This is a long winded way of saying there is very strong, powerful evidence that the mob was involved as a mob hit, and that’s what happened. I’m hoping that forensically, maybe potentially, I can get a CODIS hit. We’ll see. We’re going to do more work, more investigating. But to answer the if not Chester, who that is who, it’s a mob hit.
Trisha Rich: On that point, the speculation is either that wife was having an affair, right? Wife was planning on leaving husband, or the husband had a girlfriend and was planning on leaving wife. Those seem to be the theories I’ve heard.
Andy M. Hale: Yeah. Those are the prime ones. I will point out Robert Murphy, two years later, married a woman, Mary(ph) Anderson, who we know two months prior to the Straved Rock murders, gave birth to a baby boy. The father is not listed on that birth record. I don’t know who that is. That’s I think a red flag has to be investigated. I’m sympathetic to the families, I am. We all want the truth. We all want the same thing. We want the truth. That is a relevant topic and area of investigation. It could have been the other husbands. I don’t know. Hard to say.
Jonathan Amarilio: Andy, you keep mentioning the fingertip and its relation to the theory that this was a mafia hit. I don’t see the immediate relevance to that. What am I missing? Is that a mob signature?
Andy M. Hale: Yeah, I look at it, I always looked at it like it was either delivered as proof of the job was done.
Or sometimes you see it as like delivered as proof of a threat. Here it really wouldn’t be a threat. To me, it’s proof of, we’re cutting this finger tip off and then we’re giving it to somebody. To me, the only other angle could be some weird sexual predator who wanted to collect a little prize, but I just —
Jonathan Amarilio: A trophy, right?
Andy M. Hale: Yeah, but I just don’t think with everything else I know, knowing about the mob and everything and all this evidence, it just strikes me as like, who would have done that? Who would have taken the time to have done that? It just seems something where it’s cut off and then maybe it’s delivered to the husband. Here’s a little something to show you, what we got. That’s how I always looked at it when I first saw it.
Celeste Stack: It’s obvious from what Andy just said, but putting it all together, this one poor woman was obviously singled out. She was beaten more. She was beaten in different ways including kicking her between the legs and defecating, urinating, and cutting off her finger. There was horrible, furious, brutal attack at all three women, but this poor woman was singled out for special abuse and why? It certainly doesn’t fit Chester’s ridiculous tail but yes, it’s very disturbing.
Jonathan Amarilio: The mob theory does seem to — I’m just thinking about this now for the first time so forgive me if it’s not the fully formed thought, but it seems to fit another piece of evidence that Chester disputes is real. There may be an irony there. It’s a letter that Chester supposedly wrote to his father in 1960 which says in a cryptic way that Chester was accepting blame for the murders to protect his family, I’m paraphrasing, but if I recall it correctly, very strongly insinuates that he knew who killed these three women and he was withholding that information and essentially taking the fall to protect members of his family. It seems to me after hearing your description of the possibility of this being a mob hit, that makes a lot of sense, but Chester insists that he never wrote that letter.
Andy M. Hale: It is consistent with that theory and I know Chester did say on the HBO show that he didn’t write that letter. Whether he did or didn’t, if we say just for sake of argument that he did, it is consistent with not wanting to say anything about that because what people forget, there’s the book I read, there’s a local author named Dan Churney. He wrote a book called ‘Capone’s Cornfields: The mob in the Illinois Valley’ in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Illinois Valley was a mini Vegas. Gambling everywhere, mob guys everywhere. It’s stunning. A lot of people today especially younger people and I don’t put myself in the younger people category, didn’t realize that the mob was so big back then, had their tentacles everywhere, were involved in things and all we know about now is maybe from the watching The Sopranos. My wife and I are watching that now, we’re binging that like it’s one of our — we’ve been binging shows post COVID. The mob was very prevalent in the Illinois Valley area especially in this time period.
There was an article, I don’t even know how I came across this. I think it’s from 2000 and they’re looking back on the Starved Rock murders and Harland Warren, the state’s attorney, who was alive at the time said, “Oh, you know, the Illinois State Police, I thought they knew what they were doing but they really didn’t.” They first thought it was the Chicago mafia that was involved.
Jonathan Amarilio: Oh really?
Andy M. Hale: It’s like, oh really? The Illinois State Police thought the Chicago mafia was involved. Tell me more about that and tell me why. What happened here is, these brothers, this telephone operator is the hero by the way, she’s the hero. She comes forward. The mob, these brothers get linked to the call and then it all goes away. And then what happens? In the fall, let’s have Chester Weger come in for another polygraph. He’s already passed six from the Illinois State Police. Let’s take him to a different polygraph operator. By the way, the polygraph operator, this was going to come out too. The polygraph operator was friends with one of the husbands that’s all I’ll say for now. There’s a lot more I’m going to disclose. I’ve got to finish some investigation, might have a bonus podcast episode out. I got some new developments that are coming that are going to make it even more astonishing, but there’s so much to unpack and I appreciate you giving us the time to at least address some of these issues.
Jonathan Amarilio: With that cliffhanger, will take a quick break.
Jonathan Amarilio: We’re back with stranger than legal fiction. Our audience knows the rules. They’re pretty simple. Trish and I have done some research. We found one strange, but real law that’s still on the book somewhere and probably shouldn’t be. We’ve made another one up and we’re going to quiz Andy and Celeste and each other to see who can distinguish strange legal fact from fiction. Everyone ready?
Andy M. Hale: Ready.
Celeste Stack: Yes.
Jonathan Amarilio: Trish, why don’t you lead us off?
Trisha Rich: Sure thing. I’m going to read two laws and you guys get to decide which one is real and which one is fake. Number one, it is technically illegal to buy meat in grocery stores in the Chicago Metropolitan area after 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturday and Sunday. Number two, it is illegal for pickup trucks to drive on Lake Shore Drive?
Andy M. Hale: For pickup trucks?
Trisha Rich: Mm-hmm.
Celeste Stack: I’ll go with that one.
Andy M. Hale: Me, too. I’m going with Lake Shore Drive.
Trisha Rich: You think that’s the fake law or the real law?
Andy M. Hale: I think it’s real.
Celeste Stack: Real one.
Jonathan Amarilio: I’ll go the other way if only to be a contrarian.
Trisha Rich: Jon is always the contrarian. It is illegal to drive pickup trucks on Lake Shore Drive including actually all trucks. I understand as a ban on commercial trucks but it is all trucks on Lake Shore Drive. I understand from my own experiences on Lake Shore Drive, it is sporadically enforced.
Andy M. Hale: Really?
Trisha Rich: Yes. It is the law about it being illegal to buy meat in grocery stores in Chicago was a law until 1977 and that –
Jonathan Amarilio: I knew it sounded familiar.
Trisha Rich: That law was a result of the local Meat Cutters Union who believed that the meat cutter should be at home by 6:00 on weekdays and not have to work on the weekends so they could be with their families. At 6:00 every night, they would put these tarps over the meat at the grocery store and the meat cutters would go home.
Andy M. Hale: I thought you’re going to say it was a law until 1932.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, 1977.
Andy M. Hale: 1977? What?
Trisha Rich: I thought you guys might remember this. I didn’t know how old you are coming into this. I thought this might be a little easy today, but yeah –
Celeste Stack: Careful there.
Andy M. Hale: No.
Trisha Rich: It was really put in place, by the Union’s really pushing for it. But eventually in 1977, the ban was lifted because the Union realized that its jobs were in jeopardy if the stores couldn’t sell meat. Now, you can buy meat whenever you want, but you can’t put it in a pickup and drive down LSD on it.
Andy M. Hale: Wow.
Jonathan Amarilio: Good to know.
Celeste Stack: That’s funny.
Andy M. Hale: Celeste and I both nailed it. We get some parting gift for that. We get some mug or a podcast mug or something?
Jonathan Amarilio: We’ve had some hoodies made recently. I’ll ship them out to you.
Andy M. Hale: Hoodies, yeah, okay.
Jonathan Amarilio: Round two, everyone ready?
Andy M. Hale: Yep.
Jonathan Amarilio: All right. In Wisconsin as a matter of law, cheese must be highly pleasing and free from undesirable flavors or odors. That’s option one. Option two, in Virginia, it is illegal to grow bananas or plantains for commercial production although household domestic cultivation is permissible provided its fruits are not subsequently sold. Wisconsin, cheese has to be nice. Virginia, no bananas.
Andy M. Hale: Well, number two sounds a lot more detailed and specific to make me think you didn’t make it up, but I’m not going to go that way. I like the Wisconsin cheese one. That makes sense to me. I’m saying Wisconsin is real.
Jonathan Amarilio: Celeste, what do you think?
Celeste Stack: I’m going Virginia because it rings of another mob/union enforced rule. “Hey, don’t compete with us”, because somebody it’s got the right climate. I have a daughter named Hannah and we wanted to get her banana plants, but we couldn’t keep them alive. There’s an area where they would grow in the U.S., Virginia and I think it’s a competitive law, I’m probably dead run but I’m going to go with bananas in Virginia.
Jonathan Amarilio: Trish? Trish, what do you think?
Trish Rich: I think the Virginia law is the real law. Also though, for the same reason, that Andy thinks it’s Wisconsin and that is that Jon is trying to trick us and he knows that we know that Wisconsin has a lot of cheese regulations.
Andy M. Hale: Yeah. You could give me any Wisconsin law and I’ll say it’s true. There’s nothing you could say about a Wisconsin law that I would say was not true.
Trish Rich: Yeah. I think he made that one up.
Celeste Stack: Lindburger. There’s a lot of smelly cheeses, right? That are popular.
Trish Rich: Exactly. I think he made that one up and in an attempt to trick us, made it about Wisconsin cheese and that the Virginia law is real.
Jonathan Amarilio: Section 81.601 of the Wisconsin Administrative Order.
Trish Rich: Yeah. I can tell by the look on his face. That smug little Jon look, I know.
Andy M. Hale: Yes.
Jonathan Amarilio: It says that cheese must be “Highly pleasing and free from undesirable flavors or orders.” My question is, who decides what’s pleasing, undesirable — are you telling me that in all of Wisconsin, it is illegal for packers fans to put blue cheese, undeniably a stinky cheese, on the 10 pound of chicken wings they order every Sunday? That one, that blows my mind.
Andy M. Hale: There’s got to be a cheese board of some sort, right?
Jonathan Amarilio: Yeah.
Celeste Stack: That’s a good one.
Andy M. Hale: Somebody’s on the cheese board.
Jonathan Amarilio: All right. And that is our show for today. Andy, Celeste, this is a truly fascinating case and discussion. I wish we could spend the whole day discussing it. As we’ve mentioned before but we’re thankful to have both of you come on the podcast and discuss it with us even if all too briefly. Thank you.
Andy M. Hale: And I just want to just direct people if I could, if you want more, go to the Starved Rock murders with Andy Hale anywhere you get your podcast. I’ve got 16 episodes up there and I’ve got a website, andyhalepodcast.com where I post all my stories documents. You could get lost down there for days and I urge you to do so.
Jonathan Amarilio: Solid plug. I also want to thank my co-host, Trish Rich, our executive producer, Jen Burn, Adam Lockwood on sound and everyone at the Legal Talk Network family. Remember you can follow, send us comments, questions, episode ideas or just troll us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at cbaatthebar, all one word. You can also e-mail us at [email protected]. Please also rate and review us on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitch or Spotify, Audible or wherever you download your podcast. It helps us get the word out. Until next time. Thank you for joining us and we’ll see you soon At The Bar.