Friday, January 14, 2022

The Murders at Starved Rock: Prosecutor’s Son Reexamines 1960 Crime

David Raccuglia is best known as the founder of American Crew, the leading professional men’s grooming brand in the world. He’s also known for capturing famous faces through the camera lens, with outstanding portraits of Jack Nicholson, Ray Charles, and Yoko Ono—among many others. And he’s now appearing in The Murders at Starved Rock, an HBO miniseries that incarnates the boogeyman of his childhood nightmares. 

On March 16, 1960, three women were found savagely murdered at Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle, Illinois, David Raccuglia’s hometown. “Things like this just didn’t happen,” he says of the Illinois Valley town that then sported less than 12,000 residents. The wives of prominent businessmen, Lillian Oetting and Mildred Lundquist, both 50, and Frances Murphy, 47, made near-100 mile trip from Chicago to the popular state park for sight-seeing. The trio were last seen two days earlier outfitted in skirts, jackets, and rubber footwear pulled over walking shoes as they made their way along the wooded trails. Their battered bodies, with wrists bound by twine and clothing in disarray, were discovered in the cave of a secluded canyon. 

“I was only seven months old, but the Starved Rock murders was with me from the first day I could form a memory,” Raccuglia tells in HBO’s three-part documentary. An investigation led to the arrest of Chester Weger, a 23-year-old dishwasher at the lodge where the three victims were staying. Weger was given a life sentence in 1961. “I would lay in bed terrified that Chester Weger was gonna climb through the window and kill me,” says Raccuglia. That’s because his father, noted attorney Anthony Raccuglia, acted as lead prosecutor in Weger’s conviction. 

The crime is chronicled in historian Steve Stout’s 1982 book, The Starved Rock Murders

In 2003, an appellate court defender reopened the case, arguing that Weger was wrongly convicted more than 40 years earlier. “She was accusing my father of making inaccurate claims,” says the American Crew founder, who—for the first time—began to wonder if it’s true. 

The Murders at Starved Rock is a look at David Raccuglia’s wrestling with the question of Chester Weger’s guilt, his reexamining the triple crime with interviews with his attorney father, victims’ relatives, and Weger himself. Raccuglia follows every lead, objectively viewing every angle of the case that results in a compelling documentary about the boogeyman of his childhood.