Story: A quiet Midwestern area was stunned in 1960 when the bodies of three women were discovered inside Starved Rock National Park and even decades of passing time, the truth about the murders remains much contested. A man named Chester Weger was among the suspects at the time and eventually, he was arrested and convicted of the crimes. The evidence was sparse and the conviction centered on a confession, though that would also be quite disputed. Weger has claimed the confession was coerced, as he says he was threatened if he didn’t admit to the crimes, while even those involved in the investigation expressed doubts over some of the confession’s content. As decade after decade passed, Weger held fast in his claims of innocence and over the years, many advocates pushed for him to be released and the case overturned. Is Chester Weger a wrongly imprisoned man and when a deep dive into the case is once again launched, will it provide the answers so many have waited on?
Entertainment Value: This docuseries spans three episodes and over six decades of the case’s history, but even the circumstances around the show’s production is interesting to take in. The filmmakers had put in immense work over the years on the project, only to abandon the piece at a certain point. The production would resume shooting after an extended hiatus, however. Also of note is that the central person in the piece is David Raccuglia, who has a deep connection to the case, since his father was the prosecutor who won the case against Weger. David has nightmares about Weger as a child, certain that the convicted killer would seek revenge against his family, though as he aged and learned more about the case, his perspective started to shift. His conversations with his father are a highlight of this docuseries, in part because this is such a unique situation for both father and son, so seeing it all unfold on camera can be quite remarkable. David’s personal stake in the case’s legacy really comes to life when he has the chance to finally meet Weger, which is quite a unique moment. While David’s involvement is a driving force in the series however, the search for truth goes well beyond just that aspect.
When I say that The Murders at Starved Rock looks at all the angles of this case, I mean that down to even the moonshot type conspiracies and guesses. I know some complain that by going down speculative roads instead of running with hard evidence, it impacts the integrity of the docuseries, but I don’t think that is true in this case. Six decades have passed by the time this series ends and in that time, many of those directly involved have passed away, memories fade, and evidence is lost, leaving little in terms of hard evidence. Of course, the original case had little hard evidence and that went forward, so I think brief explorations of longshot theories is fine here. I will say that while I think this is a riveting series, the time jumps and general flow of things feels a little off, I had to rewind at times because of a lack of context in some scenes. Not a fatal flaw by any means, but a little more polish and narrative focus could have made the rough spots a little smoother. Overall, I think the pace is on point and the series kept me glued throughout, so it deserves a solid recommendation.