Filmmaker David Raccuglia thought 82-year-old Chester Weger was the only living participant in the Starved Rock murders case.
The documentary Raccuglia launched years ago hits the small screen tonight when “The Murders at Starved Rock” debuts on HBO. Viewers who think they know everything about the case that sent Weger to prison for murder are in for a few surprises.
At the top of that list is a case participant Raccuglia only recently learned of. Bill Jansen, a retired state police investigator (he later worked for the FBI and became a judge), sat for an interview with Raccuglia and revealed he didn’t think the 1960 murders were a one-man job.
“Was he by himself?” Jansen opined as he laid out his theory on who might have been behind the bludgeoning deaths of three women. “Only Chester can answer that.”
Jansen’s interview is only one part of a sprawling, three-part documentary, which sheds some light on what Weger hopes to achieve as a private lab analyzes pieces of evidence from the 1960 crime scene. Even if Weger is forensically linked to the crime scene, interview subjects suggest he might not be the only one linked.
Weger’s conviction has polarized the Illinois Valley and David Raccuglia, whose father Anthony prosecuted Weger in 1961.
Raccuglia expressed his gratitude to the sources who opened up to him and particularly praised the Weger family, “They were really nice people.” He also pushed back against any perception he was at odds with his late father or their interviews were tense, though certainly that is some father-son repartee onscreen.
“There really wasn’t one side or the other for me,” David Raccuglia said. “I just committed listening to both sides and making a conclusion based on the interviews and evidence.”
The documentary opens with a recap of the trial and authorities’ assurances they had their man.
“There just isn’t any doubt this man is guilty,” the late Tony Raccuglia pronounced.
Former prosecutor Harland Warren recounted how a technician administered a lie detector test of Weger and then emerged from the room as “white as a bed sheet.”
“He’s the one,” Warren remembered being told. “I’m 100% sure.”
Those were far from the final words on the subject. Weger initially refused interviews with David Raccuglia but relented and, at age 66, tearfully insisted he was framed.
“They ruined my life,” Weger said. “They took everything I had.”
Weger attracted numerous adherents, notably appellate lawyer Donna Kelly. Kelly widely denounced the police interview, lineup and trial and the suppression of evidence showing another potential suspect, whom she declined to name.
“I do believe it was two individuals who committed the murders,” Kelly said, “and one of them is deceased at this time.”
What conclusions are drawn? Viewers are advised to watch the three-part installment in its entirety — parts one and two air Tuesday, part three on Wednesday — before rendering any final opinions.
Raccuglia said he isn’t sure how widely it will be viewed — neither he nor director Jody McVeigh-Schultz had access to digital data obtained from trailer views — but he’s prepared to field any calls from anyone with questions or comments.
“I don’t really know what will happen, but I can tell you that I’d have no problem talking to anybody,” Raccuglia said. “I made a very, very honest attempt at exposing urban legend and myth. That was a very important thing for me to put it on the table. There isn’t anything in the film that I wouldn’t do or say again.”