ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Starved Rock State Park: Trails of Myth and Mystery

Updated on March 16, 2020
KT Dunn profile image

KT Dunn is a Midwest native with a lifelong interest in history and mystery.

History and Legend

The northern Illinois sandstone cliff known as Starved Rock is part of a series of bluffs and canyons formed by melting glaciers thousands of years ago. Surrounded by acres of wilderness parkland, the rock was given its name based on a Native American legend. Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette had journeyed to this area in their Mississippi River exploration of 1673, and they referred to the bluff as Le Rocher. In about 1769, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe (affiliated with the Pottawatomie, variously spelled Potawatomi), is said to have been murdered by a member of the Illinois-Peoria tribe during a conference which included all three tribes. To avenge Pontiac’s death, the Pottawatomie and Ottawa tribes engaged in battle against the Illinois (or Illiniwek), and in the process, the Illinois contingent was driven to the top of the rock and surrounded at its base. Here, with no source of food or water, and no way down lest they be attacked, they eventually died of starvation.

This way to Starved Rock
This way to Starved Rock

Starved Rock State Park became a national historic landmark in 1966. The lodge and its cabins were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

View of the Lodge from the top of Starved Rock
View of the Lodge from the top of Starved Rock

Murder at Starved Rock

With the passage of time, a triple murder in Starved Rock State Park 60 years ago has attained almost mythical status. It was March 14, 1960, when three women friends from the Chicago suburb of Riverside left the Starved Rock Lodge headed for the hiking trails. Lillian Oetting and Mildred Lindquist, both age 50, and Frances Murphy, 47, never returned to the lodge. Two days later, their bodies were found in rock-walled St. Louis Canyon, a scenic area of the park featuring a waterfall. The women had all been beaten to death, apparently with a tree limb, which was found nearby covered in blood.

Investigation finally led to a young man named Chester Weger, who was working at the park lodge as a kitchen employee at the time of the murders. Reportedly, Weger failed several follow-up polygraph tests after initially passing one and being called back in along with other employees. Eventually, he confessed to the murders, although he later retracted his statements and claimed to have been coerced by law enforcement officers into making a false confession.

A trial in the early part of 1961 led to Weger's conviction for the murder of Lillian Oetting and a sentence of life in prison. Persistent questions later arose about the identification of the killer and any possible motive, a controversy that continues to this day. Even though Chester Weger was convicted of murder after what some believe was a forced confession, and served one of the longest prison sentences in the state, opinions about his guilt are sharply divided. He was eventually granted parole in November 2019 at the age of 80, with release to be arranged 90 days later.

On February 21, 2020, Chester Weger was released from Pinckneyville Correctional Center after serving nearly 60 years for the murder of Lillian Oetting. He continues to maintain his innocence.

Starved Rock pathway
Starved Rock pathway

State Park Status

The Illinois Parks Commission acquired the land in 1911, and a state park was established the following year. Since the 1890s this area overlooking the Illinois River had been developed and managed as a resort by the previous owner, Ferdinand Walther.

The Lodge

The Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center, with its surrounding cabins, was built during the 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Corps project, utilizing pine logs and limestone. The lodge projects a rustic elegance with its great central hall featuring an enormous stone fireplace, surrounded by a large dining area and hotel room wings.

The Visitors' Center

Located between the lodge and the Starved Rock promontory, the spacious visitors’ center offers restrooms and respite, with a snack bar, vending machines, and souvenirs available, as well as park information and exhibits.

Starved Rock stairway
Starved Rock stairway
Starved Rock walkway
Starved Rock walkway

Exploring Starved Rock

Located in north central Illinois, to the southeast of Utica and northeast of Oglesby in LaSalle County, the park consists of acres of untouched wilderness virtually frozen in time, and features a historic lodge and unique visitors’ center. Hiking, picnicking, camping, and boating activities, as well as trolley tours, are available to the visitor, in a setting of scenic bluffs and canyons, waterfalls and wildlife. After several expansions over the years, the park today consists of more than 3,000 acres of land with 13 miles of hiking trails. Trails wind through canyons and include boardwalks and wooden stairs to aid the climb in some areas.


From the top of Starved Rock one can see nearby Plum Island, home to an eagle sanctuary overseen by the Illinois Audubon Society, and the smaller Leopold Island. Other scenic overlooks, such as the Lover’s Leap Overlook and Eagle Cliff, also afford a view of Starved Rock itself and the Starved Rock Lock and Dam in the river below.

Lover’s Leap, of course, has its own legend. One version of the story involves two young lovers from different tribes (the Illiniwek and Pottawatomie) who were prevented by their tribal chiefs from marrying. Together, they leapt to their deaths from the the top of the bluff, which was thereafter known as Lover’s Leap.


Many of the 18 canyons in the park feature picturesque waterfalls, with the more dramatic being those of French, St. Louis, and LaSalle canyons. In French Canyon, hikers can walk behind the waterfall in its most active season, the spring and summer months. St. Louis Canyon is a popular destination with its scenic waterfall and is located one and a half miles from the Visitors’ Center. LaSalle Canyon, at a distance of two miles from the Visitors’ Center, boasts a waterfall that is active nearly year round, with sculptural icefall formations in the winter.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Looking northeast from Starved RockLooking southwest from Starved Rock
Looking northeast from Starved Rock
Looking northeast from Starved Rock
Looking southwest from Starved Rock
Looking southwest from Starved Rock

Starved Rock State Park

Additional Online Resources

1. Weber, Lara. (2016, December 16). The long murder investigation at Starved Rock, Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from

2. Lodge and Park History, Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center,

© 2018 KT Dunn


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • KT Dunn profile imageAUTHOR

      KT Dunn 

      2 years ago from United States

      Flourish, I think the murders certainly affected tourism for a while back then, but in general it's a very peaceful and popular place, like a Prairie State oasis. Thanks for reading!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      Wow, from the tragic reason for its naming to those murders this beautiful place must be a little spooky.

    • KT Dunn profile imageAUTHOR

      KT Dunn 

      2 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Liz! The park has a fascinating history and is a beautiful place to visit.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 years ago from UK

      This is a very interesting article with great photos.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)