On October 18, 1955, the unclothed bodies of 11 year old Tony Schuessler, his 13 year old brother John, and their 13 year old friend Robert Peterson, were discovered in Robinson's Woods, near Chicago. The cause of death for each boy was strangulation.
On August 11, 1994, nearly forty years after the Peterson-Schuessler murders, Kenneth Hansen was arrested and charged with the crimes. Hansen has continually maintained his innocence, and denies any involvement in or knowledge of the murders. At trial, he presented an alibi defense -- he was in Texas with his wife on their honeymoon. However, 40 years later, it was impossible to confirm the dates of his honeymoon trip.
There was no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linking Mr. Hansen to the murders. The State's case was based on the testimony of four witnesses, each claiming to have heard Hansen confess to the crimes. Herbert Hollatz testified that Hansen confessed to him in 1955, about a week after the crimes. Roger Spry testified that Hansen made the admission to him in about 1964, when Spry was fifteen years old. William Wemette testified that Hansen confessed to him in 1968. Joseph Plemmons testified that Hansen confessed to him in 1976. There was no evidence that any of the four had ever spoken of Hansen's confession prior to speaking with government (ATF) investigators in 1993 or 1994. All four insisted that they were alone with Hansen when he admitted to the killings. Thus, no one could support or refute their claims. No other evidence links Hansen to the murders.
Three of the four prosecution witnesses who claimed to have heard Hansen's confession were openly paid by the prosecution for their testimony. Only Herbert Hollatz denied being paid. However, after trial Hollatz admitted to his ex-wife and son that his trial testimony was fabricated.
William Wemette was the first witness to come forward with his claim that Hansen confessed to him; he did so in 1993, twenty years after he first became a paid informant for the federal government. Wemette was employed at Hansen's stable for a few years in the late 1960s; it was during this time that he claims to have heard Hansen's confession. He then sold pornography until 1971 when he started his career as a government informant. For the next twenty years, Wemette sold information to the government. Wemette is also a member of the federal government's witness protection program; his exact whereabouts are unknown (to us). In 1993, Wemette first revealed to his contact at the ATF that he could help them solve the most notorious unsolved murder case in Chicago history. He was subsequently paid $14,500 for this information.
Roger Spry went to live with Hansen and Hansen's wife, Beverly, in about 1959 when Spry was eleven years old. He remained with the Hansens for twenty years. Spry first revealed his claim to have heard Hansen's confession in July of 1994; at this time Spry was under indictment for arson. In exchange for his testimony against Hansen, Spry's arson case was reduced to a misdemeanor charge of criminal damage to property without jail time. The government further agreed to relocate Spry and his then-girlfriend, Colleen Quinn, assist them in finding new jobs, and pay Spry a reward of nearly $8,000. Spry admitted at trial that he is both a liar and a thief. His current whereabouts are also unknown.
The government paid Joseph Plemmons approximately $5,800 for his testimony against Hansen. Plemmons has twice been convicted of fraud. His most recent conviction was in 1992 and involved a swindle which netted Plemmons $100,000. After he was sentenced to three years in prison, Plemmons decided to become an informant for the federal government. Shortly thereafter, the government caused his sentence to be reduced to seventeen months. Plemmons has admitted using three or four aliases and that he has a bad reputation for telling the truth. He currently resides in Pennsylvania.
Although there was no evidence that the murdered were sexually molested, the trial judge allowed the state to present evidence of Hansen's homosexuality and deviate lifestyle
The trial jury convicted Hansen for the murders and the Court sentenced him to 200 to 300 years in prison.
After the trial, a woman came forward to say that her dead husband confessed the murders to her in 1956. She left him the next day. Her story was corroborated by other witnesses and by some physical evidence (her husband drove a Packard automobile; markings on the dead boys' skin was traced to the rubber mats of a Packard). The trial judge granted an evidentiary to hear the new evidence but refused to grant a new trial. All of these facts above are supported by the trial record or the record of the post-conviction hearing.
On May 18, 2000 the Illinois Court of Appeals ruled reversed Ken's conviction, ruling that the state's key trial witnesses were not credible. Ken was retried in August, 2002, and in spite of testimony from his widow that Silas Jayne confessed the murders to her in 1956, he was again convicted. His sentence was the same -- 200 years -- and his attorneys have filed an appeal. The appeal is based, in part, on statements made in closing argument by the prosecution implying Ken killed his wife when her death was ruled a suicide by the Cook County medical examiner's office, and implying Ken's sons didn't testify because their testimony would have been favorable to the prosecution.