Metro-East News

He says he’s a serial killer. Did he murder the Summerfield and Chester women?

If you believe him, Larry D. Hall may be the most prolific serial killer the Midwest has ever seen.

Police believe that Hall, 54, may have killed 30 to 40 women. He’s confessed to rapes, murders and abductions of women all over the Midwest to reporters, book authors and police investigators. He was convicted in federal court of abducting and raping a 15-year-old Illinois girl.

But he’s never been convicted of murder.

Now, Illinois State Police and the FBI have reopened the 25-year-old cold case murder in Northern Illinois of a 21-year-old student. It might lead to renewed interest in Hall as the suspect in a number of unsolved deaths, including two in Southern Illinois.

Hall is suspected of killing two young women here. They are Eulalia Pholia Chavez, 27, of Palo Alto, California, who was strangled and whose mutilated remains were found in a cornfield near Summerfield on Sept. 6, 1986. And Paulette Webster, 19, of Chester, whose parents last saw her on Sept. 2, 1988, when she left the family home with a girlfriend to go bowling. She was never found.

Hall is serving a life sentence in federal prison in North Carolina for the 1993 kidnapping of school girl Jessica Roach, whose ravaged body was found in a cornfield. She had been out riding her bicycle.

In Hall’s confession, which was read to the jury, he admitted that he raped Jessica and strangled her with a belt, the ends of which he held from behind a tree where the child was forced to sit so he wouldn’t have to see her face. He was not tried for murder because the teenager’s remains were mangled by a farmer’s combine to the extent that a cause of death could not be determined. Without a cause of death, the case was transferred to federal court and Hall was charged with bringing a minor across state lines for purposes of sex.

However, in 1996, the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that Hall should be given a new trial because the trial judge erred by not allowing the testimony of a psychologist that Hall’s mental condition led him to falsely confess, to please police. He was convicted again at a second trial and sentenced to life without parole.

Hall also confessed to police to killing 20-year-old Laurie Depies after abducting her in Menasha in northern Wisconsin. But he was never charged in connection with her 1992 disappearance, even though he said he killed her and scraps of paper were found in his van on which he had written “Lori” and “Fox River Mall,” where Depies worked. Authorities said they could not corroborate his confession, a legal requirement to bring murder charges.

Now, timing and proximity make him a suspect in the decades-old rape and murder of 21-year-old college coed Tammy Zywicki, who was abducted as she stood by her disabled car along an Illinois interstate just four days after and 233 miles south from where Depies was taken. Police in Wisconsin never connected the two cases until questioned last week by a News-Democrat reporter.

The FBI and Illinois State Police announced Aug. 22 they have renewed their efforts to solve Zywicki’s murder. She was believed to have been abducted from the roadside of Interstate 80 near Utica, Illinois, on Aug. 23, 1992, on her way from her home in New Jersey to Grinnell College in Iowa. The abduction site was south of where Hall, an avid Civil War re-enactor, was attending a mock battle in Wisconsin, authorities have determined.

Her body was found a week later near Springfield, Missouri, the site of a large Civil War battleground. Zywicki had been raped and stabbed to death. Her body was found beside an interstate highway wrapped in a red blanket and sealed with duct tape. Two truck drivers were questioned in her death, but no charges were brought.

“We will definitely look into this other case in Illinois,” said Special Agent Kyra Schallhorn of the Wisconsin Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “I had not heard of it before,” she said Thursday.

As for Hall, Schallhorn said, “He is one of our suspects but not the only one.”

Illinois State Police spokesman Master Sgt. Mike Link said in a written response, “We are actively working with the FBI and there remain a number of persons of interest.” Link did not respond to a question of whether Illinois investigators ever made a connection between Zywicki and the disappearance of DePies in Wisconsin.

The strange, 30-year odyssey of Larry Hall, a twin who once lived in an Indiana cemetery and wandered the Midwest in a van, involved occasionally attending Civil War re-enactments dressed as a Union soldier, and toying with police despite a low IQ of 85, according to a police report.

Hall has intimated that he may have been involved in the death of Webster, the Chester woman, who disappeared 29 years ago. Hall sent a letter to author Christopher H. Martin, who is from Hall’s hometown of Wabash, Indiana. Martin wrote a book about Hall’s alleged murderous sprees titled, “Urges: A Chronicle of Serial Killer Larry Hall.”

On page 39 of the book, Paulette Webster, 19, is listed as a victim. She was walking to a local bowling alley to meet a friend when she disappeared. Hall’s letter to Martin was taunting, noting that, “If I did it, I would have put her in a river or in a field.”

Eulalia “Lolly” Chavez was found in a field near Summerfield.

Paulette’s mother, Mary Webster, 68, said she and her husband William first learned about Hall when Martin visited them, around 2010. Martin had the letter from Hall, but Mary Webster declined to look at it.

During an interview Thursday with the BND, she remembered seeing Paulette the night she disappeared, and that last look still haunts her.

“She stood right over there,” she said, gesturing to the living room. “She said, ‘Good night Mom. Have a good night. I’ll see you later.’ We just want to bring her home. It’s where she belongs.”

William Webster, 71, said he is tortured by dreams of Paulette’s fate.

“I dream that she is in the shadow on a dark mountain and she tells me, ‘Dad, I’m alright but I can’t come down,’” he said.

Hall also confessed to a television reporter that he killed and sexually mutilated Chavez, who was known for years as the Summerfield Jane Doe until her exhumation in 2008 led to her identification. He later recanted.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson recently revived an investigation involving Hall and the murder of Chavez, which happened 31 years ago.

Watson sent a pair of investigators to Butner, North Carolina, to talk to Hall, but they failed to get a confession from him.

So Watson sent a tiny sample of DNA to the State Police Laboratory. But the results showed that Hall could not be included or excluded as the source of DNA found on Chavez’s body.

Even though it is unlikely that Hall will ever be released from prison, Watson said it is still important to try to find out what happened to the victims to ease the psychological suffering of their family members.

“This will eat away at you and shorten your life,” Watson said, “Families need closure.”

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer