‘What is our state doing?’ Fugitive paroled killer recaptured, but family of slain Chicago teen wants to know why he was ever let go
Tony Casolari doesn’t get how the state could release Ray Larsen, who was a fugitive for more than a week — until his recapture Friday.
Tony Casolari never met his uncle Frank Casolari. That’s because Uncle Frank, just 16, was executed in a Chicago forest preserve in 1972.
But he always wanted justice for his uncle. So Casolari, 40, can’t understand how the state of Illinois could grant parole last month to the killer, Ray Larsen, who took off soon after and was a fugitive for more than a week until he was arrested Friday.
“It’s disturbing, it’s aggravating, it’s ridiculous,” Casolari says. “What is our state doing? How do you lose this guy?”
On April 29, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board voted 9-3 to parole Larsen, now 76, who’d been serving a 100- to 300-year sentence.
He was freed May 13. The last contact authorities had before he disappeared was May 19. An arrest warrant was issued.
Early Friday, authorities found him at a Chicago-area hospital. Chicago police officers, state parole officers and deputy U.S. marshals had been on the lookout for him.
It’s unclear why Larsen was at a hospital or what he’d been doing the past week. A source said he might have been wandering around the city, riding the CTA.
Jason Sweat, an attorney for the prisoner review board, said Larsen was in Chicago police custody Friday night. He said the state will file papers saying he violated his parole, and the board will hold a hearing to decide whether to revoke his parole.
Before agreeing in late April that Larsen should be released, the board had received new objections to his parole bid, according to Sweat, who says “registered victims” were notified of the hearing and the results.
Sweat won’t talk about the reasons the parole board cited in voting to free Larsen. And the minutes of the April meeting still haven’t been posted.
In 2018, the last time Larsen came up for parole, the board had unanimously denied him — on a 12-0 vote.
At the 2018 hearing, board member Salvador Diaz warned, “There is something about inmate Larsen that makes him a spree offender, and he may be high-risk to reoffend,” according to minutes.
Diaz, a former Chicago police officer, died in February.
Of the Prisoner Review Board’s current members, half have been appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker since he was elected in 2019.
In recent years, the board increasingly has agreed to parole killers imprisoned for decades, including Chester Weger, the Starved Rock Killer, who’d been locked up since the early 1960s.
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, says that office notified two brothers and a sister of Frank Casolari that Larsen was paroled and is a fugitive.
Larsen previously threatened to harm the Casolari family.
“Their local police departments have been notified,” Simonton says.
Larsen, then 27, was temporarily free on a furlough from prison in 1972 when he fatally shot Casolari in the Schiller Woods Forest Preserve on the Northwest Side. Frank Casolari was there fishing.
Larsen, whose name also is spelled Larson by the Illinois Department of Corrections, had a record of violent crimes before killing Casolari.
According to parole board records, he got a six-month prison sentence in 1969 after a rape charge was reduced to battery. In 1970, he was sentenced to two to eight years for robbery after he broke into an apartment, stabbed a woman, then got into another apartment through a window and robbed another woman at knifepoint.
On May 12, 1972, deemed a model prisoner, he got a three-day furlough to visit his grandmother in Chicago.
While out, he stole a Ford Mustang from an Elmwood Park dealership. Then, on May 17, 1972, he sexually assaulted and robbed a woman and stole two rifles from her home.
Around 3 p.m. that day, he killed Frank Casolari, a student at Prosser Vocational High School on the Northwest Side.
News reports said Casolari was the youngest of 12 siblings. The day he was killed, he came home from school, rode his bike to Schiller Woods near O’Hare Airport and was fishing at a pond.
Larsen admitted he went to the forest preserve “looking for something to shoot.” He saw Casolari about 40 feet away and shot him in the stomach. The boy fell, screaming in pain, and Larsen walked up and kept shooting until he was dead, according to parole board records.
Casolari suffered 23 bullet wounds.
Larsen was arrested early the next morning in the stolen Mustang in a parking lot in Schiller Woods. He was charged with Casolari’s murder and with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl who was in the car when he was caught.
At Larsen’s 1973 sentencing, Joseph Casolari, the slain teenager’s father, told the judge, “They should never let him out.”
The judge, the late Philip Romiti, said, “A light sentence is unthinkable. There should be a clear-cut communication to the pardon and parole board that this was no ordinary crime.”
Tony Casolari, the nephew who never got to meet Frank Casolari, says the family opposed every Larsen parole bid.
“It was always tense at the time of the parole hearings,” says Casolari, whose father is a brother of the victim.
He sees the decision to free Larsen as a sign that society is shifting too much toward granting leniency to violent criminals.
“I don’t think he should have ever seen the light of day,” Casolari says. “He’s a cold-blooded killer. He should pay for his crime and rot in prison.”