In a rare move, Illinois state officials have revoked the parole they’d recently granted to Ray Larsen, who killed a teenage boy on the Northwest Side in a violent spree in 1972 and then took off from a South Side halfway house after being freed this spring.
It isn’t the first time the Illinois Prisoner Review Board has backpedaled on Larsen.
On April 29, the board — whose members are appointed by the governor — voted 9-3 to parole Larsen, now 76, reversing its 12-0 decision to deny him parole in 2018.
At the 2018 parole hearing, board member Salvador Diaz had warned, “There is something about inmate Larsen that makes him a spree offender, and he may be high-risk to reoffend.”
The parole board has declined to explain why it granted Larsen parole in April. It has yet to release the minutes of that meeting.
Larsen was serving a 100- to 300-year sentence after confessing he was “looking for something to shoot” when he went to the Schiller Woods Forest Preserve near O’Hare Airport on May 17, 1972, and killed Frank Casolari.
Larsen was 27 and on a furlough from Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, where he was doing time for robbery. He was in a program that allowed inmates with good prison records to visit their families and told authorities he’d be spending a three-day weekend with his grandmother.
While out, he stole a car from an Elmwood Park Ford dealer, sexually assaulted and robbed a woman and stole two rifles from her home, then drove to the forest preserve on the Northwest Side. He spotted Casolari, 16 years old and and the youngest of 12 siblings, who had ridden his bike there after coming home from Prosser Vocational High School and gone fishing at a pond there.
Larsen shot him in the stomach. As the boy fell, screaming, Larsen walked up and kept shooting till he was dead, then buried him, according to parole board records. The teenager suffered 23 bullet wounds.
After Larsen was arrested the next morning in the stolen car in a parking lot at the forest preserve, he was charged with Casolari’s murder and with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl who was in the car where he was caught.
Parole board records spell out Larsen’s history of violence. In 1969, he got a six-month sentence after a rape charge was reduced to battery. The following year, he was given two to eight years for robbery for breaking into an apartment and stabbing a woman, then robbing another woman at knifepoint.
That’s what he was doing time for in May 1972 when he got the pass from prison to see his grandmother, having been deemed a model prisoner.
After the parole board voted in late April to free him, Larsen moved into a halfway house in West Pullman and ordered to stay in touch with his parole agent.
But, on May 15, the Illinois Department of Corrections issued a warrant for Larsen’s arrest after parole officials lost contact with him. He was found May 19 and sent back to the halfway house.
But he disappeared again on May 20, and another arrest warrant was issued.
In late May, while Larsen was still a fugitive, one of Casolari’s relatives told the Chicago Sun-Times: “What is our state doing? How do you lose this guy?”
“It’s disturbing, it’s aggravating, it’s ridiculous,” said Tony Casolari, who was born after his uncle was killed.
On May 28, Chicago police officers arrested Larsen on the North Side after authorities said they found him at a hospital.
The second time he was missing, Larsen took a Greyhound bus to Cincinnati without permission to visit a woman he’d befriended in prison as a pen pal, but he was unable to see her and returned to Chicago, officials say.
On June 22, a three-member panel of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board revoked Larsen’s parole.
State officials said they could recall only one other so-called “C-number” inmate like Larsen having his parole revoked over the past two decades.
A C-number is the prison identification that was given to inmates sentenced before 1978 — when Illinois did away with indeterminate sentences that gave a range for a prison term, like Larsen’s 100 to 300 years, rather than a set number of years.
Today, those convicted of first-degree murder in Illinois are required to serve their full sentences without the possibility of parole. But inmates like Larsen, convicted before the law was changed in 1978, are entitled to a parole hearing at least every five years.
Larsen will be up for parole again next June.
Larsen’s lawyer Noah Breslau opposed the revocation of his parole.
“Prison is an extremely costly and deeply unproductive response to non-criminal misconduct, and, in Mr. Larsen’s case, there were services and supports available that would have allowed him to successfully navigate reentry,” Breslau says. “Unfortunately, the PRB’s written findings fail to articulate why the re-imprisonment of a sick, old man was the appropriate choice here.”
According to the board’s written findings, obtained under Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act, Larsen had said the rules for his parole were “miscommunicated” to him, even though he’d signed an agreement May 13 acknowledging those rules.
In recent years, the Prisoner Review Board increasingly has been granting parole to killers imprisoned for decades, including 82-year-old Chester Weger, the Starved Rock Killer, who’d been locked up since the early 1960s.
Weger, a C-number inmate, was paroled last year for being a model prisoner and is now trying to prove his innocence in the killings of three women at Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago.
Advocates for prisoners say the decision to free Larsen and other C-number inmates makes sense, given their age and statistics that show few elderly parolees go on to commit violent crimes.
One of the few other C-number inmates to be paroled and then have his parole revoked is Larry Kurena, 63. Kurena was paroled in 1993 after serving 17 years for fatally stabbing two men with a butcher knife outside a Chicago liquor store.
In 2004, Kurena was on parole in Illinois when he pleaded guilty to selling stolen tools for $5 in Indiana and got probation there.
Then, in March 2005, he called his ex-wife and said he knew she was dating a Chicago police officer and “didn’t have a problem killing a cop.”
Kurena later acknowledged saying that but called it a statement with “no meaning,” according to parole board records.
The board revoked Kurena’s parole in April 2005. He remained in prison in Illinois until February, when he was paroled again on a vote of 8-4 — after 10 previous denials.
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which no longer weighs in on parole bids, had objected to Kurena’s release.