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Man charged in 1983 murder of bookstore owner, 77

Joseph Walker

Joseph Walker

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A convicted felon serving a life sentence for a sexual assault in Utah has been charged in the 1983 murder of an elderly Chicago bookstore owner who was found raped and strangled inside her South Side business.

A recent DNA analysis linked Joseph Walker to the slaying of Frieda Fenster, 77, but Walker denied that he was involved, Cook County prosecutors said Tuesday.

Walker, 59, told detectives that he never would have had sex with “an old white lady” or step foot inside a bookstore because “me and books never get along,” Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Weiss said.

Officers found Fenster’s body in the rear storage room of Stein’s Book Store on Dec. 16, 1983.

Fenster’s purse and other belongings were found in the store at 526 S. State, and there was money inside the cash register, Weiss said.

When officers arrived at the bookstore, two men were browsing through magazines, Weiss said.

The men told detectives they came into the store to warm up and denied being in the back room, Weiss said.

The men were questioned and released. Weiss did not say whether Walker was one of the men who were initially interrogated.

Last year, the Chicago Police and State’s Attorney’s Office’s Cold Case Units re-opened the case and sent samples of semen evidence from Fenster’s body to the Illinois State Police crime lab to be entered into the DNA database called CODIS.

The samples matched Walker, Weiss said.

In July, detectives went to the Pontiac Correctional Center to question Walker and and obtain a DNA sample.

Walker had been transferred to Illinois from Utah to serve his life sentence for the mid-1980s rape in that state, Weiss said.

That is when Walker said he would never have sex with someone so elderly and talked about his uneasy relationship with books, Weiss said.

When he was interviewed by authorities again in October, Walker reiterated that “books don’t get along with him,” Weiss said.

Judge Jorge Alonso issued an arrest warrant in December but Walker had a “medical condition” that prevented him from being in court until Tuesday, Weiss said.

Walker, who was dressed in a yellow jumpsuit and holding a towel in court Tuesday, was ordered held without bond in the Fenster murder case.

He was not charged with rape because the statute of limitations had expired, officials said.

Walker, who was born in Arkansas, had been serving his life sentence in Utah until 1995, when he was moved to Illinois for “hardship.”

Walker was transferred to Pontiac on a “compact” in which Utah accepted an inmate from Illinois in exchange for Walker.

Such transfers are often done for compassionate reasons so inmates can be closer to family, said Stephen Gehrke, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections.

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