The Congdon's Glensheen Mansion, Duluth, Minn.: The Pillow and the Candlestick
Glensheen Mansion is one of the jewels of Duluth's tourism industry. Built by Minnesotan captain of industry Chester Congdon in 1905, the Jacobean house, situated on a sprawling, beautifully landscaped property overlooking frigid Lake Superior, is a gorgeous testament to the town's golden age and the wealth the local iron mines once generated. What University of Minnesota-Duluth's tours of the manse often overlook is its darker past.
Congdon died in 1916, the richest man in Minnesota. His daughter, Elisabeth Mannering Congdon, inherited Glensheen. She never married, but adopted a daughter, Marjorie Mannering Congdon, in 1934. The lonely woman's compassionate attempt to share her rich life and love would be her downfall. Marjorie was a deeply troubled girl, and she did not grow out of her problems when she reached adulthood. In late June, 1977, the elderly and partly paralyzed Elisabeth was murdered, smothered with her satin pillow as she slept; her nurse, Velma Pietila, had tried to defend her and the assailants bludgeoned her to death with a candle stick. Marjorie's second husband, Roger Caldwell, was found guilty of the crime. Marjorie was charged with aiding, abetting and conspiracy to commit murder, but she was acquitted on all counts. Prosecutors argued the couple was simply impatient to receive their inheritance.
Caldwell's sentence was overturned by the state Supreme Court, but he later confessed to the murders—and committed suicide. Prosecutor John DeSanto has never been able to figure out why Caldwell seems to have mailed himself a coin from Glensheen on the day of the murders, and he still thinks there may have been a third person involved.
Marjorie's life of crime didn't stop there, though. She married another man, Wally Hagen, while still married to Caldwell; North Dakota filed a bigamy charge against her but never tried her. In 1984, she was convicted of arson in Mound, Minn. When she and Hagen moved to Ajo, Ariz., a rash of fires spread through their neighborhood. She was sentenced to 11 years for arson there. Marjorie convinced the judge to grant her a 24-hour furlough before starting the sentence, so that she could visit the ailing Hagen; he died under suspicious circumstances that very day. She was charged with his murder, but the case was dropped when investigators, unable to discount the possibility that the couple may have been planning a double suicide, decided to put off bringing the case to trial. In 2005, she was accused of theft, computer tampering, and forgery for allegedly trying to bilk other Tucson senior citizens out of the savings.