On June 27th, 1977, an intruder broke into the Glensheen Mansion located on Lake Superior in Duluth Minnesota. The only occupants in the large home at the time were the lone heir to the million+ dollar estate, Elisabeth Congdon (83) and her nurse Velma Pietila. The intruder would leave with a basket of jewelry and a few other small items, but not before they murdered the nurse beating her to death with a candlestick, and smothering Elisabeth with a satin pillow.
The investigation quickly led in the direction of Elisabeth’s adopted daughter Marjorie and her husband Roger. According to Elisabeth’s will, upon her death Marjorie would receive 8 million dollars. Three days prior to the murders, Marjorie had authorized a paper stating that once her inheritance came to be, her husband would receive 2.5 million of the given amount. When police investigators turned up where Marjorie and her husband were staying, missing items from the house were found in their possession; which Marjorie claimed were copies of the real jewelry made and given to her perviously by her adopted mother, Elisabeth.
50 years earlier Elisabeth Congdon in her early 30’s having never married, adopted two daughters, Marjorie and Jennifer. Marjorie had always been one looking for the quick fix, expecting everything to be handed to her even long after she had married and moved away. She continuously asked Elisabeth for money for one idea or another, even stooping as low to forge a doctor’s letter saying her husband had a serious illness.
As the case went on, Roger and Marjorie were both tried for the crimes, Roger was convicted, and a year later Marjorie was acquitted. What follows in the book is a continued investigation into Marjorie’s life, her growing up as a Congdon and her continued self-destructive lifestyle that led to even more deaths… none of which she was ever arrested for.
The Congdon story is one that is quite close to me literally. The mansion itself is located in Duluth Minnesota, 2 1/2 hours from my home in Brainerd Minnesota. The trial was moved to Brainerd and in July of 1978 the jury found Roger Caldwell (Marjorie’s husband) to be guilty of the crimes.
At the time all of this was taking place I was 10 years old. It would be 12 years before I would hear about the murders and with my husband’s property in Finland Minnesota, find that I drive by the Glensheen Mansion every time I go through Duluth to the cabin. After the first time I toured the mansion with my sons and husband, I wanted to know more about the family and what had happened.
There are many books out there about the Glensheen Mansion, the Congdons, and the murders. I have read quite a few but find this one to be the most detailed account of the property, the background, the trial, and the continuing craziness of all the surrounds Marjorie to this very day. There is even later DNA testing that was not available at the time but was found to link both Roger and Marjorie to the crimes and calls into question her acquittal.
Yes, this book is true crime but it is much more than that. It is the story of a home that took many years to build, its the story of a family, and of an adoption. It is a piece of Minnesota History.
I have probably toured the Mansion 10 times now, mostly because I have friends who want to stop and do the tour that have not been there before. It is always well taken care of, like stepping back into time, the original fixtures remain, pictures on the wall, furnishings… Originally they had the third floor not available for tour (this was the floor that contained Elisabeth’s bedroom) but in the last few years they have expanded the tour to include the third floor as well as the attic which contains large rolls of curtains that the family would use to change out the drapes seasonally as well as all their Christmas decorations.
This is a book I keep at the cabin as it is a part of Minnesota history, well written, and educational.
Last weekend as I was driving home from the cabin, I took a couple “drive by” pictures of the mansion, knowing I would be writing this review. Somewhere I have better pictures of the gardens and the buildings from when I was doing the tours. I know at some point I will probably be touring Glensheen again.