Author's revisions offer inside stories to Congdon murders
The book takes you right up to Marjorie (Congdon-Caldwell) Hagen's 2001 parole hearing.
Hearing about the Glensheen murders always makes me think of the board game Clue. Sure, the list of suspects is a lot shorter, but you have a mansion and a candlestick and at least a little uncertainty about the whole affair.
But the Congdon story is so wild and takes so many unexpected twists and turns that even us Northlanders who have heard it many times can be forgiven for dipping back in. And it's more interesting than any game.
Joe Kimball's "Secrets of the Congdon Mansion" is probably the best-known book on the topic, although other books have joined it. The book has been revised and expanded in a 25th year edition, and for the occasion, Kimball has added a long series of "inside stories" on how he covered the murder, the investigation, the trial, the aftermath and the fates of the parties involved for the Minneapolis Tribune, now the Star Tribune, where he still works.
In fact, the book takes you right up to Marjorie (Congdon-Caldwell) Hagen's 2001 parole hearing. It's a story that keeps on giving.
For visitors to the mansion who want to know more about the murders, "Secrets" is the place to start. The tour guides won't talk about it -- in one concession to sensationalism, the book's back cover has "Banned from the Mansion Gift Shop" written across the back -- and "Secrets" has everything you want from a tour perspective.
Kimball opens the book with the long, convoluted story itself, which takes about 35 pages.
But then he answers the demand that morbid curiosity can create on London Road, providing the information Glensheen guides don't give you. Kimball lays out exact details of where in the mansion the murders took place (down to the bloodstains), how the murderer got in and where he cleaned up afterwards. Kimball writes that he has spoken to guides at the mansion who say a person in just about every tour group asks about the murders, so it's easy to see why the book is popular.
If the morbid side of you isn't particularly strong, the inside stories making up the last half of the book may provide something to chew over. Kimball, due to his long tenure on the story and presumably his skill as a reporter, got amazing access to the people involved, especially Roger Caldwell, the Congdon son-in-law convicted of the murder.
These inside stories, detailing Caldwell's overturned conviction and subsequent plea-bargained confession, his wife Marjorie's bizarre journey to an Arizona prison, Caldwell's descent into despair and suicide and more, give an added richness to the book.
I have always been especially fascinated by Caldwell, and Kimball doesn't disappoint. In exclusive interviews, he depicts a tragic character, despite his probably being responsible for two of the state's most infamous murders. Other books have more to tell about Marjorie, but for a broad understanding of the story, this is probably the best bet.
It is also interesting from a journalist's standpoint, because Kimball tells a lot of his war stories here, including being called to the stand to testify in one of the trials -- not exactly on any reporter's wish list.
You can tell Kimball is a reporter. He writes tight, no-nonsense prose that stays out of your way, although parts of Roger Caldwell's story are written somewhat movingly. And the treatment seems fair, giving reasoned voice and appropriate emphasis to questions that still remain.
The reproduction of pictures is lousy, often ghastly, but the line art and diagrams work well.
At $7.95 and about 100 pages (including that abundant art and nonthreatening amounts of text), it's geared right for the tourist market, but Glensheenophiles in the Northland might enjoy the expanded stories too.
Many people will be eager for this. You know who you are.
The book: "Secrets of the Congdon Mansion," Jaykay Publishing, 1985 (revised)
Author: Joe Kimball
Recommendation: The crime that perennially fascinates the Northland and its visitors is back in a revision of the regional bestseller. Sure to sell well.
Kyle Eller is features editor for the Budgeteer News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 723-1207.