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Glensheen to feature book on 1977 murders

Glensheen board members met Wednesday to approve the sale of "Will to Murder," a 2003 book about the notorious 1977 double murder at the historic Duluth mansion, in its gift shop and to discuss the possibility of holding symposiums based on the b...

Glensheen board members met Wednesday to approve the sale of "Will to Murder," a 2003 book about the notorious 1977 double murder at the historic Duluth mansion, in its gift shop and to discuss the possibility of holding symposiums based on the book at Glensheen.

In 1977, Glensheen heiress Elisabeth Congdon and her night nurse Velma Pietila were brutally slain at the mansion. Eventually Congdon's son-in-law Roger Caldwell was convicted of the murders and, in a strange series of events, later released after confessing to the crimes. Caldwell committed suicide in 1988.

Congdon's eldest adopted daughter, Marjorie (Caldwell's wife at the time), was acquitted of conspiracy to murder. She was later convicted of arson in Minnesota and Arizona and was suspected in two other mysterious deaths. She was released from an Arizona prison this past January and is thought to be living in Tucson.

Up until today, the Glensheen staff has been reserved about the murders. Docents guiding mansion tours were instructed not to discuss them, and although there are three books on the subject, none were allowed for sale at the Glensheen gift shop. "Will to Murder" will be the only book about the crimes available at Glensheen.

The book, written by former Duluth News Tribune crime reporter Gail Feichtinger along with former St. Louis County Sheriff Gary Waller and St. Louis County Prosecutor John DeSanto -- the men who led the murder investigation and prosecution of the Caldwells -- was released in August 2003 to both critical and public acclaim.

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Minnesota media praised the book, published by Duluth's X-communication, for its thoroughness. "Will to Murder" sold 10,000 copies during its first month of publication and continues to lead regional sales in Duluth bookstores. It has also enjoyed considerable nationwide sales.

"We want to open up about the murders in order to stop misinformation," said Gabrielle Allen, Glensheen's marketing director. "Often on tours patrons are overheard saying things like, 'This is where (Congdon patriarch) Chester shot his wife' or 'Elisabeth slept with a .357 magnum under her pillow.' Of course, these things never happened."

Before making its decision, the Glensheen Board approached Congdon family members to get their feelings about being more open about the crimes at Glensheen. Most had no objections, as long as the topic was addressed in good taste. Making "Will to Murder" part of the Glensheen experience is one way they hope to do that.

Besides being for sale at the mansion, Glensheen has discussed the option of holding dinner symposiums, sponsored by the UMD Alumni Association, at which Waller and DeSanto would discuss the murder investigation and trials. Other options for tours concerning the murders are being considered as well, and the tour script will be altered slightly.

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