Murder, Mystery and Glensheen Mansion

An awesome example of my Mom’s wicked pumpkin carving skills

Happy (late) Halloween! This is kind of an odd “holiday” isn’t it? Sometimes I wonder where the tradition of dressing in costumes and going from door-to-door expecting candy originated. I’ll have to look into that someday, I’m sure the origination of the ritual has absolutely nothing to do with the way it is practiced today. Kind of like the tradition of carving pumpkins which is a variation of the Celtic holiday, Samhain, custom where people would carve gourds and turnips and place them in their windows to welcome their deceased relatives while also warding off wicked spirits on the last day of every October.

My cousin Scott and I celebrating Halloween in 2010, I haven’t dressed up for two years so this is the most recent costume I have!

As a kid my Mother, who is somewhat of a seamstress, would often make my costumes. I remember one particular Halloween where she had put together a fabulous “Black Cat” costume. That afternoon I was trying it on and was so excited that I ran outside to show my Dad. He and my brother were in the shed tending to one of our dogs who had recently given birth to a litter of puppies. I busted into the shed ever eager to proudly show off my costume and must have startled our dog. I don’t know if it was the way I came running into the shed or maybe it was the fact that I was dressed like a giant cat. Whatever it was, she was none so amused and she leaped out of her whelping box growling at me as if I had come to steal all her puppies away. I ran terrified back into my house and my brother and dad soon followed laughing hysterically.

In honor of Halloween I thought it appropriate to talk a little bit about Glensheen Mansion. This historic and beautiful building was built in 1908 for the Congdon family. The Congdon’s were well known for their incredible wealth made mostly from Chester Congdon’s investments in the Iron Range. The family name made national news on June 27th, 1977 when the final living child of Chester and Clara was found dead in her bedroom within the mansion.

Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, Minnesota

Photo Credit

Chester Congdon was an attorney when he and his wife Clara began building their dream home in Duluth, Minnesota. The expansive 39 room house was built to be a place for the Congdon’s and their 10 children to grow. The home is as beautiful as the land with which it resides on the shores of Lake Superior. The home remained in family ownership for almost 70 years until Elisabeth Congdon was suffocated while she slept. It was the day shift nurse who had arrived at the residence to relieve Elisabeth’s night nurse that discovered the scene. The intruder allegedly entered through a rear basement window that was found broken. Elisabeth’s night nurse, Valma Pietila, left her bedroom to investigate the noise and was met by the intruder on the grand stair case. She was hit, at least once, with an eight inch brass candle stick and fell six steps to the stair case landing. She was either placed or crawled onto the window seat where she was found. Elisabeth Congdon was found in her bed, she had been left partially paralyzed after a stroke she had suffered eight years earlier. The killer had suffocated her with a pillow and then ransacked her bedroom leaving behind an empty jewelry box. Pietila’s car was missing from the scene when the police arrived the following morning and was eventually found at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

Roger Caldwell being escorted into a police car in 1977

Photo Credit

The state of the ravaged bedroom originally led the police to believe the motive for Elisabeth’s murder was robbery. They would later turn their attention to Elisabeth’s adoptive daughter, Marjorie and her then husband, Roger Caldwell. Marjorie had a history of carelessly spending her mother’s money which resulted in Elisabeth eventually cutting her off financially. Marjorie and Roger were living in Colorado in 1977 and were in a financial hardship. The police found a motive for her mother’s murder in that Marjorie stood to inherit over 10 million dollars from Elisabeth’s death. Both Roger and Marjorie would be charged with Elisabeth Congdon and Valma Pietila’s murders. Eventually Roger would plead guilty, while Marjorie was acquitted on all charges. Roger committed suicide in prison 11 years later leaving behind a note stating that he did not commit the murders.

Photo Credit

This story is disturbing on many levels, but what bothers me the most is the stain it has left on the historic property it is affiliated with. Up until a few years ago tour guides were not allowed to comment on the murders per a request from the Congdon family, and I’m told that some guides still refuse to comment. This story is alluring because of the Congdon family’s wealth and the amount of mystery that still surrounds  the murders, but it is important to remember that for almost 70 years before this incident occurred this home was used as a place for family, charity and social events. Someday soon I hope to visit the home again; I haven’t been since I was in elementary school. When I do, I’ll write in more detail about the building itself.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you had a happy Halloween!



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