The Glensheen Mansion 

by Kaia Ryden on 2024

Arts and Entertainment Editor 

March 17, 2024 

This article covers the story of the Glensheen murders that happened in 1977. An old heiress, her adopted daughter and son-in-law, and an evil plan full of greed. What really happened during that time, and why? 

If you have never heard of the Glensheen Mansion, it is a beautiful historical house up on the North Shore of Minnesota that is home to one of Minnesota’s most famous murders. The Glensheen mansion was built between the years of 1905 and 1907 as a home for Chester and Clara Congdon, an affluent family at the time. Due to the opening of their iron mining business in the area, and the several charitable endeavors they supported, the Congdons became one of the most influential families in Duluth. It took a little over 3 years to build Glensheen and cost the family $854,000 in total, according to the Glensheen’s official website. The house has a whopping 39 rooms and over 27,000 square feet of living space. There, the family of 8 lived a busy life together.  

Years later, after Chester and Clara passed on (Chester in 1916 and Clara in 1950), their daughter Elisabeth inherited the estate. Elisabeth was a hard-working woman. While attending school, she excelled in all areas. Unfortunately, her father died while she was away at school, and she decided to drop out and move home to help her mother. While living in the mansion she helped with many organization boards and charities. She was also the first president of the Women’s Junior League, volunteered at St. Luke’s hospital rolling bandages, and started a women’s clinic with her friend, Elizabeth Bagley. She lived well into her older years, dying at the ripe old age of 83. 

Unfortunately for her, the cause of death was anything but natural. Elisabeth was murdered in her sleep…by her own family! While she never married or had children herself, she had adopted two girls earlier in her life, Jennifer and Marjorie. Jennifer had moved to Wisconsin after marrying, and Marjorie to Minneapolis. Marjorie’s husband divorced her after 20 years of marriage and she ended up moving to Colorado, where she met her second husband Rodger Caldwell. Marjorie was a lavish girl, spending loads of money to attain a wealthy lifestyle. The catch is this: she wasn’t rich. Her mother was. She was completely reliant on her mother to pay every check and bill that she racked up, and to Elisabeth’s credit, she did. Elisabeth was a very wealthy woman, one of the wealthiest in Minnesota history.  

But soon, Elisabeth had a bad stroke and had to be watched daily, so the Congdon trustees told Marjorie and Caldwell that no more money would come their way. Enraged and unable to accept this, the couple tried to live the same way that they had been living but by 1977, they were completely broke and in desperate need of money. 

Marjorie was set to inherit over $8.2 million USD once Elisabeth passed, so the couple hatched a devious plan. Caldwell booked a flight to Minneapolis and drove up to Duluth on June 27, 1977. He hid in the neighboring cemetery until nightfall, then continued with his evil intentions. He snuck into the house once the lights went out, first heading to deal with the night nurse, Velma Pietila, that watched over his mother-in-law while she was sleeping. Unfortunately for this nurse, she wasn’t even supposed to be there that night. She was filling in last minute, but was close with the old heiress, so she didn’t mind.  

She was found beaten to death with a candlestick the next morning by the day nurse, Mildred Garvue, who later found Elisabeth smothered to death in her bed by a satin pillow. She also found the bedroom to be disheveled, with things strewn about and some items missing. After murdering Elisabeth, Caldwell stole some expensive jewelry from her room and took a diamond ring off of her hand. Then, he washed himself up in a bathroom, stole Velma’s car keys, and drove her car back to Minneapolis.  

The police labeled it as a botched robbery at first, but after taking a closer look at the case, they decided to investigate the family. Many of the family members pointed to Marjorie and Rodger, explaining their financial situation. Rodger was eventually convicted of both murders and put into jail. Marjorie was soon accused of planning the murders on the account that Caldwell didn’t know Duluth and the mansion like she did. She was found not guilty, and Rodger’s lawyers soon appealed his case. After a lot of back and forth, a plea deal was agreed upon. A guilty plea and no more jail time.  

While he was free from jail, he was not living a great life. He only received $186 a month and lived in a small apartment above a bar. He was an alcoholic most of his life and now he was also morbidly obese. In 1988, Rodger killed himself. Marjorie ended up remarrying with a man that she was friends with in her earlier years, when their kids competed in ice-skating together. She had many run-ins with the law, due to her committing arson multiple times in multiple places, as well as allegedly killing her new husband’s wife and later her husband. She died on June 8, 2020.  

The Congdon family was a pillar in Duluth’s community back in the day, helping it become the great city we know today. There are many tributes to the affluent family, including Congdon Park and Congdon Park Elementary School. The Glensheen is open to the public for tours and a more in-depth history of the family and the exquisite building. I highly encourage you to take a weekend trip up to Duluth and learn a little more about one of Minnesota’s most affluent and unfortunate families. If you can’t make it up North, the History Theater in St. Paul is performing a play on the Glensheen Mansion from June 20 – July 14!