ST. PAUL — The 1963 murder of Carol Thompson in St. Paul had all the makings of a great tragedy: A wealthy, professionally respected husband plotting his wife’s slaying; an illicit love affair; a murder itinerary gone awry; a beloved mother’s demise and the eventual convictions of all three men guilty of her murder.
The then-Minneapolis Star offered wall-to-wall coverage of the tragedy, from the outlandish account of the murder’s plotting, the gruesome act itself, to a dramatic and highly publicized court trial full of twists and turns. Reports were frequent and meticulously detailed, and the paper was splattered with paparazzi-style photos of the main characters.
Carol Thompson was, by all accounts, a loving mother to her four children and devoted wife to St. Paul attorney T. Eugene Thompson. The Thompson family lived in a quaint two-and-a-half-story home in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood — an upscale neighborhood where brutal murders didn’t typically take place.
But the story of Mrs. Thompson’s death began long before the brutal events of March 6, 1963. Mr. Thompson was having an affair with his young, unmarried secretary Jacqueline Olesen — or, as state prosecutors would call her, “a female companion who was not his wife.” Mr. Thompson covered several expenses for Olesen, also of St. Paul, including her secretarial school before he hired her to work at his law firm.
But Olesen didn’t want to be with a married man, and when he wouldn’t leave his wife, she gave him an ultimatum. According to Randall, Mr. Thompson in early 1962 begged her, “No. Just give me 11 months and then we will have enough money for us to live on.”
And so began Mr. Thompson’s search for life insurance policies for Mrs. Thompson. It started with a recommendation from a longtime friend and insurance agent to take out a modest $50,000 policy.
But Mr. Thompson continued shopping. First it was a $100,000 policy. Then another, then another. By the time Mrs. Thompson was murdered months later, Mr. Thompson had obtained $1,055,000 — more than the equivalent of $9.3 million in 2021 — of life insurance on her. He had accumulated the multitude of policies within the span of 11 months, and he was the sole beneficiary.
Also in those 11 months, Mr. Thompson and his old Macalester classmate Norman Mastrian began plotting Mrs. Thompson’s murder.
The plan, and the problem
They would hire hitman Dick Anderson, write detailed instructions to make it look like an accident, provide a diagram of the Highland Park house and arrange for alibis for both Mr. Thompson and Mastrian. Mr. Thompson even got rid of the beloved family dachshund Schotze, who was known to bark at uninvited guests — a suspicious move that ultimately tipped off investigators to Mr. Thompson's involvement.
The plan was this: Mr. Thompson would leave for work early that day (unusually early for him, the state would later show), and Mrs. Thompson would send the kids off to school. Meanwhile, Anderson would be waiting in the basement of the home for a staged phone call from Mr. Thompson's office. When Mrs. Thompson answered the phone near the top of the basement steps, Anderson was to sneak up and strike her on the back of her head, knocking her unconscious, then carry her to the bathtub and stage a drowning accident.
But things did not go according to plan.
Anderson said in his confession that the day of the murder, he realized the basement stairs were creaky, and he worried Mrs. Thompson would hear him approaching if she was at the top. Instead, he ambushed her in her bedroom around 9 a.m. She tried to get away, running down to the first floor, where he repeatedly struck her with a blunt object and stabbed her twice in the neck.
And then things took another unexpected turn: As the attacker reportedly went upstairs to wash himself, Mrs. Thompson awakened.
Bloodied and beaten, barefoot and in a bathrobe on a cold Minnesota winter day, she stumbled out of her picturesque brick house to get help. She knocked on the door of her neighbor, who would later tell police that when she answered, the woman before her was so beaten she couldn’t recognize her as Mrs. Thompson.
Carol Thompson was taken to a hospital but died of her injuries by 1 p.m.
With the neighborhood in a tailspin and police all over the case, Mr. Thompson instructed another attorney in his office to deliver an unmarked envelope containing $2,500 in cash to Mastrian. The attorney would later tell investigators of the meet-up, and that there was no receipt made of the transaction.
Fast-forward eight months and Mr. Thompson is on trial for the first-degree murder of his wife. The details of his murder plot and extramarital affair are aired out in the courtroom by prosecutors and witnesses, then splattered across his city’s newspaper.
According to the Star Tribune’s archives, Ramsey County Attorney William Randall would tell a jury of six men and six women on Nov. 4, 1963, that Mrs. Thompson "was a warm friend, a gracious hostess, and a sought-after guest." Before she was killed at 34 years old, she led a Girl Scouts Brownie troop, was active at her church and “took an active interest in government.” She and Mr. Thompson were college sweethearts who met at Macalester College in the city, and married her sophomore year.
The jury unanimously found T. Eugene Thompson guilty and, on Dec. 7, 1963, he was sentenced to life in prison. He was 35 years old.
The Star described him that day as “neatly dressed as usual,” sitting “pale but composed with his eyes straight ahead as the verdict was read and sentence imposed.”
As the court clerk read the verdict, Mr. Thompson “dropped his eyes, sighed and let his head sag to one side” before he “looked up and stared hard, his eyes blinking rapidly, at the faces of the 12 jurors.”
Archives show that reporters also hounded his former mistress Olesen at her apartment — first through her door then outside her window — the day of the verdict as she pleaded to be left alone.
“It’s all over,” the 27-year-old said. “That family is in enough distress without my opening up my mouth any more.”
The other two men involved — Mastrian and Anderson — were convicted of first-degree murder in separate trials.
Thompson would ultimately serve roughly 20 years in state prison before being released on parole in 1983. He died on his 88th birthday on Aug. 7, 2015, at his home in Roseville, Minn. His family’s obituary describes him as “a multi-faceted person.”
It concludes, “Oscar Wilde said, ‘Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.’ Amen.”