Carol Thompson: Murder for Money and Love

Last week, we met the California man who tried to murder his wife by having rattlesnakes bite her. Robert “Rattlesnake” James had to finish the job by beating Mary James to death. He paid on the gallows. This week, we travel far from the glitz and glitter of Hollywood and Los Angeles to the staid suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. There, in 1963, Carol Thompson was the victim of a vicious murder engineered by her husband. T. Eugene Thompson hired a hitman to kill Carol, but, got caught anyway.

T. Eugene Thompson and Carol Swoboda

Tilmer Eugene Thompson grew up in the small town of Elmore, Minnesota near the Iowa border. There he attended high school and played football with future senator and vice president Walter Mondale. Lying about his age, he joined the Navy to fight in World War II and served on a minesweeper.

After the war, Thompson attended Macalester College in St. Paul. There he met Carol Swoboda. Carol was a St. Paul native, born and raised in the area. She and Thompson (called “Cotton” because of white-blonde hair) married in 1948. Thompson attended law school and became a practicing attorney.

Carol Swoboda and "Cotton" Thompson at their 1948 wedding (Margaret Chula)
Carol Swoboda and “Cotton” Thompson at their 1948 wedding (Margaret Chula)

By the spring of 1963, the couple had four children ranging in ages from 6 to 13. Carol Thompson was the prototypical June Cleaver type of housewife. Bill Swanson, author of Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson put it this way. “She was active in her church (Edgecumbe Presbyterian) and active in the Scouts and did all the things that stay-at-home mothers did in those days. She had a million friends with whom she played bridge and got together for coffee parties.”

The Murder of Carol Thompson

March 6, 1963 was a cool early spring day in the Twin Cities. Carol Thompson went about her business in her home at 1720 Hillcrest Avenue. Suddenly, an intruder surprised her. The man hit her with a rubber hose and tried to drown her in the bathtub. When that failed, he tried to shoot her. But he’d loaded his gun, a Luger, with the wrong ammunition and it misfired. He then pummeled her face with the butt of the gun. For good measure, he stabbed her more than 50 times with a paring knife he got from the kitchen.

Carol Thompson with her four children
Carol Thompson with her four children

Yet Carol was still alive. She staggered to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor opened her door to find a barefoot woman with blood all over her head and face. She was unrecognizable as Carol Thompson.

Carol Thompson was transported to Ancker Hospital, where doctors removed a three-inch knife blade from her throat. But she was unable to overcome her wounds and died three hours later.

The Plot Unravels

Police were able to trace pieces of the Luger’s grip, which had broken off during the attack. This led them to Dick W.C. Anderson, an ex-convict from Michigan. He admitted attacking Carol Thompson, saying a former prizefighter, Norman Mastrian, had hired him to do the job for $3,000. Mastrian, he claimed, was acting as middleman for none other than Carol’s husband, T. Eugene Thompson. Thompson hired Mastrian, one of his former clients, to murder his wife. Unknown to Thompson, Mastrian subcontracted the job to Anderson.

T. Eugene Thompson is led into court (Pioneer Press)
T. Eugene Thompson is led into court (Pioneer Press)

With this information in hand, police soon arrested Cotton Thompson. In addition to the testimony of the two inept hitmen, investigators discovered that Thompson carried $1.1 million in life insurance (worth over $10 million in 2022) on his wife. Furthermore, although he had several “girlfriends,” there was one, Jacqueline Olesen, he seemed eager to marry.

Thompson’s murder trial began in late October 1963, lasted six weeks, and received massive press coverage. UPI had story about the trial running on its national wire when it had to interrupt with a bulletin that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

Between the testimony of the hitmen and the evidence of the large insurance payout, Thompson didn’t have much of a chance. Taking the stand in his own defense proved to be a mistake. Most observers felt he did himself more harm than good. After deliberating twelve hours, the jury found him guilty as charged. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Epilogue

T. Eugene Thompson continued to maintain hs innocence, but even his own children didn’t believe him. Thompson served 19 years in prison, most of it at the Stillwater correctional facility. He was released on parole in 1983 but, as a convicted felon, was unable to practice law. He remarried, dabbled in real estate, and died in the Twin Cities suburb of Roseville on August 7, 2015, his 88th birthday.

T. Eugene Thompson ca. 1987
T. Eugene Thompson ca. 1987

You can read more about this case in Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson by William Swanson.

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