The man at the center of one of the most notorious crimes in Minnesota history has died, some 52 years after his wife was brutally murdered by a hitman he was convicted of hiring.
Tilmer "T." Eugene Thompson, at the time of the killing a well-known and respected young lawyer in St. Paul, died peacefully in his Roseville home on Aug. 7, according to a Star Tribune obituary published Tuesday.
He died on his 88th birthday.
In a separate article analyzing the crime and how it captured the attention of the nation, the Star Tribune said the case was believed to have inspired the plot of the Coen Brothers' landmark film "Fargo" – partly due to the "bungling nature" of the murder.
In case you haven't seen the Oscar-winning movie in a while, the story follows a semi-successful Minneapolis salesman who hires two criminal lowlifes to kidnap his wealthy wife for ransom.
The pair, instead, botch the job in the worst ways possible, leaving a trail of murder victims in their wake.
The real-life drama
The saga began the morning of March 6, 1963, when Thompson's wife and the mother of his four children, Carol Thompson, showed up at a neighbor's doorstep, covered in blood after a violent struggle with a home intruder, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.
Despite lifesaving efforts, she died several hours later at the hospital.
The investigation later revealed that the murderer had made several unsuccessful attempts to kill the 34-year-old woman, including drowning, beating her with the butt of a pistol, and stabbing, the Star Tribune reports.
Despite initial fears within the community that a killer was on the loose, the historical society says, police soon turned their attention to T. Eugene Thompson, due to his having taken out a $1 million life insurance policy on his wife – and an alleged "history of womanizing."
He claimed innocence, but the hitman – like his "Fargo" counterparts, a small-time crook – soon confessed to the crime, turning over the "middle man" who hired him, and the boss at the top of the chain, T. Eugene Thompson.
In a verdict that "made headlines around the world," a jury found the attorney guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison.
The historical society describes T. Eugene Thompson as arguably "the most infamous murderer" in Minnesota history.
A family in pieces
T. Eugene Thompson was paroled 20 years later and settled into a quiet life in the Twin Cities, eventually remarrying, the historical society says.
His relationship with his children remained strained for the duration of his life. A few years after his release, his family – led by his eldest son, Winona County District Court Judge Jeff Thompson – held their own "trial" and ultimately found their father "guilty," according to the Winona Daily News.
Though the elder Thompson refused his family's demands to admit his role in the killing, Jeff Thompson told the paper in 2006 that his relationship with his father was "cordial."
The case – and the impact it had on the Thompson family – is the subject of "Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson," a critically acclaimed book published by the Minnesota Historical Society.