Despite the opening credits to Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film Fargo proclaiming that it is based on a true story, the acclaimed filmmakers have denied that there is any real basis to the story. Nonetheless, many have assumed that the film drew some inspiration from the bumbling real-life Minnesota murder of Carol Thompson, for which her husband T. Eugene Thompson (above, right) was ultimately convicted.
Murder of Carol Thompson
On March 6, 1963, housewife and mother Carol Thompson, who can be seen in this photo with her family, was attacked in her Highland Park home. First, she was struck with a rubber hose, and her assailant attempted to drown her in the bathtub, staging it to look like an accident. When that didn’t work, he tried to shoot her, but his gun wouldn’t fire. So next he beat her with the gun and punctured her neck with a kitchen knife, ultimately stabbing her more than 50 times.
Unbelievably, Carol was still alive. When her attacker left her alone, assuming she was dead, she ran to her neighbor’s house for help. “She was so bloody, they didn’t even know who she was,” Bill Swanson wrote in Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson.
Although Carol survived all of that, and made it to nearby Ancker Hospital, she succumbed to her injuries and died three hours later. “I never saw anyone who wanted to live so hard in all my life,” her killer was quoted as saying later.
Investigation and Trial
Residents of Saint Paul, Minnesota, were shaken by the news of Carol’s brutal murder, but it didn’t take investigators long to hone in on her husband, 35-year-old attorney T. Eugene Thompson, as a prime suspect. Police linked fragments of the pistol’s grip found at the scene to a gun that had been given to ex-boxer Norman Mastrian, who apparently acted as a middleman between Thompson and petty thief Dick Anderson, who actually committed the act.
At Thompson’s trial, which lasted six weeks, Anderson said he had been hired to kill Thompson’s wife for $3,000. Allegedly, Thompson’s motive was the $1.1 million in life-insurance proceeds, which he had bragged to his 27-year-old secretary, Jacqueline Olesen, would be enough for them to live off of once his wife was out of the way.
On December 6, 1963, Thompson was convicted of the murder of his wife, and sentenced to life in prison.
Death of T. Eugene Thompson
Despite his life sentence, Thompson was released after serving only 19 years. Although he went on to remarry and maintain a relationship with his children, the family always believed him guilty despite his protestations of innocence.
Thompson’s oldest son, Jeff, was a teenager when he testified at the trial for his mother’s murder. Jeff, who would go on to become a District Court Judge, said that the family held a private “family trial” of their father to give him the opportunity to clear the air after his conviction in court. His father presented no compelling evidence of his innocence, and, in fact, the experience only highlighted several aspects of the case that Jeff and his siblings had found odd. Only a month before the murder, for example, Thompson had gotten rid of their family dachshund, and the telephone had been removed from their bedroom right before the event.
“It’s like losing an arm,” Jeff Thompson said when asked about his feelings on his mother’s murder. “You never forget it.” Despite that, the family made their peace with that part of their collective history, and maintained a cordial relationship with Thompson until his death in 2015.
Main photo: When T. Eugene Thompson, right, arrived at the courthouse for his murder trial, he was somber, but when confronted by photographers, his attorney Hyam Segell, left, said, “smile Gene” in Minneapolis on Oct. 30, 1963. [AP Photo/Gene Herrick]