"Glensheen" superfan Mark Taylor cannot get enough of the murder musical.

He has seen every staging of the Chan Poling-Jeffrey Hatcher show since its 2015 premiere at St. Paul's History Theatre, where audience demand has made it an annual tradition and the most durable Minnesota-minted musical.

Taylor, 43, has cheered at cabaret and singalong versions, and even traveled to Duluth for a performance of "Glensheen" in the city where the crimes that inspired the musical — the June 27, 1977, double murders of taconite mining heiress Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse, Velma Pietila — first drew breathless attention.

But the St. Paul resident's dream venue for the show would be the imposing Jacobean mansion where the events occurred.

"A production of 'Glensheen' at Glensheen — that would be the ultimate," said Taylor, a self-described repeat offender who has had T-shirts made quoting a line from the show. "I realize that the [University of Minnesota, owners of mansion] may not go for that but, ooh, that would be quite the thrill."

For the moment, Taylor will have to settle for seeing what he described as the world's best musical in St. Paul, where it opens Saturday.

"Glensheen" succeeds partly because it tells the story in a way that does not dishonor the dead, said retired Star Tribune reporter Joe Kimball, who had just started at the Minneapolis Tribune when he broke the story of what was initially thought to be a botched burglary.

"It was almost an Agatha Christie type of thing with murder, millions and mansion," said Kimball, author of "Secrets of the Congdon Mansion: The Unofficial Guide to Glensheen and the Congdon Murders." "From the beginning, the family members said, Marjorie did this. She was living in Colorado at the time and sent her husband to do it."

That would be adopted daughter Marjorie Congdon and her new husband, Roger Caldwell. She stood to inherit a fortune and was suspected of masterminding the killing of her 83-year-old mother to speed the process.

The details of the killings quicken a literary imagination. Elisabeth was suffocated with a satin pillow in her bed. Pietila, who had retired from the job and was spelling her replacement that night, was beaten to death with a brass candlestick in the stairway landing. The poodle barked at 3 a.m.

With reams of circumstantial evidence, Caldwell and his wife were tried for the murders. Caldwell was convicted and sentenced to two life terms. But he only served five years. In 1982, the Minnesota Supreme Court threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial.

Marjorie was charged as the mastermind but was acquitted, having never testified. She remarried while Caldwell was in prison and she was still married to him. The second marriage soon went up in metaphorical — and literal — flames.

After a fire at their Minneapolis house, Marjorie was convicted of arson, the first of several arsons connected to her, including being caught kerosene-handed in Arizona.

Marjorie also was suspected in a raft of criminal acts, including murders. The musical alludes to her ability to slip out of things. While Caldwell confessed to the Duluth murders in a plea deal with prosecutors that kept him out of jail, he took back that confession in a suicide note.

Remarkably, Marjorie soldiers on. She's in her 90s now, still alive in Tucson.

"She's going to outlive us all," Kimball said. Marjorie approached Kimball to write a true crime book, he said. He passed.

This year, the History Theatre lobby will have a new item on display. It is the sweater that Marjorie knitted while on trial. After being acquitted, she gifted it to her attorney, the late Ron Meshbesher.

"Every time I went to see the play, I noticed that she would be sitting there knitting, and I said, Omigod, I've got that sweater," said Kim Meshbesher, his widow. "I contacted them and said, I have this sweater that Marjorie knitted, and it's incredible, would you like to borrow it?"

Actor Ruthie Baker originated multiple roles in "Glensheen," including the docent, a cop and a reporter. For her, Marjorie is an enigma inside a puzzle.

"She's this smart, mysterious character at the center of this magical show that's part ghost story, part unsolved murder mystery in the only 'Downton Abbey' mansion that you could tour in Minnesota," Baker said.

Both the cast and the audience have become like family, Baker said.

"It sounds cheesy, but I've seen my castmates through major life events like deaths and births," Baker said. "We're gathering and telling this story in a funny, lighthearted way but the subject material is very deep and really touches something."

Playwright Hatcher has embedded some clever humor in the piece. The tourists who tour the mansion in the musical include mass murderer Charles Manson.

"Every now and then, a show taps into something latent in a culture," Hatcher said, trying to grapple with the dark magic that makes the show his most reliable and fulfilling paycheck. "It excavates a nagging question or an unexplored fascination and connects with more people than its makers ever imagined."


Who: Composed with lyrics by Chan Poling. Book by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Ron Peluso.

Where: History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends July 14.

Tickets: $30-$82. 651-292-4323 or historytheatre.com.