Elmore’s two famous alums return
The word spread like wildfire at the Elmore All-School Reunion.
One of Elmore High School’s most well-known alumnus was present. And a lot of folks were quite shocked he was there.
No, they weren’t referring to former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, although as a front page story in this week’s Faribault County Register details, Mondale did attend the Elmore Sesquicentennial Celebration events and the all-school reunion, which was held in a very hot gym at the Elmore Academy last Saturday night.
No, the older EHS alumni were all abuzz with talk of another one of their classmates who was once in the news as much as Walter Mondale.
“Did you know “Cotton” Thompson is here?” many people quietly announced to each other in the gym. “Can you believe it?”
They were referring to an older gentleman sitting quietly at one of the long tables, enjoying dinner with his classmates and catching up on old times in Elmore. Just like everyone else there was doing.
But while Walter “Fritz” Mondale is Elmore’s most famous former resident, T. Eugene “Cotton” Thompson is its most infamous.
Perhaps you don’t know the story. After all, it happened a long time ago. As a matter of fact, it was 50 years ago, in 1963.
At that time, Elmore grad T. Eugene Thompson was an attorney in St. Paul, was married, and he and his wife, Carol, had four young children.
Then in the early morning hours of March 6, 1963, someone broke into their home and brutally murdered 34 year-old Carol Thompson, first beating her with a gun then stabbing her. She managed to go to a neighbor’s front porch looking for help, with a broken off paring knife blade stuck in her neck.
But, she was unable to be saved and died from the wounds.
The news shocked Minnesota residents. It was termed the ‘Murder of the Century’ by the St. Paul newspapers.
Then six days later T. Eugene Thompson was arrested and charged with having hired a hit man, Dick W.C. Anderson, to kill his wife. The reason? Prosecutors said Thompson had taken out more than a million dollars in life insurance on his wife.
And he had a mistress, they said.
That news not only shocked Minnesotans, but the rest of the country as well.
The trial, which began in October, and Thompson’s ultimate conviction of 1st degree murder, in December, were covered in detail by the national press across the country.
After all, it had the three ‘M’s murder, money and mistress.
The national coverage was only interrupted in November when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“Cotton” Thompson was sentenced to life, but served just 20 years at Stillwater State Prison and was paroled in 1983 30 years ago.
Since that time he has kept a pretty low profile. Other than a 1987 appearance at the Minneapolis Press Club, no one has seen him, or heard much from him, for the past 30 years.
There were two books and a play written about the crime, however.
The first book, called “The Murder of Carol Thompson,” by Donald Giese, came out in 1969 and detailed the murder and trial.
The second, titled “Dial M; The Murder of Carol Thompson,” by William Swanson, came out in 2006. It focused more on Thompson’s four children. They had held their own ‘trial’ of their father in 1986 after he had been released from prison.
“Cotton” Thompson had always protested his innocence throughout the trial and ultimate conviction and prison term. But the family trial’s verdict was the same as the state trial’s verdict 20 years earlier.
The hot gymnasium at Elmore Academy dripped with irony last Saturday night.
Elmore High School’s two most famous alumni had returned to their school.
They had been classmates, according to some, but actually were a couple of years apart in school, say others.
Both had big ambitions. Both would become lawyers and go on to national fame.
One would spend 20 years in politics and public service and become vice president of the United States.
The other would spend 20 years in prison for murdering his wife.
But both returned home to Elmore on the same day this past week.
Life can sure be quite strange.