For Love or Money?

T. Eugene Thompson

When lawyers go bad, they do it in a big way.
The Register has looked at more than one lawyer who thought he or she could get away with murder, but in most cases, even their knowledge of the law couldn’t save them.
Their reasons for crossing the line from officer of the court to defendant are as different as their crimes.
Frank Egan, the first public defender for the city of San Francisco wanted to disappear after his financial house of cards began to collapse. Beth Carpenter and Haiman Clein were trying to take custody of Beth’s niece. Joe Peel killed a fellow judge who threatened to take disciplinary action against him.
But what Tilmer Eugene Thompson was thinking when he hired a man to hire a man to kill his wife Carol, 34, in 1963 is disputable. His motive might have been money, but then again, it might have been his obsessive love for his former mistress. In the end, he got neither.
Thompson, 35 when he hired the hit-man, was admitted to the Minnesota bar in 1955 after graduating from Macalester College and the William Mitchell College of Law. It was while he was an undergraduate that he met Carol, and they soon married and began having a family. While at Macalester, Thompson attended classes with Norman Mastrian, who was several years older, but had served in Korea and was attending school on the G.I. Bill. Mastrian and Thompson didn’t know each other well, and between 1950 and 1963 their lives took decidedly different paths.
Mastrian became active in the Minneapolis underworld and was a suspect in a gangland murder. Thompson became active in the Minneapolis bar, established a successful general law practice, and even taught some clases at William Mitchell law school. He was an elder and trustee in his church.
Their paths crossed again in 1962 when Mastrian was arrested on suspicion of murdering Eddie James, a Twin Cities restaurateur who was a reluctant witness in a kidnap-murder case. Mastrian looked up Thompson who represented him in court. Mastrian was acquitted of the crime.
Although by all accounts the Thompsons enjoyed a happy marriage, in 1960 Thompson became involved with Jacqueline Okoneski, whom he represented in a divorce action. Their relationship continued through 1961, with numerous dinner dates, trips, and clandestine rendezvous in motels and even at the Forest Lake, Minnesota cabin owned by Carol’s father.
In 1961, Jackie attended business school thanks to a loan from Thompson and upon graduating she became his secretary. After she repaid the loan, she began distancing herself from her intimate relationship with Thompson. In December of that year she began dating Ronald Olesen and in early 1962 she returned a ring Thompson had given her and resigned her position. Thompson and Jackie only saw each other a few times after that and each time Jackie said she was no longer interested in a relationship with Thompson because she and Olesen were planning to wed.
“I’m not interested in being kept,” she said she told Thompson, who asked that he be given a year to “put his finances in order” so that his family would continue to enjoy a well-to-do lifestyle.
“I cannot expect Carol and my family to live on a lower standard of living than what they are used to now,” Thompson said. “They are my responsibility and I cannot walk out on these responsibilities.”
Ronald Olesen apparently knew that Thompson was pressuring his fiancee.
“He’ll never leave Carol,” he told Jackie. “He’s just stringing you along.”
Ronald and Jackie were married in June 1962, but within months she returned to Thompson for assistance in obtaining a divorce. However, a month after the papers were served to Ronald, the couple reconciled. Thompson tried to quash the reconciliation and continued to call Jackie, even offering her $10,000 to leave her husband and go away with him.
“He wanted me to go away with him that evening,” she said. “He thought I would go away with him then, not permanently, but go away with him for awhile.”
The last time Jackie and Thompson spoke was shortly after Christmas in 1962, when he asked her if she would be interested in moving into an apartment he would pay for. She refused and they never spoke again.
Thompson’s stalking of Jackie Okoneski Olesen demonstrates that he was willing to cheat on his wife and possibly would leave Carol for Jackie. People have killed for less.
But for Thompson there was more.
In February 1962, Thompson began purchasing insurance on Carol’s life after a conversation with an insurance broker revealed that Carol was fairly under-insured. She was the daughter of a very wealthy plumbing magnate and was expected to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars upon her father’s death, and the agent thought that Thompson should consider a policy on her life that would pay for her final expenses and provide support for her children. He recommended a $50,000 whole life policy.
Instead, Thompson purchased a $100,000 term policy with an additional $100,000 accidental death rider. Between February 1962 and January 1963, Thompson purchased more than $1 million in term insurance on Carol’s life (about $6.6 million in current dollars).
He explained the large amount of insurance to the various agents by telling them that if he died first, Carol and the children would receive $460,000 in insurance and eventually another $500,000 from Carol’s inheritance. In order to have an equal amount for himself he purchased the insurance. He also said he had reached the point in his life where he could afford the hundreds of dollars in premiums each month.
In what should have sent up a red flag, Thompson said he had a premonition that Carol would have a tragic accident on February 8 or 9, 1963. He said he had similar visions before his bother and sister died unexpectedly.
In July 1962, Mastrian contacted his old college chum seeking representation in the Eddie James murder case and paid Thompson a $2,500 retainer. Mastrian didn’t actually have the money and instead deeded over 1,000 shares of a local corporation.
After the victory in the James case, Thompson approached Mastrian for assistance in finding someone to kill Carol. They met in various restaurants and bars and Mastrian agreed to find someone to do the job. In early 1963 Mastrian sat in a nightclub owned by Sheldon Morris and offered two men $2,000 for the killing. Both men rejected the offer but in each case referred Mastrian to someone else.
Eventually Mastrian found Dick W.C. Anderson, a “hard-drinking, pill-popping ex-Marine,” who agreed to commit the crime. The two men haggled over the price.
“I wanted $3,000 whether it looked like an accident or not,” said Anderson.
Mastrian, who acted as the go-between for Thompson and Anderson (they never met until Anderson testified at Thompson’s trial), devised a plan to make it look like Carol slipped in the bathtub, hit her head, and drowned. He wanted Anderson to use a heavy rubber hose to strike Carol across the back of the neck to render her unconscious and then to place her in the tub, face up, but underwater. According to the plan, Thompson would leave the door unlocked so Anderson could slip inside the house and wait for Carol, a late riser, to get out of bed. Then he could launch the attack.
“Mr. Thompson will leave the door open in the morning, you will be able to go inside and go down in the basement and wait,” Mastrian told the assassin. “At 8:25 Mr. Thompson will call Mrs. Thompson and at that time you will be able to sneak up the stairway.”
Thompson took great pains to ensure that Carol would be at the appointed place at the right time and that she would be unaware of Anderson’s presence. In January, after the family installed new carpeting, Thompson took the family dog, Schatzie, to the pound, saying that it could not be housebroken and that the family didn’t want it soiling the carpet.
In the days before the murder he took the phone from the upstairs bedroom, saying he was going to exchange it for the Princess phone that Carol wanted.
Thompson wanted the job done no later than March 8, Mastrian told Anderson.
On March 5, Mastrian called Anderson to inquire about whether the job had been done, but Anderson told him he wanted a gun in case something went wrong. Mastrian purchased a Luger from a pair of burglars and gave it to Anderson.
Something did go wrong. In fact, a lot of things did go wrong.
On March 6, Anderson entered the Thompson home as planned, but he was roaring drunk. He hid in the basement as called for in the plot, and at 8:25 a.m., Thompson had his secretary call his wife. Instead of attacking Carol, Anderson deviated from the plot because, he said, when he went down the stairs he noticed that the steps squeaked.
He waited until she went back upstairs and then followed her. Anderson told Carol that he was only looking for money and that he did not intend to harm her. He told her to lie on her face and when she did, he struck her with the hose, knocking her out.
Anderson, who was wearing surgical gloves, carried Carol’s unconscious body to the tub, but when he put her in the water, she revived and began fighting. She surprised the drunken Anderson and managed to flee back to the bedroom.
“I tried to shoot her,” he testified. “But the gun wouldn’t fire.”
Carol made it to the front door, but it was latched and Anderson managed to catch her. He struck his victim several times with the butt of the weapon — so hard that the plastic grip shattered.
While Carol laid stunned on the ground, Anderson grabbed a paring knife from the kitchen and began stabbing her in the throat. Again, the attack was so vicious that he broke the blade off in her throat. Convinced that she was finally dead, Anderson went back upstairs and began ransacking the bedroom to make the crime scene look like a burglary-gone-bad.
One can only imagine what went through his head when he heard the front door slam and Carol screaming outside. She managed to make it to a neighbor’s house before falling unconscious on the porch. She was only able to say “a man” attacked her before she died.
For some stupid reason Thompson began balking at paying Anderson the remaining balance on the job. Anderson received $800 from Mastrian and on March 15, collected another $1,500. He told Mastrian that he was heading to Arizona for a couple of weeks and wanted the rest of his money when he returned.
Thompson was immediately considered a suspect in the case because of the life insurance policies, and when a local fence recognized the shattered gun butt, he directed police to the two burglars who sold the pistol to Mastrian.
The trail then led to Anderson, who was arrested in Arizona. Anderson confessed the whole plot, and thought he had a deal from prosecutors that allowed him to plead to second-degree murder in return for his testimony.
In October 1963, Thompson went on trial for his wife’s murder. After a two-month trial he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In March 1964, Mastrian was also convicted of conspiracy to murder and received a life term. Shortly after that, Anderson pleaded guilty to first degree murder, as well. He protested the deal in the court, arguing that he cooperated, but also caught a life term.
The case disappeared from the front pages for a few months until a document was found in Anderson’s pocket in which he confessed to the crime and absolved Thompson and Mastrian of any complicity. He quickly recanted the confession after he told police he only wrote it because his two co-conspirators had threatened his life.
All of the convictions were upheld on appeal.
Thompson was paroled in 1982 and Mastrian six years later. What happened to Anderson is unknown.