MEET MARJORIE CALDWELL HAGEN. At first glance, she looks like a typical 72-year-old widow grandmother. She's known for wearing huge, round glasses and making beautiful quilts. Some have even described her as frumpy. She certainly doesn't look threatening.
But if you ask Lt. Tom Taylor, of the Pima County Sheriff's Department, what he thinks of Hagen, you'll quickly learn that she's far from typical.
"I think she is the personification of evil," he says in Will to Murder, a new book chronicling Marjorie Hagen's life. "She is the most sinister woman I have ever dealt with. I think she is a sociopath."
The rap sheet on Hagen is frightening. She's twice been sent to prison for arson. She's wanted for bigamy in North Dakota; if she ever visits the state, she could be arrested. Then there are the four murders that some believe she had a hand in. She was tried for two of the murders; she was acquitted, although DNA evidence that was not available during her original trial now links her to the murders. She can't be re-tried because of "double jeopardy" laws.
And guess what, fellow Tucsonans? There's a good chance Hagen will be your neighbor as of next week. On Jan. 5, she'll walk out of the Arizona State Women's Prison in Goodyear, Ariz., a free woman, and previously filed court documents indicate she plans to live in Tucson.
Gail Feichtinger will be waiting for Hagen when she leaves the prison. The writer of Will to Murder, she's never met Hagen; repeated interview requests over the last two decades have been denied. While she's in Arizona, Feichtinger will also make appearances in Phoenix, Ajo (Hagen's most recent home, where she set the fires that she was most recently sent to prison for) and Tucson, at the Broadway Boulevard Barnes & Noble on Jan. 3.
Feichtinger became familiar with the Hagen saga as a crime reporter for the Duluth News-Tribune during the 1980s. The backstory: On June 27, 1977, Hagen's elderly mother, Elisabeth Congdon, was killed, along with her nurse, Velma Pietila, at Glensheen, the Congdon family's mansion in Duluth. The murders have since become one of Duluth's most notorious crimes. Suspicion quickly surrounded Marjorie, Elisabeth's adopted daughter, and Marjorie's husband, Roger Caldwell. They would both eventually be charged for the murders. Roger was convicted and sent to prison; Marjorie later was tried and acquitted, largely because of questions raised about a key fingerprint. These questions would later result in Roger's release; he eventually committed suicide.
Meanwhile, Marjorie befriended a couple, Helen and Wally Hagen; Helen would slip into a coma after being fed by Marjorie, dying a few days later. She eventually married Wally, who died the day after Marjorie's conviction for the fires in Ajo. His death also came under questionable circumstances.
Since her days with the Duluth newspaper, Feichtinger's been following the ongoing saga of Marjorie Caldwell Hagen. Feichtinger's now an assistant attorney general with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.
"Most crime stories end with a trial," Feichtinger said from her Minnesota home, her children audible in the background. "This is a case where the story has gone on and on over many years, with many twists and turns."
Will to Murder was released in August after more than a decade of off-and-on work. She wrote the book with the help of John DeSanto, the county prosecutor who tried but failed to put Marjorie away for the Glensheen murders, and John DeSanto, the county sheriff and former police detective involved with the case. All three are listed as authors of the book.
"The soundbite I give is that I wrote the book; they lived it," Feichtinger said, explaining that they aided Feichtinger by giving her total access to everything possible regarding the crimes--even a diary DeSanto kept during one of the trials.
The book--which is already in its second printing--is getting a great deal of attention because of Hagen's impending release from prison. The release of Hagen is having another effect: People who know her, including some who testified against her and tried to keep her in prison as long as possible, are scared. While most people hesitate to go on the record with their fears, many have discussed them with Feichtinger off the record.
"They're obviously distressed about it," says Feichtinger, using Wally and Helen Hagen's children as an example; they testified against Marjorie Caldwell Hagen's attempts for parole, both of which were unanimously denied by the state. "They believe she is linked to the death of both of their parents. They're obviously very upset. They'd like to see her behind bars."
But the state has held her as long as they legally can, Feichtinger said. Plans filed with the state during her failed parole hearings several years ago indicated that Hagen planned on living in a manufactured home in the Palm Harbor Estates, said Feichtinger, adding that she does not know if those are still Hagen's plans. Hagen has longtime ties to Tucson; as a child, she spent a lot of time at her mother's winter home, which was located in the 3000 block of Broadway Boulevard--just a dozen or so blocks from the Barnes & Noble where Feichtinger will be discussing the book, two days before Hagen's planned release.
Gail Feichtinger will discuss and sign copies of Will to Murder at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 3, at Barnes & Noble, 5130 E. Broadway Blvd. For more information, call 512-1166.