Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Vermont Historical Society stores Windsor State Prison’s electric chair

Last used to execute two prison escapees who broke into an isolated home in Springfield brutally killing a retired lady school teacher residing there.

www.vnews.com             www.vtdigger.org

The Story of Vermont's Last Two Executions

Francis Blair, white, age 32.  Donald Demag, white, age 31. Murder. Their capital crime was committed on August 19, 1952 at Springfield, Vermont. These men attained national notoriety during their lifetimes. Demag in particular is remembered not only as a recidivist killer but as a major embarrassment to opponents of capital pumshment.

Their story begins on March 11, 1948, at Burlington, Vermont. It was then that Donald Demag committed his first murder. He was 26 years old, married with one child and another on the way. He was also unemployed and desperate for money. Not knowing where else to turn, he went to the shop of elderly harness maker, Francis Racicot (age 81), at No. 24 Center Street and asked the man for a loan. Racicot refused the request whereupon Demag battered him to death with an iron stove shaker. Then be took his wallet. Captured three days later, Demag was charged with capital murder. He subsequently drew a term of life imprisonment when he agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second degree murder.

On August 27, 1950, this Donald Demag made a successful break from the Vermont State Prison. He managed to get the the Canadian border without incident. Days later, however, he was caught in an attempt to get back into the United States. Returned to prison, Demag began plotting his next move. On July 30,1952, he made that move. He teamed up with Francis Blair, a fellow convict from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, who was serving time for larceny, and staged a second successful break from the maximum security prison. The two men seized an unguarded moment to slip into the driver's compartment of a ten-ton work truck that was idling in the prison driveway. Then they crashed the vehicle through the massive front gates of the prison and escaped to freedom.

The manhunt which followed was unprecedented in Vermont history. Hundreds of law enforcement officers joined with heavily armed posses of citizens to scour the densely wooded countryside. So great was the alarm that one traveler reported passing through 12 roadblocks in a ten-mile stretch.

The fugitives spent two days and two nights in the deep woods. Then they made their way to the vicinity of Springfield and sought a source of food and clothing there. Late at night they broke into the house of a middle-aged couple named Donald and Elizabeth Weatherup (aged 56 and 54) and attacked the occupants with metal pipes. Both of the Weatherups were severely beaten. The woman died of her injuries.

When the details of this crime became known public anger ran so high that nearly every able-bodied man in the Springfield area joined in the hunt for the killers. Bloodhounds and airplanes were also pressed into service. Finally some of the posse made contact with Blair and Demag in the woods about three miles from the Weatherup house. They let loose with a massive shotgun barrage and threatened the fugitives with death unless they surrendered immediately. At that point Blair and Demag gave up.

Proponents of capital punishment seized upon this case to bolster their cause. They argued that life imprisonment was a proven failure for killers like Donald Demag. If he had been executed for his first murder,  said they,  his second murder would have been precluded. Death penalty opponents remained silent. This time there was no plea bargaining. Two separate juries also refused to recommend mercy. The penalty was death for both defendants. Both were returned to the Vermont State Prison in Windsor to await their fates. On February 8, 1954, Francis Blair was electrocuted pursuant to his sentence. Donald Demag met the same rate oa December 8.1954.

–From the book
  Legal Executions in New England
  By Daniel Allen Hearn

Case: State v. Blair
99 A.2d 677 (1953)
No. 1260.
Supreme Court of Vermont. Windsor.
October 6, 1953.
*679 F. Elliott Barber, Jr., Atty. Gen., Lewis E. Springer, Jr., State's Atty., White River Junction, for plaintiff.
Joseph M. O'Neill, Rutland, for defendant.
Before SHERBURNE, C. J., JEFFORDS, CLEARY and ADAMS, JJ., and HOLDEN, Superior Judge.
ADAMS, Justice.

This case is here on exceptions of the respondent following his trial by jury in the Windsor county court where he was convicted of murder in the first degree. The victim was Elizabeth Weatherup. She, with her husband, lived outside the village of Springfield, Vt. Their house was about 350 feet from the main highway leading from Springfield to Charleston, N. H. A neighbor, Raymond Lamire, lived between the Weatherup home and the main highway.

The respondent and one Donald Demag were prisoners in the state's prison at Windsor. On the morning of July 30, 1952, they escaped from the prison by forcibly driving and crashing a truck through steel gates at the sally port leading from the prison yard to the highway. An intensive search was made for them by local and state enforcement officers in the Windsor and Springfield area as the truck was found abandoned in that area.

Late in the evening of August 1 or early morning of August 2, two men entered the kitchen of the Weatherup house by breaking a glass in the door. At that time, Mr. and Mrs. Weatherup were in bed in a room on the ground floor. They were awakened by the noise and arose. After Mr. Weatherup entered the kitchen and when he had nearly reached another outside door, he received a terriffic blow on the back of the head. He "let out a yell", then grappled with the assailant, heard his wife scream, received another terriffic blow and slumped to the floor and was "blacked out" for a few minutes. When he regained consciousness, he reached up and unlocked the front kitchen door, arose and made his way down the steps and to the Lamire house as fast as he could. He aroused Mr. Lamire and told him as near as he could what had happened. The police were called and three of them came. Mr. Weatherup was bleeding very badly. It later developed that he had three wounds in his scalp, all of which required stitches, a cut between his fingers that required stitches, ten or twelve puncture wounds in his back and in back of one arm, a fractured rib and right wrist. He told the police very quickly what had happened and that his wife was still in the house.         Read more...

Although Donald Demag was the last person executed by Vermont, he was not the last person to be sentenced to death by a Vermont court. In 1957, Lionel Goyet was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted six months later and Goyet was pardoned and released in 1969. The death penalty was abolished by Vermont in 1965.


  1. Ray Lemire8/8/17, 7:02 PM

    My family lived next door to the Weatherups. After Mrs. Weatherup was murdered, her husband ran to my parents home to call the police. The house, by the way, was not an "isolated farmhouse." It was a beautiful home, just off Route 5 at the bridge leading to the Paddock Road in the Goulds Mills section of town.

  2. It should be on display in the Springfield Prisons lobby or where ever new "inmates" are lead so they can see it. They will have something to think about.

  3. I am glad they didn't throw the chair away. Now they can hook it back up and put it to good use again. The quality of life went south in Vermont not long after they suspended the usage of the chair. Time to bring it back and use it again.

  4. chuck gregory8/9/17, 4:33 PM

    Of course, executing them did serve as an effective deterrent, because since then there have been no homicides in Vermont! Which also explains why we never had to use the chair again...

    1. The rate of recidivism is zero for those executed in the electric chair, so you are accurate Chuck. Once they've sat in the chair, we never have to use it on them again!

    2. chuck gregory8/11/17, 7:55 AM

      For those readers not old enough to recall the history of arguments for the death penalty, a chief one was that it served as a deterrent to would-be killers.

      Gary Gilmore exposed the fraudulence of the death penalty when he insisted he be executed. He realized spending a lifetime in prison was worse than dying. How much do you REALLY want to punish a killer?

  5. Did anyone notice the execution took place 18 months after the crime? 18 months? Wow. How times have changed for the worse - now it would be 18 years. Oh, and Mr. Gregory, if he had been put to death after the first murder, there would not have been the second. For once, I'm willing to donate just one more cup of coffee to pay for the electricity to make old sparky come to life again!!!


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