Oct. 30, 2008
By Tim Simard
What police are calling Williston’s first murder in nearly 20 years occurred over the weekend at a home on Isham Circle.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
Two men were killed in this Isham Circle home early Sunday morning in what police are calling a murder-suicide.
Police say Michael Putnam, 55, of Waterbury shot his estranged wife’s boyfriend, Gary Smith, 59, of Shelburne before turning the gun on himself.
Putnam forcibly entered the house at 279 Isham Circle shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday by throwing a rock through a back patio window, said Bart Chamberlain, Williston’s acting police chief.
Once inside, police say, Putnam walked upstairs to the master bedroom and confronted Smith with a handgun. Putman’s wife, Louise O’Hare, escaped with one of her three children before shots were fired. The children, who are not Putnam’s biological kin, are between the ages of 9 and 16.
State Police Lt. Brian Miller, who is handling the investigation, said there were “some comments” between Putnam and his wife before the shooting.
According to Miller, Putnam shot Smith four times before turning the gun on himself. It was after the shooting that police received a 911 call from O’Hare at a neighbor’s residence. A 911 call was also received from inside the house by one of the children, Chamberlain said.
Williston Police responded to the home soon after the call went out. Because initial details were sketchy, police officers evacuated nearby homes. Along with Williston Police, tactical units from the Vermont State Police came to assistance, as did officers from the Essex, South Burlington and Richmond Police departments.
“We didn’t exactly know what was going to happen, what we would find,” Chamberlain said of the need for extra assistance.
After making sure the other two children escaped the house, police entered the bedroom to find both men deceased.
Putnam and O’Hare had been married for 18 months and living in Williston before Putnam moved to an apartment in Waterbury one month ago, according to police. Chamberlain said police had never been called to the home before and the family was “new to us.”
Miller said it was unclear whether Putnam and Smith had known each other prior to the incident. Miller said Smith had a separate apartment in Shelburne, but had been staying over in Williston recently.
“You can speculate (Putnam) knew there was another man in the picture,” Miller said.
Putnam also left suicide notes to family and friends at the Isham Circle house, where three notes were found, and his apartment in Waterbury. Miller declined to give further details, only saying the notes corroborated the incident was a murder-suicide.
Miller also said there was nothing in Putnam’s past to indicate he was capable of murder. He did say there was a past assault conviction on Putnam’s record from more than 30 years ago in New Hampshire.
According to Chamberlain and Miller, Putnam was not registered as having a gun and police are trying to determine where he obtained the firearm.
Several neighbors who were contacted by the Observer declined to comment on the shootings.
Chamberlain said the last murder in Williston happened around 1989. Incidentally, it was a murder-suicide. A husband murdered his wife in the IBM parking lot before turning the gun on himself.
Miller said the current investigation is not complete, adding police were awaiting the results of a forensics test.
HED: Schools react to shooting
Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli e-mailed parents on Monday, informing them, “The Williston School District Crisis Team from (Allen Brook and Williston Central Schools) met on Monday morning along with representatives from First Call to prepare for student responses that might occur as a result of the murder/suicide in Williston.”
In the e-mail, Nardelli said staff went through guidelines for how to respond to student questions and concerns, as well as monitor student behavior. The principal said school counselors were available to help students and teachers.
“Our Crisis Team recommends to parents that you listen and validate your child’s feelings related to this incident, answer questions based on factual information that has been released through the news media and closely monitor for any behavior changes,” Nardelli wrote, urging parents to contact a student’s guidance counselor with questions or concerns.
— Greg Duggan, Observer staff