April 14, 2013

Maine's longest-serving prisoner running no more

For 79-year-old Albert Paul – a convicted thief and murderer with a colorful history of breaking free – those days are now years behind him.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Albert Paul, 79, has spent most of his life in prison for a string of crimes and is currently serving a life sentence for a 1971 murder. The Department of Corrections has estimated that it has spent nearly $1.5 million since the early 1950s to keep the Maine man locked up.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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1972 booking photos from the Maine State Prison in Thomaston

Additional Photos Below

He remembers running away from one home – his first escape. He was returned the next day.

When he was 9, his father came down from Montreal to fetch him. They spent the next several years in Canada, where his father worked as a watchman in a glass factory. Paul dropped out of school. When he wasn’t in the local bakery learning to stretch dough, he was getting into trouble.

By the time he returned to Maine as a teenager, his thievery skills were well-honed.

The archives of the Portland Press Herald document Paul’s crimes dating back to 1951, depicting a brash thief who always got caught.

In 1951, he robbed a cabdriver with a gun he stole from a Sanford home, along with two watches, a camera and a telescope. The next year, he hid overnight inside a Portland post office, waited until sunup, and then surprised the blind owner of a newsstand and stole $200, two cartons of cigarettes and three pocketknives.

In 1953, he was caught on the roof of a Portland building after attempting a jewelry store heist with another man.

In 1956, he held up a grocery store in Brunswick for $12, a crime that earned him a five-to-10-year stretch from a judge who hoped the lengthy sentence would make an impression.

In the 1960s, Paul escaped twice from the former Maine State Prison in Thomaston. The first time, he left a dough mixer running, slipped away from the kitchen and scaled a 16-foot temporary wall. He was free for 11 days and spent part of his time holding an elderly couple captive in their  home with their gun.

In the second escape, he tricked the guards by throwing a shoe over the wall and then hiding out in an upholstery shop until the search efforts slowed. He climbed the wall again but had nowhere to go. He turned himself in within 24 hours.


In July 1971, Ellen Donahue was found dead in a pool of her own blood at her South Portland home, beaten and strangled.

Detectives discovered fingerprints outside and hair samples inside. They talked to three of Donahue’s neighbors, who saw a man at her home the day before she was found. They found a taxi driver who picked up a man at Donahue’s address hours before police declared it a crime scene.

Everything pointed to Paul, who had been released from prison on parole only months earlier.

At the murder trial in March 1972, Assistant Attorney General Peter Culley built his case around the fingerprints and hair samples, which matched Paul’s, and the witnesses, who all testified that Paul was the man they saw at Donahue’s home.

Paul’s attorney – a young defense lawyer named Daniel Lilley – did something unusual in a murder case: He called the defendant to the stand, where he proceeded to confess to Donahue’s murder in painstaking detail, according to the trial transcript.

Paul testified that he had heard about Donahue in prison, heard that she was a widow and tavern owner who was known to take her cash receipts home for deposit in the bank the next day.

He testified that he went to her house and waited for her to come home. As she got ready for bed, Paul emerged from a closet with a knife. Donahue said she could give him only a hundred dollars.

When he went into the kitchen to get water and think about her offer, Donahue tried to attack him with a wooden tray. Paul grabbed the tray and shoved her against the stone fireplace. Her head began to bleed, and she started to scream.

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Additional Photos

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Albert Paul, photographed Jan. 18 at the Maine State Prison in Warren, will turn 80 in June. He’s been in and out of prison – mostly in – since he was 18 and likely will die there, having been sentenced to life for killing a South Portland woman in 1971.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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This newspaper clipping from Sept. 8, 1962, details the reapprehension of Maine State Prison inmate Albert Paul, who managed to escape several times – sometimes quite dramatically – during his lifetime of incarceration.

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Clippings from newspaper archives chronicle Paul’s journey to life in prison.

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