DISCLAIMER

Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Daniel Croteau Murder, Part 4

Judgment Day



Shelburne Falls Priest Held on Rape Charge

The above Springfield Union News headline on Saturday, October 19, 1991 shocked many people who were familiar with Father Lavigne, but not all of them. Some had intimate knowledge of his activities with boys, and many more heard stories through the grapevine. Soon the news spread like wildfire, and more molestation claims would mount, finishing his career as a priest.

Lavigne might have had some inkling the jig was up when State Police Sergeant Susan Harrington, accompanied by Chicopee Police detectives, showed up at his parents’ Chicopee home. They weren’t approaching him in the driveway just to ask him a couple of questions. They were there to arrest him. Alleged victims had given statements to police, and now he would have to face charges.

Did he ponder his fate with trepidation, dreading the possibility of a sex scandal mushrooming into the reopening of a murder investigation? Only Lavigne knows what his state of mind was when he was escorted to the squad car—and whether or not he was thinking about a pair of brothers from the tiny town of Heath in Franklin County. He had gotten to know the boys in the late 1980s, and one of them had promised not to talk to anyone about the sexual abuse, according to the victim. But when the boy finally broke off contact with Lavigne a year earlier, he said he could see fear in the priest’s eyes, as if the man was afraid that the boy might tell. That boy, Joseph Shattuck, did tell. So did others, triggering a series of events that set the priest’s life—and the reputation of the Springfield Diocese—into a tailspin.

Lavigne was in denial mode when he was arrested. After being advised of his rights and acknowledging that he understood them, he was sitting in the cruiser and on his way to the State Police barracks in Shelburne Falls when Harrington informed him of the charges. She identified the boys who made the allegations. “[name deleted]? That’s absurd,” he replied, according to police files.

“We then discussed [name deleted] and his credibility,” wrote Harrington. This officer told Father Lavigne that I personally found [name deleted] to be a very believable and credible kid. Father Lavigne agreed and could offer no explanations as to why he would make it up, but said his father [name deleted] is a chauvinist and a bigot.”

The sergeant then asked him if he ever touched “any kid” in a sexual way, and he denied any inappropriate touching.

Harrington told Lavigne that she was aware that this wasn’t the first time that he had been accused of this type of activity, and asked him what he thought a judge or jury would think, especially because more than one complaint had been made. “Father Lavigne then stated, ‘Can I be honest with you? Can I trust you?’ This officer then reminded Father Lavigne that he’d been advised of his rights, but requested to hear his side of the story,” wrote Harrington. “At this time Father Lavigne stated that he wanted to talk to a lawyer without saying any more.”

It must have been a long ride back to Shelburne Falls for Father Lavigne. Gazing at the road ahead, and at the passing trees and farms off I-91—and mulling over his present situation— if he was thinking about his future, he was undoubtedly going over his past.

The end of the trip: the State Police barracks in Shelburne Falls

October 19, 1991

A short article in the Union News described the charges: two counts of rape of a child. The story also listed Lavigne’s present and past assignments. At the time, the 50-year-old priest was pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Shelburne Falls, of St. John’s Church in Colrain, and St. Christopher’s Church in Charlemont. All three churches were a combined parish that in a year would be “united” in name only as parishioners immediately began to take sides in the matter of Lavigne’s perceived innocence or guilt.

The Sunday newspaper contained little new information, as did Monday’s Union News, except the fact that he was released after posting $10,000 bail, and that he would face arraignment that day. The story also reported on his parishioners’ disbelief and outrage.

That sense of unbelievable astonishment came from a community that was a decade away from the 2002 clergy sex abuse scandal that would rock Boston and reveal a national problem in the Catholic Church. In 1991, such news about a priest was a bolt from the blue. Most of Lavigne’s parishioners just couldn’t fathom anything like this happening. “He's been a mentor to me. He taught me many things about life,” said Peter Kelleher of Shelburne Falls. “I just can't believe any of this that’s going on.”

The news was just the first of a one-two punch combination for Catholics in the Diocese of Springfield. The first blow stunned them. The second one floored them: in Tuesday’s Union News the parents of Danny Croteau revealed that Lavigne was a suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of their son.

“They are going to look into this case again,” said Danny’s father, Carl. He added that Acting Chicopee Police Chief Joseph Wilk Jr. had sent the records in the homicide case to the district attorney’s office.

On Tuesday, October 22, District Attorney William M. Bennett neither confirmed nor denied that he was reopening of the investigation into Croteau’s murder. But sources confirmed that he began a review of the case file. By Thursday, Bennett still wouldn’t comment on the matter, but sources revealed that at least two state police detectives had been assigned to the case, and were searching for evidence.

And there you have it: a murder investigation that was inactive for 19 years was reopened and continues to this day.

* * * * * * * * *


The spring of 1972 was a more innocent time: very few people could even conceive of a priest molesting a boy, let alone murdering him. But detectives in the investigation came to that conclusion. Their suspicions were raised soon after Danny Croteau was bludgeoned to death with a rock and thrown into the Chicopee River on Friday, April 14, 1972. Investigators both then and now believed that Lavigne had molested Croteau and then killed him during an argument. He still remains the prime suspect.


Fast-forward to the fall of 1991, when sex abuse by priests was still a largely underreported phenomenon. Lavigne’s congregation was incensed and professed his innocence. Still, at the time of his arrest, veteran reporters at the Union News knew that police suspected he killed Danny after an alleged sexual relationship with him. Indeed, managing editor Richard Garvey had gotten wind of the news shortly after the murder and told the late Monsignor David Power about the surprising turn in the investigation.

Although the media didn’t publicly link Lavigne to the Croteau homicide investigation in 1972, many people in greater Springfield were aware of the probe. One priest said, “It was the number one topic of the day.” Indeed, I remember Father Leo Shea, pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, telling parishioners in a homily not to believe or spread false rumors.

In the past 45 years the case undergone surges of publicity followed by long periods of silence. Interestingly, there was very little media attention in 1972. “Back then there was just a four-by-six-inch article on the murder,” said Carl to me on one of his neighborhood walks. He extended his thumb and index finger to indicate the size of the story in the newspaper. The newspaper story was a little larger than that, but not much:



“There two more stories right after Danny was killed, and that was it,” he said. For 19 years—nothing. “But then, in the 1990s there were hundreds of thousands of words written about it in the papers,” said Carl.

What prompted the blizzard of stories in the 1990s, of course, was Lavigne’s 1991 arrest. He was the first priest in the area to be charged with sexual abuse since 1978, when the former Rev. Roy Leo was convicted of morals offenses. Not surprisingly, Lavigne’s connection to Danny Croteau added fuel to the fire. Somehow, Guy Volterra, the judge in the case, thought that the newspapers were giving the Lavigne case undue attention. Lambasting the media at the time, he believed that the story merited only a column in the back page of a local newspaper.

It’s a good thing Volterra wasn’t a newspaper editor, because he evidently didn’t see the newsworthiness of a priest being accused of sexual abuse and at the same time being the chief suspect in a murder nearly two decades before his arrest. Bury the stories on the back pages? I don’t think so. Every unsolved murder has a victim that cries out for justice from beyond—and a family that will not let it rest. So, like it or not, Judge Volterra, it was high time for Danny’s story to be told. “We had suffered in silence for too long,” said Carl.

But this blog entry isn’t so much about the murder of Danny Croteau as it is about the sexual abuse case against Lavigne in 1991 and 1992, because the murder investigation would have never been reopened if it weren’t for a few courageous victims and their parents who were willing to bring him to a criminal court. They were the catalyst for others to come forward, ensuring that Lavigne—whether or not he is guilty of murder—would be punished for his sexual abuse and never be in a position to harm another child.

October 26, 1991

The stage was being set for a confrontation that would threaten to tear the diocese apart. It was Lavigne’s word against the victims’, Lavigne’s supporters vs. his detractors, and the diocese vs. the newspapers and television news outlets. Church lawyers said the case was unfairly being tried in the news media. Lavigne’s backers were adamant that there was a conspiracy to destroy him. “I love the man,” said St. Joseph’s parishioner Frederick Lively. “I don’t recognize the man I know in these stories.” The Diocese of Springfield sprung to his defense. “As Father Lavigne’s bishop, I have offered him my assistance and I support him in his plea of innocence,” said The Rev. Joseph F. Maguire, bishop of Springfield, in a statement.

Then more details on the charges against Lavigne surfaced: the alleged victims at the time of the arrest were nine, 18, and 20 years old, and the incidents took place on or before August 29, 1991.

On October 27, 1991, the priest’s world truly began to cave in. An alleged victim revealed that as a six-year-old he was fondled by Lavigne when the accused was a teenager in 1958. Lavigne, who was 17 years old then, had been working a summer job as an assistant recreation leader for the Chicopee Park Department and was immediately fired, but no charges were filed. The Union-News tried unsuccessfully to get Lavigne’s employment record and the document related to his termination, which was finally released in 2004:


Lavigne’s vocal group of supporters began to solicit parishioners for his legal defense funds, but his indignation at the charges rang hollow for many others when news of decades-old alleged molestations started popping up in the newspapers. Tom Shea of the Union News reported that a 33-year-old police officer had witnessed a molestation while Lavigne was a priest at St. Mary’s. “It’s been going on a long time,” said the patrolman. Two of Lavigne’s cousins also came forward with sexual abuse claims.

December 15, 1991

There were reports that two of the victims in the case against Lavigne were from the Holy Trinity Lay Community, a tiny Catholic group in Heath not recognized by the diocese. Its members, who attended mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Shelburne Falls, had a falling-out with Lavigne in late 1990 or early 1991 because he “wasn’t Catholic enough for Holy Trinity,” said a source.

Lavigne, staying at the Institute of Living (pictured below), a psychiatric abuse hospital in Hartford, had announced on November 8 that he had hired Max D. Stern of Boston, one of the top criminal lawyers in the country. Lavigne and his supporters, not the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, would pay his defense.


On December 18, 1991, a source close to Stern said that the lawyer would argue that the pending charges were the result of Lavigne being set up by a Catholic “cult” made up of about 15 families that owned a former 200-acre dairy farm in Heath.

The Springfield Diocese closed the year by announcing that 72-year-old Bishop Maguire would step down and the Most Rev. John A. Marshall would be installed in the post. Maguire denied that the Lavigne mess had prompted the decision. “I just had the feeling that it was time to step aside,” he said. “When the time comes, you sort of know it.”

February 7, 1992

Lavigne’s woes continued on February 7, when a Greenfield District Court Judge Allan McGuane denied his lawyer’s request to allow part of the case to be tried in a lower court. The ruling meant that the entire case might be tried in Franklin County Superior Court, where the priest would face greater penalties if convicted—up to 10 years in the indecent assault charge, as opposed to no more than two-and-a-half years if convicted by a district court. He also faced the possibility of decades—or even life—in prison with a rape conviction. McGuane ordered attorneys back to court on February 26 for a probable cause hearing. This move was seen as a way to end delays that had resulted in two pre-trial conference dates without any actual movement on the case.

Stern was building a case that the alleged victims from the Holy Trinity Lay Community lacked credibility—that the group was even using a homosexual ritual as part of their worship.

The reality about the Community: it was far from the “homosexual Catholic cult” label that the group’s detractors in Heath had foisted upon it. Truth be told, the Community’s spiritual director—and the accusers’ father—Charles Shattuck, had discovered in 1983 that the founder of the Apostolic Formation Center, the forerunner to the Holy Trinity Lay Community, had years before engaged with the organization’s elders in a homosexual rite called “the divine intimacy of the holy seed.” The rituals took place before Shattuck joined the Somers, CT group in 1980. He had never met the founder, J. Roy Legere (pictured young and old below), who died in 1978.



When Shattuck heard about Legere’s rituals, which were supposed to provide participants with an infusion of Christ, he immediately alerted Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, bishop of Norwich, CT. Reilly, however, had already known about the practice, but he wanted it kept quiet to avoid a scandal.

With Reilly’s backing, Shattuck began to dissolve the Apostolic Formation Center and steered clear from the “false teachings” of Legere’s followers. He reorganized and renamed the group, but a scandal erupted anyway, when the ritual was made public in a scathing series of articles in the Manchester Journal Enquirer in 1985.


Legere, who thought he was Christ’s twin, asserted that God had asked him to share this “holy” act, the homosexual ritual, to prompt the group’s most fervent followers to prove they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Legere said although this appeared to be an abnormal request from above, he explained that the Lord works in mysterious ways—and the act was no stranger than the time God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to demonstrate his faith.

When the scandal broke, Shattuck said Reilly shunned him in a Peter-like betrayal, and banned the organization from the diocese.

But according to those familiar with the group, the true rift between Reilly and Shattuck came when Reilly learned in the spring of 1985 that at least some of Legere’s teachings continued under Shattuck. He then told Shattuck that the collaboration between the Norwich diocese and the group was over.

In 1986, Shattuck, his family, and a handful of friends moved to Heath, although the town was suspicious of the Community at the former farm from the start.

The following year, Lavigne befriended Shattuck and the Community, endorsing both in a letter to then-Bishop Maguire. “I found a group of seven to eight families with great devotion to the mother of God and who, young and old, gather daily for prayer and fellowship,” wrote Lavigne in the letter, dated May 15, 1987. “One aspect of the group which strikes me with such positive sense, is their very evident strong Catholic culture with its attendant traditions, devotions, and family orientation—usually the product of close-knit, parochial education in a very Catholic neighborhood. In some respects, they remind me of what it was like growing up among similar folk as a child. I personally find this a healthy addition to our community where the faith of so many has so often been diluted.”


Lavigne continued, “From what I have gathered in conversations ,these new people have suffered a great deal from ostracization and bad experiences associated with the former ‘Apostolic Center’ in Somers, CT. Through their relocation here in Heath, they seek the peaceful, communal living that was evidently denied them in their former home. Like all of us when we are hurt, they are in need of compassion and healing. I can sympathize with them as I know what it means to be maligned without just cause.”

It’s unclear what Lavigne meant about his familiarity with being “maligned without just cause”—whether it was suffering persecution for his liberal stances on social issues throughout his career, or being suspected of molestation and murder in 1972, or being accused of sexual abuse in 1986, when allegations were brought to then auxiliary bishop the Most Rev. Leo O’Neil by a Northampton priest and a North Adams nun on behalf of alleged victim Paul R. Babeu (pictured below). The result of this accusation: the diocese ordered Lavigne to undergo a mental health evaluation and he was found to be no threat to minors.


In the spring of 1987 Lavigne began spending time with Joseph, Shattuck’s 15-year-old son, seeing the altar boy at least once a week, having him do odd jobs at the church, and offering him gifts, including paying for his orthodontic braces—which cost over $1,300, according to the victim’s police statement. Lavigne invited him several times to a house he built in Ashfield. “Curiously, on those occasions, although Father Lavigne would force me to sleep with him and try to snuggle, he was not aggressive about sexual contact,” he said. “It was at the rectory that he was most aggressive. In addition to the sexual contact at the rectory, Father Lavigne would frequently insist on washing me and cleaning my rectum, claiming that I did not know how to do it.”

Joseph Shattuck also related to police a story of sexual abuse on a trip to Arizona in late June, 1987, as well as during a vacation in Pennsylvania in the spring of 1988. “You’re not going to tell anyone about it, are you?” asked Lavigne at the end of the Arizona trip, according to Shattuck. “I shook my head to indicate no. Father Lavigne said that the ‘problem with the priesthood is that you can never be yourself. I like vacations because I can be myself again for a while. I rarely see anyone I know while I am on vacation.’”

In many respects, Shattuck’s claims are similar to those of many others allegedly molested by Lavigne, but the boy’s stories are by far the most extensive victim accounts in the police files that were unimpounded in 2004. They show a boy at the mercy of a manipulative, sometimes volatile man who constantly making excuses to touch Shattuck’s groin, toying with the boy’s body and with his emotions. When Shattuck resisted, he said Lavigne pouted—or sometimes blew up. “You’re no fun!” Shattuck remembered Lavigne screaming when the boy refused to go skinny dipping. “Friendship is based on trust, and if you don’t trust me, what are you doing here?”

Trust indeed. “Why do you have your hand on my dick?” Shattuck said he asked Lavigne this question one night in Arizona when he awoke next to the priest. He said Lavigne explained that he knew Shattuck was a bed-wetter, and “if you started to go, I was going to squeeze it…Go to the bathroom. I am tired of keeping my hand on you.”

He said Lavigne also insisted on spreading medication on his genitals when he noticed chafe marks from the boy’s wet bathing suit. Shattuck wanted to put the gel on himself, but he said the priest insisted on doing it, saying, “There is a right way and a wrong way to apply it.” He described Lavigne dabbing on a little of the medication, and sitting back and making conversation to prolong the moment, saying, according to Shattuck, “You are so trustful. If anyone knew what I was doing this to you, I would get fired. You’re not going to tell anyone are you?”

When Lavigne groped him, said Shattuck, the priest would defend his actions. “We’re all God’s children,” he remembered Lavigne saying. “We express our love in different ways,” said Lavigne, according to Shattuck. “This is my way. This is how I express it. There is nothing wrong with it.”

By Easter of that year, Shattuck stopped serving as an altar boy on a weekly basis—doing so only during holy weeks—trying to distance himself from Lavigne, but the priest “threatened to expose the fact that I had driven his car illegally and I had been drinking wine at the rectory, which he had freely given me.”

Joseph Shattuck asserted that the sexual assaults continued that fall on a three-day trip to Canada, but after that the youth had succeeded in limiting their contact to once a month. However, he felt obligated to let the relationship continue because Lavigne was still paying for his orthodontia expenses, and so the boy accompanied the priest on at three-day trip to California in the summer of 1989 after he “pressured me by acting as if his vacation would be ruined if I did not go with him.” During the trip, “I consciously tried to make a barrier between me and Father Lavigne with respect to his sexual conduct,” he said.

In turn, Lavigne seemed nervous about the possibility that the relationship had run its course. “I remember him saying at one point, ‘I enjoy your company. You’re the only one who knows how I feel. You’re the only one who knows how I truly feel.’”

But after that trip, Lavigne “knew that I wanted out of the relationship,” wrote Shattuck, and the priest sulked. He balked at continuing to pay for the boy’s braces. “He told me, ‘You call me, I won’t call you.’ However, in spite of saying that, he did call me constantly, and whenever I would answer he would say, ‘What’s the matter? You haven’t called in a while.’”

When the Holy Trinity Lay Community stopped attending services at St. Joseph’s in the fall of 1990 because of a difference of opinion in the way Mass should be conducted, “I used this fact as an excuse to tell Father Lavigne in a phone conversation that we should discontinue any visits,” he said. The priest protested, but then demanded that the boy return all the presents he had given him. When Joseph went to the rectory and gave the items back, Lavigne asked him, “Don’t you want to reconsider?” according to the boy. “He asked me in for a cup of coffee. I said no. I could see in his expression that he appeared to be concerned and fearful.”


When Charles Shattuck told Lavigne why the Community stopped attending Mass at the parish, the priest asked him what his son thought of the situation. “This puzzled my father, since I had nothing to do with the decision,” wrote Joseph. “I suspect that Father Lavigne was trying to discover whether I had told anything about his prior misconduct.”

During Joseph Shattuck’s last year in high school, “I was told by numerous classmates that they thought Father Lavigne was a homosexual and should be avoided.” But he kept all information about his own experience with the priest confidential. “I am emotionally scarred, and it is very hard for me to trust people,” he wrote in his statement on October 9, 1991. “I hate myself for allowing Father Lavigne to abuse me. When I could no longer keep it to myself, I finally told some of these details to my sister.” He didn’t want his sister to tell anyone, but she reminded him that the priest “could be doing this to other boys, or maybe even worse things, and he shouldn’t just let it lie,” she said.

So she told his parents. “I am afraid that this sexual abuse may have happened to other boys and is happening now,” wrote Shattuck. “I believe he abused my brother, who was only eight years old at the time.”

The boy’s account hardly paints a picture of a cult trying to “set up” a fine, upstanding priest. But Lavigne’s supporters sent a letter to parishioners asking them for financial help for Lavigne, with his legal expenses possibly running “to six figures,” according to the letter. “Our good friend, Father Lavigne, is presently suffering the most painful experience of his life,” read the letter in part. “Criminal accusations have left him crushed and deeply hurt. To defend his name and his life, he has retained the services of a prominent Boston attorney. The process of a competent defense requires a great deal of time, labor and money. A priest’s salary is hardly sufficient to defray these costs.”

Meanwhile, the wall of silence that had protected abusive priests for so long continued to crumble: on February 13, 1991, the Rev. Julian Pagacz, pastor of St. Valentine’s Polish National Church in Northampton, was charged with raping a 16-year-old girl from Poland and with indecently assaulting a 17-year-old Hampshire County girl.

February 15, 1992

On February 15, the “body count” in the Lavigne case grew: a Franklin County grand jury indicted Lavigne for allegedly molesting five minors, adding two more youths to the three he was accused of abusing.

That meant that the defense’s tactic of smearing the Holy Trinity Lay Community as a Lavigne-hating renegade Catholic sect would only go so far now.


As more accusations piled up before the trial, Lavigne behaved like a haunted, hunted man, according to 19-year-old Dana Cayo, one of his friends who later accused him of abuse. After he was arrested, Lavigne was a frequent guest of Cayo’s sister in Hawley, MA, and he would visit her in disguise, hide in the bathroom when other visitors came, and peer out the window nervously eyeing cars driving by, according to the youth. “I think he thought he was going to jail and he was scared,” said Cayo.

Like many of Lavigne’s victims, Cayo also spoke of a priest who was generous with gifts, buying him a 150-watt per channel amplifier, a stereo with speakers, and a rowing machine. “He told me once I should come to his defense, but I'd probably make a mistake and say something to really get him in trouble.”

Lavigne was in real trouble anyway, with or without Cayo’s help. He was arraigned on the additional charges on February 25, 1992—two counts of rape of a child under 16, three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child over 14, and seven counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14. The abuse reportedly occurred over a span of 12 years.

The charges that had been brought previously in Greenfield District Court, alleging two counts of rape but only one count of indecent assault and battery, were superseded by the latest indictments.

Among the spectators in at the Hampshire County Superior Court that day was Carl Croteau Sr.

“The people who have leveled charges against me know them to be untrue,” Lavigne read aloud from a prepared statement. “I just hope to one day be vindicated and return to my work at St. Joseph’s, where I belong…As most of you can imagine, this has been a gut-wrenching experience for me. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemies. I wouldn't wish it on my accusers.”



Stern called the case against his client a “witch hunt,” asserting that one alleged victim, as recently as December, “told us categorically that nothing had ever happened between himself and Father Lavigne, but changed his story after being put under “known pressure.”

On the same day of Lavigne’s arraignment, the Rev. Gary A. LaMontagne became the third priest in the area within a year to be accused of sexual abuse. The 37-year-old was charged with rape of a woman church worker in the rectory of St. Mary's Church in Westfield. He also was charged with indecent assault and battery, and assault with intent to rape.

The LaMontagne arrest may have hammered another dent in the formerly impenetrable armor of the Springfield Diocese, but Lavigne’s supporters were not fazed. Almost 500 people, many of them parishioners of Lavigne’s 600-member parish, signed onto a legal brief backing his bid for separation of the five indictments he was facing. His lawyers had argued that a jury would tend to convict because it would rely on the fact that there were multiple allegations, rather than weighing the evidence fairly.

April 30, 1992

On April 30, Lavigne and his lawyers won two pre-trial motions. Franklin County Superior Court Judge John Moriarty ruled that the five indictments that Lavigne faced would be tried separately, and that the trials would take place in Newburyport, a small seacoast town on the far northeastern corner of the state.

Lavigne’s lawyers had argued that the media frenzy about the case—combined with coverage of the reopened investigation of the Daniel Croteau murder case—would make it impossible to empanel an impartial jury in western Massachusetts or even central Massachusetts, because Springfield television stations are carried on cable systems throughout Worcester County. Stern had even subpoenaed videotapes of news broadcasts on Channels 22 and 40 to prove his point.

Stern had also asserted that because there were so many allegations against Lavigne, jurors would have been swayed against his client if all five cases were combined together. “There’s the ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ phenomenon,” said Stern. “The jurors have to find fire. They won’t find it, but they’ll say, ‘There’s so much smoke—are so many allegations—this defendant must have done something.’”

Moriarty advised the lawyers involved to prepare for the first of five trials quickly, perhaps as soon as June. This was months earlier than both the prosecution and the defense said they were prepared to go to trial, but Moriarty was fed up with the delays.

May 9, 1992

Moriarty set a tentative date of June 22 for the first of five trials for Lavigne. Assistant District Attorney Ariane Vuono said that papers would be filed with the court soon indicating which indictment would be brought to trial first. Judge Guy Volterra was assigned to the case.

There was more legal maneuvering in the next month, with Volterra denying a prosecution motion to include past accusations against Lavigne in the trial. The prosecution had plenty of ammo: after Lavigne’s arrest, more than 19 people had come forward with sworn statements about being sexually abused by the priest. Volterra also rejected a defense motion to continue the case after Stern argued that the publicity surrounding the high profile James Porter case in eastern and southeastern Massachusetts would prejudice his client’s case. Porter, a former priest from North Attleboro, admitted to molesting dozens of children.

On June 22 the Republican newspaper reported that Lavigne spent the first four months after his arrest in virtual exile in eastern Massachusetts, but then began to visit old friends and parishioners at St. Mary’s parish in East Springfield and at St. Joseph’s in Shelburne Falls. According to his friends, he complained about being bored and missing the church life. They also said he was anxiously awaiting the trial.

June 22, 1992

During jury selection, Lavigne introduced himself to about 140 prospective jurors, 12 of whom were slated to determine whether or not he fondled a 12-year-old Greenfield boy in 1983 or 1984. The 20-year-old accuser filed the charges the previous October, saying that the priest molested him twice.

The jury selection at Essex Superior Court in Lawrence took all day, and lawyers prepared to present opening statements in Newburyport District Court the following day. However, the process went into a second, and then a third day as Andrea Longpre, a jury-selection expert from New York City, meticulously screened potential jurors.


June 26, 1992

Father Lavigne Pleads GuiltySupporters Surprised by Plea

The above June 26, 1992 headline in the Union News came as a surprise to most of the people following this case for the past eight months, especially since the priest had repeatedly voiced his innocence. And the plea, like his arrest on October 18, 1991, certainly shocked his flock.

On June 25, Lavigne supporter Michael Slowinski woke at 4 a.m. to the sound of thunder. “It was God knocking,” he said. After being roused by his heavenly alarm clock, the Colrain resident and his three kids drove 125 miles to Newburyport. Little did they know it was judgment day for their favorite priest, who would plead guilty to indecent assault and battery on a child.

“At first I was surprised, but in retrospect, I shouldn't have been,” said Slowinski, who had organized the petition supporting five separate trials. “I don't believe for one minute Father Lavigne is guilty of anything, but I think he saw the prospect of five trials, the emotional, not to mention the financial expense, and this was a way to put an end to this and to get on with the rest of his life. It makes sense. It’s over.”

Lavigne had called some of his supporters the previous night and informed them of his intention to plead guilty. When he entered the courtroom with his sister, her husband, and his nephew, he hugged several parishioners, and then began to weep.

“Why did Father Lavigne say he was guilty when he wasn’t guilty?” asked Slowinski’s young son.

“I’ll explain it to you on the ride home,” said Slowinski.

In return for Lavigne’s guilty pleas to one count of molesting a boy under the age of 14 and one count of molesting boy over the age of 14, the prosecution agreed to drop two child rape charges, six counts of molesting a child under the age of 14, and two counts of molesting a child over 14.

He received a 10 years of probation for a suspended four- to six-year prison sentence in Cedar Junction in Walpole, and was sentenced to a concurrent 10-year probation sentence in lieu of a one-year jail sentence. Lavigne was also ordered to spend seven months to one year in psychiatric treatment in the Saint Luke Institute in Suitland, MD, as a term of probation. The facility counsels clergy who have drug, alcohol, or sexual abuse problems.



He was informed that he could no longer serve as a parish priest, must stay away from his victims, couldn’t live in a house where there is anyone under the age of 16, or work unsupervised with anyone under 16.

“I am sorry for the harm I have caused, and I ask for their forgiveness,” said Lavigne. “As far as other accusers: If I have harmed them in any way I ask for their forgiveness.” It was hardly a statement that suggested that he was innocent and that he was avoiding the “gut-wrenching” prospect of being falsely accused in five separate trials.

Bunny Croteau, Danny’s mother, said, “The decision wasn't as great as I’d like. At least he admitted some guilt.”

The final time I talked to Carl Croteau on September 25, 2009, I took the picture of him below in front of Gateway Village in Sixteen Acres. I asked him to turn the clock back 12 years and recall what he was thinking right after the sentencing. I expected him to remember some kind of sense of redemption over the guilty plea. But there was none. His smile turned into a frown. He couldn’t believe the sentence. “It was a disappointment,” he said. “A slap in the face. An outrage.”


A woman, interviewed in 1992 by the Springfield Union News outside the courthouse who on the condition her name not be used, echoed Carl’s sentiments. She called Judge Volterra’s suspended sentence “a joke, a farce…If he wasn’t a priest, he’d be going to jail, not some country club.”

Volterra, on the other hand, blasted press coverage of the case, and opined that a conviction might have been overturned on appeal because the statute of limitations on the crimes had run out, but was extended retroactively by the state legislature.

Soon after Lavigne pled guilty, someone set fire to a car owned by a relative with whom he was living. The arson took place a day after a television reporter had told his neighbors about his presence in the eastern Massachusetts town in which he had relocated. “We all felt he was in danger,” said Stern. “He eventually moved.”

Lavigne seemed contrite after the sentencing, but he was much less so a few days later during an interview on Amherst radio station WFCR. Speaking against the advice of his attorney, he said he was writing a book about his legal troubles, blaming his predicament on his lifelong refusal to stick to the status quo. “And now I’m paying the price,” he said. “Very few people know who I am. They know me from working with me, or my sermons, or the jokes I tell. But very few people know and understand me. I’ve got a lot to say. It’s hard for me not to be able to tell my side of the story. But for now, I have to stay quiet. I’m a very, very trusting person, and I know if I go to the press with my story at this point, I could create problems for my defense. Being too trusting has always been one of my problems.”

Lavigne’s 1991-1992 ordeal, however, marked just the beginning of his dealings with the legal system. He was the target of dozens of lawsuits since the early 1990s. The investigation into the Daniel Croteau murder proceeded with starts and stops since 1991, with two rounds of DNA testing on blood found at the murder scene failing to match Lavigne’s DNA.

He still hasn’t told his side of the story, saying only “My silence is my salvation,” when reporters ask.

In February of 2002, when he was four months away from the end of his 10-year probation, Stern said of his notorious client, “He’s had a perfect and clean record for these 10 years. He was and is a very decent man. He was, in fact, a great priest.”

Indeed, Lavigne had found it difficult to pull away from the church life, despite being banned from serving as a parish priest. Five years prior to the end of his probation, the Rev. Bruce Teague (pictured below) noticed him hanging around St. Brigid Church in Amherst, trying to assist another priest who was hearing children’s confessions. Teague informed diocesan officials. When they didn’t respond to his complaint, he reported the situation to the Amherst Police, who issued a trespass order, threatening Lavigne with arrest if he showed up at the church again.


When Teague’s superiors in the Springfield diocese received a copy of the order, he was reprimanded and was eventually forced out of his position as pastor. His parishioners were furious. “Here you have a good priest who blew the whistle on a bad priest and it’s the good priest who gets punished,” said David Keenan, a former Amherst selectman.

Keenan and fellow parishioners were unsuccessful in their attempt to contact Bishop Thomas Dupre and demand Teague’s reinstatement.

“Father Teague was driven out of here because he protected children and dared to challenge the diocese about Lavigne while other priests were still socializing with Lavigne, and yet the diocese continues to coddle Father Lavigne, a convicted pedophile,” said Keenan. “It’s an absolute disgrace.”

At present, Lavigne lives in relative peace in his Chicopee home, his tranquility only occasionally interrupted by an intrepid reporter (at least once from the Boston Globe in 2003) and a police raid on his home in 2004 to search his computer equipment for evidence that he possibly wrote an anonymous letter and mailed it to himself—a letter that Lavigne concluded that it was written by Danny Croteau’s murderer.

In 2004, Lavigne was laicized—officially made a layman—by the Vatican, marking the end of the diocese’s financial assistance to him. The year before, Bishop Dupre (pictured below), who had been criticized for dragging his feet on seeking to defrock Lavigne, submitted his resignation and fled the diocese after allegations that he himself had abused two boys in the 1970s.



The repercussions from the Lavigne case in the early 1990s were particularly difficult on Charles Shattuck. Lavigne’s sympathizers continued to show their contempt for the Holy Trinity Lay Community and the Shattuck family after the priest’s guilty plea. “We were treated as outcasts. We received death threats over the phone. We discovered my wife’s brakes had been cut. My children were mentally and physically abused by some of their classmates at school. It was a nightmare. But we never regretted coming forward,” said Shattuck. A number of Lavigne’s supporters continued to jeer at Shattuck when they saw him in town even a decade later.

Despite what Lavigne did to his sons—including threatening them with a knife if they were to tell (see below), according to their later statements to police—Shattuck continues to pray for him. So did Carl Croteau. Shattuck hasn’t seen Lavigne again. Carl had a couple of chance encounters with the former priest, including sightings in downtown Springfield and at the Holyoke Mall. “He got out of there in a hurry when he saw me,” said Carl.



Lavigne told the Boston Globe in 2003 that he hasn’t contacted the Croteau family because Carl “is so bitter.” This is in direct contrast to the observation of Rev. Charles Gonet, the former St. Catherine pastor who Carl credits with bringing him back to the church. Carl and Bunny Croteau, according to Gonet, are “remarkably devoid of bitterness. The Lord is working in their lives.”

I never got the taste of bitterness when I talked to Carl Croteau. “It’s no use getting angry,” he said. “Hating is not productive.” Over the years, when the negative thoughts did get to him, and he found himself thinking about what he’d do to his son’s murderer, he would put the brakes on the negativity and say a prayer. “Then I’d say, ‘Darn it, now I have to go to confession for even thinking those thoughts,’” he said.

* * * * * * * *

Many wonder how Lavigne’s alleged victims could keep silent about the sordid details of their relationships with the priest—secrets that lasted in some cases for several decades. Why didn’t they just tell their parents—and the police—the minute something improper took place, or when the collective abuse became too much to bear? The answer isn’t a simple one. Generally speaking, for some victims of clergy abuse, the relationship often starts out with a mutual affection. That sentiment can cause mixed feelings when, as the abuse progresses, their emotional attachment conflicts with their realization that the situation is exploitative—and illegal.

For example, rewind to a time before Danny’s murder, to a scene in which Danny was playing street hockey with his friends. “We would be in the middle of a game, well before suppertime,” recalled Stephen Burnett, who served as an altar boy at St. Catherine and was one of Danny’s best buddies. “Everybody would be having a good time, all of a sudden I would see Danny crying and I would look up to Prouty Street, which was about five houses away, and see Father Lavigne parked in the big four-door car, but he wouldn’t come out of his car or park any closer, like he was trying to conceal his identity. Danny would say, ‘I have to go,” and he would run to the car crying with no further explanation. Danny told me that Father Lavigne was his uncle, and that’s why I never thought any more about it…I know that Father Lavigne did not bring Danny home to his (Danny’s) house as he went the opposite direction. They drove down towards Sunrise Terrace down Lumae Street.”


The incident reveals what appeared to be a close and complex relationship between Croteau and Lavigne. Although it was never proven that the priest was sexually abusing Danny, their behavior seems to fit the same pattern as the dynamics of Lavigne’s relationships with many of his alleged victims. Like Shattuck and others, Danny was given alcohol, according to witnesses. Lavigne also showered Danny with attention, and invited him to many overnight stays in which the two were alone.

Here was a kid who was growing up like any boy in Sixteen Acres. Playing street hockey and Wiffleball with his friends. Joining the weekly neighborhood volleyball game at the corner of Fenway Drive and Fairlawn Street. Being a typical boy—and then having the fun interrupted because of a seemingly bizarre friendship with a middle-aged man.

And, as Joseph Shattuck discovered, it’s not an easy relationship to get out of. Even when victims know what is occurring is wrong, many of them blame themselves. “There are some things that may seem like a sin, but really are not,” wrote Shattuck. “For instance, being a victim of sexual assault may make a person think they have done something wrong, but in reality they are innocent. I remember when I was 15 years of age, I had a good friend, and of all people, a priest! What a friend—one of the closest people to God. He would take me places like the movies, shopping, etc. Little did I know at the time, but his generosity would be used in such a way to make me feel like I owed him something.”

But by 1991 Joseph Shattuck had certainly gotten over his feeling of indebtedness. He had had enough of Lavigne’s antics, which backfired on the priest in a momentous way. Lavigne’s motives became more and more transparent, and his “affection” had turned into abuse, according to Shattuck’s account, so he was the first to blow the whistle on the priest and bring him to trial. The dirty little secret was exposed, and others came forward with similar stories, triggering the reopening of the Daniel Croteau murder investigation.

Carl Croteau believed that his son was also ready to tell him what was going on between him and his murderer, and that’s why he was killed. Most law enforcement officers involved in the investigation feel this was the scenario as well.

And most of them believe Danny’s killer was Lavigne, but there isn’t physical evidence to convict him. There was enough evidence of sexual abuse in other cases, however, to defrock him, and that was one of the Croteaus’ small victories.

Carl Croteau said that Lavigne’s laicizing was “welcome but long overdue. At least there is some justice. Hopefully there will be more in the future.”

Judgment day. It’s awaiting all of us. But Carl Croteau believed Danny’s murderer should face his accusers in THIS life—in a court of law.

2009

A Springfield Republican editorial, published shortly after former District Attorney Matthew Ryan’s death on August 22, 2009, criticized the former D.A.’s handling of the Croteau murder. But that was of little consolation to Carl Croteau. At the time, he was pressing for an indictment, and he wanted Attorney General Martha Coakley to take over the case and appoint a special prosecutor—even with just circumstantial evidence. “People have gone to jail with much, much less evidence against them,” said Croteau.

And there are witnesses as well, who offered statements in 1991, 1993, and 2000. They told police they saw Lavigne the night of the murder either with Danny or near the murder scene. But why did they wait so long to come forward with their stories? “The D.A. is probably afraid Lavigne’s lawyer would rip them apart," said Croteau. Be that as it may, he thought it was worth a trial—in a criminal court, not a civil one.

Carl wasn’t interested in filing a civil suit, where the burden of proof would be much less. “When it’s a civil suit, it’s about money,” he said. “We don’t want the money. We want justice.”

Read parts 1, 2, and 3.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Daniel Croteau Murder, Part 3


It was on August 1, 2003, a drizzly summer day during the height of the media coverage on the Daniel Croteau murder, that I first interviewed Carl and Bunny Croteau in their living room. The first thing I noticed was a portrait of Danny is his light blue Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School shirt and tie. Behind the painting was a strand of palm frond from a Palm Sunday service. Another palm leaf, fashioned in the shape of a cross, was on the picture frame. This “palm cross” tradition is said to protect families from danger. Then I became self-conscious about my staring at it and looked away. On another wall was a needlepoint made by Bunny. It read, “When I somebody you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”

Next to the needlepoint was a picture of Danny’s four brothers and two sisters as adults—a testament to the love and strength of a large, tight-knit family, but also a reminder that Danny didn’t get a chance to grow up. I looked back at Danny’s portrait—the one I had seen in news accounts. Why, I wondered, was I so obsessed with this case? There he was, memorialized on the wall, forever 13, looking over his parents, who had been in limbo for more than 30 years, waiting for an indictment in their son’s murder.

The home, where they had lived for the past 38 years, is a ranch, just like the one in which I grew up, just like a multitude of houses in this mostly middle-class neighborhood of 21,000. It was on August 1, 2003, that I sat down in a chair, Carl and Bunny sat on their couch, and they told me about the last time they saw their son, wearing the same Catholic school uniform in Danny’s portrait. Every detail of that day, of course, was etched in their memory.


On the last afternoon of his life, Danny’s blue school tie certainly wasn’t as straight as the one in the painting. It was Friday, school was out, and his tie was flapping in the breeze as he played kickball in a neighbor’s yard. The tie kept getting in the way, so he crammed it in his jacket pocket. “I yelled for him to come in and change before he got his school clothes dirty,” recalled Bunny. Plus, he had one Friday chore: Carl had brought home an old rug for the back porch. “I asked him to help his mother put the rug down,” said Carl. “He said, ‘Sure, dad.’” It was the last conversation they had.

Danny straightened the rug, and before his parents knew it he was across the lawn, the screen door slamming behind him, and he headed down Ferncliff Avenue toward Wilbraham Road. He was last seen talking to a paper boy (pictured below in 1973) making his deliveries on Kane Street around 4:10 p.m. 


Someone thought he saw him later in the A&P supermarket on Parker Street, but this was never verified. Danny didn’t come home for dinner. In the Croteau house, Fridays meant you could have anything you wanted for supper, and Danny always had his favorite cereal, Cheerios. But there was no sign of Danny. They wondered if he had grabbed a slice or two at Giovanni’s Pizza, which was three blocks away, or filled up on candy from Acre Drug (below), next to A&P.


When night fell, Bunny started calling people, including Lavigne, who said he hadn’t seen Danny. “When I got really scared, the first thing I thought of was water,” said Bunny. “I don’t know why.” This was possibly because her son talked all week about the start of fishing season, which was the next day. Or maybe it was a mother’s foreboding intuition. Although Danny hadn’t taken his fishing pole with him, his father got in his car and toured the area ponds anyway. Bunny went to the home of Danny’s scoutmaster to see if he was there. He wasn’t, and he told her the boy didn’t attend his Boy Scout meeting that night, which was really strange, since he was looking forward to it—the troop was making plans to go camping.

When she came back home, Carl Sr. told her that Lavigne called and asked if Danny had been found yet. “No,” he had answered. There was silence on the other end of the line.

Panicked, Bunny called the Springfield Police, who said the boy would have to be missing for 12 hours before a report could be filed. “He’s only a kid,” she cried. After a sleepless night, the Croteaus considered the possibility that the boy stayed out all night fishing, but dismissed it. None of the family’s fishing gear was missing, and it had gotten very chilly. And Danny always came home. Carl went on another tour of neighborhood fishing holes in the morning. No luck. So he went to work as a housing code specialist for the City of Springfield.

Around 11:00 a.m., police came to the Croteau house and told Bunny her son had been “in trouble.” She called Carl, who came home and spoke to the officers privately. “In trouble?” he asked. “What do you mean? Did he do something wrong?”

“No, said an officer.” “It’s worse than that. We found him, murdered, and floating in the Chicopee River.”


The scene of the crime (above)


When Bunny saw her husband’s face, she knew her youngest son was dead.

The officers asked Carl to go to the Chicopee police station with them. He agreed and asked them to stop at the St. Mary’s rectory so he could tell Father Lavigne. 

“What’s going on? asked the priest.

“They found Danny murdered in Chicopee,” Carl blurted out. “We’re going to the headquarters.”
“Do you want me to come along?”

“Yes, father. Thank you.”

After police briefed Carl on what had happened, they told him Danny had been taken to a funeral home. Carl said, “They asked me to go identify Danny, and Lavigne said, ‘No, no, no—let him stay here. I’ll identify the body.’ Carl was grateful.

Bunny’s sister Betty and her family flew in from California for the wake and the funeral. Lavigne took her aside and told her that it was important to convince Carl and Bunny to have a closed casket wake because Danny’s face was disfigured. She agreed. After the funeral, Fitzgibbon asked the Croteaus why the casket was closed, and they explained. Fitzgibbon was confused. The wounds were to the back of Danny’s head, not his face. His jaw was fractured, but the injury wasn’t noticeable.

At the time, Carl and Bunny were puzzled by Lavigne’s request. Over the years they developed a theory. “I think Lavigne couldn’t bear to look at Danny’s face again,” said Carl.

Carl and Bunny said their grief was compounded by not seeing Danny one last time. “That was one of the toughest things,” said Carl. “All we had was a picture of him on top of the casket. That didn’t sit too well with us.” Not being able to say goodbye haunted them for years. “I wish we didn’t have a closed-casket wake,” she said. “Once in a while I’d see someone in the street or in a store who looked like Danny.” For a fleeing moment she would think that boy might be her son. “I’d stare at him,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion, “and then I’d tell myself, ‘It just can’t be.’”

At this point, much had been written in the media on Danny’s death, but not much on his life, and his parents wanted to change that—to let people know he was a good kid. Catherine, the youngest in the family agreed. She had come into the living room with the newest member of the family, her baby Thomas, for me to hold. Also entering to room was Catherine’s daughter, eleven-year-old Danielle, who was named after Danny.

Catherine was five years old when Danny was murdered. “Despite the age difference, we were close,” she said. “I would have tea parties in the backyard with him, and sometimes he made his friends play too. He played with me a lot because there weren't a lot of kids my age on Ferncliff Avenue.”

Carl and Bunny remembered how Danny used to help an elderly neighbor by getting her mail, shoveling her driveway, and raking her leaves.

Danny also had a mischievous side. He once traded his father’s pocket watch for some baseball cards. Another time, during the bedlam of all the kids getting ready for school, he bolted into the kitchen to inform his mother that the toilet was clogged and overflowing. When she raced into the bathroom, he yelled, “April Fool!” and ran out out the door.

I laughed at that one. Then Thomas started getting fussy. I wasn’t used to holding babies—this interview was before I had kids. It was time for his nap and I handed him off to Catherine.

There is significance in Thomas’s name as well. It was Danny’s middle name. Carl and Bunny had named their youngest son after the late actor Danny Thomas because of his work on behalf of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. They pointed out that sometimes seemingly unsolvable cases are ultimately solved. They remained confident that their search for justice wasn’t quixotic quest.


It became clear to me that the Croteaus were not angry people, and when the conversation got less intense, it seemed that they would rather talk about Danny instead of his murder. The boy, who had blue eyes and dirty blond hair, was a daydreamer. He wanted desperately to go on a safari. He talked about being a scientist or a priest when he grew up. At five-foot-six and 135 pounds, Danny was large for a seventh-grader and as strong as an ox. He was no “tough guy” but certainly no-one pushed him around. However, he was no match for a cold-blooded killer or killers in the wee hours of the morning. 

On a living room bureau is a lamp made in the shape of Huckleberry Finn, the mischievous, freckled Mark Twain character who loved fishing—he reminded her of Danny, who, like Huck, also had freckles on his face.

He was a boy full of energy, love, and life—until the early morning of April 15, 1972.

“What we’re looking for is some kind of closure,” said Carl. He quickly corrected himself. “Well, there’s never going to be real closure. Nothing is going to bring Danny back. But the only thing near closure Bunny and I are going to have is when they put this guy in jail.”

“That guy,” of course, was Lavigne. Just about every investigator involved in the case believed the priest did it. At first the Croteaus couldn’t believe what the police were saying. He was like a member of the family. “He was a sharp as a tack,” said Carl. “There’s no question about it. He sure knew how to maneuver himself into a family.” One day, shortly after he was assigned to their parish, he just showed up at their door. “We didn’t invite him,” recalled Carl. “He said he wanted to help us.” He had been ordained for one year and he immediately took to the kids. “He was good to them,” he said. “He took them camping, on sleepovers at the rectory, and on overnight trips to the mountains. I remember his father used to sell discounted shoes in his house and he took them over there to buy shoes.”

That’s why the Croteaus were perplexed by Bunny’s final “conversation” with Lavigne two-and-a-half weeks after the murder. “He just called and said we shouldn’t talk again, and that was it,” said Carl. “He never said he didn’t do it. We knew him well for five years, and that’s all he had to say? If someone named me as a suspect in a murder, I’d go to his family and say, ‘I didn’t do it.’ That’s what most people would do, right?”

I couldn’t help but nod yes.

“He was sharp as a tack all right, but he made a couple of mistakes,” said Carl. “He took Joe fishing under the 291 bridge a year before Danny was killed. (Pictured below) How do you like that? He was familiar with the crime scene,” said Carl. It was one more fact in what seemed like a strong circumstantial case, but evidently it didn’t meet the probable cause threshold.


“One time, when Joe was 14, he came home from an overnight stay hung over and sick. Lavigne told me Joe had gotten into his parents’ liquor cabinet when he wasn’t in the room. He told police Danny did the same thing a week before he was killed. That was Lavigne’s M.O. He liquored these kids up. Why I didn’t see it at the time I don’t know.” He shook his head and Bunny put her hand on his lap. “I don’t know,” he said. 

Catherine mentioned the time he took Danny’s brother Greg to a hotel in Townshend, VT and gave him a container of orange juice to drink. “Greg took a sip and could tell there was vodka in the orange juice. He said, ‘It must have fermented in the refrigerator. Greg said, ‘It must have fermented a lot.’”

Then Catherine fast-forwarded to Lavigne’s legal battle in early 2003 to avoid his obligation to register with the Chicopee Police as a level three sex offender, the most severe rating. Lavigne lost his appeal and registered on April 1, but the police wouldn’t post the notification in his neighborhood, saying it would be “unnecessary because of all the publicity he had received.”

“I wanted to put up signs all around his block warning everybody,” she said. But she didn’t. The Croteaus have their moments, but they ultimately maintain their composure. They are not angry people, despite everything. “We just want to make sure he isn’t able to do it again,” said Bunny.


Lavigne’s sex offender photo on the city of Chicopee’s website

Indeed, I found it surprising that the Croteaus were able to speak quite calmly about their son’s murder. They gave off a vibe of hope, not bitterness, especially because at that time new DNA tests were being done on evidence at the scene—blood that was not Danny’s. In the mid-1990s, DNA tests failed to conclusively link Lavigne to the scene, but these new tests were far more sophisticated. In fact, they could yield results from as little as one skin cell.

Also, a Hampshire Superior Court judge was reviewing two boxes of investigation documents to determine if sealed portions should be made public after The Republican newspaper sought the termination of the court-ordered impoundment. The Croteaus were confident that a release of the files might lead a previously unknown witness or two to come forward. “We still pray every day that someone will contact the police or the D.A.’s office,” said Bunny. “I don’t think people can go to their graves without saying something. It really must eat away at them to keep this kind of secret.”

Where Danny was before he went to the murder scene was a mystery. His whereabouts were also unknown in the hours before he arrived at a woman’s house lost a week prior to the murder. This was when he called Lavigne to pick him up, and he spent the night at the house of Lavigne’s parents. Carl was hoping that a release of the files might lead to the filling in of blanks, to the establishment of a timeline of his son’s whereabouts the day he was murdered—or even where he was the previous Friday night, which might prompt other information.

Carl and Bunny had long accepted Danny’s death, and yet in some ways he lives on—in media coverage, memories, and, of course, the afterlife. “We believe he is in heaven,” said Carl, who told me that he still talked to his youngest son. Whenever he drives on the Governor Robinson Bridge, he said, he asks Danny to somehow point his finger at the killer, to steer authorities toward an undiscovered clue or witness.

“There is still an ongoing investigation, and I know that there are a few things that have come up,” said Carl. “Hopefully, they’ll help investigators out. What they are I don’t know. All we know is that the case is still open, and maybe there will be revelations that will shock everybody.”


* * * * * * *

The end of 2003 brought a development that gave the investigation the publicity and notoriety that the Croteaus hoped would prompt someone to come forward with information about the murder. In December, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen published a 5,000-word front page story on the murder that contained a startling account: an East Springfield woman named Sandra Tessier had told police in 1991 that she was contacted by her friend, Lavigne, on the phone in the wee hours of the morning several weeks after the murder. He wanted to talk to her in person, so she threw on some clothes and met him in a nearby all-night restaurant.

“I want to prove to you that I didn’t murder Danny Croteau,” Lavigne told her in the restaurant.

“Father, why would I think that?” she replied.

Lavigne then guided her toward a man in civilian clothes who flashed a badge and told Tessier that the priest didn’t kill Danny Croteau.

“See,” said Lavigne to Tessier. “I told you I didn’t do it.”

“I kept saying, ‘I never thought you did do it.’ But as time went on, I kept thinking, ‘Doth protest too much,” she said in the Globe interview.

The scene, if remembered accurately, leads to several important questions:

Who is this mystery man and what was his motivation? Who in his right mind would go way out on a limb to impersonate an officer and assert Lavigne’s innocence, unless the “fake cop” were somehow involved in the murder? One could postulate that Lavigne knew something about his seamy past and put him up to the encounter—or that this mysterious figure was fearful a Lavigne indictment would uncover a wider sex scandal that would expose himself and others.

Indeed, R.C. Stevens, a private investigator hired by Springfield’s Republican newspaper in 2004 to probe the cold case, stated that a ring of about 10 pedophiles, many of them priests, was operating in 1972, and that several of its members may have had contact with Danny Croteau. He also believes that Lavigne was a member of this sex ring.

Still, the question remains: with a murder investigation zeroing in on Lavigne, who would go on such a fool’s errand at 3:30 a.m. to try to take some heat off the priest—and risk being linked to the murder himself?

The answer: a deeply desperate man.


Danny was certainly a likable kid, but he was also intense at times. Friends interviewed by the police in 1972 described a boy who had a temper and always wanted to be a winner at sports. He is pictured above catching for Sixteen Acres pitcher Tony Pagliaro on Friendly Field at Greenleaf Park. Kevin Cullen’s Boston Globe story painted a picture of a boy trying to grow up too fast and making questionable adult friends, including a produce manager at a nearby supermarket and his Boy Scout troopmaster. The original police report also report also included remarks from friends that Danny drank beer, showed other kids how to sneak beer into Boy Scout camping trips, shoplifted, and offered to buy one friend marijuana “if he wanted it.”

1975

For three years the investigation went nowhere, so Carl pressed District Attorney Matthew Ryan on the lack of progress on the case. His response: “Where am I going to get 12 jurors to convict a priest?” 

To say that Croteau “clashed” with Ryan that day would be putting it mildly. “I went wild,” he said. “One of his assistants warned me, ‘Cool it. You can’t talk to Matty that way. Nobody talks to Matty that way.’”

Carl didn’t care. He felt he was getting the runaround. At that point he was even straying from the church he loved so much. Carl felt that he had nowhere to turn. Then, later that year, he asked one of Danny’s friends if he knew anything about the murder. He and a neighbor thought that the boy had been withholding information from the police.

“I’m not saying a thing! I’m not saying a thing! Leave me alone! I’m getting the hell out of here!” That was the teen’s reaction when the question was posed.

The scene was the Wilbraham Road home/office of Dr. Edwin T. Foster, a neighborhood dentist and oral surgeon. Known as “Doc Foster” in the Sixteen Acres neighborhood, he was close to the Croteau family, as well as to the relatives of Danny’s friend. Foster had Carl and the boy to meet for coffee one night because he thought the teenager knew something, and that it was eating the kid alive.


The home of Doc Foster, who died in 1988.

Doc Foster, a no-nonsense staunch Republican who ran for governor and mayor and served as a Marine captain in World War I, wasn’t one to mince words or play games. If the boy was hiding something, it was time to talk.

The boy lived several streets away from Danny, and, according to police officers who originally investigated the case, he was hitchhiking with the victim about a week before the murder.

But he “went ballistic” when the doctor asked him if he had anything to tell Carl Croteau. “I don’t know exactly why Doc Foster thought the boy might open up. I thought that maybe he had said something about the murder to the doctor before, but he sure didn’t want to that night,” said Carl. “He started stomping around and waving his arms and acting crazy.” Then 16-year-old stormed out of the sprawling white farmhouse.

Danny’s friend wasn’t talking in 1972. He wasn’t talking in 1975. And things hadn’t changed in 2009, when Carl told me this story. Before Carl’s death in 2010, he used to run into the guy every once in a while in the neighborhood. They engaged in small talk—and no more. “He still seems troubled,” said Croteau, who knew better than to ask him what he knew about the murder. In fact, after The Republican newspaper hired R.C. Stevens to investigate the case, the former state trooper and Carl together paid him a visit at his house, but the man again had absolutely nothing to offer. “He’s not going to say anything,” said Carl. “I wish he would, but it’s been so long, and I think he’s just too screwed up by what happened.”

1977
 
And so it went—two more years of frustration for the Croteaus, until things started heating up. On Friday, July 22, 1977, Danny’s old Boy Scout troop leader, who was originally cleared as a suspect in his murder, was charged with the rape of a 15-year-old boy, leading some to wonder if his alibi on the night of April 14, 1972 was thoroughly checked out—and if police had possibly rushed to judgment on Lavigne.


They had a point. Up until then, there was just simply anecdotal reportage of Lavigne’s tendencies, including a call to police a few weeks after Danny’s death about a molestation, along with conversations between the St. Catherine Pastor and a parish volunteer about the supposed molestation of altar boys back in 1969. But with this other gentleman, here was the real deal: a violent rape.

The man, who lived on Stapleton Road was “an oddball and a packrat” who had “so much junk crammed into his van there was barely enough room for him to drive,” said Carl.

The Stapleton Road man was certainly a character. But the one aspect of his criminal record that stood out, aside from the rape, of course, was his 1971 arrest in Troy, NY for illegal possession of a firearm and IMPERSONATING A POLICE OFFICIAL. Edward from Stapleton Road was a temp for the Rensselaer County Sherriff’s Office but was fired after a background investigation uncovered something in his past that was reported by Springfield authorities. Nonetheless, he bought a gun with a badge and a firearms ID card that had been issued to him by the Sherriff’s office: he had failed to turn them in once he had been terminated.

Edward was known as “Doc” when he was a trainer for Cathedral High School’s sports teams and hoped to one day be a practicing physician, according to a 1964 article in the Cathedral Chronicle newspaper. When he was a student at Siena College in Albany, NY, he was featured in several newspaper articles about his rapport with local delinquent youths as a volunteer street worker, where he, among other accomplishments, installed a burglar alarm in a store and a two-way radio system in a police car.

Somehow he wasn’t prosecuted for impersonating a police official or illegal gun possession, and he returned to Springfield, volunteering for the Boy Scouts in Sixteen Acres—an organization he had been involved with since he was a kid. Evidently the Scouts didn’t bother to check his police record.

Fast forward to 2004, when R.C. Stevens said that the sex ring involving clergy in the area may have also had some ties to a youth group in Sixteen Acres. That “youth group” in his statement was interpreted by many as the Boy Scouts.

Edward’s arrest in 1977 certainly raised a few eyebrows, but apparently —and amazingly— nothing more. It is unknown whether he was re-interviewed about the Croteau murder. On May 15, 1979, he was convicted of assault and battery, rape, and abuse of a child under 16, and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in the Hampshire County House of Correction.

Edward had met his victim at a Cathedral High School career day event representing an ambulance service where he was a dispatcher. The kid ran out of the house after the rape and flagged down a cruiser on Bradley Road.

Stan Janek, one of my friends, was all too familiar with Ed. In the fall of 1983 he was between jobs and Ed needed someone to help with his security systems business (burglar and alarms, etc.). Stan heard about the open position from a guy in the neighborhood. “But be careful around ED, you know,” laughed the guy, with a wink. Stan didn’t think anything about the warning. Ed’s sexual preference is his own business, he thought.

“We went in his van and visited a few of his customer accounts to check on alarms and replace sensors,” said Stan. “I noticed he was checking out guys on the street. He was saying stuff like, ‘What do you think of that?’ I didn’t say anything, so he says, “Girls, guys—it’s all the same, right?” Stan didn’t respond.

“We went to his house, and it was creepy,” said Stan. “He had a security command center in his basement with all these gadgets and TV monitors. Then he put in a gay porn tape in a VCR. I said, ‘I gotta go.’”

Ed’s dank and dusty cellar looked like something out of a horror movie. “The basement was divided up into all these smaller rooms with all these plywood walls, like in Silence of the Lambs. All the rooms had his various electronics projects in them. I said to myself, ‘This ain’t for me,’” he laughed. “He made me nervous. I tried to stay between him and the stairs in case I had to run. The guy looked like some kind of serial killer, with a big fat head and a fat, round face. He reminded me of the Son of Sam guy, David Berkowitz.”

A guy Stan knows did a little work with Ed and was with him on an overnight job in New York state. In the middle of the night, he was woken up when Ed was trying to perform oral sex on him. “He was terrified,” said Stan. Instead of hitting Ed and getting up, he just rolled over and pretended he was still asleep. “He didn’t know what to do,” said Stan. “He was afraid the guy would kill him.”

Another person from the neighborhood remembers Ed volunteering for his Boy Scout troop. “We went to his house once,” he said. “Not a big deal, it was some sort of end to an honor march where we walked five miles to get there.” He said Ed was associated with another man who lived on Burns Avenue. Between the two adults, “I had the impression that they were some sort of auxiliary cops—parole officers or truancy I think,” he said. “[Ed] though did have one of those search lights on his car door. His car was set up like an unmarked police car. All that I believe that the police knew about concerning Danny Croteau.” He recalled receiving “a cold case call just a few years ago” from an investigator about the murder. “I wish I knew more to say about that,” he said. He knew Daniel, but had no information about the homicide.

Could either of these guys have been “badge man”—the one who met Sandra Tessier in the all-night restaurant? Carl Croteau became friends with Tessier, whose son settled a sex abuse lawsuit against Lavigne in 2004. Carl Croteau and Sandra Tessier had a theory. They believed Lavigne “brought this guy along to tell her that he was innocent so she would tell her son,” Carl told me in 2009. “That way, the boy might be reluctant about reporting the abuse.” If this mysterious restaurant meeting was indeed such a ploy, the tactic worked. Her son didn’t file suit until 2002.

So what did the fake cop look like? Sandra told Carl he “was a big guy.” So were the Boy Scout leaders. Ed was “tall, six feet at the minimum, heavy-set, dark hair,” according to the former Boy Scout I talked to. The Burns Avenue guy Ed was associated with was even bigger. Here he is with his high school classmates, towering over them:



Ed, according to his 1964 Cathedral High School newspaper, was a “future doctor” whose goal was to become a “practicing physician.” He is pictured below operating the Cathedral football team’s therapy tub.


According to the Troy (NY) Record newspaper in 1969 Ed claimed to be a graduate of the National Law Enforcement Academy in Miami. This “academy,” now defunct, was, according to a Los Angeles Times reporter, nothing more than a diploma mill. “They were giving out phony degrees all over the country,” wrote the reporter. “You’d pay some money, do some token course work, and be presented with this thing that was represented as some sort of great academic achievement. It was just bogus.”


Ed claimed to be an honorary trustee of the Police Hall of Fame—another scam, run by the same man who founded “the academy.”

Ed also said he was with the correctional office of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, and was a member of the Commission on Youth Services of the National Federation of Police (whatever the hell that was—or wasn’t). Also, according to the article, “He has also done volunteer work with the Boy Scouts of America, establishing Explorer groups of delinquent youths in Springfield, Harlem and Brooklyn.”

So Ed claims he was mentoring Scouts in Springfield as early as the 1960s.

Another article, from October 5, 1969, is about Ed’s “summer ministry” with delinquent youth in Troy and says he was a senior psychology major at Siena “in preparation for the Roman Catholic priesthood.” An earlier article, however, said he was a sociology major.

For a time he was an EMT in Springfield and drove for an ambulance service. Here he is showing firefighters how to move an injured man after the Springfield Fire Department took over the city’s ambulance services in 1975. Nice “Son of Sam” sideburns, Ed:



So here he is dressed as Santa delivering gifts from his ambulance service to nursing home and full-time hospital residents a year-and-a-half after Danny’s death:



Ed died in 1984, but his obituary contains nothing about him graduating from Siena College: he only “attended.” Truth be told, he would have been a great psychological study in “wanna-be” syndrome: he didn’t play sports but was “on” the teams as a trainer. Indeed, “Doc” wanted to be a doctor evidently merely settled on being an EMT for a time. His goal was to be a priest, but he never went beyond being a church outreach worker and a member of the Greymoor Friars. He went all the way to Siena College but never completed his studies. And when he returned to Springfield he enjoyed being a cop impersonator who drove a car decked out like an unmarked police car with a searchlight (and ran a security systems business). Just think how much he liked portraying Santa Claus, once again playing at being an authority figure—or being a scoutmaster, wearing a uniform and badges. 

And then there’s his behemoth buddy from Burns Avenue who also led people to believe he was associated with the police. Let’s take a look at this other guy’s extracurricular activities from his 1964 yearbook: “student patrol,” “corridor patrol,” and “lunch room patrol.” OF COURSE. Was he also the classroom chalk and eraser monitor in grammar school? This guy was large enough to be the biggest linebacker on the football team, but alas he didn’t play sports.

I’m not sure what to make of these two. Were either of them fake cop who met with Sandra Tessier? That’s a question for the ages. His presence with Lavigne at the restaurant doesn't make “badge man” a murderer or place him at the scene of the crime. Maybe the guy had nothing to with it—he could have been simply getting off playing a cop in a murder investigation. But one thing is for sure: bells and whistles should have gone off in the DA’s office when Ed was arrested in 1977 for raping a boy. Was he re-interviewed back then? There’s nothing in the released investigative files that indicates this happened.

The original Chicopee Police report from 1972 refers to one of Danny’s schoolmates seeing Croteau “run over to a blue m/v with a black top and jump into the front seat. The operator was a white male, about 30, round face, with black hair. He thought the car was a Galaxie.” Interestingly, the Ford Galaxie was used by many police departments. Both Ed and the Burns Avenue guy had round faces, although the latter seemed to have lighter hair:


According to his schoolmate in the report, “Daniel often talked about an older friend who was buying him ‘goodies.’”

Surely, the police would have noticed if either of these two guys owned a Galaxie, right? Maybe not.

The report also mentioned a source saying the boys in Sixteen Acres “told him a queer operating a [make and model deleted] would pick kids up and try to make them” around Duggan Junior High School.

In addition, according the report, another person interviewed “stated sometime in the past, a man in a tan car showed Danny some dirty books.”

Although Lavigne was known to show kids Playboy magazines (according to Danny’s childhood friend Stephen Burnett), the priest was well-known in the neighborhood and wouldn’t have been referred to as just “a man” in the report. But were Chicopee and State Police investigators aware of ANOTHER man who was arrested for showing obscene photographs to children in Sixteen Acres the previous October? This had been going on since the summer of 1971, because I remember, when I was eight years old, hearing rumors of this guy supposedly following the Ding Dong cart in his car and showing pictures to kids while they were eating ice cream. The response of parents in our neighborhood was not to ban their children from buying ice cream from the Ding Dong cart—that would be downright un-American—but many parents, including mine, did walk out on their driveways to make sure the pervert wasn’t out there. This presented a problem for us because we always squirreling away money (coinage we may or may not have stolen from our parents) and buying more ice cream than mom and dad knew about. So there our parents were, observing us buying ice cream, so we had to limit our purchases. It was annoying. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he was caught. Except, of course, for the perp.


The obscene photo dude was sent to Northampton State Hospital for 20 days. Apparently, he was a new man after that, because he became a volunteer for a Sixteen Acres church—a “youth director.” Hell, here he is playing board games with the children of his flock a few years ago. He has since died:


Were Chicopee Police and the State Police communicating with Springfield Police at all in the murder investigation in 1972? It’s hard to say. If they were, I would assume the original report would mention a lead like this. But there is nothing there. He had been arrested on October 7, 1971 for showing dirty pictures, and the murder was six months later. However, there is nothing to indicate they even heard about this guy. I could be wrong. But I doubt it.

Another guy from Sixteen Acres shared with me his experience with someone in a tan car in either 1971 or 1972. The person picked him up on Wilbraham Road as he was hitchhiking home from Duggan Junior High School and “whipped out a bunch of hardcore porno magazines,” he said. The rider had the driver drop him off a street away from where he lived to avoid getting stalked in the future. “A few months later I saw I kid I knew get out of the same car at Wilbraham and Parker and kick a dent in the rear quarter-panel before running off,” he said. He described the driver as wearing “a suit or maybe just a tie, with big goofy glasses—sort of a pudgy guy.” But he cautioned that these kinds of memories are tricky because it was so long ago. Upon reflection, the car, which may have been a Dodge Dart, was tan in a way—although the real color was probably that dull gold finish seen on a lot of cars in the 1970s.

Was this the same guy as the one who was arrested? The three-week guest of the Northampton State Hospital did wear glasses, at least in his old age. But who knows? I guess another question is how the latter was able to spend time with churchgoers’ children, but then again, I look at the lenience on Lavigne over the years and his unlimited access to kids, and I’ve come to accept that so much of this whole affair just plain defies logic, common sense, and even the wildest imagination. Stay tuned.

Read parts 12, and 4.