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

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. 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 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.  “They asked me to go identify Danny,” Carl recalled to me,  “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 fleeting 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 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 was 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.”


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.”

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.

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, known as “Doc” 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 but 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 vehicle 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 to kids, 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 a 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.


Anonymous said...

I've been following your posts on the Danny Croteau murder, trying to associate names and faces from 45 years ago. However, when your story's focus shifted to other members of the 16 Acres pedophile sex ring, specifically "Ed," I realize how lucky I was not to be molested by any of the pedophiles of this ring. In early 1972, Ed, as a leader of "Police Explorer Post P-18" (I'm not making this up), offered our troop basic and advanced American Red Cross First Aid training, as well as the First Aid, Safety, and Traffic Safety merit badges. I was one of the two youngest scouts in the class. As part of the training, a group of us from the troop volunteered to serve as "victims" during a disaster preparedness exercise in Watervliet, NY, on the west bank of the Hudson River, during the weekend of 7-9 April 1972 (I remember the date because my next door neighbor died of a brain tumor while I was away). Ed led the group in 3 cars (the other adults were all in their late teens or early 20s) and we (scouts) stayed in the freshman dorms at RPI. As far as I know, nothing happened to any of us that weekend. My closest encounter with Ed was at the Horace A. Moses Boy Scout Reservation the following summer. Ed was running the health lodge at the camp and I was brought in with an allergic reaction. Ed gave me a shot of benedryl in the butt cheek to clear me up. Fortunately for me, the needle was the only thing that penetrated my ass that day. I was away at school when my mother sent me the clipping of Ed's arrest. I still have it somewhere. For the record, I only knew Danny from a 1967 trip to Mountain Park with his best friend from OLSH, who lived across the street from me at the time. Ed's daily driver when Danny was murdered was a dark blue, 1970 Dodge Polara sedan, not a Ford Galaxie.

Hell's Acres said...

Thanks for the comment.

This explains why, in the initial police report, there was no meeting on Friday, April 7, 1972: the Scouts were camping in Watervliet, NY. It's strange that Ed would go camping so near the area where he got in trouble in 1971. Maybe he knew people there.

Danny didn't go to the Scout meeting on Friday, April 14, according to Ed. I'm assuming Ed was at the meeting.

Without naming names, did you happen to have any interactions with Ed's friend from Burns Avenue? What was he like? What was his reputation?

I'm curious about Ed's personality. Was he strange?

It's funny you mention the Moses Boy Scout Reservation. The guy who ran it, Roger Norton, pleaded guilty to 55 counts of child molestation in 1973. If you do a Google image search of "Roger Norton" and "sex offender," you'll come up with his picture, and he is one scary looking dude. But it's possible you never saw him because he was arrested a year before you camped there, in 1972.

Norton was arrested again on morals charges and a firearms violation in 1975--reportedly he really liked guns, as did Ed. He was also convicted in '92 and '94 for sexual assaults on children.

Thanks again for commenting. Any memories paint a clearer picture of what was going on.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was in a different Boy Scout troop than Danny. I'm guessing he was in either Troop 17, 18, or 53. One of the elders in the church that sponsored my troop was likely in that pedophile ring, so that's probably how Ed got hooked up with us.

I never had any interaction with the creep that lived on Burns Ave.

There were no scouts from other troops on the trip to Watervliet, but there were several local college students that participated with us as "victims." The two young men that sat up front in the car we rode in ('64 gold Pontiac Catalina with a 2-way police radio installed) were telling sex jokes to one another during the trip [e.g., "If a quiz is called a 'quizzicle,' what do you call a test?"], so something "wasn't right" with them.

Ed was a large man; about 6'2"/260 lbs (and always sweaty). He looked to be in his early 40s, but actually was in his late 20s. Definitely a authoritative psychopath with a need to control people (which explains his attraction to law enforcement, the clergy, and weapons). He lived with his mother in the house on Stapleton Rd. Before I read your blog last night, I had believed Ed's death was due to AIDS, not suicide (or perhaps one led to the other).

Roger Norton (or Nortan) lived in one of the year-round cabins at the Moses Scout Reservation and rode around the camp in a Korean War-era, M38A1 jeep. There was a rumor circulating around the camp that his brother was an FBI agent; so he was able to prey on boys for years, with little risk of being caught.

Hell's Acres said...


Thanks for clearing that up. This would still explain why there was no Scout meeting on April 7, 1972, because Ed was in Watervliet.

As for the members of the ring, the private investigator, R.C. Stevens, said that some of them had been publicly accused of molestation, but some have escaped scrutiny. I'm wondering if the elder in the church you mention had ever been publicly identified. If you'd rather not say, that's cool. If you want to send a private message, the email address is hellsacres@gmail.com. Don't worry, I'm not going to identify anybody. Just interested for background info. It's in my nature to probe for information, but sometimes I should just back the hell off lol.

Thanks again for your comments, and I understand if you're growing weary of questions.

Agawamian said...

The "youth director" position on that mat is very, very creepy. I've never seen an adult working with children take that kind of pose so close to young kids.

Anonymous said...

I'd swear I know the person in that picture of the "paper boy"... however he had cerebral palsy and had trouble walking, not to mention that he graduated from my high school in 1972 (same as me), so I'd be surprised if he was delivering newspapers then. On the other hand he never ceased to amaze me at how capable he was despite his handicap, so what do I know?

Hell's Acres said...

No he graduated from Duggan in '73. Maybe one of his brothers? Last name began with M.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, definitely not who I'm thinking of. Must just be a coincidence I guess, that and the fact that the photo's kind of grainy, although there are some uncanny similarities.

Nice job putting this story together. I grew up in East Springfield and used to roam around in the East woods a lot when I was a kid in the mid sixties, and I'm familiar with the bridge where the deed was done, and St. Mary's, etc., so it's all extra weird and creepy for me to read about. Very sad story.