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

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Daniel Croteau Murder, Part 6


Although Richard Lavigne would not be prosecuted after his blood didn’t match blood left at the scene of the murder, no murder investigation is ever closed if it remains unsolved, according to the State Police. But without an active investigation, could the public release of impounded documents prompt a break in a cold case? That question was at the center of a newspaper’s argument for the disclosure of documents—a fight that began in October of 1993.

The Springfield Union-News began the new year by continuing its battle for the public release of a 178-page report by a state trooper that he had filed in his application to take a sample of Lavigne’s blood. The D.A.’s office was against lifting the gag order, saying that releasing the records would have a “chilling effect,” keeping other witnesses from coming forward in future investigations. The newspaper’s bid resulted in an unlikely alliance between the D.A.’s office and Lavigne’s defense team, which wanted to keep the records sealed because Stern felt his client would not get a fair civil trial in Hampden Superior Court if they were viewed by the public.

Judge Moriarty had said in 1993 that the impoundment order protected Lavigne’s right to a fair trial, along with the names of the witnesses in the reports. But he had also stated that the order would be “automatically dissolved” at the close of any criminal proceeding.

Prosecutors insisted, however, that the case remained open, even though there was no indictment.

A skeptical Joseph Pessolano, the Union-News lawyer, asked the judge to take a hard look at the D.A.’s “ongoing investigation” claim to determine if it was being misapplied to protect the reports.

On February 12 Judge Moriarty ruled in favor of the Union-News, saying the notion that the investigation in “is more theoretical than real.” But a last-minute appeal prevented the release.

“There is always the possibility of a deathbed confession,” pointed out Assistant District Attorney Jane Davidson Montori. “If all this is disclosed, there will be no way to corroborate information if such a confession is made.”

Pessolano called the deathbed confession argument weak. “Deathbed confessions happen on TV. It would certainly be a rare event,” he said. “To continue to impound all these materials, even forever, is clearly against the public interest. These are public documents, documents to which the public has a right.”

State Appeals Court Judge Elizabeth Porada saw it the same way. On March 27, she released the documents, which were heavily censored. In them, State Trooper Thomas Daly, who led the investigation, believed Lavigne was a “preferential” child molester who accumulated many victims with elaborate, ritualistic seduction methods that are typically engaged in “even when they are counter-productive to getting away with the criminal activity.” This behavior is in contrast to the more common “situational” molester, who doesn’t necessarily have a preference for children, but abuses them when the opportunity presents itself. Many victims in the files told the story of a priest who walked a thin tightrope, carefully courting boys, abusing them, and then warning them not to tell. Police say he was taking a calculated risk, hoping that no one would ever suspect a priest of molestation. His plotting even went as far as giving one victim a “piggy back” ride up the St. Mary’s rectory stairs at night so the pastor wouldn’t hear two pairs of feet stepping up the stairs.

The St. Mary’s rectory (above)

He would often ask his victims to spend the night, drink alcohol, shower, and then invite them to sleep in his bed, offering them oversized T-shirts to use as pajamas to make it easier to grope them. The witness statements offered account after account of Lavigne’s methods, carefully executed, with most resulting in abuse. They were remarkable in their similarities: beginning with snuggling, back scratching, and tickling—and ending in sex, along with the victims’ confusion, shame, and silence about the incident for years.

That silence was perpetuated by the shadow of the murder, with victims convinced Lavigne could get away with anything.

Lavigne had a tried and true seduction system, according to several complaints. In one, he gave a nine-year-old a bath twice at the rectory—both times after they went fishing. “Father washed my privates front and back with his hands,” read his statement. “He didn't do it the way I wash myself. He was pushing and rubbing hard.”

Charles Shattuck told Daly about the time Lavigne took his son Joseph fishing. “According to my son, Father Lavigne was upset about something and threw a rock at him.” A rock, the murder weapon used on Croteau, also surfaces in another account of Lavigne’s allegedly volatile temper. The incident that took place during his first assignment in Easthampton: returning to the rectory late at night, long after curfew, he picked up a rock and smashed the door window to gain entry after the pastor locked him out. Incredibly, the source of this tale was none other than Lavigne himself: in the late 1960s he laughingly recounted the episode to many parishioners to show them that the pastor couldn’t boss him around.

These last two stories involve Lavigne losing his temper and impulsively picking up a rock and using it violently. What isn’t known is how much weight these assertions would have if the case were ever brought to trial for murder. But that prospect was looking more and remote as the months went by, because the case languished again.


Neither time, money, nor therapy could heal the emotional wounds of Lavigne victim Raymond Chelte Jr., a former member of the Circle Gang. On the morning March 28, 1998, the forty-two-year-old was found dead by his girlfriend, at his kitchen table in Perris, CA, after a night of speedballing—mixing cocaine and heroin. He died while reaching for his cigarette in an ashtray. His arm was still outstretched, but the cigarette was out. His girlfriend touched him. Maybe he had just passed out, she thought. No. He was cold. Dead.

When I talked to the late Raymond Chelte Sr. about his son on August 2, 2003, he was blunt about what he wished for Lavigne. “I hope he goes to prison,” he said. “I hope and I pray that they nail the bastard.” Chelte blamed Lavigne for his son’s fatal overdose four years after the 1994 settlement with the diocese.

“It was a suicide,” said Chelte. “Lavigne ruined his life. He had no confidence in himself at all. He just hated himself. He was an alcoholic and drug addict ever since he was in junior high school, and he got worse as he got older.” 

Chelte helped start the St. Catherine Athletic Association shortly after the church was built in 1964 and said that his son was a talented sandlot and high school pitcher with a lot of promise. “But getting high was more important to him than baseball,” he said. He regretted not recognizing the signs that the boy had been abused, but who would have suspected a priest? “We never realized what was happening at the time,” he said. “We couldn’t pinpoint why he was on drugs and booze, and that was the reason.”

Photo: Raymond Chelte Sr.

Lavigne, he said, fooled everybody, taking advantage of the pride and prestige families felt in hosting a priest for dinner. “We all liked him,” he said. “He used to have dinner with my family every once in a while. He used to take his collar and his shoes off and eat my mother's Lebanese cooking. And the whole time the prick was molesting my kid.”

He began to suspect that Lavigne was a little strange when two of his sons came home from a pool party at the St. Catherine Church one night and were visibly upset. “They told me that Father Lavigne dove into the pool naked, swam up to them, and wanted to hear their confessions,” he said. “I told them, ‘No more pool parties.’”

Chelte also believed Lavigne molested and killed Croteau. “He was always with the Croteau boy,” he said. “I lived near Danny’s school bus stop, and Danny would get off the bus and run right over to the rectory and meet him every day.”

A Korean War veteran, Chelte thought that putting his son in the Navy shortly after he turned eighteen would get him out of the Sixteen Acres partying scene and put him on the right path. “I hoped it would straighten him out,” he said. But he began to use drugs again, was pronounced medically unfit for service, and received a regular discharge after a year. After making made numerous attempts to get off heroin with methadone treatment, his son finally seemed to be on the verge of turning his life around in the 1980s. Chelte Sr. recalled a visit from his boy in 1987, when he was living in Texas. “He was clean and dry for two or three months and was looking for a job,” he said. “We bought him some suits and new eyeglasses, and he went back to Texas, and, the next thing I knew he was off the wagon again, and his wife threw him out.” They were divorced the following year.

Chelte said that he had no idea that his son was one of the 17 people who sued the Springfield Diocese until he read about the lawsuit in the Union-News in 1993. “That was a shocker,” he said. “I was in a restaurant having coffee with some of my buddies, and one of them says, ‘Ray, do you have a son named Ray? He’s in an article.’ Sure enough, there it was. It knocked my socks off.”

After the 1994 settlement, Chelte Jr. had a chance to confront his demons and get on with his life, but “I couldn’t help him, and neither could the psychiatrists,” said his father. The trauma of being sexually abused as a pre-teen was too much for him. The money he received in the lawsuit “went up his nose and in his arm,” he said. “He was broke a year after the settlement.”

He said that he and Daniel Croteau’s brother Michael talked many times about exacting revenge on Lavigne. “We tried to figure out how to get him without going to jail,” he said.

Chelte said that his son’s revelation helped explain his lengthy bouts with substance abuse, a problem shared by his friends in the Circle gang. He admits that many of the neighborhood parents fretted about their teenage kids drinking alcohol in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and they tried to prevent that much as they could. “But we the drug stuff we couldn’t stop,” he said. “Ray was out of control. I used to take painkillers because I injured my back in the war, and he used to steal them.” He believed that his son even staged a burglary at his house when the family was on vacation so his friends in the Circle could sell the Cheltes’ valuables.

He was sure that Lavigne’s involvement with the Circle was responsible for much of the gang’s drug abuse, alcoholism, and penchant for violence. “Who knows how many kids in the gang he abused—and how many of them will never admit it, as long as they live?” he asked.

* * * * * * * *

On June 18, 2003, I interviewed James Coleman, author of The Circle, at his home. He knew both Daniel Croteau and Lavigne, and he too thought the priest murdered the boy. Coleman, who died three years later at eighty-five, went to his grave believing Danny was killed because he was ready “to spill the beans of the stuff Lavigne was doing.”

Coleman said Danny was “well-adjusted, open, friendly, likable, and was not overly aggressive but he was definitely not the kind of boy that anyone could push around easily.” He remembered that Lavigne “had a good personality” and was providing church outreach with the gang, and it looked like “he was making some inroads.” Danny wasn’t in the Circle, but the last time Coleman saw Danny Croteau was a week before the murder at the group’s hangout, even though Coleman knew that his parents didn’t want him to get involved with the gang. “And I don’t blame them,” he said. “They were rough kids.”

But Danny did make an appearance at the Circle a week before he was killed. “I was a little bit surprised that he showed up, but he was welcome,” he said. The kids were happy to see him. They treated him well. And then a week or so later, Danny was murdered.”

He wondered aloud if Croteau would be alive today if he hung around the Circle more instead of Lavigne. “This is what happened when he went with the priest,” he said. “He was killed. Isn’t that something? He would have been better off if he were with us.”

Like many, he believed that there was enough circumstantial evidence to bring charges against Lavigne. “What are they waiting for?” he asked.

Coleman himself was not without controversy. In 1968, when the Circle Gang found a large set of keys in the House of Television parking lot, he overheard them bragging that they are going to take joy rides with the store’s trucks, so he snatched the keys and brought them back to the store. But when House of Television got burglarized and trucks were broken into, the police theorized that someone had made copies of the keys. They threatened Coleman with a larceny charge unless he named the kids who used the keys, but he called the cops’ bluff and said nothing.

His feud with police continued after the book’s publication, when he alleged that the police department, including Captain Robert Meffen (pictured below), were trying to prohibit sales of The Circle and attempting to get people to sign a complaint against him. In turn, he contacted the ACLU. He also butted heads with D.A. Matty Ryan, who blasted the book after admitting he never read it.

Coleman also clashed with some members of the Circle Gang and their parents when the book came out. Some of their beefs are chronicled here. A former member, who Coleman called Jack Sutton in the book, commented in the post, “As for Coleman, I didn’t trust him. Seemed like a pervert to me. What the hell is a grown man hanging around with young boys? As for wrestling, he sure liked it.” Sutton also said Coleman drove the members to gang fights at such places like the Eastfield Mall. “We fought the Mall Rats, Ludlow, and some we didn’t know who they were,” he wrote. “If he needed to go somewhere, he was right there. I didn’t like the man and he knew it.”

Sutton also wrote that after the book came out, “it took a few months and his reign with the Circle Gang was over.” That statement does have a ring of truth to it, because in an article on November 8, 1970 in The Sunday Republican, Coleman seems to distance himself from the gang, saying, “The newer group which has just taken over The Circle area is older, between 18 and 25, and uses narcotics and drinks pretty heavily. Still, he said he saw Danny Croteau at The Circle a week before he was murdered, so he must have come back into the fold—or at least tried.

Coleman indeed was an interesting man. He was training to be a concert pianist at the Julliard School when World War II broke out, and the government needed physicists, so he joined the Navy. After the war he went to New York University (BA in physics) and Columbia (MA mathematics), then worked on guided missile warheads at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Silver Spring, MD from 1947 to 1950.

His love for the piano was evident when I interviewed him and he introduced his elevated backyard garden terrace as “the largest piano in Sixteen Acres.” Indeed, the wall had that classic Steinway curve shape. This probably explains the dirty look I got from him when I hopped up on his backyard “piano” wall to take a higher-angle photo of him:

However, Sutton’s use of the word “pervert” wasn’t the first time such a pejorative was used to describe Coleman. The sister of The Circle member Mickey Callahan (Coleman’s pseudonym) said she had heard some things. And in my original interview with Carl Croteau in 2003, he said that Lavigne told Carl to be careful of Coleman and his real motives with “all this wrestling stuff”—that there was something wrong with the professor. “He had no kind words for Coleman,” said Carl. “Not in this house. Here he was, planting the bad seed in people’s minds about Coleman, and he was the real molester.” Did Carl believe Lavigne at the time? “No,” he said. “I remember telling Danny to be careful, but James Coleman didn’t strike me as the type.”

“Dad, he’s all right,” Danny told his father.

“I asked my other sons about him,” said Carl. “They said he never laid a hand on them.”

But Raymond Chelte Sr. said Coleman performed oral sex on several Circle Gang members. “He used to give those kids blowjobs,” he said. “Sorry, I can’t think of a politer way of saying it. He was a piece of trash. He wanted information for his book, and the kids wanted money. He said he didn’t have any money, and this is how he paid them. A couple of them told me this. They said, ‘How else do you think he would be getting all the information to write the book? You don’t think we like him, do you?’ They didn’t trust adults. We were the enemies.”

I had a hard time believing this. Coleman didn’t strike me as the type, and this sort of talk sounded like some kids who were pissed off about the book getting back at him. I am not alone. After Sutton wrote his comment in the blog, a commenter wrote, “I spent a lot of time Prof. Coleman’s house—he opened his home to all of us, especially those of us from what they called broken homes. It is where I was first introduced to wrestling. All who wrestled with us at Prof. Colman's home enjoyed wrestling against our own schools’ teams. As far as Coleman and the label “pervert,” that a tough one for me to believe. In the four years I wrestled there I never heard or experienced anything that would even conjure up the “P word.”

However, another commenter wrote that in the mid-1970s, Coleman was hanging around his gang and they had their suspicions. This group used to meet at “Elsden’s Field,” a vacant lot diagonally across the street from The Circle, on the corner of Frank Street and Parker Street. “I can say I know Coleman when he was researching for a second book that I heard was never written,” he wrote. “Someone stole his notes though, and he pretty much got dissed from us, possibly on account that we thought he was gay.”

So there are two different schools of thought on Coleman. Was he a “person of interest” in the murder case? The original police report noted that “Danny was taken up with [name redacted] while the [redacted] was getting material for his book. He was supposed to wrestle at the [name redacted] home.” Two pages later, Radwanski noted, “Danny Croteau sometime came to the [name redacted] home on Tuesdays to practice wrestling.” Still, the police were looking at all adult males whom Danny knew. And if the “pervert” label was true, why hasn’t one person come forward with an accusation in all these years?

* * * * * * * *


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

Indeed, despite his notoriety, he still had his supporters. Therein lies the dichotomy of Richard Lavigne. He had been both loved and loathed his entire career as a priest. Even if you look past the molestations—which is nearly impossible to do—was Lavigne, as Stern insisted, a “great” priest? It depends who you ask. Looking back on his career, it isn’t difficult to see how he parishioners had strong—and mixed—feelings about the man. It’s also a textbook study of what some would argue is a narcissistic personality.

Lavigne, who attended Assumption Preparatory School in Worcester, MA, graduated from Assumption College, where he majored in philosophy and the classics. He received his master’s degree in theology at Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in Albany, N.Y., where members of the faculty were concerned about the man’s emotional stability in 1966, according to records released to the public.

When Lavigne faced charges in 1991, there were accounts in the press of a priest who was “an incredible guy” according to one former altar boy. “He never took advantage of me and he had plenty of opportunity,” he said. “We went away together, to his parents’ house in Chicopee, to Vermont. I saw the good side of Father Lavigne and the good side is very, very good.”

At the time, many Lavigne supporters couldn’t believe the charges because, like that former altar boy, they had been alone with him many times and he never took advantage of them. For example, I talked to another former altar boy at St. Catherine, who I’ll call Bob. He recalled spending a few nights in his bed, and the priest’s hands never strayed. However, Bob’s brother settled a lawsuit with the Springfield diocese after he accused Lavigne of abusing him.

Yes, the police files point to Lavigne as the kind of pedophile that didn’t take advantage of every situation—each one had to be approached guardedly. Investigators point to a procedure, paced with patience. “Lavigne manipulated these boys, developing the relationship slowly and cautiously,” according to State Trooper Thomas Daly. He “developed relationships with these boys through a deliberate, calculating process.”

Father Kevin Sousa, who left the ministry in the early 1990s when he tried to come to terms with being abused by Lavigne from sixth grade through high school, had conflicting feelings about Lavigne when he was first charged. On the one hand, he remembered a priest who could captivate a church—or a room—full of people, a man who he admired so much he eventually joined the priesthood. As an altar boy at St. Mary’s, Father Sousa saw a priest who was “intelligent, artistic, and presented tremendous homilies. He had a great rapport with people. He was the model priest of what I wanted to be.” But he was also the reason Sousa eventually left the priesthood. When he watched Kenneth Chevalier, a cousin of Lavigne, describe on TV the adult oversize T-shirt the priest commanded him to wear to bed, “I was paralyzed. He was telling my story,” said Sousa.

In 1972, when Sousa was in tenth grade, police came to his home to question him about the murder. He answered the questions, but never told them about the abuse. “No one asked about it,” he said.

In the late 1960s, Lavigne had fascinated the younger crowd at St. Catherine by openly feuding with older priests and conservative churchgoers. During a sermon in which he criticized U.S. involvement in Vietnam, George Doyle, the lead tenor in the choir shouted, “Are you saying we should have a unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam?” Lavigne said he was, prompting a loud argument with the decorated World War II Army Air Corps veteran. “You have no right to say that while our men are fighting over there!” he yelled, according to Carl Croteau Sr.. Later, pastor Thomas Griffin asked the tenor if he would stop speaking out so heatedly in church. "I will if he will,” Doyle answered.

Lavigne didn’t stop. When “the counterculture had reached Sixteen Acres,” according to a St. Catherine parishioner, he was seen as the kind of a priest who could keep kids interested in religion.

Lavigne managed to charm so many teenagers, according to Bob, because “he came to St. Catherine’s at the height of social unrest and spoke out against the Vietnam War and police brutality. All of a sudden, here’s this young, dynamic, charismatic, artistic priest, and he immediately enamors himself with lots of younger people in the parish. In a way he almost created jealousies among the kids. We were all vying for his attention.”

Some of his fellow altar boys, said Bob, were in the Circle Gang, and he provided guidance to the more troubled teens, who were prone to vandalism and violence. “We were altar boys, but we were no angels,” he said.

At St. Catherine he “fancied himself as the Bobby Kennedy of priests,” according to another parishioner. “He used to love the word disenfranchised. I remember that.”

Not surprisingly, at St. Joseph’s in the early 1990s Lavigne railed against the Persian Gulf War. And then, after being charged with molestation, he used his decades-old rebel reputation to explain why he was being persecuted.

In 1992 he wrote a letter to the parents of the boys that would later claim abuse: “I, for one, have given up on trying to convince anyone of my own situation,” he wrote. “People will believe what they will, one way or another…I have suffered, yes, but Gethsemane is at the heart of ministry. Jesus wasn’t killed because He was popular. He was killed because He spoiled the party for some people.”

In a Union-News interview, Martin Pion, then a professor of religious studies at Elms College (and my former theology teacher at Cathedral), said that Lavigne, apparently alleging a conspiracy against him because of his radical beliefs, compares his plight to that of Jesus’. Pion said, “In Gethsemane, Jesus is going through his own process of his ministry, which is preparing for crucifixion. It’s almost as if Lavigne is proclaiming his innocence by saying what happened to Jesus happened to him.”

Photo: Martin Pion

Did Lavigne see himself as a Christ figure? “I have been crucified by the press,” he announced in the summer of 1992.

Of course, the main difference between Christ and Lavigne, aside from their relationship with God, was that Jesus loved children without expressing his affection sexually. Also, Jesus was crucified, while Lavigne was forced to “suffer” through probation and psychiatric “treatment”—not a heavy cross to bear, when compared with his victims’ trauma. And the wounds Lavigne endured on his way to his own Gethsemane were not from lashes, but from the stinging accusations of sexual abuse, and the only blood he shed during his “persecution” was for a DNA test in the Daniel Croteau murder investigation.

However, Lavigne’s letter wasn’t the first time he had used Jesus’ name for an explanation for his misdeeds. According to another accuser, Steven Block, after the priest allegedly sexually him when he was twelve, he said Lavigne he told him, ‘Christ suffered, and so should I.’”

* * * * * * * *

On June 1 and 2, 2002, the Rev. James J. Scahill, pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in East Longmeadow, urged parishioners at each Mass to write to Bishop Dupre to help bring about laicization, or the formal defrocking, of Richard Lavigne. The man had been relieved of his priestly duties in 1992, though he continued to receive a monthly $1,030-a-month subsistence stipend—less than what an active priest received—but he still enjoyed health and insurance benefits. Dupre had stated several times that the diocese hasn’t sought to have Lavigne laicized because an official defrocking was granted only by the Pope in an extensive and cumbersome process.

Photo: Rev. James Scahill

Scahill was also bothered by the fact that six other priests removed from the ministry for sexual abuse were receiving the same stipend.

Then Scahill upped the ante: he began protesting the diocese’s financial support of Lavigne by withholding the six percent of weekly collections in the parish that was supposed to go to the bishop’s office. The idea came from one of his parishioners, Warren Mason, who said, “As long as Richard Lavigne is receiving any sustenance from the diocese, I will not give any money to the church.” He urged Father to “hold back the bishop’s money,” and he did.

Scahill described Mason’s idea to Bishop Dupre. He recalled that his boss was not a happy man. “He said, ‘What?’ I repeated the proposal, and he said, ‘You cannot do that. There’s no conversation relative to this matter. You absolutely cannot do that.’” He threatened to suspend Scahill.

“I know you can suspend me but so convinced am I of the correctness of what I am doing I am risking that suspension if you want to risk suspending me,” said Father Scahill.

Photo: Bishop Thomas Dupre

When Father Scahill told his parish that he would retain six percent from St. Michael’s in a separate account that the diocese wouldn’t have access to, his congregation applauded. “It’s about time someone addressed it,” said parishioner Faith St. Onge. Said another, “He is a strong leader, and other churches should take note of what we’re doing here for justice’s sake.”

The mood of parishioners in the Springfield diocese mirrored that of Catholics in Boston, who were outraged at Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other leaders for reassigning sexually abusive priests to other parishes. State prosecutors convened a grand jury to decide whether Cardinal Law and other church leaders should be held criminally liable for their inaction.

To be sure, the Springfield diocese was having an increasingly difficult time explaining its financial support of Lavigne, especially when the abuse accusations against him continued to pile up. Four new lawsuits against the were filed in July of 2002: Shawn Dobbert, a thirty-four-year-old from North Adams; Francis Babeu (accuser Paul Babeu’s younger brother); a thirty-one-year-old North Adams resident filing a complaint under the pseudonym of John Doe; and Sandra Tessier’s son Andre.

Dobbert said that Lavigne told him that he would “take the air out of my lungs” if he told anyone about the incidents. “He said, ‘I did it before; I can do it again,’” stated Dobbert.

Still, the desire of many Springfield-area Catholics to have their diocese stop giving financial assistance to Lavigne was rebuffed by Bishop Dupre, who issued one-page “Explanation of Laicization” to all diocesan clergy. The document, which was issued in lieu of a statement because the bishop was unavailable for three weeks to respond, explained that even if a priest is laicized, according to canon law a bishop is obligated to support him if necessary.

In September, the lawsuits against Lavigne kept coming in: Greenfield lawyer John Stobierski represented three men, one of whom said following one molestation, the priest drove his car at him, barely missing, on Route 2 in Heath to warn him not to tell anyone. “You have to be careful—accidents happen,” Lavigne reportedly said.

“Accident,” of course, was the term used by the mystery caller to Carl Croteau Jr. on the day of Daniel Croteau’s wake in 1972.

* * * * * * * *

In a Union-News story on November 17, 2002, Retired Chicopee police Detective Capt. Edward Rojowski and retired State Police Lt. Edward Harrington told reporter Bill Zajac that diocesean officials knew in 1972 that Lavigne was the prime suspect in the murder and that he was believed to have abused some of the Croteau boys and others. Their comments contrast the diocesan officials’ claims that they only first received an accusation of abuse until 1986. In addition, retired state trooper Jim Mitchell said the late State Police Lt. James Fitzgibbon, who died in 1982, briefed diocesan officials on their suspicions about the murder and alleged molestations.

Photo: retired State Police Lt.

 Edward Harrington

“We had an obligation to show our cards,” said Mitchell. “Fitzy had a sit-down with them. Everything we knew, we told them.”

Rojowski and Harrington said some records of the suspected abuse should exist, but Bishop Dupre responded that he knew of no records that support the retired officers’ statements. However, he said he was aware of rumors about Lavigne. “It wasn’t the church that knew it. Everybody knew it. The district attorney knew it. The police knew it. Everybody knew that there were rumors about it. But nobody took action,” said Dupre. “I wasn’t around in those days, so I don’t know what happened. I only went into the Chancery in ’77 . . . so, I don’t know what went on. All I know is the rumors I heard.” 


Anonymous said...

Thank you Hell's Acres for this posting. I stumbled across this after reading news of Lisa Ziegert's killer finally getting arrested. I lived in 16 Acres from 1984 until 1994 and used to work at the Big Y (now Fresh Acres) The Croteaus would shop there all the time and I would always get info on the progression of the case from Mrs. Croteau. I remember in 1993 her telling me that they had matching DNA evidence to Lavigne but that the court blocked its admission into the case. I moved away for grad school in 94 and have always wondered how they could let him get away with this murder. I still believe its him, but i appreciate the updated information on the DNA evidence.

Hell's Acres said...

Yes, it wasn't Lavigne's blood on the straw, but it is my understanding that the rope wasn't tested in 2003. Why? I don't know.

Anonymous said...

thank you for doing this excellent and much-needed reporting. have you approached any local newspapers to run the story? ideally, the republican would be the top pick? to reach as many spfld readers as possible, but i'm guessing the advocate would be very easy to convince or need no convincing at all...

i am horrified at this series of events and grateful that some brave kids/adults spoke out. i'm only incredibly sorry that justice wasn't really served and the acknowlegdement of the death of the man who overdosed in california, is actually an additional "murder" on Lavigne. I have been recovering from sexual abuse for almost 2 decades and in the supportive groups i belong to we talk about how the hidden crime is often murder, in that the victim's life is so frequently and pretty inevitably destroyed by trying to medicate away the pain of having been abused by using lethal substances. Getting into 12-step recovery saved my own life from that type of tragic end, but its still a DAILY STRUGGLE decades after the abuse happened.

i was a bit surprised that in your descriptions of the behavior of Lavigne, in all the ways he set up his victims for abuse, was not called "grooming"... what you describe is a classic case of this..."groomers" are always master manipulators. also a great resource to understand the way so many people aronud Lavigne loved or loathed him is aptly described in "Why does he do that?" by Lundy Bancroft, a man who worked with hundreds of male abusers for years to get them to come to terms with the damage their behavior has caused the victims. its one of the best i've read and i've read a TON of abuse recovery books...Lavigne made sure he had a strong cover of "wonderful priest, impossible that he could've done that!" supporters, its part of the usual cloak of denial and protection abusers wrap themselves in to avoid detection, the jekyll & hyde syndrome...
blessings for your work and thank you again...

i'm dreading reading the rest of the article, as i fear " lavigne: whereabouts unknown" or some such billcrap! because unless he's behind bars (where he probably would be killed in short shrift~!) he is very most likely to still be abusing! probation or no probation!

Hell's Acres said...

Thanks for commenting. There was another suicide. Lavigne victim Peter Bessone said his brother David Bessone was also a Lavigne victim, but he never reported the abuse because he was too ashamed and was a teacher afraid of jeopardizing his job. He killed himself in 1985.

Shawn Dobbert died in 2004, within hours of signing papers to settle a suit against the Diocese. It was ruled accidental, but some believe it was suicide.

I'm glad you saved yourself from a death by substance abuse. Maybe others in your shoes will read this and get help.