This is another one of those true crime cases where if it played out on the big screen, you would think the storyline was far too wild to ever be true. Unfortunately what 17-year-old Daniel LaPlante did to pregnant mother of two, Priscilla Gustafson, was very real. It’s unimaginable that a young man at his age could do something so sickening, but Daniel wasn’t new to causing people terrible pain. He had worked his way up to a triple homicide by stalking a young woman, even going as far as to live in the walls of their home.
Who is Daniel LaPlante?
Before a became a notorious killer, he was a little boy, who was born on May 16th, 1970 and grew up in Townsend, Massachusetts. Sadly, this is where an innocent child would be shaped into the monster he would become. Daniel alleges that he was abused by both his father and his stepfather. He really struggled in school - both with his grades as a result of being dyslexic and with making friends. In the 70s, people didn’t keep an eye out for learning disabilities like dyslexia, so while Daniel struggled to keep up with his peers, the teachers deemed him as unintelligent. He was also bullied relentlessly, with many of the kids at school calling him weird, creepy and smelly. Daniel’s hygiene was terrible and he would come to school in dirty clothing, but you can’t blame the child in this situation. A dirty child is the responsibility of their parents, and in Daniel’s case, he was clearly being neglected.
Daniel’s mother and father would split up, and when he was a teenager his mother Elaine would marry his stepfather, David Moore. He lived in a home with them both along with his two brothers where he continued to be abused. The signs were all there that something was not right at home, however, for many years it went unchecked by school authorities. After years of suffering, the school stepped in and recommended that Daniel see a psychiatrist. He would be diagnosed with hyperactive disorder. This could have been an opportunity for Daniel to confide in someone about what was going on and get help, but instead, it is alleged that the psychiatrist began abusing him as well.
Daniel Laplante was doomed from the very beginning. He couldn’t stop what the adults in his life were doing to him, so he lashed out in destructive ways. He began by breaking into neighborhood homes and stealing cash and jewelry. Sometimes he didn’t bother to take anything, but would just move things around to make it known that he had been there. He would take food or drinks out of the fridge, and leave it half eaten, or the trash on the counter. This kind of behaviour gives you a glimpse into how his mind worked. Daniel enjoyed seeing other people afraid. He received satisfaction from hurting other people. For him, just knowing that the residents were terrified that someone had been in their home, was pay off enough for him.
Daniel Meets Tina
In 1986, when Daniel was 16 years old, he became obsessed with a 15-year-old young woman named Tina Bowen.
Tina had lived in the same town as Daniel, along with her father and 9-year-old little sister Karen. Tina’s mother had tragically passed away from Cancer, so her father was now their sole provider and he had to juggle between work and home. For this reason, he wasn’t around a whole lot and Tina was responsible for looking after her little sister. Like most 15-year-old girls her age, she had an interest in boys and wanted to start dating. So, when she began receiving telephone calls from an unknown teenage boy named Danny, she was excited.
Danny was of course Daniel Laplante, and it’s likely that he had broken into Tina’s family home to gather more information about her to use on that phone call. It’s also unclear how he was able to obtain Tina’s phone number, to begin with, but it likely wasn’t ethical. Tina believed the story that Danny gave her; he had obtained her number from a mutual friend who went to the same school as they did. He told her that he was tall, muscular, athletic - and that he had blonde hair. None of this was true of course. He had likely stalked her to find out all of these details about her, and physically he couldn’t be further than how he had described. But, Danny wanted to make sure he secured a date with Tina.
The pair would chat for hours on the phone, with Tina telling Daniel all about her life. Danny tried to convince Tina to go with him to the fair. She agreed - but was shocked when he showed up on her doorstep to pick her up. The supposed blonde athletic young man she had fallen for was actually a frumpy guy with greasy hair and dirty clothing. It was too late for Tina to change her mind at this point, so she reluctantly went with him to the fair. They only stayed about an hour before Tina made every excuse in the book to get back home.
During their date at the fair, Tina talked about how her mother had died from cancer. According to Tina, she found it strange how morbidly curious Daniel was about her mother’s death. He would bring it up in conversation even when they were talking about something completely different. He wanted to know everything about how it happened and how she felt. At the time, it probably came off as him caring, but I’m not sure Danny could ever really care for anyone.
When the date was over, Tina rushed home and vowed to never see or speak with Daniel again. But Daniel made sure that wasn’t the case. What he would do is not only completely bizarre but incredibly cruel.
Tina and her little sister Karen really struggled with their mother’s early death from Cancer. They had always been close, but they had become even more connected since their mother’s death. One night when Tina was particularly missing her mother, she begged Karen to have a séance. She wanted to see if they could communicate with their mother’s ghost. Reluctantly little Karen agreed and the girls attempted their connection to the spirit world in their basement.
While they were both hopeful that they might connect with their mother’s ghost, they knew that the likeliness of that happening was very low. It was a quiet, uneventful séance, however later that night as both girls lay in bed trying to get to sleep, they heard a tapping sound on their wall. It wasn’t a random tapping, it sounded rhythmic and intentional as if someone were trying to communicate with them. They truly believed that this had to be their mother connecting with them after the seance.
At first, they were really excited, believing that they had been communicating with the mother they missed so much from beyond the grave. But then, the tapping became incessant. It would happen constantly at night or when they were alone and it was beginning to disturb their peace. Their excitement quickly turned to fear when they discovered messages scrawled in different areas of the home that said things like, “I’m in your room” and “come and find me”. They would also come home from school to discover that objects in their room had been moved, or things had been tossed around.
Tina and Karen didn’t believe this could be the spirit of their mother - instead, they thought it had to be a demonic presence or a poltergeist. They tried to tell their father what was happening since the seance, but he didn’t believe them. He thought they were just lashing out because they were still grieving their mother. It became a common occurrence for the girls to hear noises, find things in their home disturbed, call their father crying and have him not believe their story.
However, one night, all of that would change. As usual, Tina hard knocking sounds coming from her bedroom wall. When she entered the room, she immediately spotted a message that appeared to be written in blood that said, “I’m back. Find me if you can.”
Terrified, they ran to their neighbor's house to call their father at work. He came home, fully expecting to be grounding his daughters for acting out again. But when he saw the state of the home with items thrown all around, he couldn’t deny that someone had been in their home. He walked into Tina’s room to find another bloody message written on the wall, “marry me”. Across from that was Daniel, just standing there, dressed in Tina’s mother’s clothing. That’s right, he was wearing the clothing of their mother who had died from cancer. Additionally, he had a blonde wig on and was wearing makeup to look similar to how she had looked. The most terrifying part was the hatchet he was holding in one of his hands,
It became clear at that moment that Daniel Laplante was the one behind all of the tapping, moving items in the house and the messages scrawled on the wall. Now, he was in the home with a hatchet and who knows what he was going to do next.
Tina’s father moved quickly to try to disarm him, but in the blink of an eye, Daniel seemingly disappeared and got away from him. When the police were called to the home, it became apparent why. Daniel was hiding in a small crawlspace that was behind a cupboard in Tina’s room. This is where Daniel would hide at night while he was tapping on the wall. But this wasn’t the only area of the home where Daniel would hide, there was an entire tunnelway behind the walls of the home where he would move through from room to room without being seen. Then in several of the rooms, including Tina’s bedroom, there was a peephole drilled through the wall where Daniel could watch. As for those bloody messages, thankfully they had actually been written in ketchup - which may be the only upside here.
So why was Daniel standing there that night in Tina’s room with a hatchet? We don’t really know for sure, but with future events, one can assume he was likely going to harm them, after torturing them by dressing up as their deceased mother. These girls were very lucky to walk away with their life that night.
Daniel was arrested and charged with four counts of kidnapping, four counts of armed assault in a dwelling, breaking and entering a dwelling, larceny of more than $100, and malicious destruction of property. He was only 16, so he was placed in a juvenile detention centre. For whatever reason, the prosecution decided to charge him as an adult, which meant that he was able to post bail. If he were charged as a juvenile, he would have remained behind bars. Daniel borrowed money from his mother and walked free, then he would go on to commit a horrendous crime against a pregnant woman and her children.
The jail was not a rehabilitative experience for Daniel. He went right back to his life as a delinquent almost immediately after his release in October 1987. He started off with petty theft again, breaking into homes and taking any valuables, including money, jewellery and even two guns, and moving things around to be a creep. He never ventured far, often hitting homes that were in close proximity to his own residence.
The Gustafson Home
He did this for a while jumping from home to home, stealing things and keeping busy, until December 1st, 1987 when everything would change. Daniel would break into the Gustafson residence where 33-year-old Priscilla Gustafson was at home with her two little ones, Abigail and William. Head of household, Andrew Gustafson was away working his job as an attorney.
Priscilla was described as being a wonderful mother and a sweet and caring person who was dedicated to her role as a church nursery school teacher. She was pregnant with her husband Andrew’s third child and really excited to become a mommy once again. The Gustafson family were avid Christians, churchgoers and generally just good people.
When Daniel entered the Gustafson home, the sun was still up. People were at work, children were at school, and for whatever reason, Daniel decided to break into this home that had a pregnant woman and a child present. He walked half a mile from his own home to the holiday-decorated Gustafson home. He walked through the door, where he confronted the very pregnant Priscilla and 5-year-old William. 7-year-old little Abigail was on the bus on her way home from school.
Just a short while later, Andrew arrived home to a harrowing scene. He found his wife in their master bedroom deceased from two gunshot wounds. She had also been assaulted. There were two .22 calibre bullet casings found on the bed, as well as an untouched can of beer. Andrew would say that he didn’t look for his children because he was afraid to find them dead, so he ran outside and called the police. Their bodies would later be discovered drowned in the family home bathtubs.
The police were called and there was a ton of physical evidence to collect, including DNA from the rape kit, the unopened beer can, the casings and a shoe print that was discovered in the flower bed just outside of the house. Daniel was already on the police radar because of his history and he had skipped bail. For this reason, he was near the top of their list of suspects almost right away. They knew he was behind a string of break-ins in the area. While he hadn’t murdered before and this was a giant escalation in violence, they thought he could be behind the three killings.
Police were keeping an eye out for Daniel, they needed to talk to him about the murders. To see where he was and what he knew. The manhunt was on, but it wouldn’t take long for him to pop up on their radar again. He just couldn’t stop himself from acting out again. A few towns over, he attempted to carjack a woman and take her with him in the vehicle. Thankfully, she was able to escape with her life because who knows what he would have done next. Police put out an alert in the area notifying the public that he was on the loose and armed and dangerous.
48 hours would pass before Daniel Laplante would be apprehended while hiding in a dumpster. He was taken into custody where he flat-out denied any involvement in the triple homicide. He said that he was at home watching TV for most of the day before going to his little nieces’ birthday party. But the evidence doesn’t lie. Investigators discovered one of Abigail Gustafo’s hairs located on one of his socks, which sealed his fate. But there was a lot of evidence in this case - Daniel had even thrown the shirt and gloves he wore that night in the woods near the Gustafson home.
It was time to come clean. Daniel recounted the events from that day. He said that he had actually broken into the Gustafson home before and taken a few things, but he decided to go back. He claimed that he did not expect Priscilla to be home and he was just as shocked as she was to find her there. He was going to jump out the window and run, but he remembered he had a gun on him. He pointed it at Priscila and demanded she goes into the bedroom and put William in the closet. After that, he said he panicked.
According to Daniel, he was getting ready to leave when Abigail arrived home from school. She had seen his face, so he had to kill her too. As it turns out, Daniel then in fact did go to his little niece's birthday party, as he stated in his alibi, and no one was any the wiser that he had just committed one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
Daniel Laplante was charged with murder and sentenced to three life sentences for the three lives he took that day. When his trial began, he was just 18 years old. It’s difficult to imagine how an 18-year-old young man can progress from petty theft and burglary to rape and the murders of a pregnant woman and two young children. The courts may have had sympathy for him if he had shown any remorse at all, but he didn't. He was shown smirking during the trial which is obviously not a good look for someone accused of murder
In the time that Daniel has been behind bars, he has tried to sue the courts, appeal his case and submit numerous special requests. Allegedly, he converted to Wiccan and when he was denied items like ritual oils and dragon’s blood, he attempted to sue for a violation of his rights. In 2017, he tried to appeal for a reduced sentence as part of a change in the law because he was a juvenile at the time of the murders.
Thankfully, it was denied after a psychiatrist found that he was not at all remorseful. Instead, Daniel Laplante will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Middlesex Superior Court Judge Hélène Kazanjian, said:
“This case does not involve a single act that resulted in three deaths. Mr. LaPlante committed three distinct and brutal murders. He killed a 33-year-old pregnant mother and her 5-and 7-year-old children. He left a family and community devastated. The court finds that the maximum penalty is warranted.” | CBC News
This is exactly what Andrew Gustafasan would have wanted for the person who took the lives of his beautiful pregnant wife and children. Sadly, he died a very broken man after what happened to him, but before he passed he made it clear that he wanted Daniel to never see freedom again. And now, he has his wish.
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