Former Catholic priest implicated in 1972 murder; Cold case closed

Wess Haubrich

This closes a nearly-50-year-old closed case involving one of the most prolific pedophile priests in Massachusetts.

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Danny CroteauHampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni

In a statement released Monday, former Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said that the almost-50-year-old murder of 13-year-old Danny Croteau has moved from a cold case to a closed case, citing new evidence implicating defrocked Roman Catholic priest Richard Lavigne.

Lavigne plead guilty in 1992 to two counts of sexually abusing a minor in cases involving two boys. That number would grow to about 40 victims until the Vatican took serious action against this pedophile at the pulpit.

Lavigne died in a Greenfield hospital the night that the DA was to present his case before a magistrate to secure an arrest warrant for Lavigne for murder. He was 80.

On April 15, 1972, Croteau’s body was found in the Connecticut River at Chicopee. The boy was still dressed in his formal school clothes from the day before at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School.

There was some blood soaked into the soil and staining nearby rocks on the shoreline. That was about it, however, as far as forensics was concerned as it was still 1972.

It was ultimately a dedicated state trooper in 2020 who breathed life back into the cold case. Combing through thousands of pages of evidence in the light of new technology (particularly DNA), new avenues of testing with available evidence were ultimately established and pursued.

Then Father Richard Lavigne was a person of interest in the case early on. He was pastor of Saint Catherine of Sienna when he met the Croteau family in 1967 – the Croteau boys were all servers who assisted Father Lavigne at mass.

The relationship extended beyond the usual formality of a Roman Catholic mass, however. Father Lavigne often took the Croteau children (Danny was the youngest of five boys) on outings without their parents – even staying all night at Lavigne’s parent’s house in Chicopee. He kept up a relationship with them when he was transferred to Saint Mary’s in 1968.

There was quite a bit of anecdotal evidence through the 49-year history of this crime. These include a telephone call to the Croteau home two days after the murder which said, “we’re very sorry what happened to Danny. He saw something behind the Circle he shouldn’t have seen. It was an accident.” Danny’s 19-year-old brother Carl answered and said the voice sounded like Father Lavigne.

In 2004, around the time Lavigne was officially defrocked by the Vatican, he showed an acquaintance who was an employee of the Diocese of Springfield a typed, unsigned letter that would have only been written by the guilty party. Read it below.

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Lavigne's unsigned letter supposedly from the real murderer.Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni

As the acquaintance rightfully thought this was bizarre enough, they kept up an email conversation with Lavigne which they shared with their superiors.

The Diocese did not divulge this information until they were forced to by a grand jury subpoena in a separate criminal case involving another priest of the Springfield Diocese.

Danny’s parents and family wanted answers more than anything. “Based on the accumulation of historical evidence, the evidence gained in the last year, and the admissions of Richard Lavigne, I believe we now have those answers. While they didn’t come in time for Danny’s parents to hear them, I hope that the answers provided today are helpful to Danny’s remaining family who have suffered for so long.”

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Former editor, now dogged-maverick journalist and researcher covering the crime beat. I examine the weird, absurd, and downright infamous in American crime both here and at Real Monsters podcast. Contact: wess@realmonsters.live

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