May 24, 2021 -Springfield- Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni announced the investigation into the murder of Danny Croteau has been officially closed. The investigation began after Danny was found deceased on April 15, 1972, in the Connecticut River in Chicopee, still dressed in his clothes from his previous school day at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart school. The search for answers and proof of what happened to Danny has ensued for over 49 years.
This past Friday, detectives with the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Hampden District Attorney’s Office were authorized by DA Gulluni to present the case against Richard Lavigne to a magistrate in order to obtain an arrest warrant for the murder of Danny Croteau. However, Lavigne died this past Friday evening, May 21, in a hospital facility in Greenfield.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni stated, “Danny’s parents, Carl and Bernice, told reporters that they just wanted answers. 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.”
In March of 2020, Shortly after the creation of the Massachusetts State Police Unresolved Cases Unit in the Hampden District Attorney’s Office, a trooper was assigned by DA Gulluni to focus on the unresolved murder of Danny Croteau. In the following months, investigators and prosecutors from the Hampden District Attorney’s Office assembled and combed through thousands of documents and assessed decades of evidence, which uncovered opportunities for modern forensic testing and leads on which to work.
At the time of Danny’s death, Richard R. Lavigne, was a Roman Catholic priest and friend of the Croteau family. Lavigne was assigned to Saint Mary’s Parish in Springfield. Lavigne met the Croteau family in 1967, while he was assigned to the Croteaus’ parish, Saint Catherine of Sienna in Springfield. Danny was the youngest of five boys in the Croteau family. He and his brothers had served as altar boys at Saint Catherine’s, and assisted Lavigne at Mass. Lavigne also socialized with the Croteau family, and frequently took some of the Croteau boys, including Danny, on outings without their parents. Father Lavigne also maintained contact with Danny and his family after he was reassigned to St. Mary’s Parish in late June 1968, and continued to take the Croteau boys on trips. Lavigne also invited the boys, either together or alone, to stay overnight at his parents’ home in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
After Danny’s murder, Lavigne became a person of interest for investigators in the early stages of the investigation because of the inconsistent and unusual statements he had made to them in the days after the murder. Investigators also determined that initially he lied about the last time he had seen Danny, and witnesses disputed Lavigne’s claim that he was never alone with Danny. Lavigne was also observed alone at the river’s bank at approximately 4:30 p.m. on April 16, 1972. On April 17, 1972, a police report of Lavigne’s interview with investigators notes one question asked by Lavigne, “If a stone was used and thrown in the river, would blood still be on it?”
On April 17, 1972, a telephone call was made to the Croteau family home. Carl Croteau, Jr., then nineteen years old, answered the telephone. A male voice said, “we’re very sorry what happened to Danny. He saw something behind the Circle he shouldn’t have seen. It was an accident.” The caller would not identify himself and hung up. Carl, Jr. told investigators that the male voice was familiar to him, and that he recognized the caller’s voice as belonging to Father Lavigne. When interviewed on January 27, 2021, Carl Croteau, Jr. stated that within a month to a month and a half before Danny’s murder, he remembered that Danny would return from being with Lavigne and Danny would be sick to his stomach from drinking alcohol. Carl also stated that his brother Danny usually was with Lavigne on the weekends, specifically Friday nights.
The scene at the riverbank where Danny’s body was recovered was documented and photographed in 1972. Noted by investigators was the observance of blood-stained soil and blood-spattered rocks. These materials and various items were secured and preserved.
Over the many following years, forensic testing was conducted on some of these items. While It was determined that the application of modern forensic testing might provide answers, it was also understood that given the many years that passed, significant degradation of the evidence was likely and testing might prove unsuccessful. Earlier this year, the Hampden District Attorney’s contracted with DNA Labs International, a forensic lab in Florida, that worked together with the Massachusetts State Police Lab to conduct dozens of forensic tests over several rounds of testing. While this process provided moments of hope, ultimately, other than confirming that Danny’s blood was present on stones, the resulting information failed to provide significant additional evidence to investigators.
As the investigation continued over the years, and on March 23, 2004, Lavigne showed an acquaintance, an employee of the Diocese of Springfield, that he received a typed, unsigned letter in the mail, and further said that it must have been written by the murderer himself because of the guilt it described. This person documented these conversations with Lavigne in emails to his superiors at the Diocese; however, the Springfield Diocese did not notify investigators of the letter’s existence until they were forced to produce the emails referencing the letter in answering to a grand jury subpoena in a separate criminal investigation of another clergy member of the Springfield Diocese.
On April 6, 2004, investigators obtained and executed a search warrant on Lavigne’s home in Chicopee to obtain the letter. While executing the search warrant, investigators spoke with Lavigne after he was advised of his rights. Lavigne told the investigators that he received the letter sometime in January 2004 and was “very suspicious of it because it had no return address”. He described an elaborate process of opening the letter with tweezers, and placing it in a plastic bag prior to reading it because “he knew about fingerprints and DNA”. Lavigne described his own reaction to reading the letter as “chilling”.
On March 5, 2021, DA Gulluni engaged the services of Dr. Robert Leonard, an expert in forensic linguistics, to conduct an authorship analysis of the letter seized from Lavigne by investigators in 2004 and compare it to known writings of Lavigne gathered during the investigation. Dr. Leonard has been qualified as an expert in Linguistics, in fourteen states and six federal districts. He is a tenured Professor of Linguistics at Hofstra University, and lectures worldwide on the topic of linguistics. Forensic linguistics applies the science of linguistics, the scientific study of language – to legal cases. An authorial analysis involves the examiner comparing questioned documents with documents of known authorship to discern linguistic patterns to determine whether a hypothesis of common authorship exists. While this analysis does not individualize the document from having originated from any certain individual, it can include or exclude an individual from having authored a questioned document. For his examination, Dr. Leonard was provided copies of the letter seized by investigators from Lavigne in 2004, and ten writings known to be written by Richard Lavigne.
On May 21, 2021, Dr. Leonard informed the Hampden District Attorney’s Office that, based upon a review of the materials that had been provided to him, in his opinion, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, “language patterns in the questioned document are consistent with language patterns in the known Lavigne documents to the point that Richard R. Lavigne cannot be excluded as a possible candidate of authorship.”
Based on the trajectory of the investigation, DA Gulluni directed investigators to attempt to speak with Richard Lavigne. Over a series of five days, on April 14, 15, 16, 17, and May 4, 2021, a Massachusetts State Police Trooper from the Hampden District Attorney’s Office conducted a series of interviews with Lavigne, totaling dialogue of approximately 11 hours. All interviews were audio recorded with Lavigne’s consent. The interviews were conducted at a local medical facility where Lavigne was a patient. The investigator’s status as a Massachusetts State Police Trooper and his role as an investigator into the circumstances surrounding Daniel Croteau’s death were made clear to Lavigne. Prior to speaking with Lavigne on each date, Lavigne was oriented to time and place, and was not under the influence of any medications adversely affecting his decision-making or ability to communicate. Lavigne was provided Miranda warnings on several occasions, and Lavigne voluntarily agreed to speak with the investigator on each day and was advised that he could stop questioning or request that the investigator leave his room at any time.
During all of the interviews, Lavigne refused to specifically admit that he killed Danny Croteau, and at times, was cagey and evasive, continuing his long-running attempts to mislead and distract investigators. However, he made several statements to indicate that he was the last person to see Danny Croteau alive, that he brought him to the riverbank on April 14, 1972, that he physically assaulted him there, and after leaving Danny there and returning a short time later, that he saw Danny floating face down in the river. He stated further that he neither attempted to rescue him nor alert Danny’s parents or police of Danny’s whereabouts or condition. Police then discovered Danny’s remains the following day on April 15, 1972.
List to the audio here:
Attached are a statement of facts about the case and the anonymous letter referenced from 2004.Richard-Lavigne-Statement-of-Facts-Summary-May-21st Questioned-Document-1