Ex-Priest Dies Just Before Facing Charges in 1972 Killing of an Altar Boy

Nearly 50 years in the past, the physique of Danny Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy, was discovered floating in the Chicopee River in Springfield, Mass. His head had been crushed with a blunt object.

Richard R. Lavigne, a Catholic priest who was near the boy’s household, presided over his funeral Mass at Saint Catherine of Siena Church in Springfield and comforted his mother and father.

But the police started investigating the priest nearly instantly after the boy’s dying. Soon, the mother and father of Danny, the youngest in a household of 5 boys and two ladies, grew to become suspicious as properly.

Over the years, investigators repeatedly interviewed Mr. Lavigne and searched his home for proof. A reporter at The Boston Globe confronted him in 2003 and requested him in regards to the case.

“My silence,” Mr. Lavigne replied, “has been my salvation.”

On May 21, prosecutors and investigators in Hampden County determined they lastly had sufficient proof to arrest Mr. Lavigne, who had been defrocked in 2004 for molesting two boys and was staying in a hospital in Greenfield, 40 miles north of Springfield.

But simply hours after that they had begun getting ready a request for an arrest warrant for homicide, investigators discovered that Mr. Lavigne, 80, had died, mentioned the Hampden County district legal professional, Anthony D. Gulluni.

The trigger of Mr. Lavigne’s dying was respiratory failure associated to Covid-19 problems, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which cited his death certificate.

“The investigation into the murder of Danny Croteau is now officially closed,” Mr. Gulluni mentioned on Monday, when he announced the development at a news conference. “While formal justice might not have befallen Richard Lavigne here on this earth, we hope to now provide answers and some measure of closure to Danny’s family.”

Mr. Gulluni mentioned Michael T. McNally, a trooper with the Massachusetts State Police, interviewed Mr. Lavigne over 5 days in April and May.

Mr. Lavigne by no means admitted to killing the boy however mentioned that he had shoved him the evening of April 14, 1972, as they stood by the river financial institution. Mr. Lavigne mentioned when he returned to the river later that evening, he noticed Danny in the water.

“I just remember being heartbroken when I saw his body going down the river knowing I was responsible for giving him a good shove, you know?” he mentioned, based on a recording Mr. Gulluni performed for reporters.

“He was a nice little kid,” Mr. Lavigne mentioned. “I’d sooner forget the whole thing, frankly.”

The Croteau household met Mr. Lavigne in 1967, when he was assigned to Saint Catherine, the place Danny and his brothers served as altar boys.

Mr. Lavigne took Danny and a few of his brothers on outings and in a single day journeys.

“Things were tough,” Carl Croteau, Danny’s father, told The Boston Globe in 2003. “I’d get laid off sometimes. Lavigne would raid the freezer at the rectory and bring us steak or a roast. He offered to look after the kids.”

In a press release, William D. Byrne, the bishop of the Springfield Diocese, apologized to the Croteau household and mentioned he was “angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions.”

“It is also another reminder of our past failures as a church and a diocese to protect children and young adults from such terrible predators in our midst,” Bishop Byrne mentioned.

The police found Danny’s physique on April 15, 1972.

Mr. Gulluni mentioned that when investigators questioned Mr. Lavigne two days later, he requested them, “‘If a stone was used and thrown in the river, would blood still be on it?’”

In 1991, a witness who mentioned he had served as an altar boy with Danny described how the priest inspired them to drink from the wine chalice after Mass, based on a press release Trooper McNally wrote.

Mr. Lavigne would drive as much as a road the place Danny was enjoying hockey with different boys, the assertion mentioned.

“Without warning, Danny would stop playing, begin crying” and would run to Mr. Lavigne’s automobile, the assertion mentioned.

“They knew that Danny was not going home as the car drove away in the opposite direction,” Trooper McNally wrote.

In January, Carl Croteau Jr., Danny’s brother, advised investigators {that a} month earlier than the killing, his brother had come house after spending the day with Mr. Lavigne “sick to his stomach from drinking alcohol.”

An post-mortem discovered excessive ranges of alcohol in Danny’s blood.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Gulluni mentioned that Mr. Lavigne was all the time the “primary suspect.”

But Mr. Gulluni’s predecessor mentioned the shortage of sturdy bodily proof towards Mr. Lavigne would make it troublesome to safe a conviction. DNA exams of the blood discovered on the crime scene had been inconclusive.

In 2020, Mr. Gulluni mentioned he assigned investigators to look at the case once more.

DNA take a look at outcomes remained inconclusive however investigators centered on different proof, together with a letter they mentioned Mr. Lavigne had written to himself in 2004 that described “terrible compulsions” and “unbearable” torment over a boy he met alongside the Chicopee River.

Investigators determined to attempt to speak to Mr. Lavigne once more.

“Given the time that has passed, and his age, there was some hope that he would engage,” Mr. Gulluni mentioned on Friday. “And sure enough, he did.”

When Trooper McNally requested him why he hit the boy, Mr. Lavigne mentioned he solely remembered shoving him “for the same reason you probably push your own son.”

Carl Croteau died in 2010. Danny’s mom, Bernice Croteau, died in 2016.

Joe Croteau, one of Danny’s brothers, who listened to the recording through the information convention, mentioned he was “awfully glad that my parents will never hear this.”

Joe Croteau mentioned the household was disillusioned that Mr. Lavigne wouldn’t face a trial.

“We believe there is a higher power,” he mentioned. “And he will face that higher power now.”

James Scahill, a retired Catholic priest who urged church officers to defrock Mr. Lavigne, met with Danny’s mother and father round 2002.

He mentioned Ms. Croteau advised him, “‘God and my faith is the one thing the church can’t take away from me.’”

Mr. Gulluni mentioned he had talked to the Croteau household about exhuming their brother’s physique so they may maintain a second funeral service, one that might have “nothing to do with Richard Lavigne.”

Susan Beachy contributed analysis.

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