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Hampden DA Says Former Catholic Priest Killed Altar Boy In 1972

Hampden District Attorney

A disgraced and recently deceased former Catholic priest has been identified by law enforcement as the killer of a teenage altar boy in western Massachusetts almost a half-century ago. 

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced Monday that his office was about to seek a criminal complaint against Richard Lavigne for the 1972 murder of 13-year-old Danny Croteau when the former priest died last Friday evening at a healthcare facility in Greenfield.

"I am announcing today that the investigation into the murder of Danny Croteau is now officially closed," Gulluni said.

The prosecutor said “credible and significant evidence” had been assembled in the last year that incriminates Lavigne.

"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 and to a generation in western Massachusetts and beyond who mourned and wondered for too long," Gulluni said.

Croteau’s body was found floating face down in the Chicopee River not far from his home in Springfield.  He had been bludgeoned to death most likely by a rock. 

Long ago, Lavigne was named publicly as the only suspect in the case, but was never charged.

The new evidence, cited by Gulluni, includes statements the 80 year-old Lavigne made to a State Police detective during a series of interviews last month.  Excerpts were played at Monday’s press conference.

In the recordings, Lavigne admits being with Croteau at the river, but denies killing him.

"I don't remember hitting him down by the river, but giving him a good shove," Lavigne said.

Later, he tells State Trooper Mark McNally he saw Croteau floating face down in the river and recognized him by the way he was dressed.  Asked what he did after he saw the body in the water, Lavigne said he did not tell the police or confide in any friends.

"It is not something I would confide in," Lavigne said.

Lavigne said he felt “heavy-hearted” over Croteau’s death.

"I just remember being heartbroken when I saw his body going down the river because I was responsible for giving him a good shove, you know, Lavigne said.

Joe Croteau, one of Danny’s brothers, spoke for the family at the news conference.

"To hear the voice of a sociopath like that guy is bone-chilling," Croteau said. "I am awfully glad that my parents will never hear this."   Croteau's parents died a few years apart last decade.

He thanked Gulluni for pursuing the case as far as he could.

"We are disappointed he is not being brought to justice, but just like the district attorney, we believe there is a higher power and he will face that higher power now," Croteau said.

All five Croteau brothers were altar boys at St. Catherine of Siena parish in Springfield where Lavigne was an associate pastor in the 1970s.

In the 1990’s, nearly a dozen people came forward to accuse Lavigne of sexually abusing children. He pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault and battery in 1992 and was sentenced to 10 years probation.  The Vatican defrocked him in 2003.

The Springfield Diocese reported paying 17 of Lavigne’s victims $1.4 million in a settlement in 1994.

In a statement Monday, Springfield Bishop William Byrne said he was “angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions.” 

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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