The One Who Got Away


by Walter Pierce

Dr. David Primeaux was beloved in Petersburg, Va. The computer science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University was an active member and past chairman of the Historic Petersburg Foundation, a country-club nonprofit that restores old buildings in this historic city of about 35,000, 23 miles south of the state capital, Richmond, where for nearly two decades he taught at VCU.

In addition to his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Tennessee, Primeaux held a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. His academic interests included non-traditional artificial intelligence — heady topics that, buttressed by his philosophy degree, threw smart, dreamy VCU undergrads into a swoon.

David Primeaux was a popular professor and civic leader. Until Dec. 27, 2012.

That’s the day Petersburg police got a call from Primeaux’s wife telling them he had left the house distraught. Cops made brief contact with the professor via cell phone, but he said his phone battery was about to die and ended the call. The next day in a rural neighboring county, a local resident found Primeaux dead inside his 1986 Mazda pickup parked beside a gravel pit. Cause of death, carbon monoxide poisoning; manner of death, suicide, according to the medical examiner’s office, which only recently released the results. …

But until 1985, David Primeaux was a priest in South Louisiana, mainly in Lafayette Parish. A priest who molested children. A priest who benefitted from the church’s willingness — eagerness, it can easily be argued — to play shell games with its most toxic clergy, moving them around after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. A priest who got away with it.

And the Rev. David Primeaux was, in many ways, forgettable. The infamous Gilbert Gauthe saga began spilling its messy entrails all over everything in 1983. Gauthe probably molested hundreds of kids in Vermilion Parish, although he was prosecuted on only a fraction.

About the time Gauthe was convicted and sent off to prison in the mid 1980s, Primeaux, an Abbeville native, slipped quietly out of his collar. The story is sketchy for almost the next decade. He got a Ph.D. — we know that. He taught a few years in the mid ’90s at Troy University in Alabama, landing an assistant professorship at VCU in ’96.

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