Private Investigator Sends Unusual Letter to Diocesan Clergy

By Father Bill Pomerleau
Catholic Observer
May 13, 2005

SPRINGFIELD – A private investigator hired by a Springfield newspaper to investigate the 1972 murder of Daniel Croteau sent unusually worded letters to at least 13 priests of the Diocese of Springfield asking for information.

The letters, dated Easter Sunday, March 23, seem to imply that investigator R.C. Stevens could offer confidentiality to informant clergy, and that the former state police officer might know about unfavorable personal histories of the priests.

“Please understand that my inquiries do not necessarily reflect you, your past or your current circumstances. However, through the course of our investigation, unusual circumstances have emerged surrounding groups of individuals,” the letters said.

Stevens, a retired state police officer once attached to the Northwest District Attorney’s office in Northampton, was hired by The Republican newspaper last August to investigate the 1972 unsolved murder of Daniel Croteau.

Alluding to colleagues at his Hadley-based detective agency, Psychologically Supported Intervention & Investigation, he wrote: “As private investigators, our ability to pose questions in confidence proves advantageous should individuals feel apprehensive with regard to the possibility of public misperceptions.”

Stevens continued, “It is of the utmost importance that discretion is maintained and that I speak with you as soon as possible with respect to circumstances surrounding this individual or certain individuals as a means to resolve concerns which we have in relations to aspects of our investigation.”

A priest who provided a copy of the letter he received to The Catholic Observer noted that the investigator had claimed that “discrete attempts to contact you by telephone have been met with great difficulty.”

“I know for a fact that he never tried to telephone me,” said the priest, who was ordained several years after the murder.

“He seems to have sent the letter to priests he thought might have known (former priest Richard) Lavigne, or who are in parishes where Lavigne had served,” said John Egan, a Springfield attorney who met with Stevens last month.

Troubled and/or confused clergy, concerned about how they should respond, who received the letter contacted Egan, other attorneys and diocesan officials.

Egan said he met with Stevens “as a courtesy” on behalf of the priests and not in his role as attorney for the diocese. He said that Stevens showed him a list of the priests whom he had contacted.

Stevens told the Observer May 9 that he did place phone calls to priests both before and after mailing his letter. He said that while he had received “quite a bit of resistance,” a few priests have been “candid” in talking to him.

Asked what criteria he used to contact priests, he said simply, “what we were hoping to do was to clear up some loose ends” in his investigation.

Quasi-task force (BF)

In a May 2 article in The Republican, Stevens said that since last November, his contact with the Chicopee and State Police had “developed a unique spirit of co-operation.: He added, “Hopefully, we will stimulate development of a quasi-task power force that will bring Danny’s murderer to justice.”

Chicopee Police Chief John R. Ferraro told the Observer last week that his department still has an active investigation of the murder, which occurred in his city 33 years ago.
But, he added, his investigative team consists of the police and prosecutors from Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett’s office.

“We welcome information from any investigation, from aliens, or from the man in the moon. But our team is this department and the district attorney’s office,” Ferraro said.
Captain Peter Higgins, the commander of the State Police force attached to Bennett’s office, told the Observer that the prosecutor has given Stevens access to investigative materials “beyond what has been in the newspapers” about the Croteau case.

In return, “we would expect reciprocity on his part,” said Higgins.

“I can’t see how he could offer confidentiality to anybody if he has promised to share his findings with the DA,” Egan commented.

Egan noted that some of the priests who received the letter had long ago cooperated with inquiring police investigators, who had told them not to discuss their observations with others.

In a Republican article last year announcing the paper’s hiring of Stevens, publisher Larry A. McDermott said, “Our hope is that this combination of skilled news reporters and trained criminal investigators will shed more light on an unsolved murder that has haunted the community for many years.”

The private investigator told the Observer he hoped to create a better timeline of Croteau’s last 24 hours. He said the youth had plans to attend a party the night he disappeared, but it was not known if he made it to the party or not.

“We generally want to look at the 72 hours before the incident, and 72 hours after the incident. What was everybody doing?” he said.

But his latest interviews with the Republican and the Observer revealed few new details about the Croteau murder.

A published map of the crime scene indicating where blood-stained sand, tire tracks, drag marks, and a bloodied rock, straw and rope were found near Croteau’s corpse conformed nearly exactly to a description in an April 15, 1972 Chicopee police report examined by the media a decade ago.

Physical evidence from the police report, which was made public a decade ago, indicated that Croteau was attacked twice, once after a scuffle close to East Main Street in Chicopee, then closer to the south bank of the Chicopee River.

Stevens said that his examination of old crime scene photographs has enabled him to pinpoint more exactly how and where the struggle before the murder occurred.

He added that a better analysis of the autopsy report on Croteau’s body using today’s forensic techniques might lead him to more precisely determine the type and number of injuries the victim received.

“We can then start to get a better picture of the size of the assailant, for example,” he told the Observer.

Stevens, whose Web site promotes his agency’s services in stress reduction and conflict management in addition to criminal investigation, offered what appeared to be a lengthy opinion on the psychology of Croteau’s killer in his Republican interview.

He said, “Although Danny was hit with a rock, the true murder weapon we see is blind rage.” He added the killer was a clinical psychopath who “may be responsible for at least 200 (sexual abuse) victims in his lifetime.”

But Stevens did not say who he thinks killed the young parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Parish.

“In the initial (police) investigation, everything pointed to Richard Lavigne. Meanwhile, we have 10 arrows, seven of which point to Lavigne, but three that don’t,” Stevens said.

“ This is not a witch hunt,” he told the Observer.


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