DA Releases Documents Related to 1972 Unsolved Altar Boy Slaying

By Stephanie Reitz
February 22, 2008

Newly released documents related to the 1972 murder of a 13-year-old altar boy include dozens of pages of witness statements and police reports, but have left his aging parents still hoping for the information that could bring their son's killer to trial.

"Somebody out there knows something, and hopefully they will finally tell. That's what we've been desperately hoping for," said Bernice Croteau, 71, whose son, Danny, was killed more than three decades ago. "We've been waiting such a long time."

Danny's body was found on the banks of the Chicopee River on April 15, 1972, after someone fatally bludgeoned him. Police think a bloody rock left at the scene may have been the murder weapon.

The only named suspect was his family's parish priest, Richard Lavigne, whose lawyers have repeatedly denied that he had any involvement in the death. Messages were left Friday for his attorney.

John Stobierski, the Croteau's family attorney, said Friday they think circumstantial evidence outlined in the police reports, witness statements and other documents is strong enough to present in court.

They have not yet seen all 115 pages of the new documents released on their son's death, Stobierski said, and some of the details may be painful.

"They live with this awful scenario every moment of their life," he said of Bernice and 77-year-old Carl Croteau. "They want a resolution. Even if it comes out the wrong way, they would like to have some finality in it."

The documents include interviews with other church members, a priest and altar boy, including Danny's closest friend.

That boy said Lavigne frequently insisted they drink wine, helped them remove their robes, showed them pornographic magazines and "acted like a playboy."

"I found it strange that the other two priests never watched us change, but Father Lavigne always did," the former altar boy told police in December 1991.

Another witness said she and her father saw a man in priest's garb standing over a child's body near a bridge pillar at the river's edge on April 12, 1972. She said she thought the boy may have fallen asleep and the priest was trying to rouse him.

Danny Croteau's body was found at that spot three days later.

The witness told police she followed her now-deceased father's orders to keep silent because they were afraid of becoming involved and fearful of church leaders, police and the previous district attorney at that time.

"I'll have to live with the guilt that I didn't come forward sooner, but I was honoring a promise to my father," she said in the 2004 statement.

District Attorney William Bennett said Friday the newly opened documents shed little new light on the case. There remains a lack of physical evidence needed to prosecute anyone, though the case remains open.

"We've tried every DNA test we can think of, but every time we go down a particular path, we come up empty. It's not for lack of trying," Bennett said.

The documents were part of the diocese's lawsuit against six insurance carriers over whether the companies should cover settlements with victims of clergy abuse, including some who say Lavigne molested them.

Lavigne pleaded guilty in 1992 to two counts of molesting male parishioners and sentenced to 10 years of probation. He was defrocked in 2005.

Hampden Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini ordered disclosure of the files this week, granting Bennett's request to shield the identities of witnesses and victims who gave statements to investigators.

Danny's family has asked Attorney General Martha Coakley to assign a special prosecutor to investigate the homicide. Bennett said Friday his office would gladly share information it has gathered over the years.

"Everybody wants to hold somebody accountable, but the lack of physical evidence was an impediment early on and continues to be an impediment to solve the case and hold somebody legally accountable," he said.


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