Murder Haunts Catholic Church

Charges Of Sexual Abuse Reopens An Old Murder Investigation

Danny Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy from Springfield, Mass., was murdered -- a murder most foul. His body was found bloodied, battered and floating in a river.

A suspect was identified almost immediately. It was someone who knew Danny and his family well. But that suspect was never arrested, and still lives only a few miles away.

What makes all of this remarkable is that Croteau's murder happened 33 years ago. Now, an investigation has been re-opened into the case that has tortured Springfield, its police force, and Danny's parents ever since. reports.
"I still hear Danny hailing for help. It's horrible," says Danny's mother, Bunny. She and Danny's father, Carl, are haunted by their son's murder.

"It's just been a nightmare," says Carl Croteau.

The Croteaus had seven children, including five boys. Danny was their youngest son.

"What did the police tell you when they first came," asks Rather.

"Well, they said that Danny had been in trouble," recalls Carl Croteau. "And I say, 'What do you mean … did he do something wrong?' And they said, 'No.' They said, 'It's worse than that.' He says, 'We found him, murdered and floating in the Chicopee River.'"

The parents couldn't imagine who would murder their son, and neither could police. Former State Det. Ed Harrington, who helped investigate the case, took 60 Minutes Wednesday to the spot where Danny's body was found.

"Adjacent to the body was a rock that we believe was used to smash his head in," says Harrington, who believes that was the murder instrument.

As soon as they heard the awful news, the Croteaus, devout Roman Catholics, turned to their parish priest, Father Richard Lavigne. Danny had been an altar boy for Father Lavigne.

"He used to come over to the house three, four times a week," says Carl Croteau. "Wasn't a weekend passed that Danny wouldn't be with him."

Lavigne identified Danny's body to police and participated in the funeral Mass. But soon after Danny's burial, the man who had been the family's comfort and support became something else: a suspect.

"Within five to seven days, information had been developed that a family friend, Richard Lavigne, who was a parish priest, might be involved," says Harrington.

Was he the only suspect? "The only one that I was ever aware of," says Harrington. "That was ever investigated."

Harrington cites circumstantial evidence against Lavigne, including the fact that Lavigne denied ever having been alone with Danny. A police report said officers quickly learned that "Danny and Father Lavigne were often alone." The report also said the priest asked questions that police believed "were consistent with those that are often asked by the perpetrator of a crime." But with no witnesses and no firm physical evidence, the district attorney at the time chose not to prosecute Lavigne. Harrington concurred.

"The fear was that if we tried to bring it to trial, we wouldn't have enough evidence and lose it," says Harrington. "And then, of course, we'd never be able to bring him to trial again."

"So you were convinced he did it, but you were convinced you couldn't get a conviction?" asks Rather.

"Correct," says Harrington.

At the time, Lavigne insisted he was innocent and still does. While he refused to speak on camera, his lawyers sent 60 Minutes Wednesday a letter listing powerful, concrete evidence of his own, including "the tire tread marks left at the scene of the crime…did not match the tires on Richard Lavigne's car or his family's car." They also point out that a DNA analysis of "blood found at the crime scene…was not Richard Lavigne's blood."
  • Rebecca Leung

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