Former Priest Dies After Being Found Guilty of a 1972 Murder of a Young Altar Boy - Bishop Releases Statement of Apology

The District Attorney in Massachusetts, USA, say a defrocked (removed from the priesthood) priest was responsible for the death of a child, Danny a 13-year-old altar boy, in a case from 1972 — however, Richard Roger Lavigne, died last week, at age 80, before he could be arrested. Richard Roger Lavigne (February 18, 1941 – May 21, 2021) was a former priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts and a convicted sex offender. Lavigne had many claims of sexual abuse of minors placed against him. He was removed from ministry by Bishop John Marshall in 1991. He pleaded guilty to 2 counts of child sexual abuse in 1992. Lavigne was removed from the priesthood by the Vatican on  November 20th, 2003. (See Full Text Statement of Apology by Archdiocese at bottom)
Statement from the District Attorney:
May 24, 2021 - Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni announced the investigation into the murder of Danny Croteau has been officially closed. The investigation began after Danny was found deceased on April 15, 1972, in the Connecticut River in Chicopee, still dressed in his clothes from his previous school day at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart school. The search for answers and proof of what happened to Danny has ensued for over 49 years.
This past Friday, detectives with the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Hampden District Attorney’s Office were authorized by DA Gulluni to present the case against Richard Lavigne to a magistrate in order to obtain an arrest warrant for the murder of Danny Croteau. However, Lavigne died this past Friday evening, May 21, in a hospital facility in Greenfield.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni stated, “Danny’s parents, Carl and Bernice, told reporters that they just wanted answers. Based on the accumulation of historical evidence, the evidence gained in the last year, and the admissions of Richard Lavigne, I believe we now have those answers. While they didn’t come in time for Danny’s parents to hear them, I hope that the answers provided today are helpful to Danny’s remaining family who have suffered for so long.”
At the time of Danny’s death, Richard R. Lavigne, was a Roman Catholic priest and friend of the Croteau family.  Lavigne was assigned to Saint Mary’s Parish in Springfield.  Lavigne met the Croteau family in 1967, while he was assigned to the Croteaus’ parish, Saint Catherine of Sienna in Springfield.  Danny was the youngest of five boys in the Croteau family.  He and his brothers had served as altar boys at Saint Catherine’s, and assisted Lavigne at Mass.  Lavigne also socialized with the Croteau family, and frequently took some of the Croteau boys, including Danny, on outings without their parents.  Father Lavigne also maintained contact with Danny and his family after he was reassigned to St. Mary’s Parish in late June 1968, and continued to take the Croteau boys on trips. Lavigne also invited the boys, either together or alone, to stay overnight at his parents’ home in Chicopee, Massachusetts. 
After Danny’s murder, Lavigne became a person of interest for investigators in the early stages of the investigation because of the inconsistent and unusual statements he had made to them in the days after the murder. Investigators also determined that initially he lied about the last time he had seen Danny, and witnesses disputed Lavigne’s claim that he was never alone with Danny. Lavigne was also observed alone at the river’s bank at approximately 4:30 p.m. on April 16, 1972. On April 17, 1972, a police report of Lavigne’s interview with investigators notes one question asked by Lavigne, “If a stone was used and thrown in the river, would blood still be on it?”
On April 17, 1972, a telephone call was made to the Croteau family home.  Carl Croteau, Jr., then nineteen years old, answered the telephone.  A male voice said, “we’re very sorry what happened to Danny.  He saw something behind the Circle he shouldn’t have seen.  It was an accident.”  The caller would not identify himself and hung up.  Carl, Jr. told investigators that the male voice was familiar to him, and that he recognized the caller’s voice as belonging to Father Lavigne.  When interviewed on January 27, 2021, Carl Croteau, Jr. stated that within a month to a month and a half before Danny’s murder, he remembered that Danny would return from being with Lavigne and Danny would be sick to his stomach from drinking alcohol.  Carl also stated that his brother Danny usually was with Lavigne on the weekends, specifically Friday nights.
Over the many following years, forensic testing was conducted on some of these items. While It was determined that the application of modern forensic testing might provide answers, it was also understood that given the many years that passed, significant degradation of the evidence was likely and testing might prove unsuccessful. Earlier this year, the Hampden District Attorney’s contracted with DNA Labs International, a forensic lab in Florida, that worked together with the Massachusetts State Police Lab to conduct dozens of forensic tests over several rounds of testing. While this process provided moments of hope, ultimately, other than confirming that Danny’s blood was present on stones, the resulting information failed to provide significant additional evidence to investigators.
As the investigation continued over the years, and on March 23, 2004, Lavigne showed an acquaintance, an employee of the Diocese of Springfield, that he received a typed, unsigned letter in the mail, and further said that it must have been written by the murderer himself because of the guilt it described. This person documented these conversations with Lavigne in emails to his superiors at the Diocese; however, the Springfield Diocese did not notify investigators of the letter’s existence until they were forced to produce the emails referencing the letter in answering to a grand jury subpoena in a separate criminal investigation of another clergy member of the Springfield Diocese.  

During all of the interviews, Lavigne refused to specifically admit that he killed Danny Croteau, and at times, was cagey and evasive, continuing his long-running attempts to mislead and distract investigators. However, he made several statements to indicate that he was the last person to see Danny Croteau alive, that he brought him to the riverbank on April 14, 1972, that he physically assaulted him there, and after leaving Danny there and returning a short time later, that he saw Danny floating face down in the river. He stated further that he neither attempted to rescue him nor alert Danny’s parents or police of Danny’s whereabouts or condition. Police then discovered Danny’s remains the following day on April 15, 1972. (Shortened from source:

FULL TEXT STATEMENT from The Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts 
Office of Communications and Public Affairs 

“Today’s news that Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni was prepared to charge Richard Lavigne in the murder of Danny Croteau in 1972 brings sad closure to a tragic event which I know has hung over our faith community for decades. I was angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions in the heinous murder of this innocent child. It is incredibly disheartening to learn that a priest, a person ordained to care for God’s people, would have committed such an evil crime and then not taken responsibility for his actions. This is all totally contrary to the teachings that we as Catholics believe in and hold sacred. It is also another reminder of our past failures as a Church and a diocese to protect children and young adults from such terrible predators in our midst. Although we have made great strides in improving our child protection efforts, that is little consolation to the victims of Richard Lavigne and the numerous other sexual predator clergy who preyed upon our youth. 
I want to extend my personal and sincerest apology to the Croteau family and know that they will be in my prayers; especially Danny’s loving parents who sadly did not live to see this tragic matter resolved. I wish to thank Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni and his staff for their tireless pursuit of the truth in this horrific case. I am also mindful that while today’s announcement resolves this case, there may still be many other victims of clergy sexual abuse who have not yet come forward. My message to them is that even if your abuser is deceased, you can still report the abuse you suffered to law enforcement and to the diocese. It is important that you be heard and that we acknowledge your suffering and trauma. You can reach out to the diocese via our toll free abuse reporting phone line (800)842-9055 or via email at”