Criminal investigations can only take place for a set length of time after the time the crime was committed. After a certain number of years pass, the statute of limitations stipulates that, no matter what evidence investigators turn up, no one can be tried for the crime. There is one notable exception to the statute of limitations, however: murder investigations.
On April 15, 1972, Danny Croteau’s remains were found floating in the Connecticut River in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Croteau, who was only 13 at the time of his death and was still wearing his Catholic school uniform. The ensuing investigation into his death determined that he hadn’t accidentally drowned. However, no culprit was ever named… until now.
Croteau and his siblings were altar boys for the local Catholic church, Saint Catherine of Sienna in Springfield. His family was close with the clergy of the church, including a young priest named Richard R. Lavigne. Lavigne was a family friend in addition to a trusted member of the church, and he often took Croteau and his brothers on trips into town. At times, the Croteau boys had stayed at Lavigne’s parents’ home.
In 2004, Lavigne was officially relieved of his role by the Catholic Church. The priest had faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, and the church deemed these allegations serious enough to strip him of his official position. This, coupled with other evidence gathered over the years, led investigators to reopen Danny Croteau’s case nearly 50 years after the boy’s death.
“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,” stated Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni. Gulluni’s office on Monday officially announced that they believe Lavigne was responsible for Croteau’s death, but they were unable to charge the former priest.
The investigation kicked into high gear in March of 2020, with authorities combing through thousands of documents to find anything that could point to what really happened to Croteau. Experts examined a letter that Lavigne had given investigators in 2004, one that Lavigne claimed was written by Croteau’s killer and delivered to Lavigne unsigned. Forensics experts determined that Lavigne himself had composed the letter, which led investigators to interview Lavigne in April of 2021. They concluded that he was responsible for Croteau’s death, having assaulted the boy by the riverbank some 49 years before.
However, justice would come too late. Lavigne passed away last Friday evening after being sick for a period of time, according to authorities. Earlier that day, police had begun the process of obtaining a warrant for his arrest. “While formal justice may not have befallen Richard Lavigne here on this earth, we hope now to provide answers and some measure of closure to Danny’s family,” the investigators stated.