Joanne Wade is a true-crime writer who has made a career out of writing about notorious Western Mass murders. Her first book A Thread of Evidence was a thinly fictionalized account of the notorious Chapin murder case, which shocked the city in the 1950's, back when Springfield was still innocent enough to be shocked by crime.
Now Wade has another book No Tomorrows, featuring true life essays on murdered children, which includes a section on Springfield's most infamous unsolved murder, the slaying of Danny Croteau.
It also includes other unsolved child murder mysteries, such as Agawam's Lisa Ziegert. The book doesn't have much in the way of new material regarding these cases, but it is still fascinating to have all the information on these crimes, dribbled out by the media over the years, all collected in one place. Nothing would be better than to have this book jog someone's memory in a way helpful to solving these mysteries.
Many times when I tell people that I knew Danny Croteau there is a pregnant pause, as if they expect me to follow that revelation with some pearl of insight into his murder. If so, then they are always disappointed because I have no insights to offer. For one thing I didn't know Danny that well. He lived in 16 Acres and I in ol' Pine Point, so our paths may not even have crossed at all except that the Boy Scout troop I belonged to was a joint troop of boys from both my church, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and Danny's which was called Saint Catherine. Danny also attended Our Lady of the Sacred Heart school, which was just a half a block from where I grew up. In fact the most famous picture of him, the one they always run with news accounts, is of Danny posing for a portrait in his OLSH uniform, as shown in the background of the picture below of Danny's parents.
The media always likes to refer to Danny as "an altar boy" but I never knew that about him when he was alive. It would have made no impression on me if I did, lots of kids were altar boys, it was the sort of thing your parents would push you to do and had no real significance. I think the media likes to describe him as an altar boy because it makes the crime seem that more heinous - "Altar Boy Brutally Murdered!" is a catchy headline. From what I remember of Danny he was much more of a hellion than an altar boy, smoking cigarettes and experimenting with marijuana and alcohol even at a very young age. I think this picture more accurately captures his impish and mischievous character:
I sometimes wonder whether I would remember Danny at all if he hadn't been murdered. I was older than him, and he and his friends were dismissed by us older scouts as "the little kids." When I try to recall who the other little kids were I can't do so well, which makes me think that it was Danny's death, and it's violent manner, that burned him permanently into my memory. Danny was the first person in my age group to die, and certainly he was the first person I knew who had been murdered. I can't tell you what my emotions were at the time, I try to remember but it's a blank. The code we lived by as boys would not have allowed any outward display of emotion and we were all pretty much encouraged to bury whatever feelings we had.
Danny's was a very inconvenient murder in many ways, which is why I think it was never solved. For one thing, the only suspect was a Catholic priest, Rev. Richard Lavigne, in an era when the moral authority of the church was never questioned. Lavigne was also a political figure, a leftist priest typical of the time who fought for left-wing causes in the name of "social justice." Therefore the local liberals always wanted the Rev. Lavigne front and center at all their political rallies, his priestly collar providing proof of the moral superiority of their cause. Now all those good Democrats, some of whom went on to play prominent roles in Springfield politics, all behave as if they never knew him.
I also knew Father Lavigne, but there was nothing unique about that. To be a Catholic boy in Springfield of a certain age meant that you were certain to meet Father Lavigne. Frankly, I thought nothing bad about him at the time and can offer no insights into whether or not he was Danny's murderer.
However I will repeat what I always vow whenever I think about Danny Croteau, which is that if there is any justice in this world, then somebody, someday is gonna pay for that crime.
On the Street
A well-known crossguard sent me these early morning pics of her post in Springfield.
Today I went to the UMass Renaissance House to groove to the view.
Big billowy clouds passed majestically overhead.
It was beauty that made ya wanna jump!
Last month I ran into J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. on the streets of Northampton.
Here's the grey-haired man as fair haired boy at UMass in 1986.