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The Elm Street Nightmare

 A true-and-suspenseful horror tale of haunting, homicides and the hunt for triple-murderer, Daniel Laplante - as told by the cops that were there

By

Lt. Thomas Lane (Ret.) and Off. Steven Bezanson (Ret.)

Daniel Laplante - cold, calm, clever, calculating- Photo: YouTube 

Elm Street surfaces on four occasions in the Laplante saga:
1.) He resided on Elm Street in Townsend, Massachusetts
2.) He kidnapped a woman at gunpoint on Elm Street, Pepperell, Massachusetts
3.) He was arrested and transported to Massachusetts State Police Barracks on Elm Street in Concord.
3.) He was tried, convicted and sentenced for the murders at Superior Court, corner of Elm Street and Gorham Street, Lowell, Massachusetts.





When evil and cleverness reside in the same mind, the stage is often set for true horror. Such was the case with triple-murderer, Daniel Laplante. As a 16-year old, he quickly transitioned from:

Minor thefts and breaking into homes

To: Taunting and threatening a father and his two daughters as an unseen presence, frequently hiding in a tiny space between the walls of the home.

To: Kidnapping the three family members and a young friend while brandishing a hatchet and steel wrench - with face painted and hair spiked.

To: Being spotted by the father as a face in the window - discovered by a police officer secreted between the walls of the home - and arrested.

To:  Having his case stalled by the Massachusetts court system - released by a judge on $10,000.00 bail - and murdering a pregnant mother and her two small children less than two months after his release.

To: Having a warrant issued for his arrest for the triple-homicide and leading police on the largest manhunt in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the preceding 20 years.

To: Breaking into a home during the manhunt - arming himself with three firearms owned by the occupants - plotting to kidnap the female home owner upon her return - but changing plans upon my arrival at the home in a marked cruiser - and escaping through a second-floor window into the woods.

To: .Breaking into a second home - kidnapping the female occupant at gunpoint - forcing her to drive him away from the search area - taking control of the vehicle when the victim escaped by jumping from the still-moving van.

To: Being spotted hiding in a trash dumpster in a neighboring town and arrested at gunpoint.

To: Having to admit to police during a strip search that he had a handgun secreted in the crotch of his underwear.

To: Being tried, convicted and sentenced for the murders of the mother and her two children.

Laplante's kill-count remained at three, but could have soared where it not for fate and sound decisions made by law enforcement and the community the day of December 3, 1987. 

The haunting - an unseen presence in the walls



Frank Bowen didn't believe his daughters. Their stories seemed too outrageous. Strange noises in the house - items mysteriously moved - milk consumed by an unseen presence - TV channels changed - all when the daughters would leave a room and then return. 

Then came the call to police on December 8, 1986 of an intruder holding people hostage at the Bowen residence located at 93 Lawrence Street, Pepperell, Massachusetts. When officers arrived at the residence, they found that Bowen, his two daughters, and their young friend had not been harmed, and the intruder had either left the scene or was secreted somewhere, either in the house or in the area. A search of the home by officers and a State Police K9 came up negative.

Bowen indicated that he and the three girls had returned home to find someone had used the toilet and items were out of place. He searched the house and found the intruder hiding in a closet. The man had dark spiked hair, a painted face and was wearing a hairy jacket (not the dress of the deceased mom, as many stories indicate). The man had a hatchet in one hand and a steel wrench in the other. Bowen said the intruder ordered all four into a bedroom in a "very calm" manner. Tina Bowen was able to escape from the room and run next door, from which a call was made to police. 

Bowen said that the hatchet wielded by the intruder was one he kept on his nightstand in his bedroom. Although the intruder was later determined to be Daniel Laplante, whom Bowen had met in the past, no one from the Bowen family made that identification on December 8th. It was also interesting that Frank Bowen described the male as approximately 22 years old. Danny was 16 at the time. Tina had described the male as standing 6-feet tall and being somewhere between 17 and 26 years old. Danny was 5'8" tall. Fear and Laplante's disguise obviously prevented their recognition of Daniel as the kidnapper that evening.

Hatchet similar to one wielded by Laplante to threaten and kidnap Bowen family

The Bowen family temporarily evacuated their home soon after this incident. However, on December 10, two days later, Pepperell Police received a call to go to that same residence. Officer Steven Bezanson arrived at 93 Lawrence Street and was met by Frank Bowen, who told Bezanson that he (Bowen) had returned to the home to get some belongings and had seen a face in his front window - the same face of the man that took his family hostage two days prior.

Off. Bezanson: "I could tell as I drove up. He (Bowen) was very upset. I could tell as I drove up. he's pointing at the house. I said to myself, here we go. He's going to say he saw the guy at the window."

Bezanson got the key from Bowen, checked the snow on the ground for fresh tracks, and then entered the home. Still slightly unsure if Bowen's information was true, Steve's entry into the home brought him back to reality!

Off. Bezanson: "When I opened the door, on the right hand wall, I saw a knife sticking out of the wall. And I see it's through a picture - a family picture - written on it in magic marker  'I'M STILL HERE. . COME FIND ME'." Now the hair goes up on the back of my head. On another wall, I saw another picture saying I'M GOING TO KILL YOU ALL with a knife through it."

Steve called for backup, and Chief David Young and Sgt. Jim Scott came to the location. All three officers searched the house once again with negative results. That changed quickly.

Off. Bezanson: "That bastard is still here. We're missing something!"

"Oh, that's a wall to hide pipes. I'm thinking, son of a bitch, there's enough room back there. I have one hand on the butt of my pistol. I saw what looked like a pile of clothes. He was totally covered with the clothes. I said, that's him. I pulled my pistol and said, 'I got the son of a bitch right here'. But he didn't move. I told him, let me see your hands.or I will splatter your brains all over that wall. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dave Young run out of the room. He left."

"This is when I saw Laplante was really bad. He was not afraid. He looked out of the corner of his eye. He wasn't afraid to have a gun stuck next to his head."

Bezanson's take on Daniel not being afraid of having a gun to his head meshes well with Bowen's statement that Laplante had a "calm manner" when kidnapping his family. This was clearly a cold, calm, clever, calculating menace capable of horrendous acts. A rough sketch of Danny's secret hiding place in the Bowen home can be viewed below.

Laplante hiding place (top view)  Credit: Steve Bezanson, Tom Lane


Laplante hiding place (side view)  Credit: Steve Bezanson, Tom Lane


For the curious wanting to know more about Laplante's hiding spot, he secreted himself in a triangular space in a corner, bounded on two sides by the concrete foundation and an inner wall - and by another wall on the third (outfacing) side separating the toilet from the plumbing pipes. The space allowed just enough room for him to sit in a crouched position, and even sleep in that mode

It was the minuscule entry to the space and the manner in which it was accessed, that fooled observers into thinking there was no apparent way for a human of any size to climb onto the low foundation, squeeze through the very-narrow opening and jump down to the cellar floor. But obviously, there was a way. 

Returning to my former research engineer role, I did some measurements to determine just how wide - or narrow - that entry point to the wall might have been. I determined that at 5'8" and 163 pounds, I could squeeze through an opening 8.5 inches wide. Daniel, 5'8" and 135 pounds at the time, could possibly have maneuvered through an opening as narrow as 7.5 inches. For comparison, think of the width of a standard sheet of 8.5 X 11- inch paper.

I was at the District Attorney's office in Ayer (MA) District Court when I received the phone call of Daniel's arrest. Euphoria does not begin to describe my reaction. I headed back to the police station where Laplante was being booked. His home address of 22 Elm Street, Townsend, MA was the first-of-four Elm Street connections in the Daniel Laplante saga.

Eschewing the usual practice of taking two booking photos - I took six of Danny. My strong feeling was that they would be used in the future. There was simply something far more sinister with this 16-year-old than I had ever encountered in the past. My thinking proved to be prophetic.

I transported Laplante to Ayer District Court with a second juvenile facing charges unrelated to Daniel's offenses. Prior to Laplante's trial, that same individual told me that Danny had related to him that he (Danny) did certain things within the Bowen home to confuse them and make them fight among themselves. This individual added that Daniel became more specific, relating that he would change the channel on the TV set or drink a glass of milk when no one was in the room. Laplante had also told the juvenile that he had "taken them hostage" - "them" being the Bowen family..

Officer Bezanson never got the individual recognition he deserved. His training as a cop and instincts and awareness as a seasoned hunter allowed him to find Daniel's well-planned hiding place. It was clearly a case of predator-becomes-prey, and that scenario was to be repeated in "the hunt" portion of this article.

Officer Steve Bezanson (Ret.) on the hunt

The homicides - an innocent family destroyed

Daniel was held for a period of time in a juvenile facility and released on $10,000.00 bail by a judge that apparently either didn't view him as law enforcement did, or perhaps just didn't abide by the following bail guidelines:
  • the risk of the defendant fleeing,
  • the type of crime alleged,
  • the "dangerousness" of defendants, and
  • the safety of the community.
What was Judge Joseph Travaline thinking? His poorly-based decision contributed to the death of three individuals and may potentially have cost many more

On December 1, 1987, less than two months following his release on bail, Daniel Laplante broke into the home of Andrew and Priscilla Gustafson in Townsend. Andrew was at his place of business, but his wife returned to the house with her young son and was raped and murdered by Laplante. She suffered two gunshot wounds to her head. Daniel drowned her son in one bathtub and did the same to the daughter in another bathtub when she came home from school. A brief encapsulation of events surrounding the triple-homicide follows (Commonwealth versus Daniel J. Laplante, 482 Mass. 399):

"[The defendant] carefully planned [two] intrusions into the Gustafson[s'] home; first breaking in on November 16, 1987, and stealing items. While he could have stopped there, he decided to return. He obtained a gun and lied to his brother's friend in order to get bullets. He practiced loading and unloading the guns. On December 1, 1987, [the defendant] broke into the Gustafson[s'] house for the second time, carrying the loaded weapon. When he heard Priscilla Gustafson and her [five year old] son William entering the house, he said that his first thought was to jump out the window. But he decided not to. He confronted them with the gun, brought them to the bedroom, put William in the closet and tied Priscilla to the bed. [The defendant] said that after he tied Priscilla to the bed, his plan was to leave. But once again he decided not to. Instead, he made the decision to rape her. After raping her, he acknowledged that he could have left. Instead, he decided he would kill her. After he killed Priscilla, [the defendant] made the decision to take William into the bathroom and drown him. As he was leaving, he encountered [seven year old] Abigail. He lured her into the bathroom and made the decision to drown her as well. . . . After fleeing the scene, [the defendant] went home, ate and then attended his niece's birthday party as if nothing had happened."

Acting "as if nothing had happened" showed once again the calm, cold nature of Laplante. Acting "as if nothing had happened" after committing such heinous acts? Unimaginable to me. But Daniel pulled it off.

Officer George Aho, now retired from the Lunenburg (MA) Police department, was one of the first two officers to arrive at the murder scene. His description of what they found follows:

Off. Aho: "They (Townsend Police) wanted a backup. They didn't give out a lot of information. John (Officer John Johnson, Townsend P. D.) informed me that Mr. (Andrew) Gustafson came home and there were no lights on. That was unusual.

He went upstairs and discovered his wife's body. He did not know where the two children were. John and I went inside to search. First we went upstairs where the wife was and she was on her back with a pillow over her face. You could see she had been shot through the pillow.

We began to look for the children. I went into the (upstairs) bathroom. The shower curtain was pulled shut. I opened the shower curtain and there was a blond-haired boy, I believe, lying face down. There was hardly any water in the tub. 

We searched downstairs. We found the daughter in the tub. There was still water in it. My feeling at the time was that she had fought to stay alive."

The hunt - predator becomes prey

I was once again at Ayer District Court when I heard of the December 1st murder of three members of the Gustason family in Townsend. My immediate verbal reaction to the news, despite having no facts on the case, was, "I wonder what Danny Laplante is up to lately?" Such was my near-certainty that this evil individual had been merely practicing for more-horrendous acts when he haunted the Bowen household.

A warrant was in fact issued for Laplante for the triple murder of Priscilla Gustafson and her two young children. On December 3, 1987, for the first-and-last time in my police career, I donned my bulletproof vest. The command center for the search for Daniel was centered in Townsend, Massachusetts, Danny's home town. I reasoned that Laplante would head away from Townsend to the area surrounding the Bowen home in Pepprell.  I organized and led a search for Laplante in the north-west corner of Pepperell, realizing that Daniel may head to an area he knew well.

My hunch proved correct, and the sightings began almost immediately. I was now using, and distributing, the numerous photos I had taken of Danny a year prior. Residents in that area started calling in about seeing a suspicious man in the area. Originally somewhat skeptical that our search and reports of sightings were valid, State Police and other law enforcement personnel eventually joined in the search in the north-west portion of Pepperell. 



Trying to maintain a perimeter around a wooded area where Laplante was suspected to be, I pulled into a driveway at 124 Jewett Street  and the occupant, Lynne McGovern, came from the exterior of the house to my cruiser. She told he she had just returned home and asked if I would enter her house with her.

I realized that this could negatively affect our perimeter containment, but I could not refuse her request. Honestly, my concern was that this seemed like merely an "allay-the-fears" detour from our containment mission, but in reality, it was far more than that. Mrs. McGovern's request, and my compliance with it, saved her life and avoided what may have been a successful escape by the fugitive. What we didn't know was that Daniel was in an upstairs bedroom, watching our every move, after having armed himself with a revolver, shotgun and high-powered rifle.

While Officer Beers remained at the cruiser, I walked into the home with Mrs. McGovern. Things happened quickly after that. .

A loud noise upstairs alerted me, and I drew my sidearm and started climbing the stairs. Oddly, although I was mentally riveted on getting to the source of the noise, my mind asked the question, "Did I clean this gun lately?"  Funny how your mind works under stress. At the top landing was a 16-gauge shotgun lying flat on the floor. Mrs. McGovern started loudly screaming when I announced my find. While covering the top of the landing with my Beretta, I firmly informed Mrs. McGovern, "You have to talk to me, ma'm!" I descended the stairs and called for backup.

My instincts tell me that LaPlante's plan went awry when my cruiser arrived. I truly believe my partner's presence at the cruiser forced Danny to abandon thoughts of trying to kill me - and choose instead to flee. He was able to jump out of the second floor window onto the garage roof and run into the woods before we could surround the house. 




For the uninitiated, a 16-ga. shotgun shell contains roughly 400 lead pellets. At close range, the one ounce of lead shot can have a devastating impact on human flesh. To demonstrate, I set up a life-sized, human silhouette target at a 15-foot distance, roughly the distance of the McGovern staircase I climbed. I fired the round into the head area, and the result can be seen in the photo below. I often dwell on what might have been had my partner, Officer Ken Beers, not been with me that day. And I mentally relive how I would have fared taking that ounce of lead, even to the body armor.

Devastating damage one shotgun blast can do  Photo: Tom Lane

 
Later in the day, the second-of-four Elm Street connections surfaced. Several reports of a suspicious person took me to Elm Street, in a section close to the Town Hall. I had already started to head in that easterly direction since it appeared Daniel was heading that way - and also due to the annoying presence of numerous members of the media in the western part of town .It was dark by this time, and as I was checking the exterior of an Elm Street home, I heard a woman screaming. It was loud, and it was close.

The screaming was coming from the home of Edward Gillogly, located on Elm Street. I arrived at the home in seconds - bailed out - and called out, "Ed, is he in there?" Mr. Gillogly shouted, "No, but get in here quick."

Pam Makela, the source of the screaming, was inside. She had returned home to 17 Elm Street and found a man with a gun inside. She knew it was Daniel LaPlante, and he told Ms. Makela that she was going to drive him out of the area - the alleged triple-murderer ludicrously indicating that he only had a learner's permit.  

When the phone rang, Laplante told Pam to pick it up, which she did. The call was from a relative warning Pamela of the search for Laplante. Danny then had Ms. Makela drive out onto Elm Street - and more irony - she noticed that Ed Gillogly was talking to someone in a vehicle. That "someone" was me, and the "vehicle" was my cruiser. Because it was nighttime, she could not tell it was a marked police car.

Pamela almost-certainly saved her life by jumping out of the vehicle at the Town Hall. She was quickly assisted by a passing motorist who took her to the Gillogly house. Ms. Makela was masterful in the way she was able to give me vital information so quickly after such a horrendous encounter. As I broadcasted the information on the fugitive, the vehicle and direction of travel, Chief David Young, who had earlier transmitted an erroneous report of a supposed Laplante sighting, questioned the validity of my transmission. I curtly requested silence and finished my broadcast.

Distinctive getaway vehicle commandeered by Laplante - Sun photo: Dave Gregory

Laplante was finally spotted driving the getaway vehicle in Ayer, Massachusetts by Registry of Motor Vehicles Inspector, Charlie Nelson, and, as always, ran away. Other than a circus clown car, Danny could not have chosen a more-distinctive escape vehicle. The bright orange van with a pop top and two "for sale" signs was totally identifiable.


I went to that Ayer location and informed Littleton Officers Scott Comeau and Paul Baratta that Danny could hide absolutely anywhere, relating his tiny hiding place in the Bowen home. They found him hiding in a trash dumpster soon thereafter and he was placed under arrest (per Officer Baratta):


"I saw him when he stuck his head out (of a dumpster), but by then there was nowhere to go."


Dumpster where Laplante was hiding - Sun Photo: Dave Gregory

Officer Bezanson was at the Ayer location when Laplante was arrested. When the arrest was made, a Massachusetts State Trooper yelled out:

Trooper: "Do we have a positive ID on this guy?"
Off. Bezanson: "I locked him up a year ago. It's him!"

The Trooper responded with a thumbs-up signal and a smile.

Following his arrest, Daniel was transported to Massachusetts State Police barracks on Elm Street in Concord. When forced to strip, Laplante finally had to admit that he had a gun (stolen from the McGovern home) hidden in the crotch of his underwear. His cold, calm, clever, calculating mindset seemed to be always in effect.


Daniel LaPlante In Concord State Police BarracksCONCORD, MA - DECEMBER 3: Murder suspect Daniel LaPlante sits in the Concord State Police barracks in Concord, Mass., on Dec. 3, 1987. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)




Heavily armed police during manhunt - Sun photo: Dave Gregory

It needs to be said that members of the media were an obstacle for law enforcement all day long - first in Pepperell - and later at the lumber yard in Ayer. The scene in Ayer was utter chaos, and there was no way to stop it. 



Massive numbers of cops, media and citizens crowded the area of the lumber yard. My fear was that someone was going to be taken hostage by the fugitive. Fortunately, that never happened.

Laplante finally captured - Sun photo: Mike Pigeon

After receiving information that the McGovern's found they were missing an ammunition belt and 16-gauge shotgun ammo, I went back to Jewett Street and searched the wooded area behind their house, working my way east - in the same direction as Daniel's flight path. I quickly found the ammo belt, carefully rolled up and laid on the ground. It contained 15 rounds of 16-gauge ammunition.

My find of the ammo belt confirmed my notion that Daniel originally planned to take to the woods with the revolver and shotgun and wearing the ammunition belt. That changed with the arrival of Lynne McGovern. He most-likely was waiting to take her hostage, that is, until my cruiser pulled into the driveway. He finally chose to bolt from the house with only the handgun, and he disposed of the now-useless ammo belt once clear of the house. As he did with the three murders, Danny continually altered his plans as circumstances changed.

Frank Bowen's stress levels did not totally dissipate following Laplante's capture. He retained fears that Danny would once again walk the streets and prey on his family (per Patricia Montminy, Sun staff):

"If Laplante does not get convicted and gets out again, I will personally kill him!" --
Frank Bowen following Laplante's capture 

"He (Bowen) said that after news of the murders, he was inundated with telephone calls. 'We literally ran out of the house. I got the kids and we went into seclusion' ".

"He (Laplante) is a clever boy. He is no dummy." -- Frank Bowen

"Clever", in part, defines this "boy". In his mid-teens, Danny was able to elude the Bowen family and the police until his cockiness prodded him into bolder acts, including kidnapping, rape and murder.


The Sun (Lowell, MA) article - December 4, 1987

Prior to Daniel's trial on the murder charges, while on patrol, I received a radio call from Dispatch that Laplante was on the phone and was asking to talk to me. I went immediately to the police station, but Danny had hung up or been cut off. To this day, I have no idea the purpose of his call to me, and he never called again. When I broached the call to Asst DA Reilly, he told me to definitely talk to Laplante should he call again.

The horror - 2 years of terror, dread and grief

I have found that people are fascinated by the facts, real or distorted, concerning the goings-on in the Bowen household. The circumstances played out like a true horror movie - except it was real, and the Bowens suffered tremendous anxiety and turmoil going through it.

What started out as a seemingly-harmless date with Danny going to the movies with young Tina Bowen, transitioned into Laplante having a sick fascination with the young lady - taunting and threatening the family while hiding in the wall of the home for extended periods - and finally, and boldly, taking the family hostage. Such mental trauma has to persist for a lifetime.

The reality is that, had Officer Bezanson not found Laplante's well-concealed hiding place, Daniel eventually may have killed all three, Exhibit A being the knife-impaled family photo with the threat:

I'M GOING TO KILL YOU ALL

Andrew Gustafson, now deceased, found his wife, Priscilla in their bedroom, shot twice in the head through a pillow to muffle the sound. In court,  Assistant District Attorney, Tom Reilly, asked Gustafson why he did not search for his children after finding his wife dead. (per Lowell Sun's Lisa Redmond):

“It was so quiet in that courtroom, you could hear a pin drop,” (Judge Robert) Barton recalled.

All eyes were on (Andrew) Gustafson.

Gustafson began to cry. He told the jury he was afraid he would find his children dead.

“In all my years as a judge, I have never forgotten that moment,” (Judge Robert) Barton said.

Barton speculating if Massachusetts had the death penalty: “I, personally, could pull the switch” 

The third, and last, Elm Street connection surfaced at the Lowell Superior Court located at the corner of Elm Street and Gorham Street, where Laplante was tried, convicted and sentenced for the three murders..

In my mind, I still hear the screams of Lynne McGovern and Pam Makela, two smart women whose decisions saved their lives. I truly believe the presence of my partner, Officer Ken Beers outside the McGovern home, and the flight of a cowardly fugitive faced with armed cops, saved me from taking a blast from a 16-gauge shotgun. As Tom Reilly indicated to the jury:

"Laplante was fine killing a mother and her two little children. But what does he do when he runs into someone with a gun (me). He runs."

Lt. Tom Lane (Retired)

It is interesting to note that, despite being armed for much of the manhunt, Danny never fired a shot. Starting with his arrest at gunpoint at the Bowen house - to my armed confrontation with him at the McGovern home - to Inspector Nelson stopping him in Ayer - to the Littleton officers forcing him from the dumpster and finally, to the State Police being informed by Danny that he had a handgun hidden in his underwear - when confronted by armed law enforcement officers, Laplante either ran or surrendered.

Law enforcement kept Danny on the run that day - a day that cops live for, or unfortunately, occasionally die for. It was a terrific pairing of police and community to achieve a necessary goal - the capture of a psychopathic killer that should die in prison.

Tom Reilly and his staff did a brilliant job in prosecuting the case against Laplante, but let me also state that the Massachusetts court system failed society miserably in the original chapter of this saga, the haunting and kidnapping of the Bowen family.. A year passed, and Laplante was still not tried on the kidnapping charges, despite my pleas to get it done. Add to that the release of a subject, deemed by every law enforcement officer acquainted with him, to be bent on destruction. What part of "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU ALL" did Judge Travaline not quite understand? 

During Laplante's arraignment, when First Asst. District Attorney, Tom Reilly, asked me to sit next to him, should questions arise on the manhunt, Travaline quickly asked the court officer to move me to a distant location. The alleged reason? The judge did not want someone with a gun so close to Laplante. The real reason? My Chief of Police was very vocal about Travaline's release of the (now) killer. Hardly the professional behavior expected of the presiding justice of the Ayer District Court. 

I was not aware of the term, Consciousness of Guilt, until Reilly explained it to me. It means:

"... a powerful and highly incriminating inference that a judge or jury may draw from the statements or conduct of a defendant (accused) after a crime has been committed suggesting that the defendant knows he or she is guilty of the charged crime."

Very simply, it means that fleeing from prosecution - breaking into a home - stealing guns - plotting to kill a police lieutenant (me) and take the female occupant hostage - and finally taking a second woman hostage at gunpoint - may not appear to be the actions of an innocent man. Forgive the sarcasm. It abounds in police work.

My testimony in the Gustafson murder trial focused on the concept of consciousness of guilt. His flight from law enforcement, in addition to his crimes, both intended and committed, during the manhunt, were critical in convicting Daniel Laplante.




Photo credit: Shawn Kelly and Joe Turner

The how - what spawned this evil saga

The question remains. How did a pimply-faced adolescent get to wreak havoc on so many people from three small towns in central Massachusetts? Think of all the people horribly affected by Laplante's actions during the haunting, homicide and hunt episodes portrayed in this article. 

What generated this - what drove it - and what made it temporarily successful - until Danny was finally stopped by law enforcement and the community? Danny pulled both the "youth" card and the "abuse" card in his defense, alleging that his yet-unformed brain and physical and sexual abuse initiated and drove his actions.

But it can also be argued that many young victims of sexual abuse don't rape, kidnap and murder. One thing is for certain, and that is Laplante has gained knowledge over the past 34 years, and I doubt his acute cleverness has dissipated.  As Frank Bowen stated, he is "no dummy". Daniel has churned over in his mind the mistakes he made during his crimes that got him caught. He won't make them again if he is ever released from prison and continues on the path he chose in 1986. That is a thought that scares me.

How it could have gone - how bad could it have been

As written previously, The Bowen's lives were on the line until Danny was dispossessed from the walls of their home and arrested. Tina Bowen may have saved the lives of all four hostages on December 8, 1986 when she bravely escaped from her house - ran next door - and prompted a call to police. 

And the turning point in the manhunt for the triple-murderer took place at the McGovern residence on Jewett Street. Had Lynne McGovern, now sadly deceased, not hailed me and ask that I re-enter her home with her, everything would have changed.

This is not pure speculation. I truly believe that Daniel would have taken her hostage, now armed with a .32 caliber handgun, 16-gauge shotgun and .22-250 high-powered rifle. He would have taken all three guns with him and forced Mrs. McGovern to drive him out of the area.

The McGovern vehicle would have been less distinct than Pam Makela's orange VW van, thus more undetectable by law enforcement. When a safe distance from the Townsend/Pepperell area, Laplante would have killed Mrs. McGovern and taken over operation of the car.

If eventually confronted by a single law enforcement officer (which actually happened in Ayer), that officer would almost-certainly have been out-gunned by Daniel, unless the killer took his usual path of running away from police (which also occurred). The taking of other hostages would have been highly-probable. His eventual capture was a surety, but the potential death toll may have risen significantly from the three members of the Gustafson family to a higher number. As it was, the outcome on December 3, 1987 was a satisfactory conclusion.

The hindsight - lessons from the saga

The main lessons here are:
4 separate incidents! 4 separate homes! 9 individuals return to a supposedly-empty home & are confronted by an armed, maniacal killer. 8 were kidnapped! 3 were murdered! Lessons? Secure your house. During police lockdown, don't re-enter your home alone!

Other than a fixation on breaking into homes and stealing the contents, Danny did not seem to have a long-term, master plan. It seemed that he would do the house breaks and then make up the rest as circumstances changed.

In the Bowen, Gustafson, McGovern and Makela episodes, Laplante broke into their homes when the occupants were away and confronted them, or in the McGovern case - tried to do so. At the Bowen home on December 8, 1986, Daniel only confronted the family when they discovered him in a closet. It appeared that Laplante was unsure of how to deal with the four individuals and ended up confining them in a bedroom.

I feel that Daniel was unsure of his next move. He had not planed a kidnapping. He had two options. Option A was to get to his hiding place and hope the cops couldn't find him when they arrived. This apparently became his route because Tina's escape, and the officers' arrival, cancelled Option B - which I feel was to add rape and murder to his itinerary that evening, once the impulse struck.

The Gustafson murders started in a similar manner, with Danny breaking into the home, which was empty at the time. He had previously broken into the home and stole some items. But on this visit, Priscilla Gustafson came home with her son. Danny made up the rest - confronting Mrs. Gustafson and tying her to a bed - raping and killing her - drowning her son - and doing the same to the daughter when she got home from school. Each of those crimes occurred as Laplante impulsively raised (lowered?) the bar. He had the chance of bolting from the house upon Mrs. Gustafson's arrival - after raping her - after killing her and her son. He only departed when he had killed all three. He made it up as he went along.

Mrs. McGovern came home to a supposedly-empty house during the manhunt, and once again, Daniel escalated his misdeeds from a break-in - to a failed attempt to kidnap Mrs. McGovern - to a failed attempt to take me out of the picture - to bolting from the rear of the house. Impulse generated every action.

Pam Makela also came home to find Danny occupying the dwelling. My thought is that he wanted only food, drink and sanctuary, but Ms. Makela presented an opportunity to get away. Danny changed his plan. As with Lynne McGovern, that attempt failed.

To show that what I have written in this segment rings true, Danny was released on bail on the Bowen-related charges on October 9, 1987, and less than eight weeks later, he was back into breaking into homes - the Gustafson house in this case. But this time he had a gun. He was bolder. The Gustafson family paid the dear price.

So what happens now if Laplante is granted parole in the future? Will he wait even 53 days before committing his next heinous crime? Will he be more cunning this time and avoid detection and capture? By the way, why did he kill 7-year-old Abigail Gustafson? It appears he could have fled the murder scene without being spotted by her. The answers are obvious. There is no remorse in the cold, calculating Daniel Laplante - not then - not now - not ever. He needs to die in prison.

Daniel was convicted of three counts of murder in the Gustafson killings and sentenced to three consecutive life terms without the chance of parole. In 2017, however, the court gave Laplante a shot at eventual freedom (per Wikipedia):

On March 22, 2017, a re-sentencing hearing for LaPlante was held at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, Massachusetts. LaPlante asked for a reduction in his sentence.  At the hearing, it was mentioned that during his first appeal, previous court rulings were cited saying that juveniles convicted of murder should be given a meaningful opportunity to re-engage with society. There was also a new law allowing “juveniles convicted of murder with extreme cruelty and atrocity to ask for parole after they’ve been behind bars for a minimum of 30 years.” The judge, however, affirmed LaPlante's' sentence of three consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after forty-five years, after a forensic psychiatrist evaluated LaPlante and found that he was not remorseful for his crimes.

(Shirley, MA 04/19/17) The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center where Daniel Laplante is confined as of. Sept. 29, 2021. Staff photo by John Wilcox.

The hope - the need to partner police & community

Amid the current civil unrest in our country and the discord between law enforcement and the public, I will use the Laplante manhunt, referred to at the time, as the largest manhunt in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the preceding 20 years, as an example of a workable, and successful, partnership between police and the community. I hope I live long enough to see that partnership re-emerge

It wasn't just the cops that finally corralled this evil monster. Many citizens of the town of Pepperell helped immensely, several of whom could have since lost their lives. Their names follow, with my deep apologies to anyone whose name is missing. 

Lynne and Paul McGovern, Pam Makela, Ronald Perry, John Leger, Edward Gillogly, Jonathan Lang, Timothy Hoegen

Steve Bezanson and I were in Los Angeles in September of 2021 for the filming of a television documentary focused on the Laplante saga, and we got to meet with Tina and Karen Bowen and their spouses. Both ladies suffered terribly following their ordeals in 1986. Their dad, Frank Bowen, left his girls for a period of time and died at the age of 50. The ladies relived their horrible trials in the upcoming documentary. That had to be both therapeutic and gut-wrenching for both. Daniel Laplante had literally torn the Bowen family apart.



My wife, Linda Lane, administrated the New England Community Policing Partnership (NECP2) for a number of years until it was forced to disband. Community policing works and needs to be practiced. My daughter, Lisa Lane McCarty, is the Director of the Police Academy at Fitchburg (MA) State University. She trains future police officers to do things the right way. Bad cops may be law enforcement's major enemy. They need to be recognized and dealt with. I am hopeful for the future. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in his brilliant work, Walden:

"The light that puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."

Sunrise over Walden Pond- Credit: Tim Laman Fine Art

Wake up America! This is a new day - a new era, and seen below are some of the stars that will shine within the landscape of law enforcement. Members of their future communities should work with them, and visa versa. Simply one of the many lessons I hoped would teach people when I chose to write this article.

Fitchburg State University Police Program



Comments

  1. This was an amazing article and truly shows how police work should be in our communities, don't get rid of police....choose those who are a solid example of "serve & protect "!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. As I said in the article, bad cps may be law enforcement's major enemy.

      Delete
  2. Tom, beautifully written, and so pertinent to today's societal problems. In all my years dispatching, this was the most frightening case I encountered. Daniel LaPlante was (is) a true monster, and the Pepperell Police handled the case masterfully.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your positive comment means much. Thank you for taking that time.

      Delete
  3. I remember this. I was 7 years old, scared, locked down in my house with my family and a killer on the loose. I'll never forget that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lockdowns are scary times. Hope it never happens to you again.

      Delete
  4. I have so many memories of these events. I found this well written and heartfelt. I continue to pray for all involved. I remember as a 15 year old girl in Pepperell, alone at my home with helicopters flying overhead how terrified I was. Looking back at all of it, I honestly still get the chills. My eyes still fill with tears. This is truly what a horror movie is. Tom Lane, thank you for your dedication to serve and protect the town I grew up in. Thank you for being respectful. This is a class act article. God Bless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Appreciate your positive feedback. Thank you.

      Delete

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