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Crime News Murders

Daniel LaPlante Hid In Walls Before Murdering Pregnant Woman and Her Children

After terrorizing the Bowen family and holding them captive, the 17-year-old targeted the Gustafsons.

By Cydney Contreras
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

When objects began moving in the Bowen family's home, Frank Bowen was quick to dismiss his daughters' fears that someone, or something, was responsible for the strange occurrences. Perhaps, he thought, his daughters were watching too many scary movies.  

But when Frank Bowen and his daughters were held captive in their home on December 8, 1986, he was forced to confront the reality that someone was secretly living under their roof all along. 

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Their captor, later identified as Daniel LaPlante, would go on to kill pregnant woman Priscilla Gustafson and her children, 7-year-old Abigail and 5-year-old William.  

Who is Daniel LaPlante? 

Born in 1970, LaPlante grew up on Elm St. in Townsend, Massachusetts, a small town on the outskirts of Boston. From a young age, LaPlante was branded an odd child — well before he terrorized the Bowen family and murdered the Gustafson family — with classmates and neighbors describing him as anti-social and violent to the Boston Globe.

"The guy never really was all that friendly. He never liked to go to parties. He never really talked much," classmate Patrick McGuigan told the newspaper in December of 1987.  

A photo of Daniel J. LaPlante escorted outside of court

LaPlante Terrorized the Bowen Family

In his teens, LaPlante was arrested numerous times for breaking into neighbors' homes.  He stole jewelry, money, and other belongings, earning himself a bad reputation in the community. 

But his crimes took a sinister turn after he was caught breaking and entering into the Bowen family's home on Dec. 8. For weeks, Frank Bowen's daughters Tina and Karen told him that objects were misplaced and TV channels were changed when they left the room. Frank assumed it was the girls messing with each other. 

However, Frank realized that LaPlante was lurking in the home's walls after he and the girls, as well as their friend Kathleen Knapp, noticed someone had used their toilet, according to a Celtic Sentinel report written by Ret. Lt. Thomas Lane, a cop who worked on the case. Frank searched the home and eventually found LaPlante, wearing a hairy jacket and face paint, in a closet. Wielding a hatchet and steel wrench, LaPlante calmly forced the group into a nearby bedroom.  

Tina, who LaPlante had briefly dated, saved the day by climbing out of a window and running to a neighbor for help, per the Celtic Sentinel. When police arrived, they found that LaPlante had disappeared without a trace, scaring the Bowen family and prompting them to seek shelter at a nearby hotel. 

Then, on December 10, when Frank returned to the home to retrieve belongings, he spotted a man in the window as he approached the door. According to the Celtic Sentinel, Officer Steven Bezanson reported to the scene, where a menacing message had been left for the Bowens. 

"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," Bezanson told Lane. "On another wall, I saw another picture saying 'I'M GOING TO KILL YOU ALL' with a knife through it."

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Chief David Young and Sgt. Jim Scott joined the search of the home moments later, at which point they determined LaPlante was hiding behind a wall in the bathroom. Bezanson recalled, "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.'" 

LaPlante was subsequently arrested and held in a juvenile facility until October of 1987, when his mom, Eleanor Moore, remortgaged their home to pay for the $10,000 bail, according to the Boston Globe.   

The Brutal Slaying of Priscilla Gustafson and Her Children 

On November 16, 1987, less than a month after being released on bail, the 17-year-old LaPlante broke into the home of Andrew and Priscilla Gustafson, a young couple who moved to Townsend five years prior. He stole multiple items from the home, including a cordless phone and a cable box, according to court documents

LaPlante continued to steal from multiple homes in the vicinity in the following weeks, but his crimes took a violent turn on December 1, when he returned to the Gustafson home and murdered Priscilla, 33, as well as her two children Abigail, 7, and William, 5. 

Priscilla was last seen alive picking up William from a babysitter around 1 p.m. She returned to her home, where LaPlante had broken in for the second time, according to court records. He told investigators that he normally would've left the Gustafson home upon hearing others return but decided not to. Instead, LaPlante tied Priscilla, who was several months pregnant, to her bed in the master bedroom and locked William in the closet, the court records state. He then raped Priscilla, before shooting her twice in the head with a gun stolen from his neighbor Raymond Pindell's home.  

After murdering Priscilla, LaPlante drowned William in the upstairs bathtub and set out to leave the home, but Abigail returned from school around that time. Per court records, he drowned Abigail, who also suffered blunt force trauma, in the downstairs bathroom. 

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Andrew Gustafson called the police when he came home from work around 5:30 p.m. that evening, at which point he found Priscilla's bloodied remains in the master bedroom. He told the Los Angeles Times in 1990, "I was too afraid of going to look for my children because I was afraid I’d find them dead... It was so shocking and unbelievable. I screamed. I wailed.” 

George Aho, a now-retired police officer, found the bodies of Abigail and William in the separate bathtubs. 

"My feeling at the time was that she had fought to stay alive," Aho told the Celtic Sentinel of Abigail, whose 8th birthday was the following week.  

The Search for Daniel LaPlante 

Officers immediately thought LaPlante could be responsible for the murders and named him as a suspect in a December 2 press conference, the Boston Globe reported. 

Lt. Lane was part of the search efforts for the teen and happened to be on Jewett St. on December 3, when resident Lynne McGovern approached him to ask if he could escort her into her house.  

"I drove into the driveway and into the garage. I immediately drove back out and sit in the driveway feeling extremely uncomfortable," McGovern wrote in a newspaper clipping shared by the Celtic Sentinel.  

When McGovern and Lt. Lane entered the home, they found LaPlante, who jumped out a window and escaped into the woods. He later returned to Elm St. and forced resident Pam Makela into her car, though he again escaped when Makela jumped from the vehicle, Lt. Lane reported. 

Later that evening, LaPlante was taken into custody after officers found him hiding in a trashcan in nearby Ayers, Mass.

What did Frank Bowen say after Daniel LaPlante's arrest for the Gustafson family slayings? 

Following LaPlante's arrest, Frank Bowen, a widower, expressed anger that the teen was released in the first place. He told The Lowell Sun, "If Daniel LaPlante does not get convicted and gets out again, I will personally kill him." As Frank explained to the paper, he and his daughters lived in perpetual fear of LaPlante and had vacated their home following their encounter with him.  

"You can't imagine what kind of fear we have been living in. He is mentally insane. There is no question about it," Frank said, adding, "And now, I am financially broke and emotionally disturbed and trying to put my life together again."

Daniel LaPlante listens to his lawyer Ryan Schiff.

Where is Daniel LaPlante now? 

Following a trial in 1988, LaPlante was convicted of all three murders in the Gustafson family slayings and sentenced to life in prison. He remains behind bars in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Norfolk.  

In 2017, LaPlante sought to be released from prison after a Massachusetts law went into effect that stated juveniles sentenced to life in prison should be given the opportunity to re-enter society. During his resentencing, LaPlante apologized for his actions and asked for a second chance.

"Words cannot fully capture what I have done. I murdered three innocent people. Because of me, a five-year-old boy will never turn six. There’s a seven-year-old girl that will never turn eight. Because of me, a woman will never be able to give birth to her third child," LaPlante said, according to The Lowell Sun. "I robbed an unborn child of his first breath.

"A husband was never able again to hear from his family, ‘I love you,'” LaPlante continued. "I do not have the words to fully express my profound sorrow. But I am truly sorry for the harm I have caused. From the very essence of who I am, from the depth of my soul, I am sorry."  

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Following a psychiatric evaluation, psychiatrist Fabian Saleh said that LaPlante showed "no empathy" and "continued to minimize his behaviors." 

Priscilla's sister, Christine Morgan, testified that her sister wouldn't want LaPlante to see the light of day. Additionally, Andrew Gustafson's second wife, Carole Gustafson, said that Andrew was "plagued" by nightmares of his family's murder until he died from cancer in 2014. 

"Do not let this man out,” Carole said. “He should rot in prison."

A judge subsequently sentenced him to 45 years in prison. 

Then, in 2019, a separate law went into effect, allowing juveniles convicted of murder to ask for parole after they've served at least 30 years. The law stated that judges are given the discretion to reduce sentences. However, a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the previous judge's ruling, according to Associated Press.  

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