The story of Daniel LaPlante fell into my lap as I was researching murders that could be tied to popular urban legends. Readers who follow my stories here know that I’m a sucker for anything bordering on the bizarre and urban legends, conspiracy theories and pop culture references have become a running theme within the work I’ve produced for Sword and Scale throughout the years.
The moment I had begun to dig into the LaPlante case I knew it was a story I needed to cover. It has all the trimmings of an interesting piece to me – séances, ghosts and a man holding a family hostage with a hatchet is just the type of story I love to really sink my teeth into. Unfortunately, what I would soon discover, is that when it comes to what was fact and what was fiction in this story the lines begin to blur. I began to have my doubts on the story’s credibility and was forced to question if it had been a sensational rumor that had later been passed on as fact as I’ve seen in so many other cases I’ve researched.
LaPlante really was a well-documented murderer after these events were alleged to have taken place. This I know to be true.
In 1987 LaPlante had been living with his family near Townsend, Massachusetts. It was throughout the fall of that year that a rash of daytime burglaries had been occurring in the area. Among the items stolen during one of these burglaries were two handguns.
One of these handguns were found in the possession of LaPlante by his stepfather. When asked about the gun, LaPlante told his stepfather that he had acquired it in Westminister the year prior. LaPlante did not tell his parents that he had a second gun in his possession.
In November of 1987, LaPlante targeted the Gustafson residence for his next burglary. Among the items he had stolen included home electronics and collectible coins. LaPlante’s brother had questioned him about the items he had asked to hide inside of his toolbox and LaPlante told him he just didn’t want his parents to find the items.
Later that month LaPlante asked both his brother and a friend if either of them could provide him with .22 caliber bullets. His friend did agree to provide LaPlante with some bullets from a box he had purchased after LaPlante detailed a plan he had to take the bullets and turn them into larger bullets that he would sell.
On December 1, 1987, Andrew Gustafson would come home to find his entire family dead. Gustafson’s wife and nursery school teacher, Priscilla Gustafson, was found in a pool of blood in the couple’s bed. She appeared to have been shot twice in the head at point-blank range.
Gustafson immediately phoned the police. Upon their arrival, the bodies of Gustafson’s two young children were found. Inside the downstairs bathtub was the body of 8-year-old Abigail. The body of 5-year-old William was discovered in a similar state within the upstairs bathroom of the home. Both children appeared to have drowned.
Police would later be able to link the horrific scene to Daniel LaPlante. He is now serving life in prison.
There is little doubt that LaPlante had been involved in the shocking and grisly murder of a young family nearly 20 years ago. What is questionable are the events that have been alleged to have taken place a year prior. One news source did document that LaPlante had held another family hostage with a hatchet, but the story that has been passed around describing that event leaves one to wonder how much of the details are true and what details writers have since taken their own creative liberties with.
In 1986 sisters Annie and Jessica Andrews began to receive phone calls from a boy at their home. The boy claimed that he was a teenager from another high school in the area and he received the girls’ phone number from a friend. Annie had become particularly smitten with the boy on the other end of the phone line and she looked forward to speaking with the boy regularly.
After several weeks of speaking with Daniel LaPlante – the strange boy who had been calling the home – Annie agreed to go on a date with him. When she answered the door, Daniel was not who she expected. The boy on the phone said he was athletic and blonde, but when she had opened the door to see a lanky boy with dark hair standing on her doorstep, Annie felt as if she had been let down. Still, she agreed to go out on the date and LaPlante took her out for ice cream before she made up an excuse to rush home.
A month had passed and Annie didn’t put much thought into the disappointing date with Danny. She and her sister had more pressing matters on their minds. Several months before speaking on the phone with LaPlante the girls had lost their mother after a long battle with cancer. Their father worked long hours to help support his daughters after their mother’s passing and the girls couldn’t help but feel lonely in the wake of their mother’s death.
One night the girls decided to hold a séance in hopes of speaking with their mother one more time. Their father came home to find the girls in the basement swinging a crystal and chanting. He told the girls to come upstairs. That’s when things started to get strange.
That night as the girls were nestled in their beds they thought they had heard the sound of knocking on the walls. Convinced they were successful in contacting the spirit of their deceased mother, they asked the spirit questions and the spirit obliged.
This activity became worse as time progressed. The girls began to notice things missing from the home. Other times furniture would be moved and the faint knocks turned into loud banging sounds coming from the walls. Becoming increasingly more afraid, the girls decided that the spirit that had been haunting them was probably not their mother after all because they believed their mother would not do things to intentionally scare them like that.
The only person who had not witnessed the ghostly activity was their father, Brian Andrews. The girls told Brian of the ghost they had contacted in the basement the night he had walked in on their séance and how ever since that night the girls had been tormented by something that had inhabited the home. Brian dismissed the girls’ claims and told them that there would be no more talk of ghosts.
The noises and strange activity in the home continued on for months and by early 1987 the girls were at their wits end with this entity. One evening the knocking had started up as it usually had while the girls had been watching TV in the living room. Annie entered the kitchen and grabbed a knife as Jessica cowered behind her, determined to confront whatever had been making such an awful racket in the basement.
The girls slowly crept down into the basement, half anticipating something to pop out at them. As they reach the end of the steps they peer in to see nothing. They leave the stairs and look around. Nothing. No noises, no ghost, just an old basement full of boxes and dust. Just as the girls turn to climb back up the stairs they see a message on the wall appearing to have been written in blood which read,
“I’m in your room come find me.”
The girls raced up the stairs, screaming as they rushed out their front door to a neighbor’s home. There the girls called their father and told him about the cryptic message written on the basement wall.
Brian raced home to be met by officers. The “blood” that had been used to scrawl the message on the basement wall was determined to be ketchup. Furious that his daughters would play such a sick joke, he had a stern lecture with the girls and enrolled them into therapy sessions in order to cope with the loss of their mother.
After that, the noises stopped, at least for a little while. It would be two weeks before the strange phenomena started up again. Annie and Jessica were home alone when loud noises were heard from the upstairs bedrooms. Annie grabbed a knife, certain that this time she would take care of whatever was causing such a ruckus. The girls had almost reached the top of the steps when they started to see what appeared to be another message written on Annie’s wall. This time it read,
“I’m back find me if you can.”
Once again the girls hightailed it out of the door and raced to the neighbor’s home in order to call Brian. Brian was furious when he was forced to leave work to tend to the girls’ crazy stories. Brian marched up the driveway into the home, despite Annie and Jessica’s pleas for him not to. As he reached the door he noticed all of the TVs were turned up to an uncomfortably loud volume. The neighbors told Brian that when they had walked up to check on the house after the girls came running that they hadn’t noticed any of the televisions being turned on.
Brian entered the house in order to look around more. He walked up the stairs where the girls had reported hearing the noises. As he reached the top of the steps he saw a new message on Annie’s wall. Written in the same ketchup that had been used to scrawl the message the police found was a note that read,
Brian walked into the room, where he noticed something moving in his peripheral. Brian turned to see a young man wearing his dead wife’s wedding dress and a blonde wig. His face had been covered in face paint and in his hand was a large hatchet used to for splitting logs.
After fighting off the attacker, police arrived to case the house. Aside from the unusually loud televisions and messages were written on a wall in ketchup, the police were not able to spot anything unusual. One particularly alert officer noticed a small door behind a dresser the family used to store mail and other assorted items.
Behind the door sat a young man. A boy that Annie had recalled having taken her on a date nearly a year prior – Daniel LaPlante. After some coaxing, police managed to pull the boy out of the small crawlspace and place him under arrest, screaming as he’s forced into the police cruiser.
Inside the home, police found evidence that the boy had been camping out there. A sleeping bag, food wrappers, and beer cans were among the items police collected. A year later that boy would be arrested again. This time for the murder of the Gustafson family.
Had LaPlante really been taking up residency within these people’s walls as the story claims? According to a news report I was able to find on the case, the real story goes something like this.
LaPlante had been hiding in a closet at a home in Pepperell, Massachusetts when four family members had come home for the day. LaPlante had jumped out of a closet wearing paint on his face and wielding a hatchet. He chased the family up the stairs and they took refuge in a bedroom. The three girls and their father were able to escape safely through a bedroom window.
Two days later police discovered LaPlante living between the walls of the family’s home and hauled him down to the juvenile detention center where he was forced to stay until October 6, 1986. His mother posted bail and little else is known on what sort of sentence LaPlante received as a result of the attempted hatchet attack.
While the real tale of Daniel LaPlante may not be as exciting as a ghost story turned transient murderer story, the LaPlante case is the best example of a real life story that has since transformed itself into an urban legend in its own right.