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Police Capture Youth Accused of Killing Three

December 4, 1987

TOWNSEND, Mass. (AP) _ An intensive manhunt by heavily armed police ended with the capture of a 17-year-old youth accused of killing a mother and her two young children while awaiting trial for allegedly terrorizing another family.

Daniel J. LaPlante of Townsend was found hiding in a trash bin in an Ayer lumberyard at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday by two Littleton police officers. LaPlante surrendered after other officers arrived. He was unarmed.

LaPlante had been charged in a warrant issued Thursday morning with three counts of murder.

He was accused of killing Priscilla Gustafson, 33; and her children, Abigail, 7, and William 5, Tuesday in their holiday-decorated home about a half-mile through woods from where he lived.

Mrs. Gustafson was shot in the head, and the children strangled or drowned in bathtubs, police said.

The Boston Globe today quoted unnamed sources saying Mrs. Gustafson was pregnant and may have been sexually assaulted.

The bodies were discovered by Andrew R. Gustafson, 34, one of two lawyers in this town of 8,300, when he returned home from work about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

At about that time, LaPlante was playing with his 6-year-old niece at her birthday party in Fitchburg, the Globe said.

Sources told the Globe that police think Mrs. Gustafson and William, who had returned home from the church where she taught pre-school youngsters, were killed first and were dead when Abigail got home from school.

Police questioned LaPlante about the killings Wednesday afternoon at the Townsend Public Library where he had been studying, but State Police Detective Lt. Robert Long said there was insufficient evidence for an arrest.

When police went to his home later that day to question him further, LaPlante leaped off a porch and fled.

That touched off a manhunt that included a state police helicopter, police dogs and nearly 50 local and state officers, although the warrant was not issued until the next morning.

Police reportedly found evidence in the woods behind the Gustafson home and in LaPlante’s house that could link the youth to the killings.

One year ago, LaPlante was charged with terrorizing a family in their Pepperell home with a hatchet while dressed as an Indian.

LaPlante was sent to a state Department of Youth Services detention facility, where he stayed from January until October. Later, his case was transferred from juvenile court and he was charged as an adult in October.

He was scheduled to appear in Middlesex Superior Court one week from today. Charges against him in that case were four counts of kidnapping, four counts of armed assault in a dwelling, breaking and entering a dwelling, larceny of more than $100, and malicious destruction of property.

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