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Teen-Ager Arrested In Triple Slaying

December 4, 1987

TOWNSEND, Mass. (AP) _ A teen-ager accused of killing a woman and strangling or drowning her two young children was captured late Thursday after a two-day manhunt, police said.

Daniel J. LaPlante, 17, was arrested in nearby Ayer by officers who saw him get out of a van he apparently commandeered earlier in the day, said Ayer Police Chief Philip Connors. The teen-ager was carrying a revolver, police said.

LaPlante, who had been free on $100,000 bail on charges of terrorizing members of a Pepperell family with an ax in 1986, was being held by State Police for arraignment Friday, authorities said.

A warrant charging LaPlante with three counts of murder was issued earlier Thursday, said Townsend Police Chief William May.

Nearly 50 local and State Police officers had sought LaPlante since late Wednesday after 33-year-old Priscilla Gustafson and her children, Abigail, 7, and William, 5, were discovered slain in their Townsend home.

Mrs. Gustafson had been shot in the head and the children were found in separate bathtubs, either strangled or drowned, police said.

Their bodies were discovered by Mrs. Gustafson’s husband, Andrew Gustafson, when he returned from work Tuesday in this town of 8,300 five miles from the New Hampshire.

LaPlante, who lived less than a half mile from the Gustafson home, had eluded nearly two dozen State Police officers sent to his home on Wednesday by leaping from the porch and running into the woods, officers said.

Police set up roadblocks and used helicopters and tracking dogs to hunt LaPlante.

The Townsend police chief said that burglary may have been a motive in the slaying, but that nothing apparently was taken from the home.

LaPlante was released in October after 10 months in a juvenile detention center and was to appear in court as an adult Dec. 11 on charges he brandished an ax at a man, his two daughters and a friend of one of the girls, said Mary Sylva, spokeswoman for the Department of Youth Services.

LaPlante had hid in the house before the attack last December, said police. No one was injured.