Daniel LaPlante: The Real-Life Boogeyman
From childhood we fear what lurks in the shadowy corners of our bedrooms. We dread what may reach out from underneath the bed. Most of us grow out of these fears at a certain point in life. Surely there's no such thing as monsters. Even if there were, how would they fit into such tight spaces? Unfortunately for many old houses in America, with their nooks, crannies, basements, and attics, there are plenty of places for real-life monsters to hide. Far too many dark corners and crawlspaces that typically seem innocuous to the homeowner. After all, home is supposed to be the safest place to be.
All That's Interesting wrote that Daniel LaPlante, known as Danny, was born on May 15, 1970, in Townsend, Massachusetts. This is where he would grow up and make himself known in true crime's most appalling case. During his childhood, Danny had a tough time making friends. Ranker reported that he was known by his classmates as "creepy" and "weird." Throughout his childhood, Danny suffered sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of his father. In his teens, he was sent to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with hyperactivity disorder. Then, the man that was supposed to be helping him began sexually abusing him, too.
As he seemed to be caught in a never-ending cycle of abuse, Danny's living situation was also chaotic and untamed. His home was surrounded by heaps and piles of junk, and old, beat-up cars. It was as though his father had become a hoarder, keeping everything that meant anything.
At St. Bernard's High School in Fitchburg, Danny just couldn't seem to fit in anywhere. He was described in an All That's Interesting article as being, "a loner and not particularly friendly." It was at this point in his young life that he began spending more and more time in the woods behind his house. Neighbors took notice and thought it was very strange. As his trips into the woods became more frequent, they became more concerned. He was always out there alone and no one knew what he was doing. Pretty soon, the only place he was ever seen was in the woods.
By the age of 15, Danny had become the neighborhood thief. He would break into Townsend homes in the evenings and take whatever valuables he could carry. It didn't take him long to grow bored with simply entering people's homes and robbing them. In need of a bigger thrill, he began playing mind games with his neighbors. He would move things around in their homes, and even leave things behind to scare them.
In 1986, he developed a very disturbing obsession with a 16-year-old girl named Annie Anderson. One night he decided to call her, claiming to be the friend of a friend. He also claimed to be tall, blond, and athletic, which he most definitely was not. Annie agreed to go out on a date with him and soon found out for herself that she had been catfished. Danny arrived at her door to pick her up, looking disheveled. His dark hair was greasy as though he hadn't washed it for weeks and he was suffering a particularly bad acne outbreak. Despite his obvious lies about his appearance, she went out with him anyway.
The evening was nothing short of bizarre. The two went out for ice cream in town, where Danny behaved quite strangely throughout the short-lived date. Annie mentioned that just a few months prior she had lost her mother to cancer. Instead of offering a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on, he began asking very inappropriate questions about her mother's passing. About an hour into the date, Annie ended their evening and returned home. She stopped accepting Danny's phone calls and thought that was the end of it. She wouldn't be seeing or hearing from this creep ever again, or so she thought.
In the late fall of 1986, Danny initiated a plot he'd been cooking up. He hadn't forgotten about Annie or the way she'd dismissed him at all. He had also remembered her address at 93 Lawrence Street in Pepperell. This was quite near his hometown of Townsend. He broke into her house and found a crawlspace only about six inches wide to squeeze his tiny frame into. For weeks afterward he lived inside the Anderson family's walls, psychologically terrorizing Annie and her sister, Jessica.
Not long after Danny took up residence within the family's walls, Annie and Jessica held a seance in their basement. Using a Ouija board, they hoped to contact their mother. When the girls started to hear knocking on the walls, they thought that their mother was trying to communicate with them. At first the girls were filled with joy at the thought of hearing from their mom again. It didn't take long for their joy to turn to terror as the knocking continued. They began to fear that they had summoned something evil and released it into their home. The knocking continued at all hours of the day and night, many nights waking them from their sleep. As knocking escalated to more terrifying encounters, the sisters began to live in fear.
Danny had been closely watching and listening to the family. Through peepholes he carved into the walls, he kept tabs on everyone, especially Annie. Upon realizing that his previous actions had been perceived as ghostly activity, he decided to give the family his best impression of a ghost. TV channels would change on their own and items would disappear only to reappear somewhere else later. Bottles of alcohol would turn up empty and it seemed as though someone was drinking the milk. The most disturbing occurrences of all were the messages that appeared to be scrawled on the walls in blood. In fact, they had been written in ketchup, but that made them no less chilling. The girls had even come home on one occasion to find a picture pinned to the wall with a knife.
The girls had tried to tell their father, Brian Andrews, about the hair-raising experiences they'd been having around the house. He chalked it up to his daughters messing around with each other. The now single father had two daughters to care for all on his own. He had been at work during all of these strange happenings, experiencing none of it for himself.
One day in early 1987, the girls heard something coming from the basement. They gathered all of their strength and courage, and descended the stairs together. As they reached the bottom they could read the words, "I'm in your room come find me" written in what they thought to be blood. They ran straight out of the house and to a neighbor to call their father.
Brian rushed home from work to investigate. When he saw the words written on the wall, he thought it was a cry out for attention. He had been working so hard to provide, and possibly to bury his grief. Maybe his girls were finally calling him on it in their own way. They were grieving as well, and they needed someone to be present.
After this incident the noises and random occurrences halted. An almost eerie quiet fell over a house that had just previously been brimming with such odd activity. Things likely began to feel as though they were returning to some semblance of normal.
Their peace was shattered once again when Annie returned home to see a message left for her on her bedroom wall. It read, "I'm back find me if you can." The girls fled the house in horror for a second time, calling their father from a neighbor's telephone. When he returned from work this time, he was directly confronted with the source of his daughters' nightmares.
Brian entered the house and walked up the stairs. On the wall just in front of the top landing, he could see the words "marry me" written in ketchup. A shiver ran down his spine as he walked into his daughter's room to see the other message, and something more. He came face-to-face with Danny, who was dressed as his deceased wife. Wearing what some sources have reported as her wedding dress, Danny had painted his face and donned a blond wig. Wielding a hatchet, he stared Brian down as the panicked father tried to process what he was witnessing. In a blur of events, Brian was forced to defend himself against this troubled youth. Then in a flash, he was just gone.
The police were called out to 93 Lawrence Street and performed a search of the premises. Initially it seemed to law enforcement like this kid had just vanished. It was as though the earth had briefly opened up and swallowed him whole. Like uncovering a magician's cheap trick, an officer happened to notice a gap between a cabinet in Annie's bedroom and the wall. When the cabinet was pulled from its position, Danny was discovered hiding behind it.
The source of the Anderson's so-called haunting was arrested and held in a juvenile detention center. Police searched the crawlspace further to discover that he had been living in their walls for weeks, watching their every move. Disappointingly, Danny was only held in custody until October 1987. His mother remortgaged her house to cover his $10,000 bail. If you think this story stops here, it's only getting started.
While awaiting trial for a completely unheard of crime, Danny went back to life as usual. Unfortunately for his neighbors, that meant burglarizing their homes in the light of day as they worked. On October 14, 1987, he stole two .22 caliber pistols from a neighbor. On November 16, 1987, he broke into the home of the Gustafson family.
Priscilla Gustafson was a 33-year-old nursery school teacher with plenty of experience with children. She and her husband, Andrew, had two children and were expecting their third. Their daughter, Abigail, was 7-years-old, and her brother, William, was just 5.
Greedy for more, Danny broke into the Gustafson's house for a second time on December 1, 1987. Beforehand, he had wandered the woods behind both of their houses for a time. Armed with one of the .22 caliber pistols he had previously stolen, Danny forced his way into an empty house. When Priscilla unexpectedly returned home with William, Danny initially considered hopping out of a window and escaping the scene of his burglary. Instead, he did something far worse.
He confronted the pregnant mother and her young son, leading them into the bedroom. He shut William in the closet before tying his mother to the bed with makeshift ligatures, and gagging her with his dirty sock. He raped Priscilla as she lay helpless to defend herself. After he shot her twice in the head, he took William from the closet and drowned him the bathtub. Shortly after, Abigail returned home from school to find Danny still in their house. He coaxed her into a separate bathroom and drowned her in the tub as well. After committing the most atrocious crime imaginable, he calmly left the house and attended his niece's birthday party as though nothing had happened.
All that afternoon, Andrew had been trying to reach his wife on the telephone. As the day stretched on with no answer, he became increasingly concerned. His concern turned to outright fear when he returned home from work to find the house completely dark. He walked inside with trepidation as he began to fear the absolute worst. As he walked into his bedroom, his dread was confirmed. Priscilla lay face down on the bed, stiff and still. Immediately upon finding his wife, Andrew fled the house to call for help. He found himself unable to look for his children, fearful of finding them dead as well.
It didn't take much investigating to implicate Danny in the gruesome and terrible crime. The shirt and gloves he had worn during the murders were found in the woods behind the house. They were still wet from the act of drowning the children. Using the soaked shirt for a scent, tracking dogs were able to lead investigators within just three to four feet of Danny's home. The disturbed young man was interrogated, but there wasn't enough evidence to arrest him quite yet. He was released with a plan to pick him back up the following day, but he quickly fled, sparking an enormous manhunt.
With no other means of supporting himself on the run, Danny started burglarizing homes again. His spree started immediately after his disappearance, with one house after another getting hit in Pepperell. It didn't take a mathematician to add up the numbers there. After only two days, he was found hiding in a dumpster and arrested.
In October 1988, he stood trial for the murders of the Gustafson family. He was found guilty and handed three consecutive life sentences. He appealed for a reduced sentence in 2017, but a judge didn't find him to be remorseful of his crimes. His three life sentences were reaffirmed, leaving him to sit right where he belongs.
In 2019, he petitioned for parole. His attorney cited a change in sentencing for minors that occurred in 2017, stating that minors cannot be sentenced to life. As Danny was only 17 when he committed the vile act in which he was convicted, the hope was to see him freed. However, the judge ruled that "the law could not be applied retroactively to LaPlante." He was denied parole and will not be eligible again for another 45 years.
Danny made odd headlines again in 2013, when he attempted to sue the state of Massachusetts for denying him the supplies needed to perform his religious rites. According to Ranker, he was a "devout Wiccan" whose religious rights were being trampled. He demanded "30 essential oils and 26 herbs" for his practices. Among these materials, he requested dragon's blood, black opium, and honeysuckle to "ward off jinxes and connect with goddesses." Local practitioners of the Wiccan religion raced to distance themselves from this living monster. A Wiccan leader publicly stated that the materials requested were not necessary. He also pointed out that their religion has a tendency to attract "crazy people." He was clearly referring directly to Danny LaPlante when he made this comment.
Though we may leave our fears of the boogeyman behind with our footie pajamas and our favorite stuffed animal or blanket, maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we need to adjust our perception of the monster. Instead of sharp teeth, pointy horns, and matted hair, they tend to look much more like someone you've met before. Sometimes even someone you know quite well. Though the monsters we feared as children may not be real, beasts like Daniel LaPlante are.