It is often said that the truth is stranger than fiction. At first, it may appear as though the bizarre case of murderous teenager Daniel LaPlante is something straight from a Hollywood horror story, given the extraordinary events which took place. Indeed, the case of Danny LaPlante has evolved over the years into something of urban legend-like status. Some reports state that the incidents which occurred between 1986 and 1987 have since been embellished for the purposes of dramatization, however, just as many reports state that certain events played out in the ghoulish entirety which the case has come to be known for.
Daniel LaPlante holds a rare prestige in the annals of true crime. It is not the murders for which LaPlante was responsible for which provided him his infamy, but the nightmarish events which preceded them, despite no lives being lost in the process. Much in the same way Ed Gein is known as a ghoulish grave-robber which skinned the corpses of already-deceased women, it is Daniel LaPlante’s pre-murder behaviour which awarded him his folk-devil appeal. His later murders would be the events which placed him in the public eye, to which his dark past then came to light.
The Daniel LaPlante case is a tale of jealousy, delusion, desperation, and misplaced affection, resulting in the loss of three innocent lives. In addition, LaPlante is responsible for the intense traumatization of several other victims, in a series of bizarre acts which would even sound too farfetched for fiction.
Born in 1970 in Townsend, Massachusetts, Daniel LaPlante suffered a traumatic childhood as one could imagine. While very little is known in regards to the specific details of his upbringing (LaPlante was a minor during his first run-in with the law, meaning many details were kept anonymous), LaPlante suffered sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of multiple adults in his life. LaPlante’s father was the individual who administered the majority of his son’s punishments, allegedly tormenting him physically, emotionally and sexually on a regular basis.
LaPlante’s troubled upbringing affected every aspect of his young life. He struggled with school, both academically and socially, in addition to being diagnosed with dyslexia from an early age. He had very few friends throughout his school days, with most of his classmates at North Middlesex High School referring to him as creepy or weird. In his early teenage years, LaPlante was referred by school officials to a psychiatrist due to his abnormal behaviour and general reluctance towards his appearance, hygiene and self-improvement.
This particular incident could have been a turning a point in young LaPlante’s life if not for the tragic circumstances which arose. It was here that LaPlante was diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder – something which didn’t mesh well with his already-deteriorating mental state as a result of his troubled home and school life. His relationship with the psychiatrist eventually took a dark turn when the psychiatrist made sexual advances towards LaPlante. Then, for the following year, the psychiatrist sexually abused LaPlante during their sessions – something which no doubt left a lasting impact on LaPlante’s psyche. Like his father before him, this was a gentleman who had been trusted to care for LaPlante, but instead added another layer of grief to his already-painful existence.
In his early teens, LaPlante established himself as a small-time thief. He spent his evenings breaking into people’s properties in the Townsend area and stealing their valuables. As his burglary skills increased, so did his desire for torment. By age 15, he was breaking into people’s homes and not only taking their possessions, but also leaving behind items in his wake. He would also move items around in people’s homes in such a way that it was clear someone had entered their property, but not so much that it was immediately obvious. Eventually, he was invading people’s homes purely for the purposes of playing mind games with the owners.
In 1986, Danny LaPlante set in motion the series of events which he would be forever known for. LaPlante had obtained the phone number of a family’s address in the local area. It is likely that he burgled the house at some point and somehow retrieved the telephone number, although this is unconfirmed. The house belonged to a family of three – a father and his two daughters.
The daughters, Annie Andrews and Jessica Andrews – both similar ages to LaPlante – began to converse with Danny via phone. LaPlante told them he had been given their number by a friend who went to the same school as them, and that he was a good-looking, athletic, blonde, well-educated boy who also lived in the area. Annie Andrews and Danny LaPlante became well acquainted after several phone calls, and so arranged to go out on a date one evening.
When LaPlante arrived at Andrews’ doorstep, Andrews was shocked to discover that the boy she had been conversing with was the opposite of who he said he was. Instead of the athletic jock-type boy she was expecting, her blind date was a dishevelled, greasy, dark-haired boy with no attractive features whatsoever. Regardless, Andrews let LaPlante take her to the local fair. After just over an hour together, Andrews made her excuses and returned home.
It was during their date that LaPlante discovered that Annie and Jessica Andrews had recently lost their mother to cancer, leaving only their father to care for them. LaPlante allegedly took great interest regarding the details of Annie’s mother’s death – much more so than simple curiosity allowed for. Annie later claimed that it seemed as though LaPlante was obsessed with the death of her mother, continually questioning her on how she felt at the moment she died and how much she suffered.
Annie didn’t willingly see LaPlante again following their date, however, she would later discover him again under circumstances which almost defy explanation.
One evening, Annie and her sister attempted to contact their deceased mother by performing a séance in their basement. They performed it purely out of teenage naivety, not really expecting anything to come from it.
However, the same evening, Jessica and Annie received a rhythmic knocking against their bedroom walls as they slept. Amazingly, it appeared as though the girls’ séance was successful. In the dead of the night, the two girls spoke to the unseen force as though they were talking to their mother one more time. They asked the spirit questions, to which it replied via knocks against the wall. It seems that the girls had truly uncovered a supernatural force at work.
This continued for several evenings until the knocking became so regular that it disturbed the girls’ sleep. Over time, objects in the house began to disappear. Items which were laid out on a table one day would find themselves strewn across the floor the next. The girls would come home to find furniture moved from one side of the room to the other. Eventually, Jessica and Annie believed they were being haunted by a malevolent demon, not the spirit of their mother as they had originally believed.
The girls’ father, Brian Andrews, believed that it was the girls themselves who were causing havoc in their own home. The girls claimed to him that they believed they had unknowingly allowed a vengeful ghost into their home, but Brian refused to believe such absurdity could be real. Instead, he highlighted the fact that his daughters were emotionally struggling with the death of their mother.
One evening in January 1987, the strange knocking had begun while Jessica and Annie were alone in their front room. At this point, the constant tapping had become so commonplace that it was driving the girls to insanity. This particular evening, however, it seemed that the noises were not coming from the walls, but from the basement.
Armed with a kitchen knife, the two girls warily made their way towards the source of the noise. As they crept down below their house, they were greeted with an ominous sight. Written in blood red on the basement wall was the message: “I’m in your room. Come and find me”.
The girls fled the house without hesitation and called upon the assistance of a neighbour. They waited for their father to return home and told him of what they discovered. Brian Andrews, again believing that it was his daughters who were responsible for the defacement of his basement walls, ordered Annie and Jessica to undergo counselling to help them cope with what he believed was the source of their struggling mental state – the grief of losing their mother.
Several weeks later, a similar incident played out but with even more bizarre results. Again, the girls heard knocking sounds, but this time they came from behind Annie’s bedroom wall. When the two girls entered, again, they were greeted with a message written in blood red on the wall: “I’m back. Find me if you can”.
The aftermath played out the same as before, with Brian Andrews placing the blame solely on Annie and Jessica. The girls had called him from a neighbour’s house to come home, and when he did, marched straight into his home to prove there was no one else inside. However, when Brian entered the house, he noticed that there had been further disarray than what his neighbour and the girls had previously claimed. It then became apparent that someone had been inside the house when Brian, the girls and their neighbour were all assembled elsewhere.
Brian entered Annie’s room alone. There, an additional message had been painted on the wall: “Marry me”.
Then, on the other side of the room, Brian was greeted with an even more unnatural sight. A young boy stood dressed in the clothing of Brian’s deceased wife. He was wearing her make-up, a dress and blonde wig. In one of his hands was a hatchet.
The young boy was Danny LaPlante.
A struggle ensued but LaPlante was able to escape. Brian recalls being dumbfounded at the way LaPlante was able to seemingly disappear from sight without much effort. When the police were called in to investigate later the same evening, it became clear why LaPlante was able to vanish so suddenly.
After discovering that each message had been written in ketchup, local police searched the house for clues of how LaPlante may have been able to access the house in the first place. One officer found a hidden crawlspace behind a cupboard which was built into the wall of Annie Andrews’ bedroom. When the officer opened the hatch, he discovered Danny LaPlante curled up inside.
The officers removed LaPlante from the crawlspace and placed him under arrest.
Once LaPlante had been removed from the scene, officers conducted a thorough search of the LaPlante residence. To their horror, they discovered that LaPlante had been living inside the walls of their home. The passageway which they discovered LaPlante in had been tunnelled around to other areas of the house. There were a handful of peep-holes dotted around so that LaPlante could observe Annie Andrews from whichever room she was in.
It became clear that Danny LaPlante had been pretending to be the ghost of Annie and Jessica’s mother in order to torment them. It is believed that LaPlante was planning on revealing himself to the girls whilst dressed as their dead mother, whether to genuinely pass himself off as her spirit or whether to terrify them remains unknown, however it was likely the latter. The fact he was wielding a hatchet at the time also suggests that Annie and Jessica Andrews made a lucky escape that night.
Danny LaPlante’s Murders
For the following year, Danny LaPlante was placed into a juvenile facility where he remained until October 1987. Almost immediately following his release, LaPlante returned to his life of burglary. During one of his robberies in November of the same year, LaPlante obtained two handguns from a neighbour’s house.
On December 1st 1987, LaPlante broke into Gustafson family home, around half a mile from LaPlante’s own family residence. There, LaPlante was greeted by pregnant Priscilla Gustafson, 33 and her two young children – Abigail and William.
Priscilla’s husband, Andrew Gustafson, was at work when LaPlante invaded his home, and upon returning was met with the most harrowing sight of his life.
Andrew discovered Priscilla laying face-down on her bed, her pillows dyed red with blood spatter. She had been raped by Danny LaPlante and then shot multiple times in the head at point-blank range. Andrew Gustafson called the police, who then discovered the bodies of Andrew’s two children in two different bathtubs. Five-year-old William had been drowned in the upstairs bathroom, while eight-year-old Abigail had endured a similar fate in the downstairs bathroom.
LaPlante’s exact modus operandi in this murder remains unknown. Given that LaPlante’s actions progressed rapidly from burglary to full scale murder when he was in possession of a weapon suggests that he didn’t possess the confidence or physical strength to subdue his victims by hand. In addition, a handful of items which double as restraints were found in the Gustafson household. This prompts the theory that LaPlante forced his way into the residence and held his victims at gunpoint while he restrained them. He likely killed Priscilla Gustafson first to remove the biggest threat, then drowned the children one by one.
It didn’t take long for authorities to link the Gustafson family murder with Danny LaPlante. Police sought to apprehend him, but found that LaPlante had since fled the area. A manhunt quickly ensued.
LaPlante was considered to be armed and incredibly dangerous. Given LaPlante’s history, there was no telling what lengths he might go to to avoid detection. A few towns over from Townsend, LaPlante broke into a woman’s home and kidnapped her in her vehicle. The woman escaped, but LaPlante was spotted by someone who had seen his photograph on the news. Danny LaPlante was discovered hiding in a dumpster 48 hours after the manhunt for him began. When he was inspected, a hair belonging to Abigail Gustafo was discovered on his sock, cementing LaPlante’s involvement in her murder.
A year later, Danny LaPlante was sentenced to three life sentences for the murder of the Gustafson family.
Since his incarceration, Danny LaPlante has shown little remorse for his actions. While clearly suffering from a multitude of personality disorders, LaPlante continues to show that he is a broken man beyond repair. From the years of 1988 to 2014, LaPlante attempted to sue the courts multiple times for violation of his rights. In one case, he claimed that the prison system violated his religious rights as he was allegedly a practicing Satanist. Therefore, LaPlante claimed that he required sufficient materials in order to carry out certain Satanic rites but had been denied by prison officials.
In 2017, however, it seems that Danny LaPlante may have finally come to terms with his actions. While appealing for a reduced sentence, LaPlante made the statement:
“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.”
Are these the words of a man who truly regrets his actions? Or are these the words of a manipulative, deluded monster willing to anything to be awarded freedom?
Fortunately, LaPlante’s appeal was denied, and will therefore spend the rest of his life in jail with no chance of early release.
LaPlante’s final victim, Andrew Gustafson, passed away in 2014 so wasn’t around to hear of his family’s killer being banished to life imprisonment for good. However, upon his deathbed, Gustafson allegedly claimed: “Don’t ever let him out. He should rot in prison.”
What little achievement it may be, it seemed that Andrew Gustafson got his wish.
Danny LaPlante was featured in Season 2, Episode 1 of Investigation Discovery’s Your Worst Nightmare series, Episode ‘Bump in the Night’. You can watch the episode on Amazon.com.
Professional author of both fiction and non-fiction, specialising in horror, mystery and true crime. Psychology graduate.