The Infamous Case of Daniel LaPlante (Massachusetts)

For months, Frank Bowen’s daughters complained of strange noises and odd happenings in their Pepperell, Massachusetts home. Frank was sure it was just their imaginations, until an intruder took the entire family hostage one night in December of 1986. When the suspect was released on bail, he was free to commit even more crimes, eventually escalating to murder.

Hostage Situation at the Bowen Home

It was just a few minutes past 6 p.m. on December 8, 1986 when the phone started to ring at the police station in Pepperrell, Massachusetts. At the time, the police department was made up of about 10 officers for the roughly 10,000 residents of Pepperell and the village of East Pepperell, where the most common calls were domestic disturbances or public intoxication. Though serious violent crimes happened – no place is immune, after all – they were rare. So when the dispatcher picked up the phone, she never expected the series of events that would unfold from that very first call.

The caller told the dispatcher that a neighbor just ran to their house screaming for help, saying that her family was being held hostage. She’d escaped through the window and was able to get to the neighbor’s house unharmed, but her father, sister, and friend were still trapped next door with the kidnapper.

Both Pepperell PD and Massachusetts State Police responded to 93 Lawrence Street, and a Pepperell officer spoke with the neighbors who called in the report and 14-year old Tina Bowen. Tina was visibly upset and crying as she told the officer what happened. She explained that when she and her father, Frank Bowen, her sister Karen, and friend Kathleen walked inside their home around 5:30 that night, the house wasn’t at all the way they’d left it. Here’s retired Pepperell Police Lt. Thomas Lane, who was on the scene that night.

“They had arrived home to find that the radios were blaring in the house, all the lights were on, the TVs were on, all of them, and blaring with sound,” Lt. Lane explained.

Alarmed by it all, Frank Bowen started walking from room to room, trying to figure out what was going on. He noticed someone had used the toilet in their basement and several items were out of place. Moving into the front of the house, Frank opened a closet to a shocking sight. He locked eyes with an intruder, wielding a hatchet in one hand and a steel wrench in the other. The man was wearing a furry coat and had his face painted with hair sticking straight up in spikes.

The intruder calmly instructed Frank to get the girls and go into a bedroom. Frank yelled for the girls and stayed between them and the man as they were ushered down the hallway. Before the intruder could follow the Bowens into the bedroom, Frank slammed the door and wedged it shut. He was trying to make a plan, trying to figure out how to save the children and himself from the intruder’s unknown plot, trying to calm the girls down, when Tina became so upset she hoisted open the bedroom window and jumped out of it, despite her father’s desperate pleas against it.

That high-risk but brave escape is what brought Lt. Thomas Lane and the rest of the responding officers to the scene, and it’s likely what saved all of their lives that night.

Sitting next door at the neighbor’s house with police now, Tina gave them two phone numbers for her house and officers tried them both, but the calls just kept ringing and ringing and ringing without answer. So, officers began to surround the Bowen home, planning their next steps to rescue the hostages inside.

Moments later, officers noticed a flicker of light and movement in a second-floor bedroom. They could make out several silhouettes in the room and then Frank Bowen stepped up to the window, hollering for police to come help. Frank told officers that the intruder was either somewhere else in the house or had fled the scene. He lowered the two girls out of the window to officers waiting below and then jumped out himself. The family reunited with Tina at the neighbor’s house as police began to file into the Bowen home.

Lt. Lane joined the other law enforcement officials as they methodically searched each room for the intruder. “Searched repeatedly. Repeatedly searched the home, searched the woods, searched the yards, searched the roads,” he continued, “There was no sign of the intruder whatsoever.”

Whoever kidnapped and terrorized the Bowens that night had managed to escape right under the noses of law enforcement. The sliding door leading to the back deck was slightly ajar and police recovered a hatchet and wrench on the ground near the porch steps.

Police cleared the house, but the Bowens were advised to vacate their home as the investigation began. Unfortunately, the investigation didn’t have much to go on. Frank told police that the intruder was wearing gloves, but he thought that one of the fingertips may have been missing. Investigators collected two telephones that had been ripped from the wall inside the house and planned to check them for possible prints.

State Police brought in a tracking dog in hopes of trailing the suspect’s escape route, but the dog was unable to identify a trail. It’s possible the dog was thrown off though, because police had given the dog the wrench and hatchet to detect a scent and Frank Bowen said that hatchet was his. He usually kept it on his nightstand.

Frank Bowen and the girls all described the assailant as being anywhere from 17 to 26 years old, maybe with blond hair, maybe with dark hair, maybe with a mustache, maybe not. The facepaint and spiked hairstyle obscured any defining features of his true identity. The family didn’t know who would possibly have a motive to carry out these terrifying acts against them either, but Frank had a feeling that whoever broke in and held them hostage had actually been in their home before.

The case of Priscilla, William, and Abigail Gustafson and the infamous story of Daniel LaPlante continues on Dark Downeast. Press play to hear the full story wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode Source Material

  • Criminal investigation report by Patrolman Peters: Complainant Frank Bowen, 08 Dec 1986
  • Criminal investigation report by Patrolman Benzanson, Pepperell PD: Complainant Frank Bowen, 10 Dec 1986
  • Summary by Lt. Thomas Lane, Pepperell PD: Conversation with Timothy Hoegen, 24 Nov 1987
  • Incident report by Sgt. Alan S. Davis, Pepperell PD: Victim – Pamela J. Makela, 03 Dec 1987 (2 pages)
  • Summary by Lt. Thomas Lane, Pepperell PD: Suspect – Daniel J. Laplante, 03 Dec 1987 (4 pages)
  • Summary by Sgt. Alan S. Davis, Pepperell PD: Information given by Johnathan H. Lang, 03 Dec 1987 (1 page)
  • The Elm Street Nightmare by Lt. Thomas Lane, 08 Jul 2021
  • Youth sought in triple murder, AP via The Transcript, 03 Dec 1987
  • Warrant issued for 17-year old in triple murder, AP via Daily Hampshire Gazette, 03 Dec 1987
  • Suspect, 17, captured after triple slaying, UPI via The Berkshire Eagle, 04 Dec 1987
  • A youth who sowed fear by Kevin Cullen et. al. Boston Globe, 04 Dec 1987
  • Suspect in slayings in captured by Kevin Cullen, Diego Ribadeneira and Doris Sue Wong, Boston Globe, 04 Dec 1987
  • Alleged slayer of former Barrington woman arranged, UPI via Berkshire Eagle, 05 Dec 1987
  • Psychiatric tests ordered for Townsend murder suspect, AP via Athol Daily News, 05 Dec 1987
  • Funeral held for mother, two children, AP via Daily Hampshire Gazette, 07 Dec 1987
  • Probe of Townsend killings focuses on music videos by Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, 07 Dec 1987
  • Police view music videos for clues to triple murder, UPI via Berkshire Eagle, 08 Dec 1987
  • LaPlante attempted to cover up rape of victim, investigators say by Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, 08 Dec 1987
  • Triple killing renews life of juvenile-jailing measure by Erik Bruun, Berkshire Eagle, 11 Dec 1987
  • Police search LaPlante home a second time by Jim Gomez, Boston Globe, 12 Dec 1987
  • Judge seals evidence from search in murder case by Jim Gomez, Boston Globe, 15 Dec 1987
  • LaPlante lawyer pleads for help by Jim Gomez, Boston Globe, 23 Dec 1987
  • Reforms are urged for juvenile detention by Jim Gomez, Boston Globe, 28 Dec 1987
  • Court orders full affidavit in Townsend case released by Sean Murphy, Boston Globe, 07 Jan 1988
  • Probable cause hearing set for Townsend murder suspect by Andrew L. Andrews and Jim Gomez, Boston Globe, 09 Jan 1988
  • LaPlante is indicted for Townsend killings by Peter Howe and Paul Hirshson, Boston Globe, 13 Jan 1988
  • LaPlante weapon is reportedly found, Boston Globe, 09 Apr 1988
  • Judge in LaPlante murder case rules youth must be tried first on 4 charges by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 08 Sep 1988
  • Youth to stand trial in murders, AP via The Transcript, 09 Sep 1988
  • Trooper describes steps in capture of suspect in Townsend killings by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 15 Sep 1988
  • 4 more letters given to judge in LaPlante murder case by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 16 Sep 1988
  • Prisoner obtained some evidence offered in Townsend murder trial by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 18 Sep 1988
  • LaPlante trial testimony places key, metal in cell by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 20 Sep 1988
  • Trooper: LaPlante seemed nervous at questioning by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 21 Sep 1988
  • Ruling set on search of LaPlante’s home, Boston Globe, 24 Sep 1988
  • Judge agrees to withhold 4 letters from LaPlante murder trial jury by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 27 Sep 1988
  • LaPlante trial jury due to view site of killings by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 06 Oct 1988
  • Sites of triple slaying, arrest viewed by jury in LaPlante trial by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 07 Oct 1988
  • LaPlante jury hears girl, 9, recall screams by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 08 Oct 1988
  • Father testifies on finding family, AP via The Transcript, 10 Oct 1988
  • LaPlante’s brother testifies in murder trial, AP via The Recorder, 12 Oct 1988
  • Family challenges son’s alibi, AP via Daily Hampshire Gazette, 13 Oct 1988
  • Man testifies he sold bullets to LaPlante before killings by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 15 Oct 1988
  • Trooper links revolver to Townsend killing by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 16 Oct 1988
  • Scene of Townsend slayings described at trial by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 18 Oct 1988
  • Chemist testifies at LaPlante trial by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 19 Oct 1988
  • LaPlante lawyer raises question of insanity by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 20 Oct 1988
  • LaPlante murder trial lawyers rest their cases by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 22 Oct 1988
  • Jury deliberates in LaPlante murder trial, AP via The Recorder, 25 Oct 1988
  • LaPlante convicted, gets life in 3 killings by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 26 Oct 1988
  • Judge releases impounded jail letters by Paul Langer, Boston Globe, 26 Oct 1988
  • LaPlante placed in isolation unit, UPI via Boston Globe, 10 Dec 1988
  • Convicted triple-murder will appeal, The Recorder, 27 Jul 1992
  • LaPlante murder conviction is upheld by Patricia Nealon, Boston Globe, 17 Nov 1993
  • Slayer of three seeking parol by Laura Crimaldi, Boston Globe, 16 Mar 2017
  • Doctor doubts killer’s remorse by Laura Crimaldi, Boston Globe, 23 Mar 2017
  • Judge says man who killed 3 must serve at least 45 years by Laura Crimaldi, Boston Globe, 24 Mar 2017
  • Killer of mom, 2 kids seeks earlier parole bid by Laura Crimaldi, 05 Mar 2019
  • Man convicted of killing woman, 2 young kids appeals sentence by Bob Salsberg, Athol Daily News, 06 Mar 2019
  • Man convicted of three murders at 17 will stay in prison by John R. Ellement, Boston Globe, 07 Jun 2019