Retired priest, Northampton native, missing in Texas

  • —SOUTH PADRE ISLAND POLICE —SOUTH PADRE ISLAND POLICE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2018 10:35:42 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Authorities in Texas are looking for a former Massachusetts priest and Northampton native who has been missing from his Texas home since earlier this month.

The South Padre Island Police Department has been investigating the disappearance of 71-year-old William Costello — a Northampton native and former Falmouth priest — who went missing earlier this month. Costello was last seen at his condominium complex on Aug. 1 in the resort town of South Padre Island, according to authorities. The FBI and Texas Rangers have joined in the investigation.

After a body was found buried north of South Padre Island, near a cemetery in the town of Santa Monica, several news reports have emerged stating that the body is Costello’s. However, Lt. Johnny Hernandez, a spokesman for the Texas Rangers, told the Gazette that the body has not yet been identified.

“They haven’t confirmed that that’s him yet,” Hernandez said Wednesday afternoon. He said the Rangers were conducting the autopsy of the body.

But the Fall River Diocese, where Costello was ordained in 1974, seemed to confirm that the body found in Santa Monica is indeed Costello’s.

“The Fall River Diocese was deeply saddened to learn over this past weekend that the body of retired priest Father William M. Costello was found near a cemetery in Santa Monica, Texas, about an hour from his home in South Padre Island, Texas,” a statement from the diocese reads.

On Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., however, Hernandez said the Rangers still hadn’t confirmed the identity of the body. Hernandez did say that Juan Carlos Baez Escobedo, 27, of Brownsville, Texas, has been arrested in connection with the case.

Attempts to reach family members of Costello’s were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

The Northampton native first served as a parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth from 1974 to 1978, after which he became chaplain at Sturdy Hospital in Attleboro, according to the Fall River Diocese.

In 1985, Costello was assigned to St. Mary Parish in Norton as a parochial vicar, and in 1990 was transferred to St. Anthony Parish in Mattapoisett. He was eventually named pastor of St. Mary Parish in Taunton in 1994, and appointed pastor of St. Anthony Parish in East Falmouth in 1999. In 2011, he became pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk.

It was there that Costello ran into a bit of trouble, according to the Fall River Diocese. In January of 2012, the Fall River bishop placed Costello on leave after Rhode Island State Police said he was part of an investigation.

“The investigation did not involve the abuse of minors, and parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish were informed of this... No charges were filed against him at any time during the investigation or at its completion,” a statement from the Fall River Diocese reads. “The investigation disclosed instances of poor judgment, which resulted in the request of Bishop Coleman that he retire early. Some years later he moved to Texas.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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