Diocese in Massachusetts says remains of missing priest found

RAYMONDVILLE — Remains found last Friday in a remote area appear to be those of a retired priest who went missing from South Padre Island.

However, law enforcement agencies are not confirming the death of William “Bill” Costello, 71, apparently to avoid jeopardizing their ongoing investigation.

Yesterday, law enforcement agencies declined to release results of a preliminary autopsy of the body found near Santa Monica conducted by the Hidalgo County coroner’s office.

At the Cameron County Jail, an inmate being held on an unrelated charge has been linked to Costello’s disappearance.

On Aug. 1, Costello, who served as a priest in Massachusetts before coming to Texas more than three years ago, was last seen at the Tiki Condominiums on South Padre Island.

Then, last Friday, the investigation turned when Willacy County sheriff’s deputies were led to human remains buried in a remote area between two levees about three miles east of Santa Monica.

At the Sheriff’s Office, Maj. Ernie Garcia Monday described the case as “leaning” toward a homicide investigation.

“The guy didn’t bury himself,” Sheriff Larry Spence said yesterday.

Earlier this week, Garcia said authorities were investigating “multiple suspects.”

In Fall River, Mass., the Catholic Diocese stated the remains found near Santa Monica were those of Costello.

“The circumstances of the matter are disturbing,” the diocese stated. “We offer our prayers for the repose of the soul of Father Costello.”

A native of Northampton, Mass., Costello was ordained a priest in 1974.

In 1999, he was appointed pastor of St. Anthony Parish in East Falmouth before serving as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk.

In 2012, the bishop placed Costello on administrative leave after the Rhode Island State Police launched an investigation into Costello.

“The investigation did not involve the abuse of minors,” the diocese stated. “No charges were filed against him at any time during the investigation or at its completion.

“The investigation disclosed instances of poor judgment, which resulted in the (bishop’s) request … that he retire early. Some years later he moved to Texas.”

After he went missing, friends put up posters asking for help in finding Costello, who owned a 2009 Honda Accord and a dog answering to the name Grace.

South Padre Island police, the Texas Rangers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also investigating the case.