Juan Ignacio Blanco  


  MALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  FEMALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z




Murderpedia has thousands of hours of work behind it. To keep creating new content, we kindly appreciate any donation you can give to help the Murderpedia project stay alive. We have many
plans and enthusiasm to keep expanding and making Murderpedia a better site, but we really
need your help for this. Thank you very much in advance.




Richard B. CRAFTS






The "Wood Chipper Murder"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - The body was never found
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 19, 1986
Date of arrest: January 11, 1987
Date of birth: December 20, 1937
Victim profile: His wife, Helle Crafts, 39
Method of murder: Beating with blunt object?
Location: Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA
Status: Sentenced to 50 years in prison on January 9, 1990

photo gallery


Murder of Helle Crafts

Helle Crafts (born Helle Lorck Nielson, July 4, 1947 November 19, 1986) was a Danish flight attendant who was murdered by her husband, Richard Crafts, an airline pilot and special constable.

Her murder is sometimes called the "Woodchipper Murder" because of the method by which Richard Crafts disposed of her body. Her death brought about the first murder conviction in the state of Connecticut in which a body was never found.


Helle Crafts had known about her husband Richard's affairs with other women and had begun divorce proceedings against him. On the night of Wednesday, November 19, 1986, a friend of Helle's dropped her off at home in Newtown, Connecticut. This was the last time anyone but her husband saw her.

During the next few weeks, friends of Helle tried to contact her, but were told different stories by her husband. Richard told some that Helle had gone to visit her mother in Denmark. He told others that she had left, and he did not know where she was. Richard also stated that she was in the Canary Islands with a friend. Friends grew suspicious and concerned about Helle's safety because they already knew about Richard's aggression and fiery temper. Helle once said, "If something happens to me, don't think it was an accident."

The case

By December 25, police had obtained a warrant to search the Crafts' premises. They uncovered a few clues: several pieces of carpet from Richard and Helle's bedroom were removed from the floor. The family's nanny also came forward and told police of a dark, grapefruit-sized stain she had seen on the carpet of the bedroom, but that patch of carpet had apparently been removed. A blood smear was also uncovered on the side of the Crafts' bed. Police found among Richard's credit card records evidence that he had made several purchases before and after his wife's disappearance, including a new freezer that was not found in the home, new bed sheets, a comforter, and US$900 for the rental of a woodchipper.

Later, a private investigator, who had been hired by Helle Crafts, found in papers provided to him by Helle a receipt for a chainsaw. The chainsaw was later found in Lake Zoar in Newtown, Connecticut, and forensics experts would determine that it was covered in hair and blood that matched those of Helle.

A snowplow driver who knew Richard Crafts eventually came forward and said he had seen Crafts using a woodchipper at night near the shore of Lake Zoar, during a severe snowstorm. This was late on the night of November 19, the night Helle Crafts was last seen. With this new information, police focused their search around that area for many days, and even scanned the icy cold lake for clues.

They found many pieces of metal, less than 3 ounces (85 g) of human remains, including a tooth with unique dental work, a toenail covered in pink nail polish, bone chips, 2,660 bleached, blonde human hairs, fingernails and O type blood, the same type as Helle Crafts'. Analysis led the police to conclude the remains had gone through a woodchipper. The forensic investigation was led by renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee.

Police theorized that in their bedroom, Crafts first struck Helle unconscious with something blunt, which would explain the blood stains found, then carried her body to the freezer where he left it for some time. Police further postulated that Crafts had taken Helle's body out of the freezer on the night he was seen at the river by the witness, chopped it into several large portions with the chainsaw, and then put them through the woodchipper. The police believed the dismembered pieces of Helle Crafts' body were then scattered into the river and the area around it.

But Crafts could not be tried for causing his wife's death until state agencies officially recorded her as dead, and the absence of an identifiable body posed obstacles to that conclusion. After a forensic dentist confirmed that the found tooth was a match to Helle's dental records, the Connecticut State Medical Examiner's Office accepted this evidence and issued a death certificate for her and Richard Crafts was arrested for Helle's murder in January 1987.

Due to extensive publicity, Crafts' trial was moved to New London, Connecticut. The trial then began in May 1988, in which forensic evidence was key. However on July 15, 1988, a mistrial was declared after the jury became deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction when one juror walked out of deliberations after refusing to vote to convict. Crafts was retried but the trial was moved to Norwalk, Connecticut again due to the massive publicity surrounding the case and subsequent mistrial in New London.

He was found guilty on November 21, 1989, three years and two days since Helle was last seen alive. In January 1990, Richard Crafts was sentenced to serve 50 years in state prison.

In popular culture

In the 1989 film Woodchipper Massacre, children kill their aunt, freeze her corpse, dismember it, and then put it in a woodchipper.

The case inspired filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen to write their 1996 Academy Award winning film, Fargo.

The pilot episode of Forensic Files (1996) documents the investigation.

In 1997, New Detectives outlined the events in an episode titled "Body of Evidence".

In 1998, the case was featured on History Television's series, Crime Stories.

In July 2012, Investigation Discovery revisited the investigation of the case in their Blood, Lies, and Alibis episode entitled "Woodchipper Killer," focusing particularly on Lee's forensic analyses.


50-Year Sentence Imposed In 'Wood Chipper' Murder

The New York Times - AP

January 9, 1990

A Newtown man convicted of killing his wife and shredding her body with a wood chipper was sentenced today to 50 years in prison after his sister complained he had shown no remorse.

The man, Richard B. Crafts, a former airline pilot, told Judge Martin L. Nigro of Superior Court that he had been wrongly portrayed as a cold-blooded killer, but he did not address whether he had killed his 39-year-old wife, Helle Crafts, a flight attendant and mother of three.

''A great deal has been said about my apparent lack of emotion: 'He has ice water in his veins,' '' Mr. Crafts, 51, said before sentence was imposed. ''I have feelings like everyone else.''

Mr. Crafts was convicted of murder in November after his second trial. Karen Rodgers, Mr. Crafts's sister, who has custody of the couple's three children, urged Judge Nigro to impose the maximum sentence.

'He Has Paid Lip Service'

''I am concerned that Mr. Crafts has not publicly nor privately demonstrated any remorse for the murder of his wife,'' Mrs. Rodgers said. ''I believe he has paid lip service only to the concerns of his children.''

Judge Nigro rejected a defense motion to set aside the conviction and order a new trial, saying there was no evidence that the case had been tainted by tape recordings by the state police.

The state police said in November that telephone conversations had been routinely and secretly recorded at its barracks, including calls between suspects and their lawyers.

A defense lawyer, Thomas E. Farver, conceded that he had no direct evidence that the police had illegally taped any telephone conversations by Mr. Crafts.

The lawyer said he planned to raise the taping issue again on appeal. He said the defense also planned to argue that Mr. Crafts was deprived of a fair trial because of the publicity surrounding the case.

Mr. Crafts was convicted of killing his wife at their Newtown home on Nov. 18 or 19, 1986. Prosecutors said he cut the body with a chain saw and fed parts through a wood chipper on a bridge between Newtown and Southbury.

The police found body parts, including a fingernail and human tissue, on the banks of the Housatonic River. Witnesses testified they saw a man with a wood chipper on the bridge on Nov. 20.


Crafts Loses Appeal For A New Trial

High Court Denies Retrial For Crafts - Murder Conviction Upheld 4-1

By George Gombossy - The Courant

July 7, 1993

The state Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of former airline pilot Richard Crafts, who was found guilty in 1989 of killing his wife and disposing of her body with a chain saw and wood chipper.

In a 4-1 ruling Tuesday, the justices rejected arguments by Crafts' lawyers that the pilot's trial had been unfair. The lawyers had argued that most of the evidence against Crafts had been circumstantial.

Crafts, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence, had sought a new trial. He denied killing his wife, saying that she had disappeared.

In the appeal, lawyers for Crafts, 55, argued that not enough evidence had been presented to convict him of murder, the judge's instructions to the jury had been improper; comments made by Crafts' wife before her murder should not have been presented to the jury; and that extensive publicity had prevented Crafts from receiving a fair trial.

Although no body or eyewitnesses to the murder of Helle Crafts had been found, the majority of the Supreme Court justices ruled that the jury had had enough evidence to convict Crafts.

The ruling, written by Chief Justice Ellen Ash Peters, recited key evidence from the trial. It noted that Helle Crafts, 39, in 1986 was preparing to divorce her husband because she had learned he was involved in extramarital affairs.

During the trial, prosecutors said Richard Crafts bought a large freezer on Nov. 17, 1986. The next day, Nov., 18, was the last time anyone saw Helle Crafts. On the morning of Nov. 19, Richard Crafts drove their children from their home in Newtown to his sister's house in Westport. On Nov. 20 he rented a wood chipper and a truck, which he used to haul the wood chipper.

The state says Crafts killed his wife, froze her body, cut up her body with a chain saw and used a wood chipper in several areas of Newtown and Southbury to do away with the body. Crafts then

disposed of the freezer to prevent authorities from finding any evidence, the state said.

On Nov. 20, several witnesses saw the truck and the wood chipper in different locations in Newtown and Southbury. The wood chipper was observed between 3 and 4 a.m. on a steel bridge in Newtown. Crafts told one person that he was clearing limbs downed in a Nov. 18 storm. However, no tree limbs fell on his property during the storm.

The ruling says state police later searched the area near the steel bridge and found among the piles of wood chips an envelope bearing the victim's name, pieces of bone and tissue, a human finger-nail and crowns to the victim's teeth.

Police also recovered, underwater near the steel bridge, Crafts' chain saw and a saw blade. They contained blood, tissue and hair fragments matching those of the victim.

Crafts told state police in December 1986 that he had last seen his wife Nov. 19, and that she was visiting a friend in the Canary Islands.

At one point, when state police divers began looking for his wife, Crafts told his brother-in-law: "Let them dive. There's no body. It's gone."

The justices rejected Crafts' position that the jury may have been influenced by nationwide publicity prompted by the case. They said that enough time had passed from Crafts' arrest in January 1987 to the first trial 18 months later and finally to the second trial in 1989 to reduce the prejudicial effect the publicity might have had. Crafts' first trial ended in mistrial.

"Although the press at times drew dramatic conclusions on the basis of the information, and at times engaged in speculation, none of the coverage was so inflammatory as to prevent the empaneling of a jury dedicated to objectivity and to following the trial court's instructions," the ruling said.

Justice Robert I. Berdon dissented, saying he believed Crafts should receive a new trial. Berdon wrote in his dissent that it was unfair to permit the jury to hear comments Helle Crafts made to her friends, telling them that if anything unusual should happen to her, they should not believe it was of her own making.

"The majority allows the jury to hear Helle Crafts's voice, notwithstanding the defendant's inability to confront or cross-examine her statements," Berdon wrote.

The majority of the justices, however, said the prosecution had a right to inform the jury about these statements because they countered the defense's position that Helle Crafts had simply decided to disappear, and that she was still alive.


The Wood Chipper Murder Case

By Mark Gado -


On the night of November 18, 1986, an unusually severe winter storm hit central Connecticut. Driving conditions were difficult throughout the late evening and grew worse as the storm lingered over the Newtown area. Snow and sleet blanketed the countryside while gusty winds knocked down trees and utility lines. Electricity went out in the area for several hours during the night. In the nearby town of Southbury, public highway employees were called in to plow snow and lay salt down on the icy roads. For the next few days and nights, snowplows and sanders worked continuously to keep the roads clean.

One of the town's utility men, Joseph Hine, 37, arrived at the municipal garage at 11:30 p.m. on November 20. He took the sander out and began to drop sand on Route 172, one of the major roads in the town. At about 12:30 a.m., he returned to the garage and picked up a snowplow. He began his route along Southbury's Main Street and continued for several hours plowing snow and avoiding the many branches that blocked the roadways. At about 3:30 a.m., Hine plowed along the length of River Road until he came to the intersection of South Flat Hill Road.

The snow and sleet were still falling and conditions were more like mid-winter than late November. As soon as he passed the intersection, Hine saw a truck parked off the side of the road. "I would describe the vehicle as a U-Haul van, box van, 1 to 1 ton with dual wheels," he later told detectives, "the box of the van was an off-white or dirty white, square type the cab was orange colored."

Its lights were off and the roll up back was closed. As he got closer, Hine saw that the truck had a large woodchipper attached to its back. The chipper seemed old and well used. Just as he passed the U-Haul, he saw a man standing near the driver's door who suddenly began to walk to the rear of the truck. The man motioned for Hine to pass him, which he did. Hine continued to plow down River Road.

Two hours later, at 5:30 a.m., Hine plowed River Road from the opposite direction. As he passed the Glen Road area, he saw the same U Haul with the attached woodchipper once again. "I didn't see anyone in or around the truck or chipper," he told investigators. But as he passed it, Hine noticed something different. "The back of the box was open," he said later, "and I could see some wood chips inside." He also saw wood chips on the shoulder of the road. Hine continued to plow as he watched the U-Haul slowly disappear in his rear view mirror.

"That was strange," he thought to himself, "that a person would be out so early in the morning, in the middle of a storm, chipping wood."


On December 1, 1986, the Newtown Police Department in central Connecticut received a phone call from Keith Mayo, a local private investigator. He said that his client, Helle Crafts, had recently disappeared and he feared that she may have been murdered by her husband, Richard Crafts. Mayo was adamant and insisted that the Newtown Police investigate the crime immediately. Mayo said that, according to his information, Helle left her home on November 19 to drive to Richard's sister's house in nearby Westport. But Helle never showed up at the sister's home and hadn't been heard from since that day. Her car was later found in an employee parking lot of Pan Am airlines at Kennedy airport.

Newtown detectives knew Richard Crafts very well. He was an auxiliary police officer in their department since 1982 and was a familiar figure around the police station. He had a reputation as a somewhat rigid patrolman who took his limited responsibilities very seriously. When investigators interviewed Richard on December 2, he confirmed the story and said that on the night before Helle disappeared, "she was happy and showed no signs of being different or upset." He and his wife slept at home and when they awoke that morning, Richard said, the plan was for Helle "to go to my sister's house in Westport because we had no power due to the storm...I have not seen or heard from my wife since Wednesday November 19, 1986."

Initially, the police did not express too much concern over Helle Crafts' disappearance since missing person's reports are not rare. The overwhelming majority of the missing usually turn up safe and sound after a period of time. A wife who leaves her husband could be having marital problems and need some time alone. As a result, the Newtown police department did not prioritize the Helle Crafts case. But in the next few days, the nature and complexion of the case began to change.

Investigators interviewed friends of the Crafts family, which included neighbors and Helle's co-workers. Virtually all of them agreed on one aspect of her disappearance: Helle was a devoted mother who never would have left her small children in the manner described. Friends also told police that Richard Crafts had a series of extramarital affairs, which were well known, and that Helle had recently discovered that Richard had one girlfriend in New Jersey who he had been seeing for years. Before Helle disappeared, she had told several people that she wanted to divorce her husband as soon as possible.

Police also learned that Richard had offered several different versions of what happened to his wife. He told a neighbor that Helle had made a trip to Germany and would be returning home soon. He told others that he didn't know where she went. On November 21, just two days after her disappearance, he told Dawn Thomas, the family au pair, that Helle had to fly to Denmark because her mother was ill. She would be back November 24, he said. On November 29, another friend, Leena Johanson, obtained Helle's mother's phone number in Denmark and called her. Her mother was not in the hospital, was in good health and said she did not expect to see Helle until the following April.

Upset by this new information, Leena Johanson went to the police. She told them of a disturbing statement made by Helle to her in early November. "If anything happens to me," Helle had said, "don't assume it was an accident."


Helle Lorck Nielson was an only child, born in Denmark on July 7, 1947. She spent her childhood in a small village north of Denmark. Helle was a vibrant, outgoing child who enjoyed school, one of the few students who actually liked attending class. With her happy disposition, she made friends easily and continued to be well liked into adulthood. Helle had an inborn ability to understand and learn languages quickly. During her teen years, she learned French and English and was also able to understand German, Norwegian and Swedish.

Helle attended college in England and later worked as an au pair in France. By the time she was 20, Helle was a beautiful young woman. Her high cheekbones, long blonde hair, trim figure and a warm, engaging smile turned the heads of men whenever she entered a room. While Helle was living in France she got a job as a stewardess with Capital Airways. She flew to Africa many times out of Brussels or Frankfurt and enjoyed the thrill of discovering new places.

When she heard that Pan Am Airways was looking for stewardesses in the Copenhagen area, she applied for the job. Helle was one of eight candidates selected out of a group of 200 and was sent to Miami for her training courses. Since she had prior experience in the field, it was easy for her to finish first in her class. During the time she stayed in Miami she lived in a small motel near the airport. It was neat and comfortable, and usually populated by airline employees, stewardesses and pilots. Living under the same roof with male co-workers, stewardesses often had romantic liaisons. "She didn't tell you intimate things about men she saw," said one friend, "She was far too cautious to have been promiscuous, but she had a few lovers." Single stewardesses liked the airline pilots both as future mates or just for a good time while they were on a layover.

On May 24, 1969, while Helle was waiting at the motel for a flight, she met Richard Crafts, who was 31 at the time, and her life would never be the same.


In the spring of 1969, Richard Crafts was a young, somewhat scruffy-looking airline pilot who wore his dark brown hair in an unkempt style that some women found appealing. Being rough around the edges, he did not fit the stereotypical image of a pilot. Standing just 5-foot-8 with a medium frame, he seemed rather ordinary. But there was a certain attractiveness about him, so Crafts, at 31, never seemed to be without a woman. He dated stewardesses almost exclusively and sometimes told extravagant stories about his past, which included an ill-defined role in the CIA and alleged combat in Indochina.

Crafts was born in New York City on December 20, 1937, one of three children. He had two older sisters. His father, John Crafts, was a very successful businessman in Manhattan who dreamed of living in the suburbs. He later purchased a spacious home in Darien, Connecticut, one of the most affluent communities in the state. A former World War I pilot and college football player, John must have been a formidable image to live up to for young Richard. But his father tried to do the best for his son. Although Richard attended private school, he did not excel. He later graduated from Darien High School without distinction. He tried college for a time but soon dropped out and suddenly joined the Marines in 1956.

In the military, Richard gravitated toward aviation and became proficient at flying helicopters. He trained on fixed wing aircraft and quickly became certified as a pilot in the late 50s. In 1958, Richard was transferred to Korea and Japan. During his time there, he also flew planes for Air America, an organization that was a recognized branch of the CIA. Apparently, Crafts flew a number of clandestine missions in Southeast Asia, which included assignments in Laos and Vietnam. Though it is difficult to state with any certainty his activities during this time, Dr. Henry C. Lee writes in his book, Cracking Cases, that Crafts was wounded during a flying mission over Laos. He remained in the Far East for a number of years flying for Air America and eventually returned to the United States in 1966.

As a pilot, he had little trouble finding work for the next few years; he flew for a variety of outfits until he finally secured a pilot's job in 1968 with Eastern, then one of America's largest and busiest airlines. For the first time in his life, Crafts was making a comfortable salary. Though he had a busy schedule, Crafts still found time for the social scene. When he met Helle in 1969, he was already engaged to someone else. But Helle didn't seem to mind. She continued to see him, despite his relationships with other women. They maintained an on again off again relationship for the next few years. They frequently fought, sometimes in public, but somehow they always wound up together. Helle's friends were suspicious of Crafts and some showed open hostility toward him. Most of her friends could not understand Helle's attraction to Crafts when it was so obvious that she could have nearly any man she wanted.

In 1975, Helle became pregnant with Crafts' child and, in November of that year, they married in New Hampshire.

The Marriage

The following year, the newly married Crafts bought a one-level ranch home in the city of Newtown, Connecticut. Helle had her first child and over the next few years, she had two more children. Afterward, she returned to her job as a stewardess and hired an au pair, Dawn Marie Thomas, 19, to care for the children. Richard continued his job as an airline pilot and was frequently away from home. Together their income exceeded $125,000 a year, an amount that put them in the top 5% of wage earners in America in the 1980s. Richard managed all the finances in the family, which enabled him to spend a great deal of money on his favorite passion: collecting guns.

He had already built an arsenal of weapons while single but after he purchased a home Richard finally had the space to store his collection. He owned several shotguns and dozens of handguns, including 9mm automatics, .44 caliber revolvers, .357 magnums, high-powered rifles, semiautomatic weapons, crossbows, hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition. It was enough to arm 50 men. He spent hours each week tending to the collection, cleaning, polishing and arranging his armament. Whenever there was a gun show in Connecticut or New Jersey, Crafts was there browsing the aisles and spending more money on weapons to add to his expanding armory.

But there was already trouble in the marriage aside from Richard's fascination with guns. Helle appeared in public several times with bruises on her face. One of her friends later told the police that Helle was physically abused by her husband. This same friend also said that Helle was deeply hurt by the way Richard treated her during her first pregnancy and "she would never forgive Richard for what he put her through." After the children were born, Richard would disappear for days at a time and never say where he was. He would simply pack his bags and leave. Several days later, he would return. Helle never knew if he was away on business, at a gun show or somewhere else. Since he controlled all the money in the family, he made Helle pay for all the house expenses while he spent money on anything he pleased. He bought a variety of landscaping equipment, tractors, mowers and a $25,000 backhoe, which he never used. His front yard was a mish-mash of rusting, broken machines and considered an eyesore by his neighbors. It always seemed like the Crafts' house either needed work or repairs were being done.

In 1982, despite his responsibilities with Eastern and his house seemingly in need of constant repair, Crafts became an auxiliary police officer in Newtown. Although he was not paid for his time with the police department, he took his job very seriously. Crafts would frequently hang around the police station, even when he was off duty and sometimes responded to police calls without authorization. In 1986, he was hired as a police officer in the nearby town of Southbury. His salary was seven dollars an hour, far beneath his pay as an airline pilot. He paid his own way for expensive training seminars that gave instructions on police procedures. Crafts performed his police duties with a strange fervor and even purchased a 1985 Ford Crown Victoria, the same type of car the Connecticut State Police used. He outfitted it, at his own cost, with multiple radios, antennas, police lights and a siren.

During all this time, from the year he was married right until 1986, Richard continued to see other women. Helle was aware of his infidelity but tolerated it, perhaps for the sake of the children or maybe to keep up appearances. But their marriage was in trouble and she knew it. Helle openly spoke about divorce with several of her friends. In the summer of 1986, she retained a divorce attorney and later hired a private detective named Keith Mayo, a former Connecticut cop, to gather evidence against Richard.

The Investigation

When detectives interviewed Dawn Marie Thomas, the Crafts' au pair, she told investigators several important details about the Crafts' household. On the morning of November 19, Crafts suddenly awakened her at 6:00 a.m. and said Helle was driving to his sister's house in Westport and they would meet her there later. Thomas thought that was strange, since Newtown had been hit with a severe winter storm during the night and visibility was very poor. Because of a power failure, Richard insisted on taking the children to his sister's house right away. He woke up his three children at 6:30 a.m., loaded them into the family car with Dawn Thomas and drove over to his sister's house. Richard dropped off the kids and Dawn and "left almost immediately." Helle was not at his sister's house, even though she supposedly left before Richard. Dawn told investigators that Richard did not return to pick them up until later that day at 7:00 p.m. Helle still did not appear at his sister's house.

Later that night, Dawn asked Richard where Helle was and Richard replied, "I don't know." The next day when she asked Richard the same question again, he told her that Helle was in Denmark with her sick mother. Dawn also told investigators she noticed for the first time that pieces of the carpet were cut out and missing from the master bedroom. Richard told her that he had spilled kerosene on the rug and they needed to be replaced.

Their suspicions aroused, Newtown police requested that Crafts submit to a lie detector test. He agreed and passed the test on December 4. Even though polygraph examinations are inadmissible as evidence in court, they can be a useful tool for investigators. But since Crafts passed the test, it had the opposite effect on the Newtown detectives. One investigator wrote in his report that "based on the polygraph examination and my numerous conversations with Mr. Crafts, he does not know where his wife is."

Despite the results of the test, however, some detectives believed otherwise. There was something odd about a professional airline pilot who liked to play cop part time, who rode around in a phony police car and took jobs as a security guard for a few dollars an hour. Detectives also listened to Helle's friends who called constantly demanding to know the progress of the investigation. Statements from Dawn Thomas, Johansen and others cast serious doubt on Crafts' story of his wife's disappearance. Crafts' behavior since November 19 had been, at the very least, questionable and unusual. But there was no direct evidence that anything criminal had happened to Helle. She had simply vanished.

Detectives decided to call Richard Crafts back for another interview.

The Interview

On December 11, investigators located Crafts on duty at the Southbury Police Department where he was working the night shift. Newtown detectives called Southbury and asked that they send over Officer Crafts for further questioning. He arrived at the detective division in full uniform at 9:20 p.m. Lt. Michael DeJoseph and Detective Robert Tvardzik had already prepared some questions and conducted the interview. According to police reports, this was how the interview progressed.

Q. "Richard, did you know that your wife hired a private investigator?"

A. "No."

Q. "Did you know that the P.I. has documented your relationship with a New Jersey woman?"

A. "No."

Q. "Why would your wife tell her friends she was afraid for herself regarding serving you divorce paper, and tell them to check on her if something happened?"

A. "I cannot imagine her saying this, it is completely out of character for her to say this."

Q. "On November 18th, when Helle came home, when and why did she leave?"

A. "Those answers are in my statement."

Q. "What is the story with your bedroom rug? Apparently you removed it, or cut some pieces out of it. Can you explain this to me?"

A. "All the rugs in the house are being removed and replaced."

Q. "What was spilled on the rug in your bedroom?"

A. "Kerosene."

Q. "Did you cut pieces out of the rug?"

A. "Yes. Two feet at a time. It's easier to remove it that way."

Q. "What did you do with the rug you took out of the bedroom?"

A. "Dumped bedroom rug in the Newtown landfill one week ago. It was blue in color."

Q. "Why have you been telling everyone different things about Helle being missing? Like her mother being sick?

A. "I didn't want to say my wife was gone and I did not know where she was."

Q. "Has Helle received any mail since she has been missing?"

A. "No. She has gotten no letters since she left. She usually gets about two letters a week."

Whatever the police asked, Crafts had an answer. His demeanor seemed cooperative yet guarded. Again, he was not caught in any outright lies. They were more like half-truths. And for a man whose wife had suddenly and inexplicably vanished, Richard Crafts seemed rather apathetic. He was released after providing cops with a brief one-page statement that was less than helpful. Detectives were left with even more questions than before. But they were becoming more convinced that whatever happened to Helle Nielson Crafts, somehow, in some way, Richard Crafts had something to do with it.

The Evidence Builds

Keith Mayo was not a happy man. Since the first day that he found out that his former client, Helle Crafts, was missing, he immediately thought Richard Crafts was responsible. He met with friends and attorneys and solicited their opinions on the case. After a review of the events surrounding her disappearance and Richard's reaction to it, they too agreed he acted in a suspicious manner. They could not understand why Richard would offer so many different explanations of what happened to Helle. Mayo decided that he needed evidence to convince the police, who seemed unenthusiastic about the case. When he learned that Crafts cut out pieces of his bedroom rug and discarded them at a local dump, Mayo decided to search for the pieces, which he felt could contain blood evidence.

With the help of the local trash pickup crew, Mayo was able to ascertain that Newtown's garbage was deposited in the Canterbury dump, about two hours east of Newtown. He recruited a few helpers, and for the next several days he searched through the mountains of trash at the dump. Knee deep in household garbage, the team searched through a seemingly endless stream of stinking refuse that had them gagging and cursing. But they succeeded in locating a portion of rug that was nearly identical to the rug at the Crafts residence. Mayo was sure it was the missing piece and the rug also had stains that appeared to be human blood. The article was taken to the state police laboratory in Meriden, led by one of the country's foremost forensic scientists, Dr. Henry C. Lee.

In the meantime, the press finally caught onto the story of the missing suburban housewife. On December 17th, the Danbury News Times published the first story on the case under the headline: Police Seek Missing Newtown Woman. "At this point, we consider this to be a missing person case," Newtown Police Chief Louis Marchese told reporters. But Keith Mayo told the same reporter, "I don't think she disappeared on her own accord." He also challenged the Newtown police when he said, "I'm concerned that they are going after this piecemeal." Pressure was building for tangible results on the case. The Newtown police were being criticized on several fronts and the state's attorney's office wanted jurisdiction handed over to the state police.

But the investigation received another setback when Dr. Lee reported his findings on Mayo's rug samples from the Canterbury dump. "After four hours of back-breaking work carried out on the carpet," wrote Dr. Lee, "none of the stains tested positive for blood." Mayo's dogged pursuit of evidence, however, had another unanticipated result. It focused even more attention on the case, which seemed to be floundering at the hands of the Newtown police. Helle's friends also kept up a non-stop campaign of calling the police for updates on the investigation. As a result, the state attorney's office decided that the investigation would be handled in total by the state police investigators.

Detectives from the Western District Major Crimes Unit began to look deeper into Crafts' activities immediately before Helle's disappearance. They pulled his credit card purchases and phone records for the month prior to November 19. On his Master Card credit bills, investigators found several interesting purchases. On November 13, Crafts bought a large capacity Westinghouse freezer at an appliance store in Danbury. He paid $375 for it and picked it up at the store on November 17. During the same billing period, detectives noticed that he rented some type of machinery at Darien Rentals, which generated a charge of $900.

Why did Crafts need such an outsized freezer in his house, they wondered, and what type of machinery cost so much money to rent?

Merry Christmas

In the police world, working Christmas Day is something that nearly every cop tries to avoid. But in Newtown, December 25, 1986, was of special significance. For days, police put together a search warrant for the Crafts' residence at 5 Newfield Lane. In the eleven-page affidavit, Detectives Quartiero and Byrne listed dozens of supporting facts to strengthen their belief of why a search should be conducted at the Crafts' home. Prominent among these was Richard Crafts' ever-changing statements to Helle's friends concerning her disappearance and his actions on the night of November 19th. He had even told one friend that "Helle was in the Canary Islands with her best friend, Helen Dixon."

Without offering any speculation as to what happened to Helle, detectives were able to say that "based on their experience and training, that crimes of violence involve a struggle, a break, the use of weapons and other instrumentalities, and/or the element of unpredictability. That the person participating in the commission of a violent offense is in contact with physical surroundings in a forceful or otherwise detectable manner ... That traces may be left in the form of blood, physiological fluids and secretions, hair fibers, fingerprints, palm prints" and a long list of other possibilities. The central requirement of any search warrant is to show that probable cause exists to believe that evidence or contraband can be found at a specified location. But it was the final sentence of the affidavit that dispelled any doubts of what police were thinking. "That based upon the foregoing facts and information," Det. Quartiero wrote, "the affiants have probable cause to believe and do believe that evidence of Murder ... will be found within and upon" the premise of 5 Newfield Lane.

Police discovered that Richard Crafts had taken his children to Florida for the holidays. They decided it was an opportune time to execute the warrant. Dr. Henry Lee agreed to be present and oversee the collection of evidence. On the afternoon of Christmas Day, a team of State Police Investigators and crime scene technicians entered the premise of 5 Newfield Lane through a back window.

What they found was an empty home in complete disarray. Furniture was strewn about, dirty clothes lay everywhere, dishes and kitchen utensils were unwashed in the sink and on countertops. Mattresses lay on the bare floor in the living room along with boxes of toys and other items. The carpets were already pulled up and discarded. A freezer was located and searched. There was no body inside. What detectives did not realize at the time, however, was that the freezer they searched was actually Crafts' old freezer. The new one, which he purchased on November 17, had already been removed and later discarded. During the search, dozens of weapons were located and tagged, for any one of these guns could be the one that killed Helle Crafts. For the next few days, the search team went over every inch of the Crafts home and eventually seized 108 pieces of evidence according to the search warrant inventory.

Evidence included several Smith and Wesson .357 revolvers, a few .38 caliber revolvers, Colt Python .38 caliber pistols, Ruger carbine rifles, Finnish semiautomatic weapons, 12-gauge pump shotguns, Winchester rifles, Beretta handguns with clips, .380 automatic handgun, two hand grenades, Beretta Crossbow, Walther PPK handgun, two 9mm semiautomatic handguns, Heckler-Koch .45 caliber pistol, "over and under" style Universal shotgun, numerous clips and an assortment of ammunition. The quality and extent of the arsenal inside the house astounded the search team. Also seized were hand towels, washcloths, fiber samples and a king size mattress with bedding.

Dr. Lee performed a luminol test in various locations throughout the house, which tested positive for the presence of blood. "Of course, we were looking for any evidence of someone attempting to dispose of a corpse," he later wrote in Cracking Cases. Some of the seized towels also later tested positive for blood at the State laboratory. Further, the blood was type O-positive, the same as Helle's. But despite the mountain of weapons and evidence seized, cops still had no viable answer to the most important question of all.
Where was Helle Crafts?

Scavenger Hunt

Things happened very quickly over that next week. Investigators learned that the $900 charge on Crafts' Master Card at Darien Rentals was payment for a woodchipper. Crafts had rented and picked up a very large woodchipper, called a Brush Bandit, on November 19 and apparently used it to chip a quantity of wood. Detectives began to think the unthinkable. Then, on the afternoon of December 30, 1986, Detectives Patrick McCafferty and T.K. Brown, members of the Western District Major Crime Squad, located Joseph Hine, the utility man from Southbury, who was plowing snow on River Road during a storm. They listened to his story about observing a woodchipper and a U-Haul parked on the side of the road in the middle of the night. Detectives drove Hine over to the shores of the Housatonic River just outside of Southbury. Hine pointed out the exact spot where he observed the truck towing a woodchipper. It was an area of the river known as Lake Zoar.

Detectives saw piles of wood chips along the banks of the river. There seemed to be small pieces of a green plastic substance strewn about and intermingled with the chips. Det. Brown got down on his hands and knees and sifted through some of the material. There was a cold wind coming in off the river and the skies looked ready for more snow. The detective noticed some scraps of shredded paper partially covered by the debris. He managed to find a few pieces of mail. Through a little plastic cellophane window on an envelope, he could plainly read the name and address: "Miss Helle L. Crafts 5 Newfield Lane, Newtown, Connecticut." He shouted to his partner, "Something's definitely wrong here!" Within an hour, a search team from police headquarters descended upon the scene. They hastily set up a perimeter and performed an organized search of the potential crime scene. Every inch of the ground was gone over at least twice as the team photographed each bit of evidence that was removed from the site. Several additional envelopes bearing Helle's name were located within the hour. They found numerous strands of blonde hair, bone fragments, fabrics, cloth, plastic items, wood chips and many fragments of unidentified material. Every piece of material, no matter how small, would have to undergo scientific analysis at the state police forensic laboratory in Meriden. "As I knew from my past experience," writes Dr. Lee in Cracking Cases, "we would have to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that those remains were those of Helle Crafts and that she was murdered. Otherwise, there had been no homicide, and thus, Richard Crafts could not be charged."

Soon, detectives responded to the rental agency in nearby Darien where Crafts rented the woodchipper machine. They secured copies of the agreement and luckily, the exact machine was in the rear parking lot of the rental shop. It was towed over to the state police forensic lab where it would be examined for additional evidence. In the meantime, the difficult work at Lake Zoar continued.

For days, detectives and police diving teams searched the crime scene area at least one mile in both directions form the site. The Housatonic River was extremely cold, too cold for divers to stay in for long. Police obtained permission to lower the water level by restricting flow at the power dam upriver. Divers located a Stihl chain embedded in the muddy bottom of the river. The serial number had been filed off but it seemed to have been in the water only for a short time. The discovery renewed the hopes of the police teams and they continued the backbreaking job of searching in the bitter cold for almost two weeks. Days later, their labors were rewarded once again. One detective discovered a piece of a human toe. And shortly afterwards, a fragment of a finger was found, then part of a tooth. Police sloughed through river mud that was knee deep, trembling from the cold and the icy waters of the Housatonic. But still, they pushed on.

In the end, Dr. Lee said, "Our team's efforts at Lake Zoar eventually led to the discovery of 2,660 strands of blond hair, 69 slivers of human bone, 5 droplets of human blood, 2 teeth, a truncated piece of human skull, 3 ounces of human tissue, a portion of human finger, 1 fingernail, and 1 portion of toe nail."

Helle Crafts had been found.

"I'll Take Care of It in the Morning!"

On January 11, an arrest warrant was issued in Newtown Court for Richard Crafts. It was a culmination of weeks of intensive and exhausting police work. That same night, at about 9:00 p.m., a dozen Connecticut state troopers and detectives responded to 5 Newfield Lane to arrest Richard Crafts. They surrounded his ranch-style house and called Crafts on the phone. He was ordered to come outside the home and surrender.

"I'm tired. I'll take care of it in the morning," Crafts replied. When police insisted he surrender immediately, Crafts became angry.

"Don't call me back!" he shouted and hung up. After a nail-biting series of phone calls and promises of surrender which were never fulfilled, Crafts agreed to come outside. His children were still inside the house asleep. At 12:30 a.m., Crafts told cops over the phone, "I'll be out in five minutes!" A short time later, a distraught and disheveled Crafts emerged and surrendered to the police. After an arraignment in nearby Danbury court, he was taken to the Bridgeport jail facility to await further developments. His bail was set at $750,000.

In the meantime, investigators continued the grim search in the frigid waters at Lake Zoar. The press descended upon the scene with TV cameras, microphones, huge lights and a fleet of broadcast trucks. Before the day was over, the entire nation knew the story of the man who may have killed his wife by freezing her body and running it through a woodchipper. "It's like something out of Edgar Allen Poe!" one Newtown resident told reporters. Another expressed surprise it could happen in the serene surroundings of suburban Connecticut. "I'm kind of shocked it happened in Newtown, of all places," one of Crafts' neighbors said.

But police had worked out a probable scenario of how Crafts killed his wife. Since drops of Helle's blood was found in her bedroom, they assumed that she was bludgeoned at the foot of her bed during the early morning hours of November 19, perhaps when she was making the bed or changing the sheets. Police speculated that Crafts then carried his wife's body to the basement, where he had recently hooked up the new freezer. He placed her inside the freezer and then woke up Dawn Thomas, the au pair. He told her that they should all go to his sister's house in Westport because Newtown had suffered a power failure. When Thomas asked about Helle, Richard said she would meet them at his sister's house. They drove to Westport and after dropping off the kids and Thomas, Richard immediately left for home.

Police believed that sometime during the day, he took Helle's body, by then frozen solid, to a secluded piece of property that he owned in Newtown. There, it is believed, he used the Stihl chainsaw on her body to make several smaller parcels of her remains and returned them to the freezer. The next day, under the cover of darkness, Crafts then took these packages, wrapped in plastic garbage bags, to Lake Zoar where he ran them through the powerful woodchipper. Because of the time factors involved, police speculated that when Joseph Hine saw the U-Haul and woodchipper along the road, Crafts had already finished his gruesome work. He was parked along River Road because he was either running fresh wood through the chipper to clean it or was getting rid of evidence.

What Crafts did not know at the time was that as the machine cast pieces of his wife into the river, some parts didn't quite make it to the water. Small fragments of her bones, strands of hair, broken teeth and some mail which Helle had placed in her pocket on the day of her death, fell to the ground.

The Trial Begins

Due to the overwhelming amount of publicity on the case, the trial of Richard Crafts was moved to New London, Connecticut. Some newspapers dwelled on the sensational aspects of the killing, which was sure to affect the opinion of potential jurors in the Newtown area. One New York City paper, The Daily News, published a highly inflammatory front page on the day Crafts was arrested. CHOPPED TO PIECES! was the headline in big, bold print on January 14, 1987.

The prosecution, led by State Attorney Walter Flanagan, put a virtual army of expert forensic witnesses on the stand. Dr. Henry Lee testified about the collection and analysis of thousands of pieces of evidence found in and around Lake Zoar. Although only minute quantities of bone and tissue were found, there was still a wealth of information to be gleaned from each item. Dr. Lee was able to determine that 65 pieces of bone were "cut with a heavy-type cutting edge that produced a crushing and cutting force." He said the bone, human tissue fibers and hair were all mixed together with wood chips and vegetative debris, but most importantly, the same machine cut it all.

One of the most damaging pieces of evidence offered at the trial, and there were many, was the chainsaw recovered at the bottom of the Housatonic River during the search of December 30, 1986. This item was a Stihl chainsaw with its serial number filed off. Technicians were able to find remnants of human tissue, blonde hair and a number of blue fibers in the teeth of the blade. The blue fibers matched the rug inside the Crafts home. The forensic lab at Meriden was able to restore the serial number even though it was heavily damaged. It matched a receipt belonging to Richard Crafts, indicating that he purchased the chainsaw on January 9, 1981, paying $644.95. But detectives didn't find the receipt during the search at his home. Keith Mayo gave that receipt to the police. When Helle Crafts first hired Mayo, she gave him a box of personal papers belonging to Richard. Ironically, the receipt was found with those papers.

However, it was the forensic odontology analysis that was able to prove conclusively that Helle Crafts' remains were found at Lake Zoar. During the search, two pieces of human teeth were retrieved from the water. One specimen was a tiny fragment of tooth with a piece of jawbone still attached. Dr. Constantine P. Karazulas, a forensic odontologist, testified that the tooth was removed from the mouth with "traumatic force that sheared it off and took the bone with it." Further, he said that if a dentist had removed the tooth, the base of the tooth would be clean and absent any jawbone residue. "In my opinion," Karazulas said, "this fracture occurred by a blunt force that fractured it to the center line and took the jaw with it."

The second tooth specimen was even more interesting, said Dr. Karazulas. It was only part of a tooth but it still had a metal crown attached. After the search, Karazulas took several hundred X-rays of the recovered tooth from all possible angles. Using a series of five sets of X-rays that were taken of Helle Crafts' teeth between 1980 and 1986, he performed a painstaking comparison between the evidence and the images of Helle's teeth. Karazulas said that the recovered tooth at Lake Zoar perfectly matched Helle's lower left bicuspid in the X-ray charts. He said that he was "medically absolutely certain" of the positive comparison.

The prosecution backed up Dr. Zarakulas' testimony with another odontologist, Dr. Lowell Levine. A forensic scientist from the New York State Police, Levine had helped identify the remains of Nazi Dr. Joseph Mengele in 1985 and also confirmed for the U. S. Congress that the body buried in the Washington, D.C., memorial was, in fact, President John F. Kennedy. Dr. Levine agreed with Dr. Zarakulas on the all-important tooth with the attached crown. "That tooth, the lower left second bicuspid", he said in dramatic tones, "belonged to Helle Crafts when she was alive." It was a crushing blow to the defense.

The case went to the jury on June 23. For the next two weeks, nine men and three women tried to reach a verdict. But one man, whose stubbornness and illogical interpretations of the evidence exasperated the rest of the jury, held out for a not guilty verdict. "It was like reasoning with a child," one juror later told reporters about the holdout. "He had real difficulty retaining." Another juror, Janis Rosseau, was even more blunt. "It wasn't chaos, it was hell!" she said to the press. Although other jurors tried in vain to convince the lone holdout, in the end, he simply refused to participate any further. On July 15, 1988, after 100 witnesses had testified and 650 exhibits were presented in an epic 53 day trial, a mistrial had to be declared.

Richard Crafts would have another chance at freedom.

A Verdict Arrives

The mistrial was a bitter disappointment, not only for the family of Helle Crafts but also for the team of police investigators and forensic scientists who had worked diligently on the case since December 1986. "We worked for the first three months, day and night," Dr. Lee told reporters, "and subsequently off and on for almost a year and a half." However, a new trial was quickly agreed upon. Again, due to an avalanche of publicity concerning the gruesome details of the case, the venue was changed to Norwalk, Connecticut. On September 7, 1989, the second trial of Richard Crafts opened under a cloud of uncertainty. Prosecutors were well aware that a conviction in any criminal case, no matter how persuasive the evidence may be, is never guaranteed.

The second trial was a virtual replay of the first. The same witnesses testified, the same damning evidence implicated Richard Crafts as he sat at the defense table, seemingly unmoved by the proceedings. Crafts always maintained a detached air about him, as if he was preoccupied with other matters. The forensic odontologists testified to the recovered dental items, the witnesses testified to Richard Crafts' behavior, both before and after Helle's disappearance and the unflappable Dr. Lee returned to explain the remaining evidence to an appreciative jury.

When the case finally went to the jury on November 20, it took only eight hours to reach a unanimous verdict. Crafts was found guilty of murder beyond any question. Eleven men and one woman felt the evidence easily supported a guilty verdict. "Richard Crafts could not have asked for a more fair jury," said one juror. "It's corny, but the system works." As usual, Crafts showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. "The totality of the evidence was overwhelming," another juror told the Danbury News-Times. The verdict was announced on November 21, 1989, almost three years to the day when Helle was murdered. In January 1990, Richard Crafts, unrepentant and defiant as always, received a sentence of 99 years in state prison.

State Attorney Flanagan told the press afterwards, "Twenty three of twenty four people were convinced that he was guilty beyond question. That's a pretty good standard of proof, isn't it?"



home last updates contact